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One Take

One Take: August In Grime Reviewed By Tomas Fraser
Tomas Fraser , August 26th, 2015 08:41

Tomas Fraser is back with reviews of nights by Plastician ft. Jammz, Logos & Mumdance's Sunday session and internet radio courtesy of Balamii

A grime symphony at The Royal Albert Hall, who’d have thought it? On paper, the night itself was certainly set out to make a statement, particularly with the media painting it as a rags to riches / streets to the stage story, but as an extension of BBC 1Xtra’s live programming, how accurate a portrayal of contemporary grime music was it?

At base level, grime seems to mean completely different things for different people. If you ask your parents or older relatives about grime, the majority will point to Tinie Tempah, Tinchy Stryder or maybe even Dizzee Rascal as reference points (if aware of it’s existence at all). Speak to the new generation of kids in the clubs and they’ll mention Butterz, the Newham Generals or Boxed. Go further back and reach out to grime’s original fan base - the majority informed by the forum-culture that dominated grime in it’s formative years - and they’ll be inclined to talk about artists like Davinche, Durrty Goodz, Maniac and Prez T. These interpretations might not be directly conflicting, but they do exist independently of each other and from an analytical point of view, are rarely discussed or even referenced. The result? You eventually end up with line-ups like we saw at the Albert Hall - an odd melting pot of artists that neither fully delivered nor disappointed.

The grime-meets-orchestra concept - one trialled by Sian Anderson at Maida Vale a month or so ago with the cream of up-and-coming MCs - felt like a much more accurate portrayal of grime as it stands, but the challenge of replicating matters at The Royal Albert Hall brought with a sense of predictability that dampened my enthusiasm. Stormzy, Krept & Konan and Little Simz were fully justified performers but the additions of Wretch 32, Lethal Bizzle and Chip (formerly Chipmunk) made for uncomfortable viewing, partly because it felt like we were watching an outdated, pop-laced ode to the genre.

The spectacle and overriding musicality of the night itself was stunning though, a testament to conductor Jules Buckley (who also oversaw Pete Tong’s Radio 1 takeover a few weeks prior) and his orchestra, but you can’t help feel like events like this could do a lot more to inform the public of what grime really is - and sounds like.

Plastician ft. Jammz - London Living

I watched the recent Boiler Room ‘Master & Apprentice’discussion piece with Elijah, P Money and Bonkaz a few weeks ago and it got me thinking about the relationship between grime’s old and new blood - and how that relationship has continued to evolve in 2015.

For the last few years, the onus was seemingly on new grime producers to innovate, providing the spark for more established MCs to stay ahead of the curve, with Rabit’s ‘Black Dragons’ ft. Riko Dan, Mystry’s ‘Pulse 8’ (which JME used for new album ‘Integrity’) and Trends & JL Sanders’ ‘The Undertaker’ ft. Flirta D just three cases in point. In light of Plastician’s new single ‘London Living’ though, that dynamic might just be starting to change. We first saw it with Mumdance & Novelist’s ‘Take Time’ in 2014, a track that, as Logos states in a recent interview with the Guardian, “changed the game in a lot of ways”. Rather than seek out the experience of a tried-and-tested MC, Mumdance harnessed the raw potential of a then up-and-coming Novelist and in turn, lit the touch paper for trends to be reversed - now the MCs are starting to innovate.

‘London Living’, a single released through UKF’s label arm, is another indicator of MCs really starting to catch up. Jammz is already an undoubted star, an MC who’s probably spent more hours on the radio than the majority of us have spent asleep so far this year, and his appeal is both tangible and real. He’s surrounded himself with the right people, put his head down and worked, blazing a trail for other young MCs to follow - with the Plastician link-up being the icing on the cake following some excellent work with Local Action.

Plastician, still regarded as a legend in grime - who can forget ‘Japan’?! - is always seeking new ways to push the various strands of club-focused music he’s into, but on ‘London Living’ he cuts it back to basics, a bit like he did on stone cold 2007 classic ‘Intensive Snare’ with Skepta. The beat - all low end stabs, hushed snare rolls and bleepy interjects - plays second fiddle to Jammz’ skippy tribute to London, which listens like an unorthodox cabbie’s guide to the city, where landmarks include curry & lentil on Brick Lane, the 26 bus and raving in fabric. There’s a really bright, tigerish quality to it but you never feel intimidated by Jammz tales either, which is quite refreshing considering the last odes to London most people remember are SLK’s ‘North Weezy’ and Southside Allstars’ 2004 street anthem ‘Southside Riddim’. I wonder what happened to the kid on the last verse?

Different Circles Summer Series @ The Victoria

I love living south of the river, but the only drawback is missing out on nights like Different Circles - Mumdance & Logos’ club-night-cum-label that’s made The Victoria pub in Dalston it’s home for an 8-date summer series over the past two months. Anyone who’s listened to either Mumdance or Logos’ music knows that they’re two artists with a broad spectrum of influences, but even they were surprised to see Bjork turn up to one of the nights - a strange but fitting motif for everything the series seems to encompass.

I chose to head down to see The Square, Ziro with Riko Dan, Tom Lea with Jammz and Airhead (I took the Monday off work thank fuck) and it was everything I thought it’d be. From the very beginning, even with a fairly empty room, I could still spot familiar faces amidst the hazy, smoke-filled blur that had engulfed the club space at the back of the pub, fittingly hidden behind a bookcase that opens out into the pub itself. From Keysound’s Parris to DJ Magic and a drunken, slurring chat with Ziro in the crowd, the natural energy of the place felt akin to Boxed’s formative raves, with everyone there still trying to work out how to consume the music on offer.

Airhead set head-scratching pace before the MCs, lead by Jammz, started to dominate, quickly filling the room as more and more people started to pour in. That said, the vibe never really changed, with the dark, cloaked atmosphere a defining feature of the night itself. Riko Dan and Ziro were typically electric, Riko’s flow almost took quick for Ziro’s beat selection in places, while The Square - full of hyperactive, smiley energy - brought their own brand of chaos, resulting in an impromptu photo shoot with fans outside the pub once their set draw to a close. For all of the line-ups that Mumdance & Logos had curated throughout the series, this was probably the most unpredictable for a Sunday night, but such is their commitment to keeping grime a part of their make-up, it felt like the most natural too.

Photo by George Quann-Barnett

Tarquin - ‘Kid U’

“Ah I’m starting to think the whole lemon thing was a bad idea” said Tarquin after coming off the decks at a club in Angel a few weeks back. He’s an interesting character, not only because his press shot depicts him cradling a lemon, but because he makes some of the most slapstick, in-your-face, utterly bizarre grime I’ve ever heard. ‘Kid U’, part of a double single released last month on Mr Mitch’s Gobstopper label is only the tip of the iceberg, but such is its fluttery, magical chaos, it’s probably a good place to start.

It’s worth pointing out that Tarquin’s remit stretches beyond grime, but through a series of bonkers grime-club edits, he’s won plaudits for flipping the script - and being pretty brazen with it too. ‘Kid U’ listens like a pritt-stick collage - the fun, not-too-serious-but-kinda-serious art project you submitted in year 9 that all your teachers loved. Or maybe the time you had too many sherbet dip-dabs. Either way, it’s giddy and light but rough around the edges - think dainty melodies meet harsh, crackly stabs, odd percussive snaps, swirly FX and chiptune R&B ad-libs. It’s bananas but absolutely fucking brilliant.

Balamii - Last Japan w/ AJ Tracey & Big Zuu

The rise of internet radio has proved vital to grime’s inner-city resurgence on the airwaves in London, particularly in relation to how they’re run and operated day-to-day. Professional setups matched by relaxed attitudes to programming have allowed micro communities to flourish and develop at a higher level than ever before off their own backs, bringing DJs and MCs to the attention of artists and labels they’d never have a chance of being exposed to in the process. The latest of these platforms to crop up and make an immediate impression is Balamii - as profiled by Thump back in February - a small, humble space located in one of Peckham’s bustling shopping arcades.

I made my first visit there to meet up with Last Japan, with whom I work together on releases and events for my own label, Coyote Records. He was recording a two hour slot and had asked AJ Tracey and Big Zuu to come down and host, although neither of us knew what to expect in terms of how everything would run. With Balamii already having played host to recorded sets from artists like My Panda Shall Fly and West Norwood Casette Library right the way through to Faze Miyake and Rude Kid, the platform takes a relaxed, blank canvas attitude to scheduling.

Apart from a near-exhaustive search to find cans of beer, (I ended up buying luke warm San Miguel from Iceland), the space itself couldn’t be more ideally located to create the close, tight-knit energy that makes recording grime sets such a energy-sapping process. Crammed into the small, wooden-panelled booth, Last Japan started to rifle through tune after tune, with AJ and Zuu going back-to-back with relentless enthusiasm and skill. If anyone embodies a love for what they do it’s Zuu, who between verses was smiling, egging AJ on and reciting bars - not once did either of them check their phone nor even suggest a break for the duration of the set.

Adjacent to the booth, owner James mans the small record shop attached to the Balamii studio, popping his head round to listen in and talk to me about the trials and tribulations of running a start-up, as well as outlining his vision for the whole project. Although not to be associated with any particular genre or scene, Balamii has provided another vital outlet for DIY grime (and underground music more generally) to get itself heard.