By its nature, pirate radio deals in the aesthetically illicit. Joe Gillick and Sage Redman’s Orphan Radio operates independently—outside of broadcasting regulations, playing whatever its DJs want, which often means garagey electronica—and thus has “pirate” status.
Despite pushing club-oriented mixes in a town often asleep before closing time, Orphan—the parent term for the Seattle radio station, record label, and family of DJ monikers—is having a big year. At Upstream the Orphan crew guest-curated its own stage, a wish list of artists they wouldn’t have otherwise had the funds to bring to Seattle. And FKL, the ominous synthpop band Gillick and Redman started some six years ago, played both Upstream and Capitol Hill Block Party. Orphan Records put out its first official release in June, with more to come in September and January. Now, Orphan celebrates its third birthday this Saturday, September 1 with a late-night rollout of DJs.
Gillick and Redman, natives of South West London and Mount Baker respectively, started their DJ careers, and Orphan, together after meeting at Goldsmiths in London. Eventually, Redman's visa expired and they came to Seattle in 2016. Immediately, they spotted a cultural gap: the independent brand of radio that sustained London’s DJ scene. The Orphan crew, who’d been putting on raucous parties and playing big name UK stations, now didn’t even know where to send demos.
“It’s just so mad to me,” Gillick says, “that you’re just forced into doing it yourself.”
Which is what they did.
The station started broadcasting out of LoveCityLove in June 2017. Redman and Gillick married that September and took a hiatus until relaunching the radio in February of this year from Equinox Studios in Georgetown. But those first two launchpads were shared. In July they set up shop in their current location in the shadow of the viaduct where Pioneer Square meets the waterfront, a modest space staked out as their own.
Though Orphan’s website stream circulates across the internet, space is crucial to the station’s identity. “I like the idea that it’s a safe space where people make it their own, rather than enforcing this kind of vibe where you have to be super serious and cool,” says Gillick. He envisions a place where “my dad or some children can come or whatever—or you can get fucked [up] and off your rocker.”
The other identity factor, obviously, is the music. Redman warily avoids genre limitations, but Gillick boils it down: “club-oriented electronic music.”
Around that central aesthetic orbit local niches. DJ Emmanuelle unearths synthy French relics. Fremont’s Daybreak Records does a reggae and dancehall show. And Wallingford’s WeCoast Records spins funk and soul. For supposedly being part of a subterranean scene, which tends to mean exclusivity, Orphan doesn’t seem inclined to turn anyone away.
Last year, for example, Rafael Gonzalez-Posada showed up to LoveCityLove wanting to get involved but unable to operate a CDJ. Now he helps with the station’s programming and is using Orphan’s recording space to get his fledgling label, Tech Startup, ready to release music later this year.
While the local footprint grows, the Orphan platform can also be heard anywhere in the world. People are listening in Hungary, Georgia, Turkey. Billy Meddleton, an Orphan founder and team member who relocated to Berlin, has found that Orphan Radio has some name recognition over there. Later this month, the stateside team heads to Berlin to reunite with Billy and throw an Orphan party. “That is a positive thing,” Gillick says. “We’re showcasing more of Seattle in another country.”
In its own way Orphan works to dismantle the city’s sometimes insular attitude, musically or otherwise. Whether transmitting to the other side of the world or playing for a hometown crowd at a party this Saturday, they're running with the idea that, as Gonzalez-Posada puts it, “You never know who’s listening.”