To conclude our exploration of 20 years of grime, with our Industry Takeover All Dayer media partner TRENCH, Chantelle Fiddy investigates the global rise in influence of London’s great millennial musical export…
How has Drill come to dominate the UKs musical landscape? Largely it’s because grime has broken the doors down. Now a term widely synonymous with inner-city living, London style and counter-culture, grime’s international spread has gone way beyond the confines of the genre’s origins, borders and BPM. Hit up a rave or festival and chances are you’ll clock a grime head via a mosh-pit-ready uniform, complimented by a BBK, NTS or Rinse t-shirt perhaps. Maybe you’ve listened to a US hip-hop track and clocked some certified grime sounds? Perhaps you’ve heard distinctly Cockney-infused-Patois coming from the mouth of an international heavyweight (Drake, cough, cough) because where once magazines ran guides translating the semantics of grime linguistics, the parlance is now simply commonplace.
From Japan, subject of a VICE documentary in 2014 thanks to its burgeoning homegrown grime scene and where Skepta chose to launch his 2016 (soon to be Mercury Award winning) album Konnichiwa with Boiler Room, to exploding scenes in Australia and Ireland, and a steady rise in current demand on the live scenes in Brazil, Poland, Russia and elsewhere, street icons, a decade ago unknown to the masses, are now potential household names both at home and abroad. Where once lay ‘if only’s’ is a rich stomping ground for new business firsts; whether creators are looking for brand partners, joint ventures, competitive major label deals, financial investment or innovative new models, collaboration is ripe, ready and happening. But we didn’t arrive here overnight – and that’s the key to grime’s sway.
Grime’s transatlantic appeal and resonance began back before the genre had a name. The foundations were strong. Coming off the back of the commercially successful UK garage scene, via forums such as ukgarageworldwide.com and distributors Soul II Streets, record pools – the sending of vinyl promos overseas – were established as an act of love and a desire to unite DJs and their listeners with the best in new British dance music. But amid the advent of LimeWire and MP3 file sharing, the accelerator was foot down to the metal; with costs stripped and boundless reach, fans pushed their favourite tracks far, wide and quickly.
Sonically the appeal was obvious – from the production to the lyricism grime sounded like nothing else – and still doesn’t. Born during a time of social upheaval and spending cuts, grime was the new working-class voice for mobility (resulting in it being the natural soundtrack to the high-profile student protests in 2010). Sometimes challenging the political status quo, unlike its UK hip-hop cousin, grime was often more focused on intercrew rivalries, localised myths, individual style and of equal importance, a good sense of humour. Advances in technology at the turn of the century had created new paths for many. Wannabe producers without a budget gained the PlayStation and Fruityloops (now FL Studio), basic video cameras were now affordable, wannabe entrepreneurs made new propositions, creating their own jobs and employing their friends. And it’s this DIY ethos that undoubtedly remains one of grime’s greatest appeals and exports, breeding inspiration, hope and creativity in a landscape where economic and social stability for the many still feels a long, long way off.
Respect has been earnt. Real pulling power can be found via the commitment of those early pioneers who, in order to be heard, were having to stick a middle finger up to CCTV cameras, the law, a Tory government ‘Hug A Hoodie’ campaign, anti-social behaviour orders and Form 696, a piece of now defunct Met Police legislation that racially profiled performers, making it increasingly hard for grime to find a live home in the capital that had birthed it. But one city’s loss is another’s gain. And it’s dogged reputation only increased the appeal. By the mid ‘00’s, there were often more bookings available in Europe than the UK, many of which were made possible not by well-seasoned promoters or agents but by fans who’d discovered grime and were going to exceptional lengths to bring the music to their country and friends, in turn introducing like minded sub-cultures to one another.
On one such trip in 2005, a booking (it later transpired) that came in via a French teacher for a headline show at Rex Club in Paris, a trip to the local pirate radio at Generation in Paris, bore witness to France’s first grime crew. And such meetings of minds outside of UK territory became commonplace.
When reflecting on grime’s rise in global influence, a nod is also due to factions of the style press who pre-internet explosion, championed the sound, fashion and individuals in print more often than their musical counterparts. While grime’s relationship with fashion’s key players is now in unchartered territory, MC walking appearances at London Fashion Week began in 2006; with grime faces now gracing magazine covers, the world can but watch the shelves and wait.
Perhaps we can go as far as to thank grime’s lack of consistent prominence during its gestation in allowing a continued and evolving influence on fashion, language, sonics and culture. As grime often bucks sales trends, able to shift significantly more physical product (CDs/ vinyl) than the average act, as well as an explosive rise in streaming numbers globally, it’s still very much a specialist sound and in the minority when it comes to market share by genre. And for the sake of longevity, that’s just fine.
Grime’s been an evolving long game that demonstrates the need for failures before mingling with greater success. Where once no industry existed we see an open playing field and there’s no guessing what – or where – that next big global moment might come from.
Roll on another 20 years of grime!
Words: Chantelle Fiddy