Blackdown on sampling, Croydon, and Big Narstie

Blackdown on Big Narstie
By    November 24, 2014

When we asked Martin ‘Blackdown’ Clarke to speak on his track for Keysound’s Certified Connections, we didn’t expect a full essay, but maybe we should have considering he’s an OG music journalist who covered the rise of Grime and Dubstep for over 10 years. Better yet, the essay also went in depth regarding one of Grime’s absolutely funniest rising stars: Big Narstie. It didn’t quite fit our feature, but it was too good to leave unpublished. Here it is, in its entirety:

So here’s a bunch of “Connections.” Dusk and I have exclusively been using samples of London voices from since, well, the first Keysound 12″ “Drenched” and that was written in about 2003/04. That samples the word “braining” from Dizzee but we took off the “b” to make it “raining” and added in the rain audio samples we’d recorded to give that drenched London winter vibe. And there’s the train door sample, which I grabbed from a long trip south to a very early dubstep night in Croydon (more below).

Now obviously the sample here in “Wot Do You Mean?!” is a nod to Wiley’s “Wot Do You Call it?”, with all the wider context that goes with that track and it’s legacy, i.e. the urge to mutate a given scene’s DNA to create a sense of shock – and of how addictive that “What the…?!” feeling can be, to both a producer and a music fan. And recently we’ve been enjoying a cluster of tracks that have that insane/nutty/hardcore/eski feel again, like Gage “Telo VIP” and his refix of Bloom, new Damu or Mumdance’s madder moments. We made a little section of them in our Outlook set and rather than “wow this is going offf!” or “wow this is heavy” they made me laugh at their sonic audaciousness – and that’s with the caveat that generally comedy and music make terrible bedfellows.

(OK there was this one time that was funny, Dusk and I played the main stage at the Big Chill festival just when “Margins Music” came out, I think an act had dropped out at the last minute so they wheeled us in on the cheap. Later that weekend, comedy show The Mighty Boosh headlined and halfway through a joke song they brought out this character called Bob Fossil. He was on trombone, and in front of about 12,000 people, despite clearly not ever being able to play the trombone, he just “had a go” at it. That was genius, just so absurd, not least because the trombone doesn’t exactly have keys in defined intervals like the piano, so its essentially always out of tune no matter what he did… in front of 12,000 people. Plus after a while he over-did it and the end simply fell off. Now THAT was a good musical joke… but mostly, they’re all shit. I mean, “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is 1000 times less funny than the other 90% of Monty Python, c’mon?! OK now I think I may have gone off on a tangent here… as you were…)

But really the sample in “Wot” is from arguably the biggest personality to emerge from grime in recent years, Big Narstie. Grime has long since been a reputation economy – they want fame and rep more than anything – and Narstie has so much personality.

Obviously he’s been around for ages –  not that they’ll remember, but I first met NDoubleA (Narstie’s old crew) at a sparsely attended gig in about 2003 in Croydon where Slimzee played, Loefah (if I recall correctly) made his DJ debut and Skream got falsely arrested and carted off. (As a historical footnote, many of the founding fathers of dubstep came from Croydon but very few parties were held there, mostly because the club infrastructure was all a bit “Friday night, girls in miniskirts, fighty larger-y shirt boys”, I think).

But really Big Narstie has come to the fore in recent years by force of his personality. I remember him saying things like “hello, hi” in about 2007 and he had that “Chicken and Drugs” DVD, which he’d promote on Logan’s show with hilarious interviews but really it’s been social media, primarily Twitter and YouTube that has accelerated him into 2014. First it was live-Tweeting EastEnders (the east London soap, for those non Brits). I never watch it, but his Tweeting about it was brilliant. But then there was Uncle Pain, the agony uncle YouTube series with his mate Lordy, that took him to the next level.

I like comedy shows but don’t seek them out regularly like Dusk does, I guess I’d rather listen to music, The Wire or the Premier League, but recently after particularly stressful days I found myself coming back to the Uncle Pain episodes. There’s always two amazing bits.

Firstly Lordy will explain some far fetched tale about some sket who caught her man having and affair with her best mate and “what should she do?” and then Lordy will reveal some quasi-sordid morally-compromising twist and suddenly Narstie’s looking into the camera, eyes wide open like “What tha?!” and in a way, that’s a kind of “wot do you call it” moment in itself; arguably quite arresting, bonkers/nutty like a lot of the best grimey130/grime tracks about at the moment. (“Man has to get the sound!”)

Then Narstie will work himself up into some moralistic haiku about what this sket should or shouldn’t do about her man and whether she’s a saint and he should be dumped or she’s a sket and should be washing her vagina out with toilet duck (or some other exceptionally medically inadvisable course of action). And in the middle of all this, given how lean he usually is on “cro”, it’s not long before he’s worked himself up into this most amazing laughing fit. Often rocking back and forwards, he can only manage to squeeze out this “hee-heeeeeeee…” that just feeds back on itself. It’s that moment that’s the crack in Uncle Pain, because after a hard day, I find his laugh not just infectious but just so soothing.

I mean, this is grime, it’s “Iiiiiiiii’ll crack your skull” and “coulda got bored up/coulda got shot”, it’s flight/fight, playing on fear, anger and adrenalin combined. It’s real, it’s road. But not here. Here there’s something so inclusive, so human, so positive about Big Narstie’s laughing fits that make me unconditionally happy when I watch them. I suspect it touches many other people too.

Now admittedly our track isn’t upbeat or overtly happy, but all this made me want to sample him a lot. And the “Wot Do you Call It” urge still haunts me, so Dusk and I tried to build a groove only using nuts zaps and very sparse percussion. An un-groove, if you like. A minimal-viable-product groove. This whole 130 thing came out of UK funky’s wake, in part, and this track feels like the spacial negative of UK funky, as if you made a track out of only the spaces left between the snares of funky this is what you might get.

And now we’re not sure what it all means, bruv, but that’s just fine. Heeheeheeeee…

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