Earlier this year, London’s NTS Radio celebrated its fifth year in existence, a landmark event for a young organization that has had an indelible impact on electronic music in particular and underground musics in general since it was founded in April 2011. In all likelihood, your favorite artists and labels have had an NTS show at some point in the past half decade and the station’s special programming – rapidly expanding into the live, a/v and performance sectors – is to be lauded. Like most special arts organizations, the people behind NTS are what makes the operation tick, which brings us to Tabitha Thorlu-Bangura, one of NTS’s star employees and one of its many unsung DJ heroes. The TTB show (also her alias while DJing out) runs for an hour every month and is consistently home to some of the best pop ephemera, contemporary folk musics, noisy gems and off-kilter club jams. It’d the sort of show where Terry Riley, Minnie Ripperton and Nidia Minaj share air time, a splatter of sounds that offers no particular preference to era, genre or geography.
Of course, much has been made about the legacy of open format radio in the UK (station founder Femi Adeyemi has even been compared to John Peel), but there are few shows that truly embrace that like TTB, with an ethos that is at once ultra-specific and completely egalitarian, a platform for emerging artists as much as it is a treasure trove of gems from past decades. Tabitha’s Astral Plane mix is an extension of that ethos, avoiding the poles of revivalism and futurism to reach an optimal creative fusion that is truly her own. It’s heady and hazy without genuflecting to much to either sonic niche, a genuinely transportive experience that occasionally erupts into bouts of noise and propulsive club sounds. On November 5, Tabitha is bringing Lechuga Zafiro, Bonaventure and Alx9696 to London, a fittingly eclectic line-up that should have dancers in a state of ecstasy from start to close. If you’re in London, we heavily recommend that night, but the rest of us will have to settle for Astral Plane Mix 127. Hit the jump for an interview with Thorlu-Bangura and a full track list.
Hi Tabitha, hope you’re well! Where are you answering our questions from?
The NTS office, on an extremely rare lunch break. Shout out to the permanently stressed NTS family.
Tell us about the origins of the TTB show. You previously hosted the Spun Out show, which featured labels like Principe and 1080p. How did Spun Out develop into TTB?
Interesting question with a slightly boring answer – I started doing an NTS label showcase because at the time it made sense to me in terms of programming, plus I love giving a platform to new projects, labels, and producers. Pretty early on our station manager Fergus suggested that I should just do my own solo show instead. The spirit of the station is that hosts can do whatever the fuck they want, but because I’m a masochist I usually give myself certain limitations – for example a certain tone or colour develops as I prepare for each show, and I try to keep within that particular atmosphere, which can be extremely specific. Hopefully that stuff doesn’t just stay in my head.
The NTS website refers to your show as “an hour of dreamlike dance music,” but I doubt that that adjective would be the first to come up for all that many listeners. It is really apt in a kind of dissociative way though. What does the TTB dream look like?
Ha! My dream right now is to have a bigger heart, and to become a kinder person. Feeling very spiritual these days… Would also love to actually get some sleep, maybe then I might have a more interesting answer to this one.
Your mixes tend to have an organic quality to them, not in the sense that they use organic instrumentation, but in that they tend to mirror everyday life. That’s often mirrored in your guest selections with artists like lawd knows, Chantal Adams and Klein as prime examples. How do your day-to-day experiences inform the music played on TTB?
Yeah, like I said the shows are just me obsessively trying to reveal the colour or pattern in what’s usually a pretty haphazard listening practice. There’s way too much space and time given to boring music made by boring people. I’m sure there are people who find my shows kind of boring too, but I hope that for the most part people enjoy them and discover new artists or sounds through them. Sometimes I’m unable to do my show – in practical terms, because of work or travel – but honestly sometimes it’s because my head isn’t in the right space, and I’d hate to present something mediocre. Sometimes when I’m sick it can seem like there just isn’t any interesting new music being released at all, which obviously is never true. As far as the guest selections go, again it’s just me wanting to show love to the people around me who are doing amazing things creatively. With those I’m also trying to showcase different perspectives a lot too.
NTS is obviously a quite open format station, but it hardly ever feels scatterbrained. How does one go about programming in that setting? Is there a formula you feel you and the rest of the team can follow?
It’s just real quality, with no restrictions. If there was every a formula, I guess that would be it.
You’re bringing Alx9696, Bonaventure and Lechuga Zafiro to London in a few weeks. One of the more exciting line-ups to come up on my feed in recent memory. How did that come about and what do those artists bring to the table that excites you?
Happy to hear! As far as clubbing goes – I don’t do it so often, and it’s mostly just the smaller club nights, or our own events. I’m tired of seeing the same old shit run by the same people, and big name promoters monopolising things and trying to capitalise on scenes that are only just being born. But I wasn’t particularly keen on doing something myself outside of work, apart from little projects with friends – I know that this stuff really takes time, which I’m short on. And despite my criticisms I know it also takes money, which I have even less of. If I ever daydreamed about it though, Lechuga Zafiro was one of the names on my fantasy lineup. So when he said he was actually going to be in Europe, I couldn’t resist the opportunity. My favourite kind of club music, in whatever genre, makes clever use of silence and texture, and Lechuga Zafiro is king for that. The two others in the triumvirate made the most sense as far as programming, but more importantly they’re people I want to see more of, on a personal level and as a music lover. Bonaventure is one of the best – and most politically engaging – producers around at the moment, and Alx9696 is a little god who plays explorative, hyper sexual, hype spiritual sets. All three are lovely people too, which makes the sight of my bank balance a lot easier to stomach. It’s going to be a little rave for the real heads – I hope all the artists get booked again in London soon at bigger venues, if there are any left.
What show would you recommend everyone drop everything to listen to on NTS?
Who’s That Girl, by Leyla Pillai. Consistently incredible – it’s a mix of talk and music, with a focus on women artists. It’s always such a rich cultural and sonic education. Leyla has such moving, powerful and interesting things to say on the women she features, and on life in general.