He was of one the MCs behind the veteran garage-come-grime crew that gave us "Champagne Dance" and "Know Me", and also delivered the energy to every rave with "Serious" (which still gets all generations throwing up gun fingers in the dance); Pay As U Go Cartel's Maxwell D has been a part of some of the best moments in British underground music history. Standing side-by-side with God's Gift and Wiley in the late '90s during jungle sets on then-pirate radio station, Rinse FM, to separating the commotion between Dizzee Rascal and Crazy Titch on that legendary Déjà vu set, he has helped to build a strong foundation for the grime scene and others close to it. Complex caught up with Maxwell D recently to discuss the good and bad of pirate radio, Geeneus and Slimzee's life-threatening passion for getting the music to the people, Wiley's half-done hair, and why there needs to be more of a community spirit on today's airwaves.
Interview by Laura 'Hyperfrank' Brosnan (@Hyperfrank)
What was your first experience of pirate radio like?
My first experience of pirate radio was when I was 15 years old on Rinse FM, which was back in the mid-90s. It was up in some high-rise flat and I remember walking in and they had old school pioneer decks on a desk, with bare man like Wiley and Pepsi (God’s Gift) in the room. The place was nasty and really cold. It was like a squat! Everyone was talking into the microphone—basically, in someone's bedroom. It was only after, when I had a chance to listen back to a tape of the set, that it sunk in: this was really was a radio station. We were going hard on a jungle set.
What is your favourite set to date?
I would say, recently, it would have to be the BBC Radio 1Xtra set that we did with So Solid. Before that, it's difficult, but I'd have to say the best sets were always at Christmas. We were all in different crews and, individually, each of us had our own slot times as collectives but, at Christmas, everyone would link up at radio, have a drink up, and like twenty man would jump on set.
What do you think attracted people to tune in or get involved?
Pirate radio stations created a community. All different walks of life were involved. If you wanted to hear what raves you had to go to, new tracks from the hottest artist, or even different views on social issues, pirate radio was the thing to be locked in to. You really felt part of it. The pirates created a hub for community before the internet and computers were readily available to everyone.
Did you ever get caught by the Police or DTI (Department of Trade and Industry)?
The amount of times DTI turned up and everyone just pulled out the decks, grabbed records and made a run for it out of the windows and ducking off roofs—it was crazy! The worst was when you'd be in the middle of spitting your best bar and all you hear is, "Shhhhh! Be quiet" and it was completely silent. They had managed to cut us off the airwaves. I'd be like "Why me?" You knew it was going to take another day or even a week to get everything back up and running. I would be at home waiting, calling people up like, "Yo, is it back on yet?". We lived for it, man. Everyone who's big right now, they all came through pirate radio. It was the hub of so many scenes.
Geeneus and Slimzee put their life in danger so many times! They would go high up twenty-story flats in the wind and rain, just so they could get our music to the people. Their passion was unreal.
What was it like living to entertain and having the DTI always around the corner?
We lived a crazy lifestyle. You see The Matrix? That's how it was [laughs]. Being on pirate radio was like being in that film. Us lot were like the Neo's in The Matrix and the DTI were the agents, always trying to lock us off. So we would move from block to block, roof to roof, trying to stay one step ahead so we wouldn't get locked of the air by the agents. They would confiscate records, take the whole set-up and, sometimes, people's whole careers would just evaporate into thin air. Slimzee got banned from the roof tops. Geeneus and Slimzee put their life in danger so many times! They would go high up twenty-story flats in the wind and rain, just so they could get our music to the people. Their passion was unreal.
Do you think the internet has changed the way we interact with music?
There wasn't much negativity back in the day, because people didn't really have a major voice like they do now. On the pirates, if you liked someone, you would lock in and if you didn't. you'd just switch off or wait until someone you liked was on and then make a lot of noise for them through the phone line. You would very rarely get people contacting you saying you were shit. Pirate Radio had that real homely vibe whereas digital seems quite cold, there’s no real heart there. People are more socially talking about it rather than really enjoying and being into music. Everyone wants to add their two pence. They don’t really want to listen and take it in, they want to see. You could be a tramp on radio, if you had bars then people would be rating you.
What was it like being in that heated set with Dizzee Rascal and Crazy Titch?
I was doing my normal show on Deja and Wiley turned up with Dizzee, and they touched mic on the show. Then everyone started turning up, randomly. Titch turned up and everyone was going in hard, so he touched mic. Obviously we can see online what happened... They were obviously having some friction; Dizzee said his bar and Titch went in and Dizzee didn't like what he said and the way he kept the mic. Then it just went off! I tried to step in but everyone else got in the way as well. I didn't know that history was going to be made that day. If I did, I would've sprayed more bars [laughs].
He had it half done, I remember. I don't know what he was on, to be honest [laughs]. Wiley's a weird brother, but he's always been like that.
Where's the craziest place you ever went to host a pirate radio set?
There was some crazy places. But it has to probably be the hut which was where the Rinse set-up was. It was like on the top of this garage thing which was a hut—it was just mental [laughs].
Is there any need for pirate radio nowadays?
Yes! It was a community! We need a community, and we need the people. We need an independent outlet for our music, because we don't want it to be controlled by corporations.
Can that be done by legal radio or is pirate the only way?
I don't know about online, but unless they change the cars and stereos and wipe the FM band completely, then people will always tune into the FM dial.
Do you feel previously pirates that now have their legal license—like Rinse FM, Choice and Kiss—still represent or play for the underground community?
I would say Rinse does, because they're still babies in this legal license thing and do still have their ear to the underground. The others, I would say NAH! They've been taken over by corporations, which is sad. You may think they have the ear to the street because they know how to get the underground artists on the station but the station, in general, is run by a corporation and eventually washes them out.
What was the best feeling of being on pirate radio?
I used to ride miles to Kool FM on my mountain bike to do our 9am to 11am slot. The feeling of being on air and having the phone line, which was usually a Nokia 3210, having that constantly pop off was a crazy feeling. We would shout down the mic, "I want twenty missed calls to drop this tune"—and within seconds, the phone would just be blinging off. I really miss the community spirit of pirate radio, and I hope that we can one day get it back.