Face To Face

Face to Face with Rinse co-founder Geeneus

Face to Face with Rinse co-founder Geeneus
Photo cover by: Believe
Published Jun 11, 2024
25 min read

For our first episode devoted to the world of electronic music, our Face to Face series went big. Our guest is none other than Geeneus, co-founder of Rinse FM. Based in London and Paris, but with a worldwide reputation and reach, Rinse has shaped electronic music for the past 30 years.

Whether you're a fan of jungle, garage, dubstep or grime, and you've had access to the Internet in the past 30 years, you’re already familiar with Rinse. And if you are not:  congratulations, a whole new world is about to open to you.

Founded in London in 1994 by Geeneus and DJ Slimzee, Rinse FM was originally a pirate radio station with a strong jungle focus. Over the following years, Rinse played a key role in the emergence of UK Garage, then grime and dubstep in the early 2000s. It helped launch the careers of major artists - like Dizzee Rascal, Skepta and Katy B - and countless DJs. Their reputation for spotting talent has earned it a solid reputation far beyond the UK over the years..

In 2014, Rinse set up shop in Paris with Rinse France, extending its broadcasting networked devoted to "underground music".  They also have their own labels, including Rinse Recordings, distributed by b:electronic, Believe’s global imprint devoted to electronic music.

To mark the 30th anniversary of Rinse, Alice McLean, Head of Video and Audience Development at Believe UK, spoke at length with Geeneus about the history and ethos of Rinse FM and Rinse Recordings, as well as his vision of the evolution of UK electronic music and his working relationship with b:electronic.

Alice McLean: I'm really excited to be here with Geeneus, the founder of Rinse. Thank you so much for being here and taking the time, I know you're a very, very busy man, so I really appreciate it.

I think it'd be great in your own words to kind of provide a bit of an introduction in terms of Rinse, Rinse FM, obviously it's incredibly iconic in the UK and around the world. But we'd love to hear, in your words, kind of how to summarise Rinse.

It’s hard to summarise thirty years, trying to consider how to introduce something that has evolved so many times.

It’s a radio station, first and foremost, that has turned into a group of radio stations.

We kind of see ourselves as a platform that incorporates four record labels, a management company, events departments and so on. So a platform for young up-and-coming artists to have a place to start their career and continue.

Alice McLean: A bit of a big question, but why and maybe how did you get started in radio and what was the kind of initial spark?

Geeneus:  When I was probably twelve or thirteen, one of my cousins showed me pirate radio when I was around their house, and they explained it to me in a way where, they would listen to this crazy music, and I was like, “what the fuck is this, it’s like some crazy mad beats”, and up until then, I’d only heard pop music.

I remember listening to it, being curious and asking questions. And they explained to me that it’s a pirate radio station, and that the authorities are trying to catch them, and they have to keep moving. It intrigued me. I was like, “that sounds quite interesting”.

In my mind, the way they explained it to me, I think “oh, radio stations that are pirate have to keep moving”. So, I was moving up and down the dial trying to find them thinking their moving. And I learnt later that they meant where they're based is moving, not actually up and down the dial.

But yeah, it was a kind of first point where I was intrigued by what radio is and pirate radio. I guess I was probably twelve or thirteen. And then from that day there, I just became obsessed, until now. That was more than thirty years ago.

Alice McLean:  It'd be cool, if you're comfortable, kind of walking us through the early days of Rinse FM; and broadcasting and what that kind of experience was like. I know you were broadcasting from kitchens, from rooftops.

Geeneus: To go backwards a little bit, before Rinse, I was on a radio station called Pressure FM, and I was a DJ on an estate in Tower Hamlets.

And there was a guy there, now known as Slimzee, in Bow. He was on a station called Pressure, and one of my friends basically introduced me. He took me to the radio and got me a show on there.  So that's kind of how I met Slim and that was my kind of first introduction to pirate radio and being on it.

Jumping forward a little bit down the line, we got kicked off Pressure FM and we had no station or nowhere to go. And the only solution we had was to start our own. One of the reasons why we got kicked off was because we were seen as problematic and young, compared to everyone else. Although thinking about it now, there was probably only a couple of years difference in the age gaps.

But anyway, we set out to start our own station, with a few of us as a group. We managed to find someone who could get us a transmitter, we ventured out on to everyone else's tower blocks to have a look, to see how you do it. We went up on pressure FM’s roof and we basically done some research. One of my friends, his older brother had just been given his first council flat in Bow, and I convinced him to let us take the flat to turn the radio station on and put it in his kitchen.

We got our transmitter, we got his flat, which had nothing in it, apart from a kitchen, no furniture, nothing. So, we set up in the kitchen, we put the transmitter in the room with us, we put the aerial out the window, and we switched on Rinse on Carnival weekend, thirty years ago.

But day one was basically like:  we switch on the station, we phone our friends in Hackney and say, “can you hear it?”.  And they’re like, “yeah, it's amazing”. I phoned my friend on the other side of the building to stand there. “Can you hear it?” He's like “No, can’t hear nothing”. So, it was only a really like a limited radius Because we weren’t on top of the tower block we were pointing the aerial, so it basically couldn't go through the tower blocks.

Anyway, that was the start. From there, every day was like a progression up until now.

Alice Mc Lean: But then you learn obviously…

Geeneus: Yeah, we learned pretty quickly that even having the transmitter in the room with us was a mistake, because that's what they track. Also, you're not meant to stand near because of the frequencies that come off of it. We had the transmitter underneath the mixer, so everyone's DJing with all this heat coming onto them…

Alice McLean:  Running a pirate radio station must have had its challenges, that probably really influenced the ethos of Rinse and the past thirty years. It'd be great to maybe hear more about how those early days have influenced where you've taken the company going forward.

Geeneus: I mean, there's a couple of things, I think the main thing is, and I have to check myself every now and again of the reason why we do things.

And I think what we've done with Rinse in the beginning was we took into consideration that as young people we were passionate about something, about music. We wanted to be involved and we wanted to share our version of it.  It was impossible to get on a commercial radio station, and the format was not what we were into.

Looking at stations like Kool FM and Rush FM and others, they were probably the inspiration for us growing up, as to what we'd like to do with our life.

In school, we would be listening to tapes of the pirate stations before us, and in terms of role models, there probably wasn't anything else in our life living on estates, that was doing something for our community, or something that was so relatable to you. Because, listening to the voices, hearing the music, felt like local. And didn’t feel so far in the distance, do you know what I mean? That was a really important thing for us as we started.

When we got on Pressure, we learnt a fair bit, but we realised that it was designed in a particular way. Looking at Kool FM and some of the older stations, we realised that once you were on there, the doors were closed, that was that.

So, our thought process was like, “We're going to back the young and we're going to back new and we're always going to stay like that. And we're never going to just bring someone on, make our own thing, and be gatekeepers”. We want it to be like that actually: we will constantly look for talent, we'll constantly try to help the next generation, and we'll constantly evolve with everything, to keep going.

And as we go along, there are points where I'm like, “Are we're still doing the right thing?”. And I probably had it like four or five years ago and I sat down. I'd been traveling and been off for a while. So, I came back and thought “Right, are we doing the right thing?" And I’m like “Alright, we've got all of these DJs, they're really big, but it just doesn't feel right.”

So, we do this thing, which sometimes is seen as a negative, but we call it a destroy and rebuild. Where basically, I kind of scrap everything and we start again. So out goes all the big artists, and I replace them all with the young, brand-new ones. Most people think it’s crazy when I do that.

Alice McLean: It takes a lot of courage to do that, for sure.

Geeneus: I think our job is not to have the biggest, it’s meant to have the new and it’s meant to be helpful. When you get to a certain status, I’m like “I can’t help, you’re already big”.

Alice McLean: It’s about supporting the community, like you said.

Geeneus: Yeah, and as a person I'm always interested in what’s new. Just in general I like new technology, the newest everything, I never get stuck on “This is how it’s meant to be”.

In fact, even in the office now, we’ll be running a process nicely, and I would change it just because I'm like “we should switch it up and try it a different way”. And everyone would say “It's not broken”, and I’d answer “So what? Let's just change it.”

I'm naturally like that as a person. I would do that.

Alice McLean: Amazing. Rinse FM is obviously known for being an incredible tastemaker, especially for the genres of grime, garage and dubstep. So, I think your “destroy and rebuild” mentality, probably also meant that you're able to kind of be a leader in a lot of these kind of spaces and really encourage new sounds. Can we talk a little bit about that?

Geeneus:  It’s probably the same thing, really. The evolution of UK music, in my opinion, is driven by a lot of mistakes. And what I find is that in every scene, a new generation comes into and they try to create it. And by trying to create it with their own view, they do it slightly wrong and create something else.

As I was part of that, let’s take the example of the evolution from garage to grime. We didn't want nothing to be called grime, we weren't trying to make grime, actually we were completely against it. We were adamant we were making garage. But we were making it incorrectly. We weren’t part of the scene, we were outside of it, looking in. So, we did that, and we made grime, and off the back of the garage thing also came the dubstep journey, which was also part of the evolution of garage.

I feel like Rinse has recognised that doing things slightly wrong is important. If something is slightly different, and you don't understand it, it’s probably something that you should help, support and back, and not try to hold down or push away.

So, we encourage the incorrect versions of stuff, and we encourage to experiment. We we've been involved in jungle, garage, funky, grime. In all honesty, to me, it's all just one journey. It’s all like one music that just keeps evolving, and you can relate all of them back to the beginning.

Alice McLean:  Do you think it's still very UK centric? Do you feel like that sound is kind of gone a lot more global?

Geeneus:  We're in a different time now, you don't have genres as easy as you did back then, and you don't have time to nurture.

When we did dubstep, it probably was a seven-year journey before it got to being such a commercial proposition. By the time we came with something like “Katy on a Mission”, everyone was like “dubstep’s great”. And we'd like, “yeah, we're about seven years in mate”. I don't think you get that kind of time anymore.

There's no nurturing of music on council estates that develop with just a small group of friends. It's a different time. I don't think it's wrong, I think I quite like it. It's different again now. I don't think we can create a scene as such, as what we did back then, across all of them.

But now I think that the experimentation is a lot easier, and more people are up for it. There's a constant flow of new sound, constantly, and they all can work together now.

And I listen to some artists and I’m like “That kind of sounds like jungle, but kind of sounds like garage, but then is that dubstep?” and I'm not sure, but it's just good tunes.

I feel like we’ve built a lot of different elements throughout the years of the UK underground scene, that now has evolved into being like, well you’ve got all these to look at; and use parts from to create something new, and it doesn’t need an individual name as such, anymore.

Alice McLean: I wonder what they'll call this era then if there is going to be a name for it.

Geeneus: We struggle with it every day, we ask ourselves “Is it electronic, is it dance music, is it rave?” I would still say underground, but what we have now is something that starts developing at a really small incubator level, and it gets snapped up quite quickly by the mainstream. There is no time for it to actually remain in the underground.

Alice McLean: Rinse has broken some incredible artists, any kind of big memorable moments or milestones that kind of stand out for you? That you'd love to share, maybe some that we know, maybe some that we haven't heard of as much?

Geeneus:  Probably like Nia Archives. It was quite interesting to see someone quite young have such a big desire to be involved in jungle, which was the music that was the start of Rinse.

From the jungle scene’s point of view, it was great to get a bit of recognition because without what they’d done back then, I don't believe any of us would have what we have now anyway. There's a bunch of them, Eliza, Interplanetary, RUTHLSS… Right now I’m very interested in the way she’s going to progress.

But then you go back all the way and like we’d have had the Dizzees in that era, then we had Skreams and the Bengas in that era. It's kind of like, I say like every two or three years, there's a cycle of artists and talent that have success, that are kind of championing the direction.

Alice McLean: And you guys are the first to really kind of support them because you guys aren't afraid to take a bit of a risk.

Geeneus: A lot of things were based on stats, numbers. Trying to gauge how well something's doing before people will back it. I personally don't really like that approach.

I think you should just stop looking at that stuff, use your ears and meet the person. And if you believe it, back it, and I think it's something that we've always tried to do as a platform. It’s that, I don't care whether they just come from nothing, and they've got one follower, and no one's ever heard of them.

I think that if you meet the person, if you believe them - which I think is an important point - if the music, the DJing, the singing, or whatever it is, is good, if you just have the feeling that it’s good, then let's do it.

Sometimes we do it and artists don't succeed. But I would never look back and think I made a bad choice, because I’m like “Well I still like what they’ve done”.

Whether someone is the smallest or the biggest isn't the main point. It’s the thing around: Do you support stuff that you like, and do you believe in it? Do you need to be told by a load of other bits of information that it’s good? I can't do that.

Alice McLean: So why do you think radio is still so important today? And why do you keep investing in radio as a format?

Geeneus: For me, radio is important because it's part of our journey, and I feel like I spent my life doing it, so I have no desire to stop.

I think it's changed a lot, and it can never be what it was, but I still think it gives a platform for artists to practice in a sense, to give them a chance to grow confidence, because some talent now would go straight from “I just made a record that has done really well and now I've got to play in front of thousands of people” and I'm like “I'm not sure you're ready for that”.

Where we would give them the opportunity to go on the radio as much as they want and use it as a place to experiment and practice. That's how we learnt originally. For me, radio gives artists that opportunity.

Alice McLean: I'd love to talk about Rinse Recordings as well. Why start a record label? Why kind of branch into that.

Geeneus:  Originally, we didn't start the label Rinse. We started a label called Dump Valve, a random grime label. And we had Rinse, and I had just started making tunes. We had a record deal with Sony, and we went through this whole process of being signed to a major. It was the most amazing thing until we got dropped. And then it wasn’t very good. Everyone was gone, and my view was that we must do this ourselves, the same as the radio.

So, I built a shed in my garden, which became a studio, and started getting people like Target and Wonder and all of them in, to make tracks and that.

And we started a label called Dump Valve, because Slimzee had a car with a dump valve, which is just something that made it go fast. And while we were having success with that label, because it was doing really well, we told ourselves “Actually, you know what, we should start a label for Rinse”.

I just had a couple of tracks that I had made just sitting in the computer, and I was like, “Let's just do a release and call it Rinse”. So, we pressed a blue 10” vinyl as the first Rinse recording, and it kind of just started from there.

It wasn't a real big plan. We didn't set out to be like “Right, now we're going to launch a label”. I guess the thing with Rinse is that we do have a record label, we do have events, we do have a management arm, brand partnerships, merch…. None of them started with like a big plan. They were all like “one day we should just do this”. Then we do it, and all of a sudden, it’s another part of the business that someone's got to manage.

Alice Mc Lean:  How does the recording side kind of feed into the radio side, do you feel like it kind of complements the discovery pipe that Rinse FM has? How do you kind of blend the two worlds? Are they quite separate?

Geeneus: The thing that I have now is, I look at a lot of different platforms and businesses. I'm always interested in how anyone survives in the current world, especially as an independent company.

I don't think that one thing alone can work. In my opinion, if you're just a magazine, I don't believe you’re going to make it. If you're just a radio station, you are probably not going to make it. So, it's “how do you create an ecosystem within your own thing”.

Having the radio station has always been a great source of A&R for us, we get to see what's first. We get to keep in touch with what is currently going on. We stay very connected to the talent.

And as a label, it gives us the opportunity to back things first, enter the conversation with artists and try and help before we get the full-scale attack from major label trying to sign everything. And we also get to help direct and grow them.

I think the label definitely benefits from the station. And it’s the same the other way around, the way Rinse works now is that every department must help each other. It’s not “there's a record label, and there's a radio station and there's events”. They all have to work together.

So yeah, there's one big curation team. There's not loads of different departments coming up with the ideas or talents. There's mechanical stuff that has to happen in each department, but generally, if we like something for the radio, then we like it for the label, we like it for the events, we like it for everything.

Alice McLean: Talent like Katy B, how do you kind of spot that?

Geeneus: There's something about when you meet someone and when you hear what they've created, that you become a fan and you can't help it.

It wasn't a strategic move; we didn't plan for it. We had no clue that Katy was going to become big. I just had a thing around; it was as simple: “Can we make a project, and can we release some songs?”. We got along, and we proceeded to do that.

When we released “On a Mission”, it was like number five in the charts within a week, and we were like “What's going on?”

Alice McLean: I'd love to talk about Rinse France as well. How did that come about?

Geeneus:  France was another freestyle. I just woke up one day and told myself “I really want to start another radio station somewhere else”. And I picked France basically because it was right there.

Then someone introduced me to this guy, Manaré, who wanted to start a radio station. So, I met him, we got along well, and within a space of weeks probably, we set out to start Rinse France.

Traveling there, I realised that there was no platform with a community-like radio. There is nowhere for talent to be nurtured, and there are no actual scenes of artists that are working as a community to build something of their own.

So, I was quite motivated to go there and try and create that space. And Manaré and Laurent Bassols really wanted to do that as well. They had grown up listening to Rinse. So they already had the same ethos and they believed it.

It's quite refreshing to go somewhere else and be noticed as well.

Alice McLean: And sonically, there are differences or similarities that you’ve found, do you play a lot of the UK stuff in France and vice versa?

Geeneus:  We encourage it to be what they believe as well. Most of the station is French speaking. A lot of it is local talent now. If someone is in France, then they should be on Rinse France. We have that kind of separation. Rinse France is a version of Rinse, but local to their territory. I think it's more complicated now with the other two stations we recently acquired.

Now, Rinse is becoming more like the global version, and the other stations are more specialised.

Alice McLean: And do you want to talk to the other two stations as well that you've acquired?

Geeneus:  We acquired Kool FM last year. I was like “Kool FM has done so much for us all and is such a part of the culture, it should be protected”. And I know Eastman, who was running it for his whole life, he's the generation above me. He had got to a place where he was like, “look, I'm quite tired, I can't do this forever, but I care about Kool”. And I equally cared about Kool, so we came to an agreement

We kept a fair bit of the original artists from back in ’94, we added a bunch of the new ones and combined up the whole jungle, drum'n'bass scene to have a current version of Kool.

Probably of all the things I've done in the past year, it was the most important to me.

Because I feel like now there’s Kool at the front line that is remembered from there, and there’s a lot of people now saying, “Have you heard of this new station Kool?” and it’s great to see that. It’s serving all the generations.

Alice McLean: In terms of that Bad Music label, do you want to kind of explain a bit about it?

Geeneus:  We have four labels under our umbrella, and they kind of all serve slightly different purposes. Kool being the drum’n’bass label now. And Bad Music was more leaning in the singer-songwriter area with Sinéad Harnett, Sasha Kibble, James Smith.

It’s funny because I have it with the stations. Everyone's like, “I want to be on Kool, or I want to be signed to Bad” and I'm like “It's all just Rinse, really”. It's not about the label, it's about the artists that we believe. It gets the same team and the same drive as any of our stuff, but it's more like, artists are completely in front.

Alice McLean: The partnership with b:electronic, it’d be great to kind of talk about that and why you chose to kind of partner and how it kind of aligns with Rinse's mission, vision and ethos.

Geeneus: I've worked with a lot of different distributors and labels, and I've worked with most of the industry across thirty years and the reason why I decided to go with Believe was because of the independent side of the company, and it not being connected to the kind of standard major label approach. And us being such an independent company, we felt like it was a good fit.

I met Panos Polymaditis, Ben Rimmer and the guys and it is probably people I believe in first, other than companies. I think companies that recognise that the person is important are the companies that I will gravitate towards. There was something about Believe that was, believable

In general, I just make decisions on “Is the conversation easy? Can we just have a chat, can we work it out? Do I need to get lawyers, or can we just work it out?”.  If it’s like that then I'll just keep going in that direction. And it was pretty much like that with Believe.

I had a conversation directly with a human being, all the way up until it was like “there's the contract”, lawyers looked at quickly and said, “Let’s sign it”.

It just felt like the right fit to be with a distributor that had a similar approach and something in common with us. It was quite an important part.

Alice McLean: In terms of broader goals, going forward as well, is there kind of key things in the next year, three years, thirty years that you’re looking towards?

Geeneus: The plan for us is to constantly evolve and keep going. I have ambition. Sometimes it's great, sometimes it's a hindrance because I always want to try and push us further. It's difficult because we have quite a small team and it's just us, we don't have anyone else supporting as such.

So, we take on a fair amount. I'd like to move into other areas of creativity and start new things, but I have to take into consideration what we can handle as a company.

I have this thing where I have a lot of conversations with people, and I have to explain to them that we're not Google. Everyone wakes up every day and believes that we'll be there. It's like, yeah, “Rinse is always going to be there”, I’m like “Mate, it's not that easy”. It's quite a complicated company to run, we have five or six departments all running. I have to be mindful when I'm trying to add the new stuff.

But there's three or four things that I'm trying to convince the team to let me action. You would think it would be up to me, but it's not.

Alice McLean: From the lessons you've learned over the past thirty years, is there any that have really kind of stuck with you? Or that have really shaped your approach to leading the team, leading Rinse?

Geeneus:  I think my biggest lessons are try and do everything with pure intention. Just do what you believe in and try and make sure that every day you go through it, you're happy doing it.

Because I don't think that there's an end goal. People say to me all the time, “When will I retire?”. And I'm always like, “in five years”. And they’ll be like you've been saying that for the past twenty. But whilst we enjoy what we do, I don't think anyone will have a desire to retire. So, my whole thing is just wake up and do what you like.

And if you don't like it, bail out, quickly.

Alice McLean: Well that has been amazing, you shared so much wisdom and thank you so much for taking the time.


You can hear Rinse online 24/7 and follow them on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook.

Rinse labels latest releases include “12 Gauge (Feat. Yung Saber)” by Volgate (on Kool) and “Only You” by Perempay & DaVinChe (on Rinse Recordings).

You can also follow b.electronic on Instagram to find more information about their latest releases.