At last year’s Wireless festival, Skepta nearly upstaged headliner Drake with a show-stealing rendition of ‘Shutdown’. This year, the Londoner and his Boy Better Know (BBK) crew will have the stage, and 50,000-strong crowd, all to themselves. BBK’s headline slot this Sunday could well be the biggest grime gig of all time – and that’s a reason, in grime terms, to be just a little bit gassed.
Over the last couple of years, grime’s renaissance has been one of the most surprising and exciting developments in British music. What was once a fiercely underground DIY genre – made on PlayStations in bedrooms and spread via pirate radio – now enjoys a mass appeal few could have imagined a couple of years ago. Young bloods Novelist, Lady Leshurr and Stormzy have become voices of British youth (the last even getting his own burger at Nandos), while pioneers such as Kano, Wiley and Skepta’s sprawling BBK collective (to whom Drake himself now pledges allegiance) have refocused and seized their moment in glorious style.
It’s been a time of remarkable firsts for grime’s key players. We’ve seen them on stage with Kanye at the Brits, their portraits hung on the walls at Tate Britain and even had Skepta stare out from the cover of this magazine. BBK’s headline slot at one of the UK’s biggest daytime festivals is just the latest massive milestone for grime, putting the crew on the same footing as past headliners like Justin Timberlake, Kanye, Jay Z and Rihanna.
The elevation of a homegrown act to headliner status is something to savour. It’s also a chance to reflect on just how far the genre has come since the days grime raves were forced into the city’s dingiest basements and back rooms, or threatened by the Met’s controversial ‘risk assessment’ demands under Form 696.
Quite a contrast to this Sunday, then, when Boy Better Know hit the Wireless stage for what’s rumoured to be a pretty spectacular show. Suggestions are swirling that a potential special guest may be BBK’s recent Canadian signing (yes, we’re talking about Drake). This might be little more than wishful thinking – but after the extraordinary year that grime’s had, absolutely nothing would surprise us any more.
Wireless Festival is at Finsbury Park, Fri Jul 8-Sun Jul 10. Boy Better Know headline on Sunday.