Y2K – ‘Tower Block Dreams – EP 2 – Ghetto On Sea’ BBC Doc (2004)

On a more positive note than what you’re about to read, we highly recommend you checking out Michael Chandler’s documentary Stay Sailing, which is a brilliant piece of film making on pirate radio: http://www.awkwardmovements.com/2010/12/stay-sailing-pirate-radio-documentary.html

Got sent this in response to the brilliant DJ Slimzee mini-doc we posted last week. Jimmy Monsta Funk was quick on response as always, sharing the downside to Slimzee’s up, with what he considers to be an interesting if oft-forgotten piece of pirate radio and the UK’s radio history captured on film. And when we say ‘interesting’ we mean, ‘an hour long facepalm in to what was wrong with pirate radio.’

Tower Block Dreams was a three part documentary broadcast on BBC in 2004, looking at inner city blocks and the correlation with the underground music scene at the time. Pirate radio was both king and key to making it with credibility and on your own terms, as well as a grind to cut your teeth on. Most importantly though, it played the sounds that the legal broadcasters wouldn’t; the sound of the people, the sound of the street.

The less glamorous side of pirate radio’s history is that a lot of stations came and went during it’s golden years, often shut down by their own inability to take their role in the culture seriously. It’s easy to believe your own hype and get stuck in a bubble. For the station managers it’s a lifestyle choice, and those who couldn’t get their shit together couldn’t keep up, and simply fell by the wayside forgotten.

Ghetto On Sea is episode two in the series, following pirate radio station Y2K in 2004, broadcasting illegally in a fifteen mile radius of Essex. From council flats and threats from neighbours, to scaling rooftops to pull down aerials from other pirates moving in on their space, Ghetto On Sea definitely shows you both sides of the coin. In fact, it’s even been argued that despite this being a documentary on inner-city music, it’s also a gross misrepresentation of the way pirate broadcasters treat their stations and each other.

Led by station manager and emcee Killer, there’s only a few involved in their crew (if any) who seem to be thinking outside of Southend props. The subjects seem to spend a whole lot of time boasting about breaking the law then claiming corruption and wrongdoing when they get caught. And this isn’t just fines for staying on the air, but weapons charges, drugs and refusing to stop driving without a license.

It may not do them any favours, but it does show a realistic, and sometimes tragic side of the culture. Other parts are downright ridiculous, and you have to believe that these guys are much more concerned about their image in front of the cameras as well as each other as opposed to the message in the music. It makes it a bit hard to give any respect when about half of the footage involves threatening to kill various people.

If you’ve got an interest in pirate radio, and want to know why it’s seen to be tied to criminal activity, this documentary might explain a bit of it.