Radio remains one of the most powerful mediums for music discovery and platforming the next generation of DJs and broadcasters. The uniqueness of every radio station can completely transform a listener’s relationship with music and provide many heartfelt memories of years gone by. Centreforce is a station that certainly fits that mold.

Founded in 1989, the dance music radio station came about in the midst of the ‘Second Summer Of Love,’ a time in the UK when youths embraced the new sound known as Acid House and illegal rave culture. A pirate radio station at first, Centreforce has had many periods of activity and inactivity, but has been fully active since 2018 when it obtained a DAB license and became a legitimate broadcaster, transmitting all forms of dance music to London, North West England and North Wales. Now the station produces 24/7, around the clock programming across audio, visual and live streaming for their expanding audience; in 2022 alone, Centreforce attracted over eight million unique listeners. To celebrate their five-year anniversary of going legit, the station unleashed 72 hours of radio raving from over 200 artists in July 2023, available to stream now on Mixcloud.

We caught up with the management team - Danny Swallow, Darren Clack and Jonny C - about Centreforce’s origins, giving back to creatives and their plans for the future.

One of Centreforce's many IRL events

What led to the creation of Centreforce?

Danny: My dad founded the station in 1989. Centreforce was open to provide information to party goers and then become a means for people to get their music played and for DJs and creatives to be creative.

Darren: They were involved in a club night in Echoes, which was a club in Bow just by Mile End station. They wanted to keep the party going and really had a lot of links to all the illegal raves back in the late 1980s and 1990s. So Centreforce was really a vehicle to sell tickets to those illegal raves. And then it became so much more than that; it became a family.

Danny: It became such a problem to the police; they were trying to clamp down on illegal raves and we were giving the information to the party goers. So we were the medium between the promoters and the party people and we'd be able to get five to 10,000 people to a location within 30 minutes. The police at the time said that we can organize people quicker than the military! They had a special unit assigned to listen to us 24 hours a day. I mean, what a treat! We did something uncommon at the time: a 24-hour dance music station. When most pirates would come on at 10pm at night, we were 24 hours. 

Darren: All live DJs, no pre-records, no pre-mixes. All live DJs mixing vinyl records.

Danny: Marshall Jefferson said on numerous occasions that without Centerforce breaking his music, it would never have been as big as what it was. We don't know how many people we reached back in ‘89 but if today’s anything to go by, we were pretty much well ahead of our time. We would have been the biggest dance music station if we would have stayed on. But thankfully for me, I got the opportunity to bring it back and make it the biggest dance music station. House music was a whole movement; it cut across and touched so many people and from so many different walks of life, I think it's the first style of music that really brought a lot of people together and pretty much set up the foundations of music festivals.

You mentioned bringing Centreforce back - where did it go?

Jonny: We were turned off for a good 20 years. We had a sniff of legal radio when we came back on in 2012 and were broadcasting with a local station in the Essex area. We could see the impact of being back immediately but the technology wasn't there, there wasn't the video side of it. But it was like we picked up from where we left off, keeping that same essence that we had in ‘89.

So what influenced the decision for Centreforce to move to DAB radio in 2018?

Darren: I think the big shift into more modern times and getting a DAB license was in 2018 when the daughter of one of our listeners had incurable cancer and did a Facebook live-stream fundraiser called the Centreforce sessions. I think they had like 1.8 million views on it. Then the guys got together and said we need to do something about it; we know we've got an audience that’s still sitting there that remembers us. 

Danny: So we started doing Facebook live-streams and reached around 20 million people in the space of a 6 month window.

Jonny: We were only doing two hours a day.

Danny:  It wasn't really until my dad moved to Tenerife and said to me and Jonny one day, “why don't you go for a DAB license?” We both just laughed and said there's no way we'll get one and then five years later here we are.

Jonny: It was the visual aspect that really brought Centreforce back, being able to interact with people on video and through the chat room. And Mixcloud has carried on that element for us.

"Marshall Jefferson said on numerous occasions that without Centreforce breaking his music, it would never have been as big as what it was."

What is Centreforce’s main goal as a radio station?

Darren: When we started out it was a platform to give young, urban DJs in East London a platform to play music. It's always been about giving an opportunity to creatives in effect, to give them a safe space to create, deliver and to be creative and allow them to use their personality. We don’t do playlists and we never will; our idea is that it's up to the DJs to decide what flavor they want to deliver.

How important has Mixcloud been to the recent growth of Centreforce?

Darren: Mixcloud was an introduction to us for a lot of people, and we really started to notice a change. We treat it in some ways as an archival page for everything we do and we've still got a tonne of those listeners from around the world who still go on our page every day. They're all part of the family as if they were listening in 1989, wherever they're from, or however they've been introduced to Centreforce through Mixcloud. That’s been massive for us.

Danny: Mixcloud has been that place where if you miss a show, you can go back and listen to it. For the night time DJs that might have a show that's on from 2-5am in the morning that might not fit the UK market, and might not hit the UK market as much as it would do if it was a primetime show. It allows them to be heard. I would love to say thank you for giving us the opportunity to continue the Centreforce story because, without Mixcloud, it wouldn't really have been possible.

Jonny: I've done every single upload on there by hand. 15,431 uploads.

Darren: That’s why he never leaves that room - he’s too busy uploading!

Rapper Big Narstie (left), DJ Tony Perry (centre) and Alex Petrides (right) partying at a Centreforce event

You guys are active 24/7 from programming to live-streaming; what is a typical day at Centreforce like in terms of production?

Jonny: 95% of DJs come to the studio, and the rest are based in places like Australia, Spain, America, France. We've got YouStream on our back end. So I can put the coding in, and then we kick ourselves out of the stream, allowing the DJs to appear on our platform. Everyone knows what buttons to press and when, and we have a tech guy available 24/7. We’ll soon be moving over to a new backend system where the computers do a lot of the work. So if any new stations come around in the future they’ll be able to use our model and scripting to operate. We want to see the next generation run in the best way they can.

How would you describe the community you’ve built at Centreforce over the years?

Jonny: We’ve really built a community with the amount of people listening and becoming devoted listeners.

Darren: Mixcloud has been a big part of that, in terms of live streaming. It’s allowed us to reach new and different people from around the world. It's very much been a word of mouth exercise where someone tells their mate and it's done great because it's a warm lead.

Jonny: They’re our advertisers.

Darren: Exactly, that’s how we’ve grown.

Danny: I think within the industry, people recognise what we do and recognise that we've brought radio back to a human level. We are so approachable. All of our DJs always respond to the listeners. Our phones are on 24 hours a day and if anybody needs to reach out and chat to us, we're always here. During the pandemic we really shifted back to what made Centreforce what it was before the DAB. That human connection.

What is something you need to know before you start a station?

Jonny: It’s bloody expensive.

Danny: It takes over your life. 

Darren: It has to be a labor of love, but it can't just be a labor of love either. You've got to pay for it somewhere. So the hardest thing I think is treading that line between an authentic genuine voice that has given genuine output, and a commercial business that's generating revenue.

Danny: Understand where you fit in the current world of radio. Don’t try to be another  Centreforce or KISS. Be you, if you’ve got a sound that you like, you’re not the only one. You need to be confident and passionate to bring it about.

Jonny: A good way to get yourself out there is through Mixcloud. Get yourself a Pro subscription, become consistent and you get your gains, you get your subscribers, you get your listeners.

Danny: Doors will open naturally.

What does the future of Centreforce look like to you?

Danny: Last year we reached 8.6 million unique listeners and I have no doubt that we can improve that this year. It shows that the Centreforce story is going to continue. We want to launch new stations and platforms, we're looking at launching a Mixcloud only service so certain content won't be available anywhere else. For us, it's about giving that opportunity to DJs to prove their worth. We’re going to evolve a lot over the rest of the year, so we’re trying to line up as many partners as we can to plant those foundations for us to grow. We’re a small team and we’ve all got it in our heads that this station has something very special about it. We're here to take it as far as we possibly can. And I don't just believe that we can become the biggest overall station in the UK; I believe that, within the next three years, we can become the biggest station in the world. With the moves that we're making, with the talent we've got coming on and with the brands that we work with, we're well on our way to achieving that.

What advice would you give to anyone who wants to start their own radio station?

Jonny: Be consistent.

Danny: Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t do it, because if I listened to everyone who said that to me, I wouldn’t be here right now. Don’t give up, five years ago, we had an idea to go legit. And we're now living, we're living breathing proof that you can do this on your own. The way that the world is is the way it is because somebody had the idea 10 years ago, or 20 years ago, and everyone loved it. That's how it is. So my advice to anyone is if you've got a dream, and you want to be involved in broadcasting, whether it's radio, whether it's TV, just do it.

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