“Uncle Flow, you look like a weird peeper!” Julie Adenuga, the voice behind Rinse FM’s drivetime show, is live on air but she has glimpsed a visitor peering into her studio. As she pastes her playlist into the station’s Twitter feed with one hand, she waves to the veteran MC Flowdan who’s popped by on his way out of the east London studio. She turns her attention back to cueing up the tracks for her show: an Azealia Banks album cut produced by garage legend MJ Cole followed by the lead track off nu-grime producer Murlo’s new EP.
In Rinse’s 20th-anniversary year, it’s a casual interaction that captures the station’s past and future. The gravel-voiced Flowdan – a former member of the garage collective Pay As U Go and a co-founder, along with Wiley, of the grime crew Roll Deep – first appeared on it 14 years ago, when Rinse was a pirate station moving between tower blocks in a bid to evade the law. When Adenuga arrived in 2010, it had just won a five-year battle for its Ofcom broadcast licence, and her afternoon show was a key part of its emergence into legitimacy. She’s heard all the stories of old hands climbing over fences, getting chased by guard dogs and scaling buildings to fix aerials to roofs, but it seems a million miles from the comfy, air-conditioned studio where she now presents her show, designed to be a showcase of the station’s aesthetic: the range of London club music that has been its beating heart for two decades.