Tag Archives: Grime

Joker’s Rave Roots Are Showing

Joker

For someone with one of the most distinctive sounds in all of club music, and with over a decade of DJ-ing legendary raves, Liam McLean, aka Joker, can seem very unsure of himself. Continue reading

Shy One’s Colorful Grime Origin Story

Shy One

Mali Larrington-Nelson, aka Shy One, doesn’t believe in rushing. Her 2011 EP Decaffeinated Love and the follow-up album Bedknobs & Boomkicks (both on the DVA music label run by maverick producer and radio personality Scratcha DVA) didn’t generate tidal waves of hype, but they did win passionate fans among the people who heard them. Then, a five-year silence set in until the Other Side EP arrived on U.S./Japanese label Diskotopia last year. Now, Shy One is back with her new EP, Waterfalls.

Her production style, like her club and radio DJ sets, is unique in its ability to fuse all of London’s underground subgenres of the past few decades into a completely coherent whole, always with a fine balance of soundsystem fierceness and soul/jazz poise and sophistication. Maybe it’s to be expected that she should have a sense of history: after all, her father is Trevor Nelson, a prominent soul/R&B DJ and a BBC Radio fixture of many years.

But when we met her for a beer in a South London café garden, it became clear her music discovery has been idiosyncratic and 100% her own doing. Even though she has been sporadic in her releases, it’s obvious her immersion in music over the past decade-plus has been total and there’s even more to expect in the future.

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Mr. Mitch Redefines Grime’s Boundaries

Mr Mitch

Photo by Piotr Niepsuj.

Born from malleable periods of experimentation, the possibilities in newly-formed genres can be thrilling. Later on, though, a clearly defined sound—and the purists who come with it—can stifle creativity. Mr. Mitch (aka Miles Mitchell), has faced this issue head-on—coming through the grime scene formed in London’s early ‘00s, he’s consistently tried to find his own particular take on the music. Part of a younger crop of DJs and producers on labels like Local Action, Butterz, and Different Circles, looking to widen grime’s horizons, he’s long nudged the scene’s boundaries outward.

His first album, Parallel Memories, dove into the softer side of his preceding EPs. Released in 2014, he tapped into the same slowed-down, melodic approach in evidence previously; most notably, on the Peace Edits—a series of serene, meditative remixes intended as antidote to 2012’s then-trend for aggressive war dubs—released on his own Gobstopper label. Combining glassy, pliable synths with sharp, drum machine cracks, pitched down from grime’s rapid-fire, eight-bar norm, it was an engrossing debut built on a warm, endearing feeling of melancholy.

His new album, Devout, sees big, emotive melodies splashed brighter than before. Bringing several collaborators on board (including vocal spots from his two kids), it sees Mitchell expanding his palette. Sketching a vision for a bigger, grime-influenced spectrum of pop, it’s an atmospheric remodeling of his R&B and synth-pop influences. We spoke to Mitchell about positive images of fatherhood, establishing recognition for grime producers, and the ever-evolving future he sees for the music.

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DVA on Sci-Fi Sounds, Emotional Technology, and Music to Play in the Dark

DVA, photo by Sarah Ginn
DVA [Hi:Emotions]. Photo by Sarah Ginn.

Leon Smart—aka DVA, Scratcha, Scratcha DVA, Soule:Power, and most recently DVA [Hi:Emotions]—isn’t old, but he’s already been around the block and back in London’s underground community. While still in his teens, DVA became a player in the grime scene during its first flush in the early ’00s. He earned the patronage of grime originator Terror Danjah, and the pair created the criminally under-appreciated sub-genre of “R&G,” pairing soulful R&B vocals with grime’s rugged beats. In the late ’00s, his tracks were picked up by DJs like Marcus Nasty and Roska in the “UK funky” scene—a short-lived genre where grime’s attitude and heavy bass met house music’s danceability. It was the de facto sound of Britain’s cities for a couple of summers, and DVA’s unorthodox take on it caught the attention of electronic music heads across the country. His visibility continued to increase with a stint as the rambunctious, often hilarious host of Rinse FM’s Grimey Breakfast Show between 2006 and 2012.

In 2010, he started releasing music on Kode9’s Hyperdub label, and very quickly found a natural place among the label’s family of misfits. 2011’s Pretty Ugly was a bamboozling mish-mash of experimental electronics and R&B slickness, augmented by a huge cast of guest vocalists. He continued to test out different sounds on various EPs for Hyperdub as well as his own sporadic DVA imprint. Some were more successful than others, but all of them demonstrated a questing intelligence. He was vocal on social media—both critiquing and poking fun at the hierarchies, cliques, and racial politics of club music and its media—winning fans in the process, while alienating others in equal measure. When we meet him at the studio of Radar Radio, where he now has a weekly show, he seems way more settled in himself. He’s as animated as ever in conversation, but more focused, and less inclined to be willfully controversial.

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Swindle’s Biggest Collaboration is with His Audience

Swindle
Swindle.
“When I was young, I wanted to go and tell Herbie Hancock to stop doing the straight jazz, to go back to doing Headhunters type stuff. But I couldn’t, I was just some kid. How was he ever going to hear me? But now you can, the artist can hear the people.” —Cameron Palmer, aka Swindle.

Swindle is a one-man musical powerhouse. The 29 year old south Londoner is as adept cooking up deep rooted global electronic jazz fusion as he is in the worlds of dubstep, grime or the garage and jungle he grew up with – and he’s carved himself out a unique space of self-determination in a competitive world, running his entire operation himself and able to take sudden creative left turns whenever the whim takes him.

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Grime is Alive and Well and Living in London

Spooky
Spooky. Photo by Jun Yokoyama

Grime rose from the streets of London in the early 2000s, an inner city sound that took the bass-heavy futurism and syncopated rhythms of drum and bass and UK garage, and stripped it down to brutalist slabs of sound. It mirrored the brooding tower blocks the scene’s leading producers inhabited—often harsh, melancholic, and beautiful.

Unlike previous UK dance scenes, grime was defined as much by MCs as it was by producers. A host of characters became stars on the mic, with lyrics that pivoted between Jamaican patois, hip-hop bravado, overly-hyped aggression, and surreal comedy.

Grime spent a brief moment in the limelight: MCs Dizzee Rascal, Kano, and Wiley attracted mainstream interest, but the scene lost its momentum as file sharing became rampant, and independent record shops closed down. By 2010, grime artists couldn’t earn a living independently, so they signed major label deals that rarely worked out. Scene leader Dizzee Rascal started dropping dubious rap/disco hybrids, Ruff Sqwad’s Tinchy Stryder produced light EDM chaff, and Wiley’s crew Roll Deep churned out Ibiza-house-anthems-by-numbers. The sonic innovation that characterized the scene’s early days was blunted by major labels chasing short-term cash and shepherding grime stars down pop dead ends.

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Flowdan’s Grime Longevity

Flowdan
Flowdan. Photo by Hana Makovcova

The UK grime scene is in the throes of a vibrant second wave, but the talented rapper/MC Flowdan has been there since the beginning. Born Marc Vieria, he was present at the foundation of the scene in East London in the early 2000s. Flowdan was in the original line-up of Roll Deep Entourage alongside Wiley and (briefly) Dizzee Rascal in 2002. Even at that stage, his stentorian, reggae-influenced delivery stood out amidst the hyperactive flow favored by most of his colleagues. His doomy voice would eventually break out of grime and into wider international club culture with the 2007 release of the sonic bulldozer “Skeng,” with producer The Bug (aka Kevin Martin) and fellow vocalist Killa P.

Since then, Flowdan has done his best to avoid the boom-and-bust economy of the grime scene. He works with a host of different producers, and tours globally as part of The Bug live crew while still commanding respect within the grime scene. He’s released one solo album – Original Dan on Wiley’s Eskibeat label from 2009 – an underground affair that didn’t reach too far beyond the grime world. His 2014 EP on Hyperdub in 2014, with productions from The Bug, dubstep legend Coki and others, went a bit further. But his new album, Disaster Piece, on Tru Thoughts, is his strongest individual artistic statement to date.

At first, it feels like Flowdan is simply intent on displaying his musical maturity; the album is full of gothic atmospheres, brooding hip-hop rhythms, and, in its first half, the siren voice of guest vocalist Animai. But as it progresses, things take an unexpected turns: The third-person “Groundhog” plays like a Streets-of-London Scorsese narrative, told in five minutes, full of bad omens and claustrophobia. “Flatline” is as cold a set of threats as you’ll hear on record this year, delivered over rave-commanding sub bass. “Bob Marley” is a weed rap that can make even the most devout non-smoker catch a contact high.

Then, at the end, it switches up even more dramatically: the final five tracks are a cavalcade of rambunctious grime energy, full of rapid-fire challenges, insults and affirmations, with guest spots from fellow vets Manga and Tinchy Stryder. It’s an audacious structure—many artists would have kicked the record off with the fun stuff. But it’s a layout that gets more compelling with each listen.

We sat down with Flowdan in an East London pub garden to find out how he approached the album, how he feels about his “elder statesman” status, and whether the scene can ride out the latest wave of hype.

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