In this series we shine a light on the people that make the wheels turn behind the scenes in London’s music underground. From venue owners and agents, to record label managers and bouncers, we chat to these individuals about their tastes and motivations.
James Browning is the Founder and Director of South London's Balamii Radio. A mainstay in Peckham, the independent radio station has become a home for DJs, artists and MCs from across the capital, including the likes of Shy One, Will Lister, Sean OD, BBZ and Chaos in the CBD.
We meet James on an overcast day in Peckham. Our train is delayed but when we arrive he is not vexed. He suggests grabbing a beer so we nip to the shop and get four bottles for a fiver. We sit down outside Wavey Garms whilst a Balamii show with live MCs is being recorded within ear shot. Locals are flicking through records one shop over. James is at ease, this is clearly where he feels at home.
Most Iconic London Venue?
Big one to kick off with. Corsica studios are still doing it. They set the bar high and haven’t dropped the ball. They are also fucking lovely.
Last gig you went to?
The Balamii Jazz series we did over the summer. Charlotte Dos Santos. That one really stood out as it was 30 degrees that night and it was like you were on a Greek Island.
Last DJ set that really impressed you?
Any of Shy One’s. Numero Uno for me. Maxwell Owen. I like Dr Tropical, he is really overlooked.
Last meal you really enjoyed?
Taco Queen. I had dinner there last night. Steak, Battered Avocado and Paprika Chips. You got to do two tacos and a side.
Last record you bought?
Kamaal Williams - The Return.
Best bit about working in music?
All of it. I have wanted to do this since I was 14. I have always wanted to run a radio station. The fear you get when you think about going to work on a Sunday? I don’t get that. I really love it.
Toughest challenge about working in music?
Financing it can be tricky. Growth. Taking it from zero to where we are today. That has been eye opening and challenging. On the day to day, sometimes when you want to work, wires get crossed when people are having a good time and you have to get your emails done in the corner. It’s not a biggie. The whole thing man, from start to finish, is the best type of challenge.
What was the first break in your career?
What Blaze and Femi achieved with NTS and Boiler Room. If they hadn’t have done that I never would have thought that anything like this could be possible.
Best headline act you have seen?
Fred Wesley and Maceo Parker. My dad took me when I was like 13. Blackheath Concert Halls. It was banging.
Last time you stayed in a club until the lights came on?
I haven’t done that in a while. I get my fill down at the station.
Best place to eat before you go out with friends?
Yada’s just near Peckham Rye Station. Banging Kurdish food.
Person that you have worked with that you found most inspiring?
BBZ. Naeem and Tia. They are some of the nicest people I have met doing this. Mansur Brown. He just released this album on Black Focus. I was listening to his stuff in the station and people were asking about it. I was gassed off it. I went outside for a cigarette and he was there. He lives down the road.
Best thing about the music scene in London?
Best in the world. 100%. London has everything every other city has, plus it has all the other scenes. It is the melting pot of everything that is happening.
Any labels that you are enjoying at the moment?
Last thing you shazzamed?
Camay – Ghostface Killah.
Anything exciting going on professionally at the moment?
We have a pretty great video of MC Pinty coming out. He just had a release on Rhythm Section and has an album coming out next year. We were doing Balamii on ice and we filmed a video. We had to take out two insurance policies and get him some ice skating lessons.
Any advice for anyone who is looking to start working in music?
Fuck knows. Anything I say will be turbo cliché. It has to be something you want to do anyway. If you are doing your thing on the side and it becomes something you can live off then great. Do it because you want to do it, I guess.
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