Stepping off the train again at Peckham Rye station, we amble down a wet high street and sneak into the kind of anonymous arcade that could contain anything from a blackmarket bookies to a renegade health shop. Guided by fluorescent strips, we weave past shuttered down shops, eventually walking down to a wide open blue door, greeted by James Browning, founder and proprietor of Balamii, a new service that wants to take listeners out of the dark.
The app combines the physical - DJs record their mixes in a custom built studio in the heart of SE15 - with the digital cloud in which we spend most of our lives. Essentially it works like this: a DJ plays their set, annotates the tracklist, Browning records it, uploads it to the servers and listeners can both stream the result and use an in-app point-of-purchase system hooked up to iTunes to buy that track, that remix. The overarching ethos is, as Browning puts it, "about wanting to give back to artists where you can."While other sites, services and stations provide tracklists, Balamii believe they're the only ones out there who offer the most extensively timecoded, accurate ones around which can only benefit DJs and listeners alike. Currently the mixes are available through the app and on Soundcloud but April will see the launch of a new site that offers the same capabilities.
Browning always had dreams of starting a station, but given the crowded nature of London's airwaves, and the twin towers of Rinse and NTS ruling the radio roost in particular, he was determined to find another way of achieving his aim.Balamii was born in the club - the original mixes came straight out of the live environment. "For the first two months I was trekking round London with my equipment just recording people," Browning tells us. "They'd say, "yeah, we're playing at Dance Tunnel tonight, come down," and I'd just plug stuff in. At first it was the laptop, then I moved to a handheld recorder because it was a bit more durable. Then these guys [at You And Music Records] said they had a space and that we could share it."
That space is a labour of love, the begging, borrowing and stealing, as it were. Compact and robust, it houses the essentials in a flab free room perfectly proportioned for maximum ease of mixing. The Balamii crew took a trip to the local timber yard to get the raw goods for the sturdy desks that prop everything up. The technical elements are similar in their slung-together way. "The speakers are Milli's, the decks are Ears Have Eyes records, the mixer belongs to my best mate's brother, that CDJ is Tom from YAMs, the other one I bought," he explains. The result is a refreshingly unflashy studio that suits the needs of its users.
Of course, any app that's rooted around mixes needs the right kind of selectors in place to provide the goods. Early supporters include Dark E Freaker, P Money, Flirta D, Spooky, Budige and Andrew Ashong. While you're unlikely to hear two hours of straight EDM, Browning stresses that the programming is open-format. This wide remit is down to fact that he's "not quite worked out what can and can't be done. If someone comes to us with a proposal for something that might not necessarily fit in, I'm still all ears. I'm still working it out."Though there's a tendency towards the 4/4 side of things Browning's looking to branch out into other, more avant avenues. "You know Harold Moores Records in Soho? The guy from that is coming in to do a set of contemporary classical. House, techno, garage, that's a good base to work off, but I want to go further - be it grime or classical or roots, dub, reggae."The service's home turf has proved fertile thus far. As THUMP has already explored, Peckham's enjoying a genuine cultural moment at present, with record shops, venues, and labels popping up on a seemingly weekly basis. Browning is interested in embedding Balamii in the community after a frantic few weeks of on-air operation. "Now I can kind of sit back and think about how to get the community involved. We've had Bradley Zero come through and say he'll do something for us, we've got guys at a barber shop who are up for it. The Rye Wax boys came through once or twice a week, the YAM guys, Peckham Springs are interested.. We leave the door open, people come and have beers, bring their mates." That kind of sociability is key to becoming as community minded as they intend on being.While the platform stays Peckham-positive, Browning's already looking beyond the confines of south east London for mixes. "Local Talk in Sweden just sent us sets from Mad Mats and Tooley and one by DirtyTwo and that came in from Stockholm, so we can upload things that way. We've got listeners in Japan. I'm not gonna say, 'you're not part of the London scene so you're not involved.' At the end of the day, we want good music."Josh Baines is on Twitter