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Radio 4 - Tune in to the Brooklyn quintet


Feature: Jack Foley

BROOKLYN-based quintet, Radio 4, began in the spring of 1999 as the trio of Anthony Roman (bass, lead vocals), Tommy Williams (guitar, vocals) and Greg Collins (drums), all refugees from the Long Island hardcore scene.

Eager to expand their musical horizons, yet uninspired by the indie rock of the time, they instead explored the period of unprecedented experimentation that had immediately followed the late 70s punk explosion, and named themselves after a Public Image song as a signal of their broad-minded approach.

Roman recalls their thinking:"Let’s do something that’s got a rhythm, and got a pulse to it. We were all really into Gang of Four and Wire and scratchy guitar. We wanted to be as minimal as possible, and we wanted to do something that couldn’t be perceived as indie rock."

This is something Radio 4 achieved with their debut album, The New Song And Dance, produced by Tim O’Heir and released on Gern Blandsten Records in 2000.

The world did not sit up and take notice, but the trio began hanging out in New York City dance clubs, where they met other musicians, DJs, promoters and music fans all similarly frustrated by indie rock’s sense of self-importance and its aversion to groove.

And Roman opened a small record store, in his Brooklyn neighborhood (Somethin’ Else), where he sold dub reggae, post-punk, the latest British bands, and newest New York acts.

Next door, was a cafe run by a former ska musician with a love for house and techno. As the music from the two stores seeped through the thin walls, it blended into one. And it was a revelation.

Radio 4’s next release, an EP entitled Dance To The Underground, incorporated these musical and social influences to devastating effect.

And its key point - that dancing can be a form of rebellion – made perfect sense to people suffering under Mayor Giuliani’s fin de siecle crackdown on nightclubbing.

Making a name for themselves as the production duo DFA, Tim Goldsworthy and James Murphy signed on to produce Radio 4’s second album.

That record was Gotham!, aptly described by allmusic.com as 'half political rally, half dance party'.

But it was much more than that. It was the sound of a chaotic city at the start of a new Century. And, though of course none of them knew it while recording through the summer of 2001, a city on the verge of a calamity.

In the wake of 9/11, everything about Gotham! – from album title down to songs like Save Your City and Our Town - took on a secondary meaning.

None of which altered its core appeal as an angry rock record that wasn’t scared to groove.

In this sense, it was ideally timed. As the city’s economy collapsed, the bars and clubs were vacated of Cosmo-swilling dot.commers and rejuvenated by a new generation: The Rapture, Interpol, !!!, The Strokes, Outhud, Ted Leo, Le Tigre, The Rogers Sisters…

Radio 4 have no problems giving props to their peers. “Most of my favorite bands right now are from New York,” says Roman. “We come from a community of bands, and that’s something to be proud of.”

Gotham! was picked up by City Slang in Europe; the group, which finally realised its live potential with the crucial addition of P.J. O’Connor, on percussion, and Gerard Garone, on keyboards, toured the continent relentlessly, playing major festivals and tiny clubs alike, winning acclaim wherever they went.

"It was very exciting for us because it was like: These people are dancing to what we’re playing and listening to what we’re saying."

Dance To The Underground was re-released with new mixes in the UK and became a club anthem; in the US, Radio 4 signed to Astralwerks, and had similar success with the remix EP Electrify.

But as their reputation in Europe grew, Radio 4 found themselves constantly challenged for being Americans at a particular contentious point in history.

On one occasion, they showed up to headline a sold-out gig in Hamburg only to find a sign at the front door: "No Americans allowed", (They played anyway.)

When it came time to write the new album, the group that had previously focused on their home city felt it necessary to address their home country.

Which is where Radio 4’s third album, Stealing Of A Nation, comes in…

And for the record, Radio 4 is: Anthony Roman (vocals/bass/ keyboard); Greg Collins (drums/ percussion); Tommy Williams (vocals/guitar); Gerard Garone (keyboards), and PJ O’Connor (percussion)

 

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