10.08.2011, Words by Ruth Saxelby

Tape Crackers: An Oral History of Jungle Pirate Radio DVD

“They don’t make them like that anymore,” says a north London man with a grin as he holds up a battered looking TDK 90 tape. His eyes shine as he points out the tiny corner screws that enabled easy fix-its should the reel get loose or tangled. Michael Finch was a happy hardcore fan in his mid-teens during the mid-90s when he stumbled across a whole new world – and obsession – in jungle pirate radio. In the music documentary Tape Crackers, he tells the story of its impact on his life to film-maker Rollo Jackson. Every day after school Michael would listen to his favourite pirate stations, hitting record every time a track he liked came on. Later, as he became more immersed in the music, he’d record whole shows. The result is a incredible collection of tapes, an archive that builds a vivid picture of the scenes and careers that pirate stations from Kool to Rinse gave birth to. Tape Crackers is a wonderfully observed portrait, not least because it was shot in an off-hand, hand-held way that goes far to break down the usual screen barrier. The fact that Michael and Rollo were friends growing up also leads to some lovely asides about nights out – Remember when? But what really makes this film a must-see is Michael himself – the joy he finds in his tapes is written all over his face, his voice dropping reverentially as he examines each one. It’s impossible not to get carried along on his trip as he interrupts himself to crank up the volume when one of his favourite MCs gets flowing. “I had always wanted to make a film that included my friend Michael and his tapes – though what format it should take I wasn’t sure,” says Rollo over email. “Originally I thought about making a tape about tapes, which is why I filmed it like that – the close-ups on the tapes were for reference for me later – but it seemed to make a lot more sense when you could see who was talking. I think [Michael’s] careful well-explained enthusiasm is what people vibe off – even if they don’t know about jungle or pirates.” Tape Crackers is both a vital piece of pirate radio history and a brilliant insight into a pre-MP3 world for anyone who’s ever tripped over themselves to recommend a track to a friend.

Tape Crackers was released on DVD in June 2011

Buy Tape Crackers here

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