half moon bk radio is making dance music black again
July 1, 2019
“Half Moon was born out of the need to defy. Essentially, we are destroying mainstream radio and building a platform that allows music and culture to thrive without limits.”
This is the decidedly punk self-description you’ll find on über-cool online radio station Halfmoon BK’s “about” page. A little under a year since its first broadcast, the station has positioned itself at the center of a burgeoning, youth-driven, dance music movement in New York City. Tune into the 24-hour station and you’ll hear remixes, deep cuts, edits, and original music from some of the most forward-thinking young DJs and producers in dance music — everything from permutations of techno and house, to Jersey Club and juke music. Besides its grassroots and DIY approach to radio, the thing that also defines Half Moon is its commitment to the close-knit community and the understanding that house and techno are musics of Black origin. Too often when this century’s dance music is mentioned, it conjures up images of bros partying to EDM; but Half Moon was founded by 27-year-old Surf Allah to reaffirm the connection between Black people and dance music, and to provide space for Black and Brown people to enjoy the music both on the dance-floor and the airwaves. Recently, AFROPUNK spoke to Surf Allah to learn what inspired him to create the station and on his plans to grow the enterprise.
What is Half Moon BK as you conceived it?
Half Moon BK is an online and in-real-life platform that highlights underground culture, primarily in New York City but also in other cities like Toronto, Los Angeles, Berlin, London. Mainly Black dance music culture, because that’s a thing where the masses of Black people don’t really highlight [that kind of music]. You could hear hip-hop or R&B, that lane [anywhere], but Half Moon was birthed to highlight those [artists] that didn’t really have like a voice to the masses — that wasn’t really getting acknowledged — and showing Black people that we can tap into this other stuff too. Now we represent more than just dance music, but starting off, the main goal was to be that scope for underground dance music made by Black people that was living in New York City. Gathering all those people that we knew that were just in their bedroom making cool shit, playing shit at the local clubs and bars. But anyone outside of New York couldn’t really hear them because they didn’t know where to tap in or find that. So we became that like wormhole that you like go into, and [that] just exposed you to this whole other underground world that was going on in New York.
What made you zoom in on dance music as the focus of Half Moon?
I came from a hip-hop background. I was born in Brooklyn and I grew up listening to hip-hop. I’ve seen the Golden Era of New York rap. I knew all that knowledge and I was kind of getting jaded with the industry and what hip-hop was turning into. Like how it was just getting super exploited and watered down. And I started listening to house music and techno and I’m like, “Yo, this music sounds really good!” When I found out that Black people created it, it was mind-blowing [for me]. All my life I’m thinking like this was quote-unquote “white people music,” like white people made this stuff, like this is what they listen to, and the whole time this is some Black people shit! We have roots in this, so [I thought to myself], let me like tap in more. Then I’m like, OK, where do I go in real life and hear this music? So I’m hitting the clubs but I’m just on a surface level, I’m going places like [Brooklyn nightclub] Good Room ‘cause you know, I don’t really know like to how to go deep just yet and I’m noticing there’s like no Black people around. I’m like “where are the Black people?” I found the music but I needed to see the people that are like me enjoying it as well. I was like, you know what? I’m going to start this radio station ‘cause I’ve been wanting to start the radio station since falling in love with [London-based online radio station] NTS Radio.
I discovered NTS and that just like blew my mind and finding out that a Black person, Femi Adeyemi, created NTS?! I started studying him; He’s that representation I needed, because you normally wouldn’t think of like a Black man to create like a cool online internet radio station. Companies like Boiler Room are white-owned businesses. So I seen what he was doing. I was just like I need to be doing that as well. And we needed this, we needed that in New York. I was like, “Yo, I’m gonna like tap into like the dance music scene.” I want to go deep and find this stuff and find these Black people and put them together. The most innovative people right now that I’m finding are all these Black people that are making footwork, juke, house, techno, and who are doing live hardware sets. These are the people that are really being so innovative and new, and it’s refreshing there’s a new wave that’s going on. But no one’s really highlighting this. So I just needed to gather all these people together. We get the space, get the equipment. We got a radio station now, and it’s like, now we’re like our own family. We built our own table. We didn’t wait for the table to be built [for us].
How did you discover that Black people created house and techno?
I was a big Azealia Banks fan, when she was bringing that whole wave of house rap and I kind of didn’t really get what it was but I knew it was a thing. I remember she tweeted one day like, “Little do y’all know like house music [was] started by Black people!” And I’m like what?! So I’m like let me go look into this. And I’m hearing about places like Paradise Garage and all these different gems. I go on Youtube, ‘cause I’m a New York purist, I love learning like New York shit. I did not know until she made that tweet and I just dove into it, I’m just…mind blown about all the history. “Yo, this is our history. Right?” I needed to find a way to spread this message again with this dance music. Not to re-follow what they were doing [back in the days] but just to remind people like, “Yo, this ain’t new! We been doing this!” But I’m just showing you the new people that are doing it [now]. We should crown our new champions.
Speaking of crowning our new champions, who are some of the artists and DJs you have given a platform via Half Moon?
AceMo, MoMa Ready, DJ Swisha, Kush Jones, Neon Nuckles, Dee Diggs, JADALAREIGN — granted, JADA doesn’t produce but she’s a fire DJ that plays like good stuff. I can go on for forever … Color Plus, these are like people that are my faves. My, bro. Equiss out in Jersey, he’s a super great club music producer, Jersey Club [music], he totally embodies that. He’s the new wave of that. All the people that are in the Juke Bounce Werk crew. Yeah, this is so if you look our residency list there’s just so many.
With all of these sub-genres, artists and different sounds, how do you go about programming the station?
I didn’t have any prior knowledge of that so I learned from NTS. A few summers ago, probably like three or four years ago I left a comment on the NTS page. “I wish y’all moved to New York so that you could hire me.” Next thing you know, I’m getting a DM request from the owner himself. He’s like, hitting me up ,“Yo I seen your message, I’m trying to come out to New York, we should connect.” Long story short, he turns into my mentor. I go out to the NTS station in London in 2017, and I see like how they had the setup and I learned, “Okay, this is possible.” I don’t need that much to do this. Then they have a station in LA as well, and I started going back and forth to that station. I went seven times in a year.
That’s a pilgrimage, damn.
Basically, that was like my training — like I was going to Mecca and learning, seeing all the equipment they had, and I just followed their model and restructured it into the New York style, with our kind of people. I’m always getting advice from the [Femi]. He’s always helping me out. He’s been like a great support. And my bro Ike [Muna] that handles the NTS station out in LA. He just taught me so much shit about which programs to use, recording the sets, and streaming stuff, and I followed their [programming] schedule. It looked OK to have a person come in once a month, every day on this certain time, so I just remodeled that, just trial-and-error, because I didn’t have any previous experience in any of this!
What’s so interesting about your story is that it’s punk in a do-it-yourself way.
We live in the DIY era!
Talk about being like a self-starting person, of a certain generation and approaching things, not like a problem that is like insurmountable, but like, “I’m gonna figure it out.”
Like I said, right now we live in a DIY era. You can get your hands on a frickin’ Macbook and you can do pretty much anything. I was studying how London’s culture didn’t let anything stop them from doing something like Boiler Room. The whole concept of that is putting people in a room, slapping a webcam on the wall with tape, [and] streaming it. [That’s] innovation right there! DIY broadcasting, [that’s] what NTS was doing, ‘cause like even back then like London always had that DIY culture. If you look back at the pirate radio, this is when literally Black people couldn’t get their music played on the big stations. So they would hire all these technicians and build them their own broadcast stuff, put that shit up and, they’re getting a message out. I just embody that and want to bring that same energy but to New York. And I know like this is not easy and it’s like a step by step thing summary ready to start from the ground level and just learn every single piece. Because in the beginning, I ran the entire station by myself. I did all the artwork, I did all the programming. I sat every day when the DJs would come in and recorded all the mixes. Everything!
You’re a forward-thinking person. Talk about the difference between where Half Moon was when it launched, and where it is now.
It’s grown so fast and it hasn’t even been a year since we launched this yet. Our first official web broadcast was August 6 . We did a prelaunch party on July 27th [of last year], so this August will make a year and it just became bigger than me. That’s the best way I can put it. It’s no longer just a small little station started by Surf in Brooklyn where the homies come through; it’s like an internationally known thing. We had three events for Boiler Room that put us onto a big international audience and then all the cool international people that come from all these places come to New York and they want to play on the radio, they want to DJ, they want to showcase their skills. Where are they gonna go? They’re coming to Half Moon. We’re now like in Berlin, Toronto, LA, London. I’ve seen people from Belgium listening — like, people from places I haven’t even been. So it’s bigger than me. People know the brand and don’t even know who the hell I am!
The mysterious guy behind it.
Yeah. I like that.
Let’s talk a little bit about moving forward. Where do you see Half Moon going? What are the things that you haven’t accomplished that you’d like to accomplish?
I really just want us to be that staple in New York, the thing that lasts. I want this definitely to outlive me. Even when I’m long gone, this is a thing for everybody to keep building and to keep benefiting from. I feel what we’re doing right now, we just represent the city in a super-organic and real way, and I just want that to remain. The lack of proper institutions and proper spaces is what kills the creativity in New York. There’s no space to do anything because everything is so fucking expensive. and we barely have any institutions that really cater to this. So I want us to be that thing that’s always fostering, nurturing, and platforming new talent.
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