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Relate Radio: Community and Authenticity in Groningen’s Music Scene

“It doesn’t matter who you are or where you’re from… What I see a lot of in our community is a level of understanding, of being willing to listen to each other, to open up and be vulnerable, and to help each other out.”

What makes Relate Radio stand out is, in one word, community. The radio was created by and for the community of DJs, creatives, and music-loving dancers that make up the vibrant electronic music scene in Groningen. 

When I meet Geert Jan at the doors of VERA, he’s wearing cozy clothes and a bright smile. His hair has faded to salt-and-pepper, but the liveliness he exudes gives him an indeterminable age. The music he plays, soulful house, is reflected in his very character. 

Source: Marco Sicilliano

We cram into the unexpectedly small studio at the top of VERA’s unexpectedly large building. The maze-like VERA is Groningen’s epicenter of (sub)culture. It seems only a natural fit that Relate Radio, the organization at the heart of Groningen’s electronic music scene, lay inside. 

All the walls of the studio are plastered with posters and stickers of concerts and collectives in Groningen. Almost all of these are printed in the room across the hall. Geert Jan admires the posters. He calls them real art and says he has some framed in his house. He’s far from the only one collecting these mementos of melody.

Geert Jan turns on the LED strip lining the ceiling. It feels like someone should be preparing to hop on the decks for their video recording; a new addition to the website’s livestreams and their YouTube and Mixcloud catalogs. Instead, we settle down and he begins to tell me the story of the radio station. 

It began as a passion project between the old guard of Groningen’s dance scene. When the Covid-19 pandemic put restrictions on collective rejoicing, a small team of scene leaders searched for a new way to keep the community together in a period of isolation. 

These leaders were: Geert Jan, Club IIWII owner; Chris Vos, Paradigm programmer; Bob Kliphuis, Kopjek resident DJ; Cora Ziengs, former resident DJ at Warhol, VERA teammember, producer of the show Pop-and-Coming, and teacher of many of Groningen’s resident female DJs. 

Together they came up with the idea of a radio station that emphasized connection, Relate Radio

With a little support from BuroMix, they started broadcasting from club Oost on the 1st of June, 2021. However, like many other local businesses, the pandemic hit Oost hard and, eventually, Relate Radio moved across the street to the haven of VERA as Oost pondered its future. 

Since then, more than just the location has changed. The programming of the radio station changed too.

“When we started, we had no idea what our plans were. We just wanted to give people the opportunity to showcase, or play, or just step out of their house during corona. And of course, that was firstly done within our own community, our network of friends and acquaintances.”

Gradually, they expanded the number of DJs playing on the radio station to support new people coming into the scene. However, this came with some challenges.

“A lot of people started DJing music during corona.” These new DJs sometimes treated Relate Radio as just another stop on a list of radio stations around the country that would get them some notice.

“So at one point we noticed that we were making the switch to a more promotional platform which turned out to be, for us, to be a bit shallow,” Geert Jan tells me, adding that “people were just coming, playing a great set, and then just leaving again; they weren’t really part of the community.”

Something had to change. ”We really wanted to create a community around the station. That was the point where we just noticed we needed to think about our programming vision. So we stepped away from only doing single sets to making recurring shows,” Geert Jan recounts with a sparkle in his eye.

These shows include Amen To Womxn (DnB of female-only artists to promote more gender inclusivity), Oldschooltronica (Neon Wasabi’s mixing trance, house, and techno goldies), Adventures in Rhythms and Grooves (Ingo the Gringo’s mesmerizing mixes of jazz, house, and soul), For Crying Out Loud (Trouvano plays us sad songs so we can cry together) and DRUK (Uni teacher De Lacey schools us in grime), among many more. 

“There’s a lot of synergy between a collective who’s also running a show on the station.”

Many of the shows are tied to collectives: groups of music enthusiasts who come together to celebrate and grow their worshiped niche. These collectives often end up crafting parties periodically to share what they love with friends and strangers alike at the spectacular music hubs around the city like VERA, Simplon, Oost, Bamboo Lodge, and even the elusive (if only because of the bike ride out) abandoned shelters of the old horse-racing track, de Draftbaan, and de Graanfabriek warehouse. 

Even the station itself got its own stage at last year’s Noorderzon festival; after they accidentally stole the show the previous year. That year their popularity pushed them up from their assigned task as background DJs and  got them their own stage in just a couple days.

“We have now around 15-20 hours with recurring shows with a growing fanbase, with people who are now getting used to radiomaking, who invite new guests to the station, and really build. You can really see the station is turning into a platform where others can do their thing and build their own little communities on.”

Geert Jan compares this phenomenon to a mushroom growing: each new fruiting body putting out new spores to expand and connect even newer growth.

This expansion of this society of sound has created fertile ground for ever new ideas and opportunities. So, what’s in the future? A new studio with a club? An updated website with a more navigational archive and an exchange of focus from video to audio? We’ll just have to tune in and support the station to find out ;)