you resource for all things shoegaze & dream pop.

12 September 2011

Interview: Michael Foster of Strangeways Radio and DJ of Halcyon Waves.

Strangeways Radio has been on our radar nearly since its inception; as a creature of the internet (like us) that strongly represents the genres of shoegaze and dream pop (like us), we naturally gravitated toward them. There are plenty of amazing podcasts out there, and there are always things like Pandora (which is a bit stale, don't you think?), but a free, 24 hour a day streaming internet radio station that consistently airs top notch music? Rare. In our never-ending search to mine shoegaze and dream pop gold from the internet, Strangeways quickly became a touch point for us to find new artists. We could trust them to deliver the goods. Little did we know (though we found out later), Strangeways held us in the same regard!

We watched them grow; we listened to DJ Mikey (Michael Foster) and DJ Zumby (Scott Zumberg) do their weekly shows (Halcyon Waves and Sound and Vision, respectively), we saw them add new and talented DJs to their roster - including one of our idols, Simon Raymonde of Bella Union and Cocteau Twins fame; Strangeways is now a force to be reckoned with. Getting to know Michael Foster, owner and program director of Strangeways Radio, has been a sheer pleasure. Encyclopedic in his musical knowledge and passionate about great tunes, Michael is truly one of those special few out there with the power and initiative to get new musicians heard and appreciated while educating listeners at the same time.

When The Sun Hits Interviews Michael Foster of Strangeways Radio and DJ of Halcyon Waves

by: Amber Crain

How did Strangeways Radio get its start, and what role did it's predecessor, Auralgasms, play in it's creation (if any)?

got started in about June of 2010. After the demise of Auralgasms, I found myself using a lot of other means for listening to music. I had my own music library, and I spent time getting that organized and using technology so I could listen to my music at any time, wherever I am. That was nice, but that didn’t provide an avenue for learning new music. So I turned to Pandora and and those did help bring new music into my life. But after a while, I got bored with that because I found them to be a little repetitive.

At the same time, a few alternative dance nights (Happy Endings and the now defunct WOW Wednesdays) popped up in my hometown and I started going to those venues. The local DJs did a great job of mixing new and old music. When I went to these new venues, I noticed a different vibe than I was used to seeing. The DJs were very supportive of each other. They cross promoted and attended each other’s events and I very much liked what I was seeing. That really got my creative juices flowing.

Auralgasms shut down for a number of reasons, but one of them was that it just sort of got stale. Auralgasms was just myself and Scott (Zumby) and there weren’t a lot of outside influences. Strangeways was created with a new vision. I wanted to tap in to the talent base of local djs (and even international djs) and build a site/station that had a broader range of influences. My goal was to build a station that wasn’t about any one individual, but was about bringing everyone together. This music that we listen to…it’s not exactly common. And the scene isn’t strong enough to have several competing ventures all going after the same market. So with Strangeways, the goal was to create a community where all of the talent could come together and create a product that is severely lacking in the music industry.

Can you tell us a little bit about what's currently going on with Strangeways Radio and bit about how it functions, for those out there who are hearing of you for the first time?

Lots of exciting things are going on at Strangeways. We are VERY excited to have brought When The Sun Hits into our community with the new weekly show focusing on Shoegaze/Dreampop. Danny and Amber are first class and their mission seems to be in line with what Strangeways is all about.

We also just recently launched an iPhone and an Android app which people can use to listen to Strangeways Radio in the car, or wherever they are. This has been really well received by our listeners.

We are ramping up our online content with some new blogs where we hope to offer daily interesting content to our listeners about whats going on at Strangeways and with the artists that we play.

And, I should mention, that we are actively trying to get a Brit Pop focused show on our airwaves. We are in the middle of searching for the right DJ/Personality to take on that effort!

In terms of how Strangeways functions, we have a website which hosts our blogs, message boards and chat rooms. The website also has a catalog of all of the songs that are on the station, and shows what song is currently playing as well as what has played in the last hour. Every day on the station we have a different specialty show with a hosted DJ. Each show has it’s own vibe and offers something unique to the listener. When a DJ isn’t on the air, the station plays a rotation of music which cycles between all of the genres that we support and focuses on playing a lot of new releases. People who listen to Strangeways should have a notepad handy, because they will learn a lot of new bands, and reconnect with a lot of forgotten favorites.

Would you consider Strangeways Radio to be focused on any certain musical genre(s) or to cater to a certain demographic?

We do cater to certain genres. However, we think our list of genres provides a lot of variety while at the same time proving some consistency. The genres we play at the core are Dreampop, Britpop, Triphop, Shoegaze, Electronica, Indie Pop, Indie Rock and Alternative Classics. If you want to take it a step further, we play a good variety of Dark Wave, Chillwave, EBM, Post Punk, Post Rock…I think you get the point.

How do you choose the music that is put into the Strangeways library? Is there a specific sound you are looking for?

We get a lot of submissions for the station and we are very choosy with what we add to the rotation. We tend to spend most of our time looking for newer bands, but if something from the past comes our way that we have missed out on, we will gladly add it. When choosing songs to add to the station, I usually use the criteria of what I would think if I heard the song on the radio. Would I like it? Would I look up who the artists is? We don’t add new music just because it’s new. It has to be something that we think people really will enjoy. To be honest, choosing what to add to the station is one of the hardest jobs. Everyone has their own opinion and their own tastes. So we try to make decisions that we think will sit well with the vibe of the station. Sadly, we have to say no to some things but I think in the end, that’s why people like listening to the station. They trust what they are hearing.

Who are the 5 most recent shoegaze/dream pop acts to have their music added to the Strangeways Radio library?

Lanterns On The Lake, Morpheme, I Break Horses, Her Vanished Grace, and Active Child are our most recent new additions. But, we add music all the time. Every time we update the station we post on our message boards listing all of the songs that got added. So people should look out for that to keep in touch with what’s new.

What do you think of the modern shoegaze/dream pop scene in general? Do you feel it's positive and relevant today?

I do think it is modern and relevant. Every day I seem to find another great band in these genres. Sadly, I feel the Trip-hop genre, which I love very much, is falling behind. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of new Trip-hop bands these days.

Are there any other radio stations out there, similar in structure to that of Strangeways, that you admire? Are there any traditional radio stations you still enjoy?

I’ll answer the second question first. NO. I have yet to find a commercial radio station that I can stand to listen to. I feel that they play what the big shot executives tell them to. It is very repetitive and doesn’t offer nearly enough exposure to new bands. Additionally, they have way too many commercials. That is one of the other benefits of Strangeways…it is completely commercial free. Not many stations can say that!

In terms of other stations, there are several out there that I admire. Really, I admire anyone who puts their hard earned time into providing an alternative to the norm and who can provide their listeners with non-repetitive variety. My hats off to anyone who pulls that off, regardless of the music they are playing.

Do you feel that internet radio has perhaps rendered traditional radio obsolete, or do you expect it to do so in the future?

I think it’s rendered it near-obsolete and it will completely replace it in the future. It won’t be long until you can get an internet radio player in your car in which you can program your favorite shoutcast stations to play at the click of the button. Actually, I’m sure that must exist now…it’s just not that common. People have so many choices…so why listen to commercials and repetitive music when you can listen to something tailored to your liking.

How do you feel about the ever-changing music scene currently? What do you think about free downloading?

I think it is changing quickly. Everyone is competing for the “Music In The Cloud” space. Amazon, Google, iTunes, Spotify. They are all trying to allow you to listen to music where ever you are, and to integrate music with social networking. It’ll be interesting to see how this all plays out. Sometimes too many choices isn’t always good because people can’t share if they all use different technology. One of my current favorite “Cloud” services is Audiogalaxy.

Free downloading…people have to do what they feel is right. Sometimes it serves a band well…someone will download a song (illegally) from a band they didn’t know, but then they may in turn go purchase a cd or go see the band live and buy a concert t-shirt, something they would have never done if they didn’t get that first copy of the song. I can see where huge bands have a problem with it, but sometimes for the smaller bands, it’s how they get discovered. At the same time, I completely understand how it makes some bands unhappy. I think the bandcamp concept is great, where some bands post their songs and let you pay “what you feel is right” for the song. I’m interested to hear how that has worked out for bands. I hope it has.

How do you feel about the state of the music industry today? There is no doubt a massive change underway; how do you see it and do you feel it’s positive at all?

I don’t want to be that old guy that relishes in the way it used to be. Every day I discover another new band that I love, so for me that’s positive. If the state of the industry today (with the illegal downloads and all) makes it so that bands can’t afford to put out a new record, then that would be sad

When it comes to label releases versus DIY/bandcamp and the like, what is your stance, if any? Essentially, what are your thoughts on record labels, indie and not?

I love it. I think people should put out the record that they WANT to make, not what they are told to make. Bandcamp has been fantastic and I have noticed a lot of bands, both big and small, have been using donations to fund the process of recording a new record. I think that’s a tremendous idea and I’m glad to see that it has worked out for many of the bands that have tried that approach.

Do you prefer vinyl, CD, cassette tape or mp3 format when listening to music? Do you have any strong feelings toward any of them?

I’m an mp3 guy, mostly for the convenience. I can’t say I’m a vinyl geek, although I know that it’s actually something that’s growing. I understand why people like vinyl from a collector’s point of view. Those are the same people who wouldn’t like Kindle for reading books. They would rather have a physical book that they can store in a bookshelf than a digital file. I totally get that. But at the same time, having my books digitally offers me so much convenience over a hard copy, and I feel the same way about digital music. There are those that like Vinyl for the audio quality. Some people are blessed with a really good ear, and can audibly tell the difference between the sound of vinyl and something digitally compressed. My hats off to those people. I think the majority of people don’t notice the difference (myself included) and thus opt for the convenience.

What is your goal for Strangeways Radio?

I’m hoping to grow. My goal is to rid the world of crappy music. Seriously though, there are so many people that I think would love what we are doing, and don’t even know about us yet. We are working on spreading the word and growing our listener base, and building up the community. One of the great things we do is offer a chat room during the shows where like minded listeners can meet each other, and talk about the music and whatever else is on their mind. The chat room has resulted in several romances and long distance friendships. Doesn’t it suck when a great indie concert comes to your town and you have no one to see it with? Strangeways has helped people meet others with similar taste in music from all over the world.

What is your philosophy (on life), if any, that you live by?

Hmmm…I’m not very deep. I have pretty simple philosophies, I don’t sweat the small stuff, and I just try to keep in perspective the things that matter.

I’d like to add that we have a very impressive list of DJs on the station with an incredible amount of music knowledge and experience. Representing Detroit we have myself and DJ Zumby, my partner in our original venture – Auralgasms. We also have DJ Pinknoise who has years of experience with retro and industrial club nights. DJ Dave DeRoches has on-air radio experience and is a guru at finding the lastest and greatest bands. From the Blogosphere, we have Amber from When The Sun Hits and Matt Sebastian who runs the Slicing Up Eyeballs blog. And finally, internationally we have Nathanial Cramp who runs the very popular shoegaze record label and club night, Sonic Cathedral. And of course, Simon Raymonde who runs the Bella Union record label and is a pioneer in the music industry as a member of the Cocteau Twins. We have even hosted many guest DJs including Mark Burgess (Chameleons), Moev, Claude (Anything Box), Daniel Victor (Neverending White Lights), Anna Lynn Williams, Ryan & Rebecca Coosebook (Halou/Stripmall Architecture), Julia Beyer (Chandeen), and lots more. We are very proud of the talent and personalities that we have been able to get to play music for you, and we hope to have even more to come…so stay tuned in!