Article: What’s Going On Here?

Isaac Williams

Hello hello hello,

Before getting started, I want to welcome you to the website. I’m unbelievably excited to finally be up and running with something a bit more versatile than Mix Cloud and Instagram, and especially for this section. The “words” bit of the website is going to be amazing. Over the coming months we’ll be sharing written pieces from some very talented people, it’s really going to be worth sticking around for. The website itself may also begin to evolve slowly as it settles, and new ideas come to the forefront. For now though, this is where everything is going to be so stick on a mix and have a look around.

Throughout the article I’m going to dot around some of my favourite mixes so far for you to have a listen!

Now on with the words…


So, Coronavirus. I didn’t expect a global pandemic to have such an impact on my music practices as it has but looking back it seems so obvious. The first lockdown I was working 12+ hour days in a crumbling student house within a bedroom that received literally no sunlight. To be accurate, not a single window in the house received any sun due to the surrounding buildings. In the heatwave of the first lockdown in the UK, my housemates and I had to climb through a window and onto the roof to get sun. So of course, as with many of us, a desperate need to connect to the outside world was being formed.

It was at this time I found projects like Worldwide FM, My Analogue Journal and all the amazing community radio stations I’m now aware of. It hit me, my Spotify playlists, as impressive as I thought they were, held no knowledge or context. I could barely name a song, artist or album in most of them. I just knew they fit a vibe and specific criteria figured out by the algorithm, I didn’t really know anything about Brazilian 80s music or Peruvian Jazz. After making a playlist from a DJ’s set I’d just click that little plus button next to the recommended songs if they fit. “But I’ve got a degree in music, I know my shit.” That was in fact, bullshit. As you can imagine, much of my undergrad was spent studying the ‘genius’ of some European white men in ever increasingly inaccessible forms of music [Electro-acoustic music I’m looking at you]. The Uni had the usual tokenistic courses, one semester I took a gamelan course which honestly, was one of the highlights of the degree and, in my final year, included Jazz into the curriculum options for the first time. Though even this module has its overwhelming issues. So you can imagine how side-lined everything else was.

It was the culmination of the situation, discovering amazing projects, and fully internalising the experience of my degree which led me to Borderless Grooves. It’s a homage to the artists, labels and selectors I have discovered in the last 18 months who have fundamentally shifted how I view, look for and listen to music.

The start

“So, what music are you in to?” we ask newly found friendships between strangers of smoking areas, your mates plus one and people you probably slightly know but you’re scrambling for a question in a conversational lull.
“Oh, you know, a bit of everything really” comes the familiar response.

But is it everything? Or is it a mix of Spotify discover and other algorithmic playlists, a smattering of radio shows they might be into, the occasional mix if they’re the DJ type or if they’re more into bands then the very forced record label “songs that inspire” type playlists. To run the risk of being painfully obvious, this was me, I was the ‘a bit of everything’ guy. And this is absolutely fine, your music taste is the best music taste. You should never be chasing someone else’s. Listen to what you like and support those artists! However, it’s not a bit of everything is it. In fact, whatever collection of music it is it’s most likely dictated by the tastes of white capitalist and patriarchal forces who own the music industry, which is also to say rooted in racism and exploitation. And no, I’m not calling you any of those things or saying you purposely perpetuate it, I’m saying the way in which you think music has arrived at your Spotify discover & YouTube recommendation spirals is not free from these forces. We all know the discourse around how awful the algorithms are, and if you don’t, go have a look. Paradoxically, you will start getting recommended more and more things which will start to support this.

Like everyone else, it’s been a pretty and lonely and isolating 18 months. Many of us took solace in music to get through these traumatic times and not surprisingly so. Music, like no other art from, has the ability to comfort us, let us escape, conjure up and make sense of emotions in a way which words would not allow and perhaps most significantly, music connects us. In a time of overwhelming collective isolation projects popped up all over the place which immediately found strong communities and the pandemic also worked as a catalyst and push towards more things which felt like communities or at least were trying to benefit communities on all ends of the scale. The obvious pointers being the rise of community radio stations and the stunning success of Bandcamp Friday, both of which have continued in strength as we haphazardly make our way back into the world. These newfound communities and mindsets are here to stay!

We here in the UK have somewhat of a God complex to our musical output. Yes, fine whatever Oasis, The Beatles blah blah blah, but fuck me are we really going to be so arrogant as to not look any further. Without leaving the England’s borders, or going too far back in history, it’s still relatively easy to discover a wealth of musical history often powered by diasporic forces. Wales, Scotland, Northern Ireland & Ireland and for that matter, any geography in the world has a deep and rich musical history. All impacted by history’s ebb and flow of culture, religion, war and emigration. Every land mass and it’s changing borders has been impacted by the above things. Imagine the stories, nuances and subtleties to which the music of these geographies would have constantly reacted to. The culmination of which is now researchable, accessible and literally in your pocket right now (or your hand if your reading on a phone). For the very first time, you can stick your ear to the earth and listen to its’ history, present and the possibilities of the future. And yet we constantly recycle, re-use and ultimately reduce the musical experience to the same old songs. A personal example here, I used to work for a company that upon selling next to zero tickets for a Beatles tribute evening decided the best thing to do was make Beatles but Jazz…

To stick the big western musical ‘genres’ for a second (here I am unhelpfully lumping in the likes of disco with jazz, rock with pop, funk with country/folk for the sake of ease), taking the point that these were and still are herculean genres which saw worldwide acclaim and reach, what do we think the result of this was on worldwide scale? A carbon copy reproduction of the genres in other geographies where local bands speaking in local dialects performed and released replica music in order to be aligned with the music being produced halfway round the globe. Sounds a bit dumb when you think about it right? Even if you want to be so ignorant as to think these are the best genres and good on us because we created them, do you really think the four on the floor disco drumming and funky drumming patterns of America were going to go untouched by centuries of deep nuanced musical exploration and development in the geographies the genre passed through?

Now hopefully you’re accepting that sounds a little ridiculous, and that maybe Turkish disco might mean more than western disco covers just sung in Turkish, you can begin to contemplate what magical gems and new sounds might be conjured when disco meets all the internalised history of talented instrumentalists of Turkey (and of course literally any other geography in the world). At risk of labouring the point here, imagine the endless possibilities of all these new genres from the 40’s onwards being mass produced and disseminated throughout the world via the new forms of radio and vinyl. This wasn’t just one genre at a time either, this was and continues to be an intensified development and discovery of new sounds which can be spread around the world at an instant. Anywhere in the world can now be directly influenced by something occurring in a musical scene in the depths of a city they’ve never heard of. I hope I’m getting across the sheer magnitude of musical development that will have occurred globally the last 60 years.

On top of all that, we’ve had the pandora’s box that is the internet gifted to us. No more than in the last 18 months has its’ importance both, bad and good, been demonstrated. Thanks to independent spaces and digitized albums we can now benefit from someone else doing all the work for us. The rise of playlists and compilation albums really does speak volumes to this. Local labels, musicians and DJs can easily curate a musical history for you without you needing any prior knowledge of what you’re listening to or where it’s from. You can find a Hungarian female vocalist soul album from the 80s and you can find remastered tapes from recordings taken in Nigerian clubs through the decades. I would love to sit here on my throne and tell all you lazy shits to go and do the research yourself, but ultimately I know you don’t have the time or energy and these people curating the best comps, parties and playlists probably have spent their life listening to this music so listening to them isn’t a bad idea. Just to be clear as I’m aware I was shitting on playlists at the top of this; if it has been curated by somebody who knows their stuff, you’re going to get a lot more from it that if an algorithm has created it for you.

To round off the rant I want to make it real simple. I’ve made it clear the abundance of music that will be out there if you look, I’m not saying listen to everything all the time. Whatever genres are your thing, I promise you there will be that kind of music being produced by someone in a part of the world you’ve never considered, and it will blow your mind. It will have everything you love plus it’ll be infused with the cultures and geographies it’s passed by to get there. It’s important to recognise the music being pushed to you is so for a reason, money. You know the industry is exploitative, of course it is. So create a better industry by supporting a global music. A Borderless approach. Go find labels from countries you’ve never been, go listen to compilations, get to know with up-and-coming crews shining a light on whatever it is their focus is. There is a rich world out there for you to connect with, please don’t limit yourself by the geographical and genre borders so carefully designed by the industry to serve the industry by exploiting all of us and those who take part in it. That’s the reason BorderlessGrooves was started, to do this myself, share it with others and big up those doing the same elsewhere. Over the coming months more pieces will be shared that embody this spirit, whether music focussed or not they will certainly be worth reading and I look forward to sharing them and the writers with you soon.

Peace & Love x

Isaac Williams

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