world music

Thristian Richards is the DJ Getting to the Heart of World Music

We chatted to the DJ about how he joins musical dots on a global scale.

by Olivia Marks
14 June 2016, 8:00am

Hisham Bharoocha

"I like bringing new sounds to a wider audience —translating them, breaking them down and opening people's ears," Thristian Richards, DJ and co-founder of Boiler Room, tells me over a cup of tea at Brownswood Studios in north London. Anyone that's listened to Richards' Dark & Lovely show on NTS Radio, watched his sets on Boiler Room over the years, or listened to him play at warehouse parties (back when that kind of thing still happened in east London), will know that that's no understatement.

Eclectic seems too simplistic a word for Richards' musical tastes. Nothing is too weird or inaccessible, and his thirst for discovering new, unheard sounds is seemingly unquenchable. So, too, is his desire to get to the true roots of different genres of music —to find out the wheres, whens and hows that those various sounds came into being.

"I'm proud that I've managed to get myself in a position where I get to travel," says Richards. "Before I was doing Boiler Room, Gilles [Peterson, whom Richards has worked for over ten years] went to South Africa and came back with all these stories from Johannesburg and Cape Town. I was like, I want to do that. I didn't want to hear the stories – I wanted to be there."

But before he could be there, Richards had to discover new music the same way as every other teenager growing up in the '90s: by listening to the radio and watching MTV.

"I got into UK garage through listening to Kiss FM back in the late '90s," he says. "I remember DJ EZ's show was on at 2am on a Tuesday morning. I used to set my alarm, put a tape in to record and then set an alarm for 45 minutes later and turn the tape over. Then I'd listen to it on the way into school in the morning."

The way we consume music might have changed a lot since then, but Richards' love and passion for radio has never dimmed. He would write his university essays to Peterson's influential Worldwide show on Radio 1, before starting to work for him shortly after graduation, and now has his own show on NTS. "My radio show has become my most solid reason for getting new music," he says.

It's evident that Richards has an insatiable appetite for finding and listening to new music, but above all he is interested in how music is inextricably tied to the place it evolves from. Grime, for example, is a product of east London in the early '00s, in the same way that hip hop is a product of 70s New York.

"Music is inspired and determined by lots of things —politics, culture, time, geography or by the instruments and resources that are available. You might have a huge studio, or just ringtones off a phone. But if it's a sincere expression, it can only come out of that place." Indeed, the success of Boiler Room—the online music streaming project founded by Blaise Bellville that began life in an east London office in 2010, and which is has now been replicated around the world—is as much down to the talents of Richards and everyone else involved as it was a particular moment.

"The timing was great from a number of perspectives," says Richards. "Internet was fast enough to do video streaming, Twitter and Facebook were coming into their own, and people like Jamie xx, James Blake and Mount Kimbie were coming through with a different sound. We just caught onto a mood."

Now that Richards has stepped away Boiler Room, he's able to continue on his quest to find out more about the music he loves. His next stop? Angola, where he wants to trace the roots of kuduro. "Angola for me touches a lot of musical areas that I'm interested in, but I've never been there. Nor have I been to Senegal, Nigeria or Ghana. And in as far as influences on the music that I play, these places are really important."

Kuduro, a distinctive high-speed dance music from Angola, has been having a moment in Lisbon for some time now, but few people know that much about its true origins. "The kuduro sound in Lisbon has become really trendy recently and is now the 'cool thing', but it's been around for a while, especially in Angola. What's happening in Lisbon is great and it tells the story of cultural separations and ghettoisation, but I feel that without understanding what's happening in Angola you can't fully understand kuduro."

And it's this need to understand that clearly drives Richards. "A lot of genres are mutated," he says. "I want to get to the root of it, find out who, in the case of kuduro, came up with this mad dance and nutty sound. Where did that drum pan come from? Sure, there are loads of YouTube videos, but the music culture somewhere like Angola is different – it's cassettes in the market or speaking to this guy who takes you to that guy. I'm very much looking to build my own experiences when I go to these places, rather than reading about it in a book. I'm 0.ready to be like, 'Dude I don't know what you're talking about, but show me.'"

This article is presented in collaboration with Ford

club culture
Thristian Richards