Threads’ Tice Cin caught up with the show’s four regular hosts to talk politics, perspective and giving back to your community.
Increasingly, limitations in representation within realms such as TV and mainstream radio are being curtailed by podcasts and their social media doppelgängers. Without the same level of “sensitivity checks” and final passes that platforms like TV might have, the content to consumer pathway is accelerated with an ease that feels comfortingly familiar.
Writer Aniefiok Ekpoudom has described how the podcast has become a new place for Black British men to share experience and hold open conversations about life:
“In an era where physical connection is ever diminishing and fresh forms of digital intimacy continue to bloom in its place, the bonding experience of the barbershop has, in many ways, been supplemented by the podcast“
If you want to simulate the experience of asking a friend for advice on getting ghosted by a pastry chef, you can DM or fill in a form to Oloni that might get read out and engaged with on Laid Bare. It’s this late-night caller atmosphere that we don’t get in the same way anymore from mainstream radio that podcasts pick up on. Moreover, your favourite producer is more likely to dish the gems in a podcast or Clubhouse beat battle, than they would during a short television appearance.
This mixture of less censored material, more engaged audiences and a society that is actively looking for new ways to fulfil social needs (capitalism really does make time for talking hard, eh?) cultivates room for not just podcasts, but an improvement in the other digital mediums that form the fabric of our day-to-day.
Something that has struck me even more recently has been how so many new podcasts are cropping up to maximise upon increasing public interest, not just from the needs created by the pandemic but also as our social conscious becomes further digitised. This led me to wanting to talk more with some of the OG podcasters, and The Mandem Podcast are approaching their 200th episode. Formed of Les, Mike P, Rich and Dan, the boys grew up together and have been talking on record since 2016. You can tell when you listen to them riffing on subjects like the Premier League, supporting your family and British politics – they pride themselves on bringing us “laughs and honest, no holds barred conversation”.
I spoke with them recently to get a bit more insight into their process, community and home. These songs and thoughts form some of the soundscape for the latest episode of Homing Tunes w/ Tice, which you can listen to via the embed below. The rest of our conversation is as follows.
Tice Cin: So. . . What’s your origin story? Are you all friends or did you bully each other at school or something?
Rich: (laughing) Yeah, I used to bully all of them.
Dan shakes his head like a schoolteacher.
Mike P: Well, me and Rich went school together. Les and Dan went school together. But Dan and Rich are cousins.
Les: (mischievous) And me and Mike are brothers.
Mike P: So we all met each other quite young really, pushing twenty years.
Brief audio disruption as Tice’s cat falls from a height.
TC: And how did that lead to a podcast? When you guys started it’s kind of before podcasts become so integrated into our routines.
Les: A lot have popped up during lockdown for example. We started back in 2016 at a time when myself, Dan and Rich would share various podcasts that we enjoyed listening to. I remember where I was sat, what I was doing and where I was working at the time when I hit Dan up – our idea was, ‘why don’t we do this?’. Dan had already been having that same conversation with Rich. It was originally just us three, and then Mike’s mandem – I think he’s been at more episodes than all of us.
TC: So did they bribe you to join them Mike?
Mike: They made me an offer I couldn’t refuse. . .
Les: Honestly Mike’s input has always been valuable so we asked him to join and it’s been us four ever since. More mandem involved is always better.
Rich: It’s something we’ve been doing long before our podcast.
Mike P: From back in the day I remember saying ‘rah imagine if there was a camera in here just recording us’.
Dan: That’s basically what it is. We’re just a bunch of normal guys who’ve gone through similar experiences but we’ve all got our own paths too. It’s a good insight into some mid-twenties men (though now it’s approaching thirties!). The mandem group as a whole, there’s probably like twenty-five of us.
TC: Podcasts like yours allow the listener to almost feel like they’re eavesdropping on things that we’re not supposed to be hearing, like a fly on the wall. Especially as a woman listening. How does it feel breaking that wall between conversations that men would have between one another and then making it something that’s shareable and digitised?
Mike P and Dan: (simultaneously) Free game!
Mike P: I think it goes back to us all being friends though and the podcast is whatever ends up happening, that’s the episode. In terms of people listening, we enjoy getting feedback and thoughts on what we’re saying from people – especially so we can get different perspectives. They may agree or disagree with us, but I like that side.
TC: I asked you for your favourite songs that remind you of home, and three of you picked Kano tunes. We’ve got Kano’s “Endz”, “T-shirt Weather in the Manor” and “Roadman’s Hymn”, then Les went rogue with Davido’s “If”. Could you talk to me a little more about the songs you chose?
Mike P: When I got your question I instantly thought in my head of a song, it was a Kano song, “T-shirt Weather in the Manor”, but I just didn’t put it in the group. Then them two put in theirs!
Dan: We’ve seen Kano grow from a young MC on pirate radio to on the elder statesmen in the game – his career has grown alongside us, and the content is still speaking to us 15+ years later. “Endz” is the perfect summation of inner city living by one of the UK’s greatest artists. The song illustrates and looks at a lot of themes and events that us, as mandem, would have either seen or experienced.
Les: The reason I chose “If” is because it reminds me of community, family, being back home and culture. I’m Ghanaian – and obviously of African descent – Davido’s Nigerian so it’s a song that resonates and reminds me of my family and cousins getting married last year. It brings around good memories whenever I think of it.
TC: Do you feel like people can truly understand each other when they haven’t grown up the same way?
Rich: I think you can. I think you have to believe you can, or we’re in big trouble. I guess that’s one of the things I noticed from quite early on in the podcast, getting feedback from “grown-ups”, like older people listening from completely different backgrounds and understanding a lot of our perspectives. It’s easier when you’re from the same place because you’ll naturally have the same perspectives, but I think it is possible. I want to believe it is possible.
Dan: I’d agree with that. There’s common traits in everyone’s journey: loss, love, excitement. . . regardless of whether you’ve seen something from exactly the same spot, seeing things from a different dimension helps and gives us a 360º outlook. Growing up together helps, but it’s not essential because I feel in everyone’s lives they’ll go through some of the same things as each other.
TC: Sometimes people say, for example, that they wouldn’t date someone outside of their area or sphere. I guess that there are some kernels of truth in that. Where do you see yourselves in that debate regarding how much you attach yourselves to the area you grew up in?
Mike P: Some people think differently though. Some people don’t want a girl that’s on ends or whatever. I think for us lot it doesn’t really make a difference.
Rich: I think it does. My first girlfriend we went to the same school, we went out for time. Subconsciously since then I’ve looked further afield, but there are certain things that would be easier if I had a partner who had grown up in North London.
TC: I feel like in society, especially in times like this, people are trying to find comfort in similarities and shared backgrounds. We’re going to work or into education and a lot of people there have a sense of the world that is so estranged from our sense of the world. I think one of the things that millennials have to reconcile the most is that mismatch and getting used to meeting people that we never would have met, particularly with social media.
TC: What do you feel is the special ingredient in the four of your perspectives?
Rich: The common ingredient or what makes us individually?
TC: (laughing) No, I’m not asking you audition for your spot!
Dan: I think it’s the authenticity that’s on our approach to it. We started it before podcasting become a thing where billions of pounds are being thrown into it. It’s something we just wanted to do, almost as a form of therapy. The stories we tell are true and I feel that comes across. We’re not in it for fame or money, just here to record our experiences and our thoughts on things that are going on in the world.
Mike P: Yeah, we’re genuinely friends. We weren’t put together. It’s organic.
Les: So much so that sometimes you actually forget that you’re putting out a product that goes out to many people. Say we start our meeting for the podcast at half ten, we won’t start recording until an hour after that because we’re just chatting and getting on with it. When the microphone and camera come into it, it’s just catching that.
TC: How do you then model your podcast into a product?
Les: We’ve lived our entire lives pursuing whatever feels natural, and whatever we’d like to try. It’s not a case of comparing ourselves to other podcasters or entertainers. There’s been a natural progression in the world of podcasting – from audio to video to enhancing the social side of it – but it’s not a case of ‘oh now I’m on TikTok, and Ritchie’s on TikTok and we’ve gotta do this and that’. There isn’t really a drawn out plan, it will always go up but I can’t say where that will be.
TC: So you’re not on Tiktok as a duo?
Rich: Not to my knowledge!
Mike P: Got man doing bare dancing and that.
Mike P does various TikTok imitations.
Rich: One of The Mandem tenets is ‘never by force’. We’re not going to force things in a direction that it doesn’t naturally seem to be going in. We wanted to record video for a long time, but definitely not a TikTok show!
TC: How do you all manage your different politics while maintaining respect for one another?
Dan: For the most part we hash it out. We set out our stalls, and a lot of things we actually agree on. I feel like in recent episodes we’ve disagreed and had opposing views, which is good. Knowing us as a group this is very natural and it doesn’t have to be terminal, we don’t end up as not speaking or whatever. We’re very passionate with getting our points across but we like to be challenged.
Mike P: When we disagree, I think we’re quite good at hearing someone else’s point of view and taking that in, instead of automatically saying ‘nah nah nah they’re wrong’. Some people might argue and then you see one person from the group out and say ‘oh he’s a dickhead’; we’re not like that.
TC: You talk about topics like the pandemic and recent legislations, yet it remains so calm.
Les: We’re harmonious. We’re not that friendship group that shout and argue with each other, then don’t speak. How I think of it is: your opinion is your opinion and I have mine. For example with gyms being open or closed, that’s something we had different views on. I wanted them to be open whereas Mike and Dan felt if they needed to be closed they should be. But even mid-episode after these guys give their opinions, mine sometime change or I see another side of it that I hadn’t considered before. We’re not afraid to be different.
Rich: That’s an important thing in all kinds of discourse. You could disagree with people and have arguments but you shouldn’t really fall out. I hate to bring everything back to us being really good friends but that is probably what stops that happening. You gave a scenario earlier as if some podcasts are “Pod Idol” bringing everyone together; in that situation maybe a fallout would happen but with us, we could completely disagree but at the end of the day, Mike’s wrong and I’m right.
Les: Rich I think you’ve got our 2021 plan with Pod Idol!
TC: How do you choose the guests that come on your show?
Mike P: We often bring other members of our friendship group on, or guests from other podcasts, then some from our wider community.
Les: We definitely want to do more but at the same time don’t want to make it a guest-heavy podcast. At the end of the day it is The Mandem Podcast, and the extended mandem are the main guests on the show. There are some of the mandem who specialise in certain areas or have knowledge on things that we don’t have, so we always try or get them in to give their ideas and thoughts.
TC: You’re all from Edmonton. It’s an area with a complicated history of funding from the government and limited community spaces. It’s hard to get opportunities. How do you feel about that?
Dan: When I first moved to Edmonton in ’96 or ’97, it was seen as this nice country retreat by my parents moving from Hackney. Almost. Or a place with loads of potential. You had fields of green not too far away, and over time it changed as a result of this limited government funding. I do have a love/hate relationship with ends, the environment and some of the things that it breeds. I see its shortcomings but I’m all too aware of what causes that.
Les leans forward, smiling
Les: I’m still waiting for that potential to kick in!
TC: It’s funny isn’t it? I don’t think we realised when we were children that our successes would be the successes of our areas.
Dan: If there’s anyway that we can give back, that’s one thing I’d love to be able to do. It’s definitely needed.
TC: The essence of your podcast is advice-giving and musing on life. What would you say to younger people in Edmonton that you’ve learnt over your years?
Mike P: Get out there. Get out. Go to other areas, do other things. When you can, when you’re allowed to or you’ve gotten a bit older and you’ve started driving or something. Go to eat in different areas. Go out in a different area. We kinda did that and it opened our eyes up to the world. I still know people and it’s just like they’re stuck in the ends and the ends mindstate. There’s a lot more to the world than just your area.
Rich: This is something I think about quite often actually, and I want to bolt onto what Mike is saying. The two main things I’d say is to adjust your worldview. We have travelled together quite a bit, and I think that’s super important and why I picked “A Roadman’s Hymn” as one of my songs. When your in ends it’s easy to think ‘this is the whole world, this is how people act when this happens, this is how you get retribution, this is how you should move’. If that’s everything you see then you’re going to think those are the rules of the world but you have to get out of that. Having similar values helps you to go on the right path.
Dan: Don’t let it define you where you’re from. There are a lot of labels put on people who come from Edmonton and you can shake those off if you’ve got strength of character. Choose your friends wisely, there are people that we all came up with who have gone on a different path and they could have come with us. Hold your friends accountable as well, just because you’re from X or Y place you have other options. Edmonton may not have a great rap but great things can come from it.
Les: With us being so close, we learn a lot from each other. Take your community with you. One time we were on holiday, The Mandem Abroad, and this particular set of us was about fifteen people. People thought we were footballers or something. Passers-by were shocked that all of us were friends and a lot of people find it astonishing that we have such a close-knit group whereas they don’t. Some people get all sorts of information that isn’t genuinely helpful from different friends. It’s important to know that when you get advice from people that it’s coming from a good place. It’s being able to get advice that you know will take you to that next step, to unlock that door to go through.