Wiley interview and exclusive track

Listen to an exclusive track from Wiley plus the star talks of his plans to save grime music

Exclusive: Listen to 'Highs and Lows' by Wiley

Wiley tells Alexi Duggins how the return of his pioneering grime night, Eskimo Dance, will help the genre evolve instead of becoming extinct, plus he shares a never-before-heard track exclusively with Time Out.

Eskimo Dance is the most legendary London event you’ve probably never heard of. Run by grime godfather Wiley (and named for his song, ‘Eskimo’ – reputedly the first ever grime track) from the early to mid noughties, it took place under the cover of a London subculture the media weren’t privy to. It’s become a nigh-on mythological reference point to the genre’s golden era: their equivalent of Atlantis.

But now, grime artists chart regularly and there is an emerging generation of MCs who never had the chance to partake in the night’s lyrical battles, or see the kind of events their genre stemmed from, Wiley is bringing it back. Here, the madcap prolific MC and producer tells us why.

Why bring Eskimo Dance back now?

‘I should’ve brought it back ages ago. It should never have stopped, really, but the police stopped it. They weren’t sure dodgy stuff wasn’t gonna go on.’

For years, the police systematically closed down every grime event in London. Did that feel unfair?

‘Well it was fair or not fair. But stabbings and shit were happening. And to be honest, if me or you were the head of police and there are these problems, you’d be like “Hold on, he’s been shot, he’s been stabbed… who the fuck do these lot think they are?”’

But they’re okay with it now?

‘Yeah, because the venues have changed. If you have something in Proud2, where they’ve got security and metal detectors, you ain’t really gonna get any shit happening.’

Is it grime’s mainstream success that lets you put it on at Proud2?

‘The mainstream audience don’t give two hoots about grime. What the mainstream grime artists are making ain’t even grime. As soon as we get in the chart we stop doing grime. That is another reason why I’m bringing Eskimo Dance back – because what I want to spit on, ain’t here anymore. Eskimo Dance is grime. You couldn’t go in Eskimo Dance and get a reload because you spat on a hip hop tune.’

Some grime songs have charted…

‘What? “Pow 2011”? I did spit on the tune, but the truth is that Lethal B[izzle] is weak for re-releasing it. I’m not trying to redo “Eskimo”. It makes grime look like it’s run out of ideas. “Pow 2011” [Lethal Bizzle originally released the track in 2004] is desperate play. I’m not saying I don’t pull desperate play moves – I might yet – but they don’t help. Whether “Pow 2011” charted or not, that should’ve been a new Lethal B song.’

If you want its success, why not release more old-school grime?

‘See, I would, but I don’t wanna be the one who does a grime song, pays the plugger £2,500, sends it to Radio 1 and gets told to eff off. I dunno how many times I could do that.’

MC battles used to be more prevalent in grime’s early days. Is that still important to the genre?

‘Running out, saying your lyric and getting a reload is unbeatable, to be honest with you. And you know what pisses me off? Now, when an artist makes it, they go off in a different direction, perform their live set or their album and forget about that side of it. I do understand why people chase the money for their name, but it’s not as exciting as everyone running on the stage. It is power, bro.’

So Eskimo Dance will have a better live show than standard MC sets?

‘Yeah, I’m trying to work on my live show. I feel like I haven’t got there yet. It’s only Dizzee whose live show is as electric as him spitting. I can make people go mad with a “Rolex…” song, and I can make people go mad with a Wiley lyric, but in-between there’s stuff where people might say nothing. So I’m trying to get the balance right.’

Are you hoping it’ll give emerging MCs a sense of grime’s history?

‘I got a place in Liverpool, and when I walk past Penny Lane I see people who’ve come from all over the world to that one road. Can you imagine that for grime? I like The Beatles, though. You know why? Because they did what they did without anyone lifting them up. They put in their own groundwork. I can’t wait to meet Paul McCartney. I know he probably doesn’t even know who I am, but all I need to do is shake his hand and that energy will come to me.’ (Laughs)

Eskimo Dance is at Proud2 on Sat Jan 14. Wiley's new album ‘Evolve or Be Extinct’ (Big Dada) is out on Thur Jan 19.