Interview: Pete Baxter (Hope St Radio)

Interview: Pete Baxter (Hope St Radio)


How did Hope St Radio come about?

I went to New York in 2017 and visited a place called Lot Radio there, which was recorded out of an old shipping container in Brooklyn. I loved the fact that you could go there, sit down and have a coffee, and they had live broadcasts going on at the same time. They made radio into a sort of social space, and I loved that idea.

I really wanted to do something similar in Melbourne, but I wasn’t sure if it was going to work because of how strong the radio community already is here and starting something else online was a real gamble. My partner took over this space on Hope Street in Brunswick, which I originally thought would be where we would broadcast from, but that wasn’t feasible – the rent was too much, and I felt that if we kept going on there, I’d just end up running a bar.

Then I looked at the idea of running the radio from a space that was already established, but then add in this idea of treating the venue like a studio, and encouraging the fact that the music doesn’t have to be crowd appropriate in a traditional sense.

So, what was the philosophy behind the program?

We’ve always wanted to create a safe atmosphere, and encourage all the presenters to go in to their performance like they’re doing a show out of their bedroom. We tell them to play whatever they like, even if it is soft and mellow or very heavy and intense. Our thinking behind that is that when DJs play bars, they have to appease the crowd; that’s in the job description. But the idea of radio is more to just make yourself happy with the show, it doesn’t matter whether anyone likes it.

But the interesting thing about that is how well so many different kinds of music are accepted by the crowds. There’ll be times at Rooftop where it will be absolutely packed, and someone might be playing a soft country show, that might sound like a programming disaster. But when you add in this radio format, it suddenly becomes a lot more accepted and shows how much music can work both on the airwaves, and in a public space.

Is this experimentation the key behind Hope St? 

Absolutely, but it is also just people being able to do whatever they want to – and creating a no judgement, no pressure space for them. There’s a curation in who does it, but no curation musically. Because if you’re a DJ and you’re really into folk music, there’s no chance you’ll be able to play that in a club – it’s experimentation as well as acceptance, and encouragement of expressing yourself in different ways. Additionally, there are a heap of people who have come through who are amazing selectors and spend their days digging and forming their outstanding taste in music, but aren’t technical DJs. Hope Street gives them a chance to share their tastes without worrying about mixing things properly, so it’s become a meeting point for people who genuinely love music. That’s the thing about radio – it’s just a beautiful format to be able to share and love music.

What do you do to make sure there is always this sort of variation in the music that is being played?

Essentially we encourage people to be free. There are times when people are going really out there, but we are super lucky to have the right people working at the venues – Rooftop Bar and Lazerpig – who understand the goal and the vibe. For example, we had some DJs from the Animals Dancing Collective play last week and they are incredible DJs, and then afterwards Totally Mild comes up and plugs in her phone and plays Ariana Grande off Spotify. The thing is, it just works. One of the funniest things that happened was when Brooke Powers was doing one of her first shows under Hello Earth; real out-of-sphere, exploration journey stuff. One time on Rooftop, it was fairly busy and she was just playing 10 minutes of feedback, some people tolerated it but one guy just lost it and said “I work in AV and this is nothing but feedback!”, Brooke looked at him and said “yeah, it is, and it’s some of the most beautiful feedback I’ve ever heard”, and the look on his face as he just realised what was going on, processing that this was what she was trying to achieve, was priceless.

It can be risky playing such left field music in a public space like Rooftop, have you ever had any trouble with it?

There were times at Rooftop when we were first starting up, when there would be a drunk crowd who would come and try to make requests, but that was very rare. This year however, that hasn’t happened at all and I think it’s because we are much more established and it is clear now that radio is being broadcast from this bar, so people have relaxed and accepted it. 

There was this one guy who got pretty drunk, plugged his headphones into the mixer and started rapping over one of the DJs. That was pretty intense. Initially it was hilarious but then I realised this was broadcasting online and that he could say or do anything, so we ended up gently encouraging him to stop. That was kind of stressful.

Why do you think Hope St Radio has been so successful?

I think a huge part of what Hope Street Radio is, is the community and being able to bring people together. That’s our primary goal and that has been the most rewarding thing from running it – all the new friends I’ve made and all the new crews we’ve seen rise up all because of the radio, it’s a really lovely thing to see happen. The radio has definitely increased my involvement with the DJ side of the community, and having this radio format has made it a really nice experience.

We are really lucky to have such wonderful people around. The thing about it being volunteer-based is that everyone actually wants to be there, which ends with a really nice vibe that makes us all feel special and feel sort of like a family. Volunteer based things can be really fragile; if you don’t have a nice time and people are jerks to you then you’re not going to want to do another show. It’s important to make sure everyone feels like they’re having a nice time and that they’re not playing for free and that we are wasting their time, because we’re not. We are trying to make it feel like the shows are worthwhile and that people feel like they want to come back and do another one.

Your program has a bit of everything, from pop to ambient and everything in between. Is there a sort of scene you’re really tapped in to and are encouraging with this?

I don’t think we are trying to create any sort of scene – we pull from all these different pools and just make it whatever the presenters what it to be. They’re doing all interesting things and it would be boring if it was just 12 hours of flawless mixes from big dance DJ’s. 

I try to go in to the program with a really open mind, and the idea is to try and like everything. Sometimes you’re ready to hate a new type of music, but a lot of the time it has been really interesting to get on board with different times of music you might have found really difficult before. It all comes down to context, and it sheds a new light on new types of music. I don’t curate the best ambient DJs or find the best pop crew, I find people who have interesting tastes and let them do whatever.

Mondays: Noon 'til Midnight live from Melbourne’s Rooftop bar.

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