top of page
  • LB

The Champion of the Underground: SoundCloud’s DJ Mix and Radio Culture

Words: Joshua Fundafunda

It is difficult to visualise the music landscape before streaming took off. Though streaming services started gaining traction in the early 2010’s, many regions of the world would have to wait until the end of the decade to receive service. Growing up in Zambia meant that services were spotty at best, and often, totally unavailable. Not SoundCloud though, which launched in 2007. Many of my earliest memories finding music were endlessly exploring the depths of SoundCloud. Like many others, it provided a perfect introduction to more underground genres of Lo-fi, hip-hop, alternative, early trap and electronic music. It was the wild west.

There are many things unique to SoundCloud that helped it stick out amid the streaming service boom. Most notably, SoundCloud is one of the few streaming platforms that hosts long form audio files. An amateur artist making music on a budget is able to upload a track up to3 hours long, subscribing to SoundCloud Pro doubles that time, and SoundCloud Next Pro has no limit at all. There is a conscious effort here encouraging artist to post longer audio tracks.


Kaytranada once found foot-holds in the Soundcloud Underground

Photo: Hypebeast

This unique file format allows for all sorts of audio files, musical and otherwise. But most importantly, is the healthy underground culture of long form DJ mixes and radio-style shows. Rather than seeing songs in a list next to a number indicating track length, SoundCloud displays a long waveform to represent each track. Along the bottom of the waveform are listeners’ comments stamped to the time they were listening; this drives artist- audience engagement, but also encourages music sharing. It is not uncommon to listen to a song and watch as the comments enthusiastically sing out the lyrics underneath, or people endlessly asking for the track ID. Social media has always played an important role in modern music, the likes of which are now popularised with trends like Spotify Wrapped, but SoundCloud had these features built into its core. SoundCloud is a functional internet audio archive of the modern age. It acts as a timeline documenting important modern musical moments which may be incredibly personal or from across the wider landscape of music culture.Organisations like Fader, Boiler Room, Mixmag, Hör Berlin, not to mention independent DJs have enjoyed posting live performances on YouTube for a while, which are valuable in their own right; but being able to reliably post mixes on SoundCloud presents is convenient for both audiences and artists. I know for a fact I still have Kaytranada’s Boiler Room sets kicking around in the depths of my SoundCloud likes.

"There used to be a small record label called CLSSCS out of Los Angeles that posted mixes of old hip-hop and boom-bap tapes..."

Soundcloud has the familiarity of streaming services that audiences are accustomed to, but geared towards a less mainstream, less regulated, music sharing experience. It is not perfect, but it is a happy medium between major streaming and niche music sharing platforms. One of the first mixes I enjoyed was an old Fader mix featuring Misogi. Nearly eight years old now, this dreamy trap mix is certainly a sign of its time, but without a doubt it introduced me to some underground music legends. I still go back and listen to it when I am feeling particularly nostalgic. I think that is an important factor tying the SoundCloud experience together – it is such a personal experience.

Without fail, everyone I speak to about SoundCloud has both individual and shared memories of music on the platform. There used to be a small record label called CLSSCS out of Los Angeles that posted mixes of old hip-hop and boom-bap tapes, stuff I had never even heard of. I was listening to Madlib and Quasimoto, MF DOOM, and J Dilla before I even knew who they were. Finding other fans of mixes like these online is like running into an old friend, SoundCloud being the common thread tying you together.

The well-known Madlib

Photo: The New York Times

It is telling when even the biggest of artists release their own lower profile music on SoundCloud. Many will remember how the alternative pop sensation Clairo first blew up on the platform with songs like “Bubble Gum” and “Pretty Girl”. To this day she still intermittently posts mixes of her own under the stage name “DJ Baby Benz”.

Besides being the perfect platform to upload mixes, radio shows and similar performances thrive on SoundCloud. It is no secret that radio as a medium has declined in popularity, but it certainly still exists. Independent radio shows as well as University radios are some of the best places to get in touch with new music. Nowadays, many independent radio shows will have their own website dedicated to hosting before posting the performance on SoundCloud. NTS is a great example of this. Their 24/7 live shows have artists of all genres perform mixes, which can be saved for more listening on SoundCloud.

"Allows artists to gush about their influences and creative process after delivering some great music of their own.."

Similarly styled is Newtown Radio’s show “Like That Radio”, where artists come to perform, and on occasion, are interviewed afterwards. It is like a post- match interview – a post-performance interview,

perhaps – that allows artists to gush about their influences and creative process after delivering some great music of their own. Long form music content like this does not exist anywhere else outside of

YouTube. So SoundCloud remains the most convenient way to engage with music like this.

Still, there is so much more to say about this platform. I have not even touched on remix culture and how SoundCloud facilitates progressive sampling thanks to its approach to clearance and copyright. It remains the best streaming platform to go to for long form music content and a home of niche music – whether it is something wild, weird, or something I did not know I needed, I can always guarantee SoundCloud will deliver.

bottom of page