We spoke to founder Leo Walton to find out more about how Amateurism got started and his ambitions for the future.
Amateurism first entered our consciousness when we heard recently that James Joyce was going to be featured on it playing a guest DJ set. Set up in 2011 by DJ and promoter Leo Walton, Amateurism was originally a forum where music freaks could share their latest crate-digging discoveries. Over the years, that original circle of friends has grown into a much broader community, bringing people together through music and like-mindedness. And it began to host parties as well as being a presence at festivals, including Glastonbury.
Since the lockdown, Amateurism has expanded its remit much further by broadcasting every day on Amateurism Radio. Aside from James, names we know who have DJed on Amateurism Radio in recent weeks include founder of Hole & Corner Sam Walton, co-founder of Patternity Grace Winteringham and writer Gavin Lucas.
Where did your interest in music come from?
I grew up surrounded by music from a young age as my Mum and Dad always had records (blues, 80s, 60s stuff) playing on the turntable, and great albums on cassette in the car (like Prince and Paul Simon). I first started to really find a personal connection with music in the early nineties when my older brother would come back from raves and bring me tapes and flyers, and I started to tune in to hip hop for the first time, which was a big influence. Like a lot of kids, I watched Top of the Pops and listened to Radio 1 every week at a young age, but also loved The Word, TFI Friday and MTV. Exciting new music was quite accessible in those years if you were open to it. Also, it wasn’t overly saturated or too easy, so it felt really exciting and special finding out more and hearing new artists.
What’s your own background in the music industry?
I did an 8-month non-paid internship at Diesel HQ when I turned 18 and I was put on a music-related project, which was great for me and it meant I was suddenly opened up to a new world of industry people. I still have many great friends that were connected with Diesel and that time. From there I got a job working at an independent music PR agency called Darling Department on Denmark Street, which was a great company of its time. We promoted loads of amazing music and I never took it for granted, I loved working there and the experiences and friends I made during that time. I stayed for nearly nine years, starting out working in club promotions (sending records to DJs for feedback) and left as a music publicist with a roster of artists and labels I was very proud to represent. I continued that for a while after the company closed, but then got into events which took me on a path to relaunching The Prince pub in Stoke Newington and The Royal Oak pub in Marylebone in 2014.
How did Amateurism get underway?
Amateurism was an idea that came to me on my honeymoon in 2010, being relaxed and loved up obviously helped come up with such a romantic idea!
It was an instinctive reaction to the professional music world I was immersed in and surrounded by. I realised that for a lot of the artists and DJs I was close to, their love of music had taken a back seat for other factors or responsibilities and I wanted to create an outlet for music which was purely for passion and enjoyment. I also wanted to do this with a group of likeminded friends. Friends who had great taste in music but weren’t connected professionally to music or the industry.
We launched as a music blog sharing a different track each day and it grew from there.
What was the initial thinking behind it?
Really, it was just to create a hobby of sorts, which is what the word Amateurism represents in old French (doing something for the love of it/not doing something badly!).
I wanted to have music (and the discovery of finding exciting new and old records, which is one of the best feelings in the world) as a central focus for me and some friends. Something that would connect us all. And as I was already involved in running club nights and music publicity at that point, I thought it would be cool to have a music blog and try and put on some new parties as well.
Why the name Amateurism?
I first cut my teeth running club nights with a monthly party at 93 Feet East in Brick Lane, London called ‘It’s Bigger Than’ with James Joyce, Gavin Lucas, Max Cackett and Sam Willis.
We all decided it would be cool to have DJ names, so as the first party was my first ever time DJing in public – and I loved the film The Big Lebowski – I thought it would be funny to call myself Leo the Amateur. It stuck.
Amateurism was a direct follow on from that name and also the approach to finding and playing a certain style of music that I had started to develop – this was around six years after It’s Bigger Than started, so I’d worked it all out a bit more since that first party!
Has Amateurism found a new purpose by starting the radio station during the lockdown?
Yes, 100%. Over the past five years my passion has started to merge more with my profession, so I’ve been able to take Amateurism into festivals and events through my role as a programmer, DJ and event producer. This has resulted in our own sound systems at Glastonbury and Port Eliot Festivals, which has created a platform for a wider network of connected people to get involved.
Because we’ve been able to build this great collective of contributors and gain experience of soundtracking areas at festivals together, it’s made it much more possible to transfer all of that quite quickly to our new radio station during lockdown.
We’ve always felt a huge rush of purpose and stronger connection through those shared festival experiences, but all festivals have to end after a few days, and we all go back to our usual routines and look forward to the next summer. With the radio, we have created a platform where we can keep the vibe alive 24/7, but also do it in a low-level unobtrusive way where we don’t need to be in full-party-mode or playing music to people that want to dance all the time. This has allowed other friends and people to take more leading roles with regular shows and invite a wider network of friends (and friends-of-friends) to get involved as there are more slots to fill and it’s not reliant on everyone being in the same place at the same time. It’s really helped to keep us all connected at a difficult time, and that’s something I’m really pleased about, even with the very concerning and uncertain reality of living through a global pandemic. In a way, even though we’re all on lockdown, Amateurism Radio has made us more connected than ever before!
How do you find people to DJ on the radio station?
Amateurism Radio was set up by myself, Gavin Lucas, Rob Leggatt and Aymen Bensaad, who are three of my closest friends and each have been integral in developing and contributing to Amateurism over many years. Everyone who DJs for the radio is connected to us. Either friends, family or DJs we admire and have links to.
Amateurism has been going for nine years now and as it’s a collective, there’s quite a lot of people connected who are able to contribute. It’s great to have a new platform that’s running every day for everyone involved. It’s a lot of work, but we’ve been fuelled by the interest and support of it during these lockdown times – we had 37,000 listeners in our first month and we’re building every week.
Is there any music policy or do the DJs have complete freedom to play what they like?
There’s definitely a certain sound that’s developed over the years, but it’s very wide-ranging and eclectic. Also with a 24/7 radio station it’s important to represent different sounds and moods at different stages of the week to keep it fresh and balanced. That’s my responsibility to programme it and make sure the right music is being played at the right time. I really enjoy that bit.
Is Amateurism Radio here to stay beyond the lockdown?
Yes, that’s definitely our intention. But, in these strange times it’s very much one day at a time on all levels really. Fortunately, there’s no reason why we have to make any decisions on that right now, so we’ll just keep rolling!
I don’t really know where we’re heading, but I can guarantee you that the Amateurism crew are all going there together.
What are your ambitions for the future of Amateurism?
For it to always be fun for all involved and for it to bring joy to others.
Also, we look forward to putting on parties and areas at festivals in a safer world in the future, where we can all do this together in person once again like we always have done. Hopefully, that’s not too far into the future!
I was made the Cultural Programmer for an exciting new hotel/venue called Birch that was due to open in April, but obviously got postponed. Hopefully we will be back on track and be open towards the end of the summer, so that will be a new platform for everyone connected to Amateurism to shine.
We also had parties planned at our favourite pub in the world The Marina Fountain in Hastings, and again, we look forward to a safer world where we can get back to dancing and being all together in the same space.
And finally – vinyl or download/streaming?
Both. Everything. 24/7.
Thanks for the interview!
Instagram: Amateurism Radio – Amateurism Collective – Leo Walton