The History of Grime Music: A Bristol Perspective

Where does Grime come from? This question has been posed to Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, So-Solid or Heartless Crew and many others. DJ Target from Pay As You Go Cartel has recently begun an interview series on BBC One Xtra to address this very question. With UK artists such as Skepta and Stormzy breaking into American markets, and international newcomers introduced to the rawness of Grime Music, there has been an emergence of interest into the roots of this raw, underground sound. This blog will offer a Bristolian perspective on the roots of Grime – Bristol being an hour and a half drive away from London, and my hometown. This blog will discuss various, interrelated factors that caused Grime to emerge. The most significant include: cultural and musical influences, advancing technologies, tensions between social classes and the establishment, and shifts in levels of wealth and prosperity.

To understand how Grime Music evolved it is important to understand the social and political atmosphere within which Grime emerged. In most accounts of the emergence of Grime these factors are easily overlooked. The most crucial factor, I feel, was Nine-Eleven (9/11) terrorist attacks across America in 2001.  From the perspective of a young, working-class youngster, particularly young black youngsters, it seemed that 9/11 gave Tony Blair and George Bush a green light to conspire, declare an ‘Axis of Evil’ and send troops and bombs into the Middle East. The Global War on Terrorism also enabled national leaders to activate police forces against urban youths on the streets. Operation Trident, new stop and search laws handed to the police, and the introduction of Anti-Social Behavior laws, seemed to target and victimize urban youngsters of lower-income households, particularly of African, Muslim or Afro-Caribbean decent. In Bristol I remember a row of around ten police helicopters flying in a straight line over ‘ghetto’ districts of Bristol City. Residents were told that the police were scanning these city areas using infrared cameras to identify council houses where crops of marijuana were being grown. Rightly or wrongly, for those growing weed to earn an alternative income, the state-system was clamping down on any potential earnings.

Tighter government control, authoritarian at times, generated an atmosphere and feelings of tension at a street level. If Tony Blair and George Bush were prepared to lead the UK into an oil ‘War on Iraq’, considered by many demonstrators an act of daylight robbery, then at a street level, gang warfare, robberies, stabbings and even killings were somewhat justified – if the ruling powers are doing it, why shouldn’t we? Since the police are targeting us, criminalizing us, then what commitment do we owe to the state or acting according to ‘civilized’ or socially acceptable rules? The political and state-system was hypocritical every time it told gang members to back down or disarm. Different cultures of violence emerged: gang culture, knife culture and gun culture. There is a famous video online of a clash between Dizzee Rascal and Crazy Titch (Titch, later imprisoned for 30 years for murdering a ‘disrespectful’ MC with Mach 10 machine gun).

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The Dizzee vs. Titch clash is still a tense video to watch. Looking back it is easy to see how hostile things were at that time. Undeniably, this was a clash of egos; a fierce lyrical battle between competing MCs that got out of hand. At the same time, gang wars; international war and police hostility would have amplified tensions within this pirate radio studio in East London. For those living in deprived areas during this time, targeted by a hypocritical state system (‘Islamophobia’), then it did feel as if the UK was reduced to a ‘dog eat dog’ culture. This provided the background for the aggressive sound and violent content of Grime Music; ‘grime simply gave East London’s disenfranchised youth a platform; it was the Fight Club of London’s underground youth subculture’.

Another factor in the emergence of Grime was technological, a shift from analogue to digital media formats. Vinyl records, cassette tapes or Technics 1210 turntables were being slowly replaced by CDs, mini-disks and MP3s. Whereas pirate radio stations were once the main outlet for underground music, gradually digital cable channels such as Channel-U became another outlet for unsigned urban talent. Underground acts such as So-Solid Crew or Pay As You Go Cartel that who blew up on cable network channels, were signed and pushed into mainstream markets, eventually performing on BBC Radio or Top of the Pops. Later on, MySpace offered music producers and MCs a free forum for connecting with fans, promoting events and distributing music. Throughout this transition, no longer was an MC or group of MCs a host to the DJ as the main act, but MCs started to become musical artists and the main act over the DJs. Ravers would go to events to see Baseman, Skibadee or Shabba D as much, if not more, as the DJs they were performing with.

In the analogue era of decks and vinyl records, listeners and fans typically stuck to one genre of music, had a favorite music shop or a favorite radio station. Youth culture was separated into clicks of ‘Hip Hop Heads’, ‘Junglists’ or ‘R&B Fans’ with their own languages and fashions. Sound systems and DJs began to change this. From a Bristol perspective, London sound systems such as Boogie Bunch, Rampage Sound or Heartless Crew were more popular because they mixed of genres of urban music. I remember Boogie Bunch’s DJ Swing playing a Ragga track at an R&B night and considering that groundbreaking and revolutionary – normally dancehall music was played in the ghetto areas of the city alone. No longer did urban music fans need to go to a strictly R&B night but you could hear a sound system spin Jungle, Garage, R&B, Hip Hop, Dancehall and Soca. Were the DJs becoming more selective, and setting new musical trends, or were the crowds becoming more picky, wanting more variety from DJs? As analogue culture slowly transformed into digital culture, it was more likely a mixture of the two (supply and demand).

In the digital era and the Internet, made music free and more accessible and merged cultures and sounds. Like music fans, MCs did not want to be restricted to one pirate radio station or one specific genre of music. MCs wanted to diversify and embrace a wider range of musical tastes, as well as tap into and make money from different musical markets. General Levi was an early example of a lyricist able to perform across genres, embracing Jungle, Hip Hop and Ragga music. Multi-genre music went in two creative directions. On the one hand, MCs such as General Levi became mixed-genre artists, performing on Jungle, Hip Hop and Ragga tracks. On the other hand Grime Music began to mix and amalgamate different genres into one distinct sound. As I remember, East Connection, Heartless Crew or Pay As You Go Cartel were some of the first distinguishable example of Grime Music to hit Bristol, Swindon or Cardiff. Later down the line, Nasty Crew or Roll Deep with DJ Slimzee, Dizzee Rascal and MC Wiley were to develop that raw and dark sound we know today as Grime Music.

The emergence and evolution of Garage Music played a fundamental role in setting the foundations for Grime Music. Deriving from Soulful House, borrowing baseline elements from Jungle and Drum & Bass music, Garage Music radically transformed the R&B, Dancehall and Hip Hop nightclub scene. The Garage Scene was all about wearing expensive designer shoes, dapper suits, looking intelligent, wearing crisply ironed shirts whilst drinking champagne (‘champagne bubbly’). What came with Garage Music was a real feeling of emancipation, liberation, freedom and joy. Night clubbers felt set free and empowered by this celebratory sounds of Garage. Any aggression associated with badman-Dancehall music (e.g. Bounty Killer’s “Anytime” or “Can’t Believe Me Eye” (1998)) or New York Hip Hop (e.g. The Lox ” We Are The Streets” (2000), DMX “Flesh of My Flesh, Blood of My Blood” (1998)), was momentarily suspended by the smooth vocals and skipping beats of UK Garage (e.g. Roy Davis Jr ft Peven Everett – Gabriel (1996), Tina Moore – Never Gonna Let You Go (1997), MJ Cole – Sincere (2000)). UK Garage or Speed Garage was a motivational music. People would work hard, save hard, dress up ‘stush’, travel long distances and spend hard-earned money in order to enjoy a Garage rave. The clientele was sophisticated, upbeat and intelligent, with less chance of outbreaks of trouble associated with Dancehall or D&B music scenes.

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Gradually UK Garage Music got darker as it evolved from its Soulful House roots to what has become Grime Music today. It merged a lot more with the darker elements of Drum & Bass music. MC Bushkin of Heartless crew recently made an interesting point of how Garage DJs began to reduce the vocals on garage tracks, and extend the break beats; amplify the baselines, to allow Ragga, Jungle and D&B MCs to spit vocals on over the tracks. This allowed a greater integration between D&B and Garage. But the mixing, merging and integration was as much social as cultural and musical. In several interviews Wiley or Dizzee, mention being that the tracksuit wearing, under-class, street-youth they represented were often barred from entering the black-middle-class Garage raves by nightclub bouncers. Essentially, in the eyes of the Garage Music scene these Drum & Bass MCs and their fan base represented trouble. Both Wiley and Dizzee would be the first to admit to that.

Gradually, Garage Music became darker, more aggressive, more troublesome, and later evolved into Grime Music. Wiley’s anthem “Wot U Call It?” (2004) is the most noticeable point in the transition from Garage (2-Step, UK Garage or Speed Garage) to Grime. With people speculating about names for the new genre, such as “Eski Music” or “Sub-Low”, it was eventually termed “Grime” by either music journalists or industry employees. Heartless Crews’ MC Bushkin mentioned that nigh clubbers would say to him: “Your music sounds Grimy!” That was a popular term at that time with N.O.R.E.’s thug-life anthem “Grimy” (2001) or Dillinja’s ultra-dark Drub & Bass anthem: “Grimey”.

Whereas UK Garage seemed to represent a cultural celebration of new wave of wealth and middle-class prosperity entering into black communities within the UK (from mid-1990s to 2001), post-9/11 Grime Music signified marginalization, despair, anger and rage against the establishment, as the title of Dizzee Rascal’s cornerstone LP “Boy in the Corner” suggests.

Grime can be considered a by-product of political and military Blairism. Grime has now become a sell-out scene, not as in watered-down, but sell-out as in commercially successful. Not only are Grime MCs making their mark around the world, but selling out huge stadiums within the UK – for example, Red Bull’s Culture Clash or Dizzee Rascal’s opening of the British Olympics. Any anger, rage and despair embedded within the sound has evolved into mainstream sound; a part of British national consciousness. The fury that Grime expressed, which stemmed from poverty, class and racial tensions, aimed at the corporate and social state-system, is paradoxically vented and celebrated at a national-level.

The views in this blog are mainly my own. Please a comment below if you see the emergence of Grime from another perspective. Thanks for reading.

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Why Labour needs Corbyn

by James Addicott © 2015

In what you are about to read I will attempt to shred Tony Blare into pieces, support David Cameron’s authenticity, but argue that the Labour Party and democracy in England needs Jeremy Corbyn to revitalise democratic debate and leadership.

Although he wore red, lets not forget that Tony Blare was a supreme, neo-liberal capitalist and a blood-thisry, imperialist warlord. I cringe now to think that I was one of the gullible suckers that voted Blare’s “New Labour Party” into power. Partnering up with George Bush, cheating the UK into an religious oil war in Iraq, aligning Britain on one side of Bush’s “axis of Evil”, subsequently attracting terrorists attacks in London, and then topping it all off with a neo-liberal financial crisis that ripped through the world economy with an epicenter in Bush’s “free” or underregulated economy, I defiantly felt by that time that we needed another leader to take power. Blair’s leadership was so extreme that it made the Conservative party begin to feel more like the socially orientated, left wing alternative.

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Of course the younger generation in England “lost faith in democracy” and voting numbers have declined in recent years. The reason for this is that the left-wing of English politics not only mimicked but outdid the right-wing to such an extent that people began to talk of a “two-party state”. Democracy began to look like an ideological veil that masked the inner workings of a secretly-formed union of capitalists and politicians – David Ike did well in books sells during this period I would imagine. There would be no escape from and capitalist competition would destroy the UK and leave a huge, scorched hole in the middle of the channel – which would have dried up by then anyway because of capitalism’s exploitation of water.

Blare announced that the last thing the labour party wants to do is “move more to the left” as the toss up between new leaders entered into party debate. What I have never quite understood is why Blare did not just join the Conservative Party in the first place, rather than trying to develop some kind of wishy-washy, Third Way alternative?

Anyway, in the last election I voted for Cameron. And, I’m proud of that since I thought he was doing a fairly good job and had a fairly robust plan of action. Consider me a utilitarian voter in so far as I will back the party that looks as if they will do the best good for a democratic society at that given moment in time. Political ideologies make me cringe too. More importantly I voted Blue because I did not want the country to fall back into the hands of another Blare-like, “red-capitalist”.

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What we need now, more than ever, is for the Labour Party to resort to some of its traditional values: support the workers, support those on low-incomes or no-incomes, free healthcare and education, support society with publically subsidised transportation services. But more than this, we also need a left-wing option that will help support local small-scale farmers, local trade and family businesses; a party that is opposed to imperialistic rule or neo-colonisation; economic or religious wars; and supports local identities and local economies in the face of turbulent global markets. Not all of these ideas may turn out to be the best options for society in the UK, of course not, but we do need a party that will support them and attempt to push them forwards at least. Corbyn speaks intellectually about such needs, and embodies more of a traditional labour identity than the squeaky-clean, corporate types that have over recent years been leaders of the Labour Party.

A socially-orientated left politics could well appeal to business. Not all business owners fit into the Wallstreet-capitalist, “Loadsa Money” Dell-Boy stereotypes afterall all . Social Corporate Responsibility or ecological clean businesses draw our attention to the fact that core business values are as important to some businesspeople as economic competition or making more money. I would hazard a guess that if the Conservatives push on too far with attempts to liberalise economic markets, cutting back on public expenditure into healthcare or education, encouraging businesses enterprises that treat employees unfairly (e.g. zero-hour contracts), then naturally a more authentic left-wing party leader will over time become more appealing – especially one with a white beard who looks like a all-round, friendly chap who actually cares about people.

A more socially orientated, left wing alternative would be great for English democracy. What we need back is the Thatcher verses Kinnock debates, rather that a stalemate situation in which two powerful parties take turns in achieving the same end goals. Bottom line, I hope Corbyn makes the vote.

Of course ‘flexible working is good for business’, but not so good for employees.

‘56% of employers say flexible working is good for business’, the Department for Business’ Fourth work-life balance employer survey (2013) declared today. What did the report say about the employees who find they have to work on flexible contracts? B5DKfnXCQAAyBik

There are clearly downsides to working in such conditions and I have come to learn that there are five rules for survival when working in flexible job-roles. These can be taken as five rules on how to survive as flexibility increases, or they could be taken as five arguments why increasing flexibility in employment markets demands more government intervention.

Before letting you know my rules of flexible employment, I must point out that they are written following my own working experiences. Following my graduation, and after six months of unemployment, in the fallout of the 2008 Financial Crisis, I was desperate to work again. A new international language school opened up in Bristol in the old Custom’s House. The company was originally based in Switzerland and I managed to score a job as one of their first English language teachers in Bristol.

Rule 1: You need to be flexible in your attitude towards unpaid labour. I was handed a weekly rolling contract when I began working for the company. After two years of working for the company this weekly contract did not become a permanent contract, not only for me but also for the other twenty teachers they eventually employed. The teachers were only paid by the hour for the classes they taught. This is the oldest trick in the book for language teacher employers because it means that teachers do not get paid for lesson planning, extra supervision, homework and essay marking, presentation preparations, company meetings, and so on.

Rule 2: As a teacher, you are also expected by be “flexible” and adapt to the company’s direct demands. You could be informed a week in advance that your hours have changed, been dropped, or increased. That means you also have to be flexible about your weekly income and figuring out how to pay bills or save money. The option of taking onboard other work to increase your income is blocked since you have to wait on hand-and-knees to discover how long you will be needed next week – or, if worst comes to worst, if you are not needed at all.

Rule 3: You have to be “flexible” in your considerations about leisure time or free time. Since some lessons start at 9am and others finish at 5pm throughout the week, you find yourself in the school working a fairly typical “nine-to-five” job. It came as a shock to some teachers when it was announced that the school had decided to open until 9pm in the evenings during the summer – suddenly some teachers work working “nine-till-nine” with lessons planned at intervals throughout the day. Although the £13 (ish) per hour payment sounds good initially, by the time you divide your working week by paid hours, you discover you are earning as much as you could working behind a bar or driving a bus – although working much harder in your “professional” teaching role.

Rule 4: Working for a private educational company also means that you have to be entirely flexible and adaptable to the company’s customer’s needs. The average class-size was seventeen students and since many of them have paid a lot of money (especially by their own countries’ standards) to study English in England, then as a teacher your classroom performance has to be impeccable. (Try some simple maths (£13ph ÷ 17) to begin to discover what a killing such companies are making). If you do not perform to their expectations, then – as I witnessed several times within the company – your weekly contract will not be renewed. Meaning: you’ve been fired. Being flexible also means that there is no one you can appeal to if you are unfairly dismissed. Being flexible in this respect also means telling the customer’s exactly what they want to hear (regardless of how well they might not be learning English).

Rule 5: Flexible employment can be so flexible that you should simply forget about any form of fixed employment laws. As I have witnessed working for this Swiss company, some companies do not have to include sick pay, overtime, bonus payments for bank holiday working, redundancy payouts or pensions. These traditional ideas regarding employment contracts were reduced to mythology. It is light of such loose employment contracts that the government can just shrug its shoulders when intervening between employer and employee relations. It is no wonder then that ‘56% of employers say flexible working is good for business’, since it means that they get low paid, hard workers (fearful of loosing their jobs next week).

It seems to be a fairly typical practice for the government to put the onus for the structural change they peruse onto individual agents (everyday people). The report is premised on this idea: ‘employers were asked whether they had received requests over the last 12 months for any of the types of flexible working’. Or: ‘The survey explored issues relating to the patterns that employees work, in particular the use of zero hour contracts, long hours working and on-call working’. While it is probably very likely that some people would like more flexibility in employment, to put the onus on the employees or the public, for this demand for flexibility is bizarre. It overlooks the contracts handed out by companies as I had discussed above. And, what about this idea: that some employees have no choice but to work within a country that is becoming increasingly flexible in its employment laws? A document such as this does noting more that to solidify “flexible” employment contracts. This primarily serves the employers, the companies, who can continue to employ people on a very fluid, wishy-washy contracts. Employees become even more disposable as companies adapt to market forces.

I can say what I want now because I am no longer under the threat of not having my weekly contract renewed. (I do worry sometimes about being able to get a good reference?).