The new grime wave
MCs like Tinie Tempah and Wiley might be familiar chart names. But now it's grime DJs' turn to shine
Grime nights? In London? A few years ago, you'd have had more chance of sourcing a dodo burger. Sure, the gnarled basslines and sonic evocation of a bleak inner-city environment saw Dizzee Rascal in the top ten with 'Boy in da Corner'. But with the genre's lyrics often reflecting street violence, the Met became so obsessed with shutting down nights that they virtually died out. The energetic moshpits inspired by Lethal Bizzle's anthem 'Pow' caused more panic, leading to clubs banning it. Despite six months of trouble-free events, Chantelle Fiddy's seminal Straight Outta Bethnal night was closed down by police pressure the night of their first fight. For a long time, Dirty Canvas was the only chance to go out and listen to grime - and even they didn't especially like calling themselves a grime club.
Now we're a couple of years into the chart hegemony of grime MCs like Tinie Tempah and Chipmunk. But their success hasn't necessarily helped the scene's DJs, producers and promoters. 'Back in the day, the people making the tunes were as big as the MCs,' explains DJ Vectra, host of his own Rinse FM show and part of the grime scene since its inception. 'That all changed.' At one point, grime MCs were jettisoning grimey beats altogether, for more radio-friendly sounds like electro and UK funky.
'When I first started on Rinse FM a couple of years ago, a lot of the top talent had moved on,' explains Elijah Butterz, one half of grime label/ promoters/DJs Butterz. 'Wiley had “Wearing My Rolex” out. Rinse were actually having to look for more grime DJs. That's how bad it got.'
Not any more, though. Having spent the last couple of years putting out the music of underground grime producers 'that just wasn't coming out otherwise' Butterz are just about to reach the landmark of taking over Fabric's third room. And 'fed up with a lack of recognition for DJs and producers', a group of the grime scene's most respected DJs, including Vectra, have formed a collective, Pitch Controllers, and are putting on monthly nights at East Village. 'It's working too,' offers Vectra. 'Me and [fellow Pitch Controller] JJ have just been booked to play Outlook Festival in Croatia. Last year, there were no grime DJs.' Even legendary grime producer/DJ, Terror Danjah, started saying in interviews towards the end of 2010 that 'What's happened recently… is that we're able to take our music, DJ at live shows and make a living off it.'
Not that it's all the police's fault. As a genre with intensely DIY roots, producers struggled with the switch to digital. 'The record shops all started to go and they were the main places to get grime. It took people a while to work out how to do digital downloads,' explains Elijah. But partly grime needed to see the similarly gritty mutant electronic sounds of dubstep go from shared roots in Rinse FM to overground success. 'We saw it start after us, but lap us a few times,' explains Vectra. 'It made us treat things more like an art form, less like a hobby.'
As a result, so many grime MCs are queuing up to provide vocals to tracks like S-X's 'Woo Riddim' that he may as well have been giving away gold-plated hot cakes. Spooky's 'Spartan' is lusted after like the 'special stuff' in 'League Of Gentlemen'. Plus producers like Royal T, Teddy Music and Rude Kid are talked about in hallowed terms as future stars. 'It's a really young scene, though,' explains Elijah. 'Royal T is 20. Three years ago, he couldn't get into a rave. S-X is 18 now. When I started on Rinse, he'd have been 16. He wouldn't even have had an iTunes account. I'm like one of the grandads of the scene, and I'm 23.'
Thanks to forward-thinking venues like Plastic People, East Village and Dalston's The Alibi, chances are there's a grime DJ operating near you. Admittedly, 'You still can't go to a random club and hear grime on a Friday night,' offers Elijah. 'Outside of the London bubble, it's working. But here, some promoters still turn their noses up.' Hopefully, you can expect that to change very soon…
Butterz host room three at FabricLive at Fabric on February 18. Pitch Controllers play at The Macbeth on March 18. Other grime nights include SOME Night at East Village every Wednesday, Dirty Canvas at Cable on March 12, and DJ Swerve's Locked In at The Westbury on March 11.