These are the winners of DJ Mag’s Best of North America awards 2023
New York City, as densely packed as it is, is strewn with vacant lots. They tend to slip by, unnoticed as you stroll the streets and avenues. There aren’t many people who, if they do happen to acknowledge a barren plot of land on their rambles, say to themselves, “You know what? That would make a good place to create a community radio station, one that could be both a creative hub for the city’s everfertile underground music scene and a fun place to hang out and sip on some coffee or wine?”
But most people aren’t François Vaxelaire, who in 2015 was a Belgian transplant, fresh out of a master’s program at the New School, looking to take the next step in his life. “Music was always so important to me, even as a kid,” Vaxelaire, who at the time was working as a teacher’s assistant and as a freelance photographer and videographer, says. “But I never thought about doing anything professionally with it; it was more about emotions and passion. But in the work I was doing, I was not really fulfilled.”
One day, he was strolling by a small tract of long-unused land, a scruffy triangle of space with Greenpoint to the north, the pricey condos surrounding McCarren Park to the east, the looming hotels of Williamsburg to the south — and the East River, along with a priceless view of the Manhattan skyline, to the west. “There was a panel saying ‘ideal for food truck’ and a cell phone number,” Vaxelaire recalls. “I don’t know what happened in my brain, but everything connected — we should put a container or a trailer on this little triangle, and we should do a radio station right here, right on this little triangle, something like NTS in London or Red Light Radio in Amsterdam. Here in New York, there was no equivalent.”
There was a year of struggle — “an emotional roller coaster” is how he describes it — as he tried to explain to uncomprehending city administrators just what he was trying to achieve. “Then by chance,” he explains, “I talked to one person from the city who was actually a music lover, and she was like, ‘Huh, tell me more.’ That led to more doors being opened. I just had to find a couple of people who loved music and listened to me to make this possible.”
After many months of hard work, The Lot Radio, its converted shipping container home in place, began streaming in February of 2016, with a soft opening helmed by the Discwoman crew. Its ancillary café, serving coffee, tea, beer, wine, and snacks soon followed, helping to defray costs. (“That’s how we pay rent.”) And while the station has seen its share of big-name artists rolling through in the years since — the likes of Ben UFO, Ellen Allien, Busy P, Floating Points, and Four Tet, for instance — it’s a community radio station first and foremost, with locals like Justin Strauss, musclecars, JADALAREIGN, Analog Soul, and Anthony Naples making up the bulk of the line-up.
“It’s definitely an active balance,” Vaxelaire says. “You can quickly fall off balance when it becomes like a hunting game where you just want headliners. But I think it’s unhealthy. We always want to be a platform for the local things.” Everybody loves The Lot Radio and its team — too many to mention here, but Vaxelaire takes care to thank them all, from the bookers to the baristas. Even the fathers at San Damiano Mission, right across the street from the shipping container, are fans, occasionally wandering over to check out the scene. And why shouldn’t they? The Lot Radio is a true blessing. BRUCE TANTUM