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One Take

One Take: A New Grime Column By Tomas Fraser
Tomas Fraser , July 9th, 2015 10:38

The Quietus finally has a grime column! In the first instalment, Tomas Fraser witnesses an epic DJ set by Slackk at Peckham's Rye Wax and reviews new tracks from Dark0, the infernally young DeeCee and Ruff Sqwad stalwart Rapid. There's also a look at the imagery of Wot Do You Call It, who provided this photograph of Rapid

"Just 'coz we come from the gutter and we know about scraping the bottom of the butter", says JME on his iconic first single 'Serious', "don't mean we have to be sinners, major labels don't want killers." Looking back, I wonder if he could have predicted how ironic those lyrics would sound some eight years later and how different the landscape would be?

For one, looking at the scene in a broader sense, major labels are no longer a fixture of grime dialogue - in fact, even mentioning them in the same sentence feels almost strange in hindsight. Listening to Kano's 2005 debut album Home Sweet Home, a record defined by tales of the streets, militant flows and abstract beat patterns, it's hard to believe that 2007 follow-up London Town was made by the same artist. The former saw Kano given creative license, the latter - with 679 perhaps hoping to capitalise on Kano's marketability with younger 'urban' audiences - saw him reverse his flow, tone down his bars and release tracks like 'This Is The Girl' with Craig David and 'Feeling Free' with Damon Albarn. This process was repeated over and over again, until artists buckled under the pressure of having to deliver hit records and labels spat them back out - a vicious cycle that effectively claimed the careers of artists like Griminal, Dot Rotten and Devlin.

That's not to say that the success or failure of grime has to be defined by it's relationship with majors, but the experiences shared by some of the scene's most identifiable artists - none more so than Wiley's decision to leak 2013 album The Ascent in protest at Warner's handling of the process - have proved an unlikely catalyst for a change in attack. Artists have become empowered: "Wanna know how I did it with no label, no A-list songs?" asks Skepta on 2015 grime anthem 'Shutdown'. His answer, "I just shutdown".

The same, fiercely independent spirit that has underpinned Skepta's success is also prevalent within contemporary grime at an underground level. Breakthrough MCs Novelist and Stormzy have both arrived at their destinations without any sort of industry framework in place, while at the dance end of the spectrum, independent start-ups like Butterz and pivotal instrumental movement Boxed have created their own spaces for grime to develop and evolve sonically - in a way that I'd never thought possible five years ago. Even the latest batch of young spitters fronted by Jammz, Mic TY, AJ Tracey et al have all taken grime into their own hands, relentlessly cruising around London's pirates and smaller stations, working with other independent artists and self-releasing their own music. They've proved that seeking approval from those operating outside the scene is seemingly no longer viewed with the same enthusiasm from those inside it - if you want to make grime music, the grass is always greener when you're in charge of the crop.

And that crop is now yielding the best results that I've ever had the pleasure of writing about. Grime has always carried a sense of energy too difficult to put a finger on, but at the moment everything about it is electric. From first hearing Murlo's 'Rhythm & Gash' flip at Birthdays in Dalston and seeing Spooky slap the ceiling in approval while the room erupted in disbelief, to watching JME clamber up onto the DJ booth at former South London club Cable in a blue onesie, before jumping into the crowd to perform '96 Fuckries', grime has given us more 'I was there' moments in the last few years than ever before. Even exposure to the genre's foundation years have become a source of intrigue, particularly in terms of documentation for those trying to get a grasp of where grime came from - a fact evidenced by Rollo Jackson's recent short film profiling legendary DJ Slimzee and the revival of cultural relics like Lord Of The Mics and Eskimo Dance.

In short, grime is everywhere in 2015 - from Drake's Instagram feed to Julie Adenuga on Apple'sBeats 1 to Ibiza, Glastonbury, Sonar, Wireless and even The Official Album Charts. Be it dark, rapturous club basements or festival main stages, people are finally listening to grime music, but moreover, understanding it properly - and I'll be using this column to round-up the best of it every month for tQ.

Slackk - All Night Long at Rye Wax, Peckham

All-night sets tend to be entrusted with those at the top of their game - DJs with enough clout to not only command a space, but to keep them alive. Although a bedrock of house & techno clubbing culture, for grime it's completely new territory - so, who better to explore it than Slackk? A pioneering figure, both as co-head of club-night Boxed - in my opinion, the best rave in London - and as a wonderfully conceptual producer, there are few (aside from Spooky) who could pull off a six hour grime set like he did at Peckham record store, Rye Wax.

For one, grime instrumentals are often no longer than three to four minutes long and thus the whole mixing process is completely different to say, house or techno - average that out across six hours and you're looking at anything from 120 to180 tracks, give or take how fast Slackk chose to rattle through his tune remit. Humbly positioned at the back of Rye Wax's basement, he cut through track after track - many of them new to everyone's ears but his. He also juggled a two hour period with a group of MCs from two of grime's best young crews in The Square and YGG, as well as rising star AJ Tracey. Keen to tap into the producer-driven grime undercurrent that has made movements like Boxed so crucial, their arrival was not only a nod to Slackk's influence but also to their own willingness to get behind a mic and spray - regardless of where or when. For some, a 100-cap rave in a basement in Peckham might not sound particularly special, but for everyone there, this was grime music at it's best - in it's purest, most undiluted form. No bright lights, no fanfare, no drinks offers - just a pair of deckers, a mixer and a mic.

After the MCs made their exit, Slackk toned down the energy a little as his set started to come to an end, still a picture of calm behind the modest DJ set up at the back of the room. I caught up with him briefly outside just as he'd finished while he waited for a cab home. "I'm fucking knackered bruv" he said, "but I really enjoyed that".

Dark0 - Solace EP

I played Dark0's new EP to my boss a few weeks ago and his first reaction was to ask where he could buy it, which says it all. A beat-maker firmly in his own lane, Dark0's music - although often clubbed together with other producers operating within the instrumental grime framework - is far more loosely bound to the scene from which it evolved. His early beats were admittedly much harder and grittier (still very good too - see 'Scyther' as a case in point), but they lacked the finesse and conceptual processes that make so much of his recent output all the more beautiful to listen to.

Solace' represents his first physical release proper after EPs for Visionist's Lost Codes label and Mr Mitch's Gobstopper Records and easily listens as his best work to date. Bittersweet from the outset, he navigates around themes of love and heartbreak with a remarkably deft hand, contrasting glossy, sweet melodies with short, pitched-up R&B samples and darker, thugged out 808s. It's a classic 'rough vs smooth' template, but Dark0's work operates at the extreme end of it - he makes everything feel amplified and as such, doubly good. Listen out for the Suicideyear Remix of lusciously cinematic beatscape 'The Past' on the flip too - it's gorgeous.

DeeCee - 'What Do You Know About'

As the youngest member of Lewisham grime crew The Square,16 year-old MC DeeCee clearly has the talent to mix it with the best. The beat to new track 'What Do You Know About', produced by Novelist, is classic, skippy grime fare - but it's the confident swagger with which he tackles it that should make people sit up and pay attention. It's hard to think what I was doing at 20, let alone 16, but DeeCee shows little sign of nerves on camera - but then again, why should he? What's especially refreshing about the latest generation of young MCs is that everything is done on their terms. From the beat, to the bars to the video - which taps into the everyday world that many young MCs grow up in - this is their world.

Wot Do You Call It - 50 MCs Set

Photographer duo George 'Quann' Barnett and Marco Grey, better known as the creative brains behind the Wot Do You Call It project, have been responsible for some incredible grime photography over the last 12 months (including the shot of Rapid, above). Tasking themselves with documenting grime culture at a grassroots level, their photos - taken everywhere from live events to radio stations and video shoots, as well as a series of self-styled portraits - typify the DIY attitude that has proved the bedrock of grime's latest regeneration.

To celebrate their first birthday, they decided to throw a set, broadcast live by the excellent Radar Radio - themselves another key platform utilised by 2015's new breed of MCs. This was no ordinary radio set though. 50+ MCs (!) - all from different areas, crews and in some cases, eras - touched mic to celebrate their achievements in a set that makes a mockery of draconian legislative force, Form 696.

Listen to the audio recording and you might not be fully taken in by the chaotic format nor the bars or mic personality shared by every MC, but you've got to admire what it represents. This is 50 MCs sharing the same mic (!) - from old guard lyricists like Hitman Hyper and Desperado, right the way through to up-and-comers like Saint, PK and Izzie Gibbs - which is mad enough in itself, even before considering the size of the space they were all crammed into. Hats off to George and Marco.

Rapid - The Rapid EP

I always go back to Dan Hancox' article for The Guardian on 2012 Ruff Sqwad retrospective White Label Classics where he describes Rapid's 'Functions On The Low' as "quite simply one of the greatest tracks in the history of British electronic music". As Ruff Sqwad's chief creative force on the buttons, much of his early work laid the foundations for the sound grime has come to assume today and yet recent self-released EP Rapid Fire Vol.2 aside, he's remained a proverbial outsider in the current instrumental make-up. When I heard the news he'd signed a record to Butterz, it was excuse the pun, music to my ears.

Simply titled The Rapid EP, it includes 'Pepper Riddim' - a track that sounds as if it's just been dug up from a audio time capsule from 2002 (it was also the beat of choice for returning grime star Chipmunk in his send for half the scene earlier this year) - as well as three other original cuts that celebrate just what a humble, talented beat writer he is.

Aside from the music, the artwork is also a story thanks to the creative genius of Butterz' in-house designer David Kelly and photographer James Gould. Returning to the same patch of wall where Ruff Sqwad were pictured ten years ago, Gould has photographed the same spot to document the transition between then and now. Conceptually, it connects with Rapid's EP on all sorts of levels, especially as a visual metaphor for the timeless nature of his music, but more than anything, it makes you want to buy the record. For all Butterz' work over the last five years, it's this that they've mastered the art of - making punters part with their cash without necessarily hearing their records. Building that level of trust - of course aided by Kelly's creative art direction - is quite something.