Wot Do u Call It: talking grime with the Originators

How would P Money describe grime to someone new to the genre? “Vibes. Great vibes.” The Oxford stop of the Originators tour was profuse with “vibes”, causing bygone dons to turn in their graves, reeling at the guttural basslines pounding through their historic city walls. I caught up with some of the scene’s makers and shapers to get their thoughts on grime’s growing mainstream appeal.

The presence of these grime heavyweights in a city more renowned for its dreaming spires than Sir Spyro(s) is a testament to grime’s changing audience since the days of its early beginnings on Fruity Loops Studio on old PCs. When grime first burst onto the scene in the form of clashes crackling on pirate radio and eski raves, the deadpan bars of Wiley and Dizzee, and Ruff Sqwad’s bone-chilling instrumentals were deemed fodder for violence and disorder. Now, it’s being steered into the mainstream by ‘German Whip’ and Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’, accruing a new following in the process. “This guy’s come to see me from Japan!” P Money exclaims to me, bemused by the dedication of a young fan who’d flown over just to see him perform in Oxford’s answer to Jammer’s basement.

“When I used to go raving as a kid, I had to go through metal detectors and stuff ,” Logan Sama tells me. “There’s none of that now, it’s all trendy kids and students.” I ask the DJ, who pioneered the scene in its early years when MCs like P Money were starting out, why he thinks this is. “They’re generally more open to things.” Although, as he points out, the original audience are also now in their thirties and probably have families. “I’m sure they still like grime, but they’re just not active.”

I ask P Money whether he thinks grime’s voyage into the mainstream is benefiting the genre. “It’s good for any genre. People confuse mainstream with selling out; mainstream just means popular. Like, how many people are singing along now?” he asks, turning to Oxford’s Out of the Blue-cum-More Fire crew. “People said grime was dead, but it’s never been dead. People just lost faith.”

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Logan Sama sees the resurgence as part of the cyclical nature of UK’s electronic music. “Everything comes back around. Disclosure brought garage back and now all of a sudden, DJ EZ’s really cool and trendy. Unfortunately people in this country are very quick to be over something, after that initial honeymoon period,” and he suspects grime will have a cool-off period too. 

Not only have some of grime’s originators been re-energised after a period of lying low, but a new wave of fresh talent such as Stormzy and Novelist, grime’s new poster child, has emerged. “That generation’s really interesting to me because we’ve been doing this for twelve years, and they’re seventeen” Logan Sama tells me. “All of their conscious music-listening life, grime’s been in and around their ears.”

But the recent spotlight on producers like Darq E Freaker, whose Cherryade EP was one of label Oil Gang’s biggest hits, has reminded us that grime’s birthday suit is its instrumentals. I ask Freaker how he would define his sound, labelling everything from ‘technicolour’ to ‘chronic’ grime. “Define me as you perceive me,” he says coolly. Freaker tells me he grew up listening to Timbaland, Missy Elliot and Prodigy, and these eclectic influences are pronounced in his genre-blending, transatlantic music, having brought grime to a US audience via Danny Brown.

Despite this, Logan Sama is adamant that the MCs will remain at the forefront of grime’s changing landscape. “I don’t like to say one’s more important than the other. But the MCs are always going to be the focal point because of their personalities and character. They’re driving the culture too.” Big Narstie, who donned a first year’s mortar board at a Wadham after party and posted it on Instagram, is perhaps the best case in point.

There’s an element of nostalgia to Logan Sama’s recollections of early grime. “Grime was really exciting because it had that punk ethos of getting the most out of a limited set of tools, making tunes using whatever sounds were in the keyboard” he tells me. “For me, whenever a new grime producer came out, be it Musical Mob or Terror Danjah, they all had their own sounds. I think that’s been lost a little bit.”

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I ask Logan Sama what he thinks about some of instrumental grime’s more ambient sounds from producers like Murlo and Mr Mitch. “A lot of it doesn’t appeal to my aesthetic, but other people like it and I love that width of appeal. That’s why grime has kept going for twelve years.” With hits from fresh new talent like Novelist and Mumdance, and more exciting collaborations in the pipeline, grime continues to grow, ‘1 sec’ at a time.