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An interview with the DIY techno and house web station / by Sarah Hamerman

I became acquainted with Terry Radio, an online radio station focusing on house, techno, and experimental music, in the spring of 2014, shortly after its launch in Kansas City. At that time, I was living in Chicago, and my friend Zach began hosting one of Terry’s first shows, “TBD,” out of his Garfield Park apartment. The format was casual – three to five of us would get together, share tunes, and try out ideas for DJ sets – but over the weeks it came to feel like an event. From its founding crew of Midwest-based musicians, Terry has grown to showcase DJs and producers with shows broadcasting out of home studios in Kansas City, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles and Austin.

In an age when electronic music is increasingly becoming big business, Terry Radio offers an important space for shared listening experiences. As corporate sponsorships drive live performances, and platforms like Soundcloud begin to run ads and subscription services, Terry offers an alternative. It’s artist-driven, self-hosted, and ad-free. This April, I spoke with several of Terry’s contributors, Rory O’Brien, B Straus, Kelsey Knotts, Zach Kidd, and Sam White, about the station, its impact on their local scenes, and diversity in electronic music.

How did Terry begin, and what made you turn to the medium of online radio?

B: The original idea was actually to start a podcast. It started out on Soundcloud. We loaded it up and it got taken down like thirteen times before switching over to Mixlr and then the current site.

Rory: We started out with just “Finer Things”, and then it kind of started to grow through more people getting involved in Chicago and elsewhere. Gabe, who does “Lows So Low They Become High”, was the first person from outside of Kansas City to be on Terry. He had the idea of doing an online radio station for a while so we kind of just merged.

B: Radio creates a space outside of the dance floor. We really liked the idea of everyone tuning in and listening at the same time, which is an experience you don’t often get to have online.

How has the station expanded since it first started?

Rory: Originally we just got our friends who moved to different cities involved with it, but now it’s expanded, even to people that we don’t know.

Sam: I got a bunch of people I knew just through internet culture in on it. My friend who does this show “Kragdar’s Hole” recently moved back in with his family in Richmond, Kentucky. We also have this show “Compile” with a rotating crew of people in Atlanta, Philly, Baltimore, and NYC doing shows each week. It’s at 1 a.m. Central time. It’s a weird time slot so they really just go for it and do whatever they want.

Creating a radio show is very different from playing live. How has this pushed your creativity and music knowledge forward?

Zach: Playing music that’s less dance floor oriented, less about moving bodies, allowing you to go into less beat oriented zones, allows for a more relaxed kind of listening.

Rory: It really makes us think about constructing sets for the kinds of settings where people are listening to radio. When they are chilling out at home or driving in a car or whatever.

Were house and techno big in your local scenes before Terry began? How have both the radio station and associated parties helped build creative communities?

Rory: Kansas City historically had a club kid scene in the 90s, but that stuff had really died down before Terry started.

Kelsey: When I started making music by myself, I was playing all of this hard techno stuff because that was what I was into, but when I played out people didn’t really know how to dance to it in Kansas City. They weren’t ready for it. It was mostly a punk city. Nowadays, people there will get into house music but techno is still a tough sell. Things are definitely more open in Chicago where there’s a long history of house and techno music, though there really wasn’t much of it in the DIY scene until a few years ago.

I feel like in Chicago, people in the DIY scene’s openness to house and techno sort of seems like it shifted because of you guys. Earlier on it seemed like things were dominated by noise, and by a specific crew of white male noise artists, who were making harsh music in underground settings. And there was an appreciation for techno but I didn’t really feel like that was part of any real social community until maybe a couple of years ago.

Zach: There was the Smart Bar community and there were like other techno parties happening, but not in the DIY scene. At the time when you lived here there weren’t really underground techno parties. There were $20 after hours trashy tech-house shit, like that’s always been around in Chicago, but I’ve never been to that…

Rory: There’s always weird EDM shit everywhere, a lot of noise too. Like, I agree with what Kelsey was saying too, we got a lot of hype from people that were hella into noise seeing Kelsey DJ, because she just goes hard with it. I remember one of the first times watching Kelsey DJ, these noise kids freaking the fuck out, like “WHO THE FUCK IS THIS GIRL?!”

Kelsey: Kansas City is very punk dominated.

Zach: I think that in Chicago there’s a little bit more room for these things to coexist. I think the shift in people being interested in house and techno happened at Rubicon.

Rory: Rubicon was where Dance Tutorial [a Chicago-based monthly techno party] started, and Dance Tutorial was happening at the same time.

I’ve always felt that with Kelsey and Desiree participating, among others, that Terry Radio is a pretty open space for women DJs, and I was wondering, with the Discwoman crew in NY bringing attention to gender issues within dance music, how have you guys thought about tackling that issue? And making a space for diverse kinds of people to be involved?

Kelsey: I asked a lot of people, not just women, “Wanna do something? Come hang out!”

Club Fem [an all-girl DJ night hosted by Terry] was really cool. That was when I really started taking DJing seriously. I started hanging out with all these dudes and at first it was like, “Well, here’s the mixer, here’s the computer, and you guys go for it, and if you want our help we’re right here.” It made me feel really comfortable because not only was it my friends, it was people who wanted to see what I wanted to do. And it was really fun and cute hanging out with the two other girls who were consistent which was Desiree and Taylor.

Zach: There’s still a large male-assigned and male-identified presence in dance music in Chicago. I feel like that is changing in New York, with more people stepping up to the plate. And I feel like Chicago is still getting somewhere. There are more female-identifying people stepping up now than ever but there’s still a very male dominated and white dominated culture, and that’s slow to change. With Terry and then separately with my parties we’re focusing on trying to diversify. The crowds are pretty diverse at our parties, which is the first step, then getting people to step up and feel like they can make music. The house scenes in 1980s Chicago and Detroit were predominantly black but because of how the scene gentrified now it’s mostly white, and male, but these things are changing.

I feel like, as Zach said, house music got largely taken over by white culture, but in Chicago the black house scene still exists, but there’s a gap between people involved in those different communities.

Zach: Yeah, there are a lot of people in these places that are not being represented or given that platform to kill it, and that needs to change especially.

Rory: That’s what’s beautiful about Discwoman. I’ve been seeing Emma [Umfang] and Bailey [Beta Librae] DJ for a really long time, and they’re both sick and they need to be playing bigger shows. And I love that Discwoman has been getting insane hype and being really forward and strong. It’s sick to think that we’ve had her [Beta Librae] on Terry just for fun, and now she’s going on and doing such awesome shit.

What do you guys think is in the future for Terry Radio?

Rory: Terry Magazine is a new project that’s coming along that B is working on, that has more of a focus on visual art. And Terry Planet, that’s a label. Right now, it’s more of a digital label.

Just more representation of different music from all over. It’s a big thing to think of how many people we had when we started and how many we have now. People just keep coming to us.

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