Tired of being a slave to the algorithm? Try rare, handpicked musical delights from Radiooooo.com. ANDREW HARRISON introduces your next addiction

You know how it is. You’re sailing along the French Riviera with your father in his newly-acquired 1950s classic Renault, savouring the sunshine, the fine red leather seats, the sophisticated interior, and the general chic-ness of the moment. You decide to turn on the vintage dashboard radio… and out tumbles a load of terrible daytime radio rubbish, ruining the ambience with its tinny overproduced racket and bursting your bubble for good.

That’s what happened to Benjamin Moreau, a French DJ and artist, back in 2012. But instead of cursing radio programmers and all their works, he decided to do something about the scourge of music that ruins your day. If a song is the most powerful mnemonic there is, can you summon up moments in time through music? “The idea of a musical machine allowing you to travel not only through space but time as well popped into my mind,” he says. And now it exists as a brilliantly strange, quixotic and compelling digital service called Radiooooo.com (type in as many o’s as you like, it doesn’t really matter).

Radioooo Screen 2
Slow, fast AND weird: Radiooooo’s hand-drawn web interface

The way that Radiooooo works is so simple as to be almost comical. Through a web interface based on a world map – hand-drawn for a bit of human charm – you select a country, a decade and any of three simple parameters: SLOW, FAST or WEIRD. Radiooooo then serves up exquisitely rare and fascinating musical selections chosen not by an impersonal algorithm, but uploaded by hundreds of real music enthusiasts and crate-diggers around the world. There’s no pause button, no fast forward and no downloading, just a perfect evocation of (say) Weird Italy in the 1960s. It’s free, it’s completely addictive and it’s very French.

If streaming via Apple Music or Spotify feels like listening to a spreadsheet – with instant option paralysis followed by a weary decision to listen to the same old stuff over and over – Radiooooo resembles an endless musical rabbit hole, a place you could happily get lost in. That’s how we found ourselves wandering from the triptastic ‘Dance Of The Bandits’ by The Helpful Soul (weird 1960s Japan) to the Moogy delights of Mort Garson’s ‘Plantasia’ (weird 1970s Canada) to ‘Tel Sorumlu’ by Kesmeşeker (1990s Turkey) which sounds like Black Sabbath playing The Smiths.

Radioooo3 crop
Expert crate-diggers curate Radiooooo’s music

The selections are impossible to predict and the service implicitly encourages you to place yourself in the hands of selectors who know what they’re doing. It’s the antithesis of Big Streaming’s million dollar algorithms, the big data banks which claim that if you crunch enough numbers you can unlock the secrets of the human soul. And quality control is high.

“We receive between 500 and 1,000 songs a day, and we have five people who listen to every single one of them,” says Radiooooo’s artistic director Noemi Ferst. “What you hear is shaped by our tastes. If it doesn’t speak to our hearts, it doesn’t go on. That’s what saves us from Justin Bieber.”

It took Ferst, Moreau and their friends two years to assemble a group of DJ friends who’d been collecting eclectic music for decades. “Most treasures are locked inside people’s heads,” she explains.  “Even with the Internet, we know how hard and time consuming it is to look for music. You don’t know where to look or even what to look for. So we wanted to make it accessible to everyone. Over half of our library has never been digitalised. You can’t get it on iTunes or Spotify.”

“What you hear is shaped by our tastes. That’s what saves us from Justin Bieber.”

Radiooooo even talked to iTunes with a view to offering the songs for sale, only to find that Apple weren’t interested in disentangling the myriad rights to these strange songs. At the time it seemed like a rebuff. Now they wonder if it’s a backhanded compliment to Radiooooo’s unique approach. Though they’re still figuring out how to make the service pay for itself, private investment has got them this far. Radiooooo now has a healthy 80,000 listeners and a growing community of contributors who understand that it’s about more than obscurity or quirkiness for its own sake.

“When we got our first submissions we could tell that people had really listened to Radiooooo and really understood the mood we wanted,” says Ferst. “It’s something different from the instant gratification, zapping generation idea that we have now where nobody takes the time to pay attention. We want to slow things down, a little like listening to vinyl.

“We want to encourage people to listen to what’s playing – and not know what’s coming next.”

The weekly BIGMOUTH pop culture podcast has more about Radiooooo – plus Obama’s playlists, the return of De La Soul, and a surprisingly moving new Gary Numan film. Click to play:


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