As 2014 comes a close, I wanted to reflect on the past 365 days of music I’ve covered here. Last time, I made a top 30 producers list but honestly that didn’t feel right this go around. Instead, I spoke to a few label heads and artists about what went down, and added my own thoughts to the mix. Hopefully you get something out of it. See you in 2015. – Son Raw
2014 was a great year to be a Grime artist across the board. At the superstar end of the spectrum, the hits were plentiful and (to varying degrees) stayed true to the innovative aesthetic that got many of Grime’s faithful excited about the genre in the first place. Skepta and JME’s That’s Not Me is the clear standout in that regard – whatever you think of the MOBOs, theres something amazing about an 80£ handicam flick for a self produced track winning video of the year. Wiley’s On a Level took the same route to similar results, and his Snakes and Ladders album will probably go down as one of his finest, and this is coming from a man who isn’t afraid to go the Pop route when it suits him. There was also no ignoring Meridian Dan’s German Whip: purists may moan about the Trap leanings, but those breakbeats? Pure UK Hardcore. Even Dizzee Rascal hinted that his forthcoming material will be more Hackney than Miami. Finally, P-Money – a man who held down the scene at a time when the media wasn’t looking out for Grime, ended the year the reflective Originators EP, uniting production from hitmakers (Heavy Trackerz), the underground (Kahn & Neek) and veterans (Wizbit!!). Throw in moves by Merky Ace, JME, and Lethal B (among others) and you’ve got a banner year for the genre’s top shottas.
Further underground, Roll Deep veterans Flowdan and Riko Dan kept the levels high with the former releasing his solo debut on Hyperdub and assisting The Bug on Angels and Demons, and the later popping up on tracks by hyped up and comers Wen and Rabit. Newham Generals Footsie and D Double E dropped tracks old and new – culminating in killer Butterz platter of unreleased classics due next month but already making waves on radio. It was also a great year for new emcees – Novelist and The Square made the biggest impact thanks to their female-friendly vibe and Nov’s killer radio sets, but there was a lot more talent bubbling. Shouts to K9 who dropped the best Grime full length of the year with Mad in the Cut and Izzie Gibbs, who deserves attention for far more than his beef with Nov. Throw in killer moments by Stormzy and a whole bunch of other up and comers and it’s easy to see that Grime’s vocal side will once again be just as relevant or more than its instrumental cousin, moving forward.
Speaking of instrumentals, the competition was furious underground; with London talent, names from further across the UK and international producers all delivering stand out material. Crucially, a lot of it was either released or is set to be released soon, and labels like Local Action, Crazylegs, Keysound, Gobstopper, Butterz, Coyote, Oil Gang, No Hats No Hoods, Bandulu, Glacial Sound, Her Records, Sector 7, Lost Codes, Goon Club Allstars, and Liminal Sounds played a huge part in getting the music out. One of my favorite parts of has been watching the music evolve – it’s not enough to put out “Grime” anymore, not when so many great artists and labels are developing distinct and fascinating directions. To hear Coyote’s Tomas Fraser tell it:
To be honest, I think Coyote is evolving all the time but I think there’s definitely more of an identity about what we do as a label now. The first four releases were more testing the water, trying to find our place, if I’m honest, where as now there’s a strong group of artists all bouncing off each other, moving the label forward – Chemist, OH91, Last Japan, Spare, Tom E Vercetti, Spokes – they’re all invested in the label in the same way I am, they want to be a part of it.
In terms of the attention factor, everyone benefits from good exposure but that doesn’t mean things aren’t going to change – the scene is enjoying some well deserved limelight because the music has made it impossible for people to ignore it, but it won’t be like that forever. We’ll just keep doing our thing and hope that people continue to tap into the music and the hard work that everyone’s put in over the last few years. It’s a pleasure to be a part of it. – Tomas Fraser (Coyote Records)
Many of these same labels also launched club nights to present their music to the public – I personally attended both Boxed and Butterz’ Fabriclive launch party last May in what will go down as the highlight of my year. For Butterz’ Elijah, launching his Jamz series of club nights was about finding a new outlet:
It’s actually not about the label, it’s just to give the music another home outside our big label orientated parties [at Fabric]. Like for instance, people always said that they wanted a Grime night in Leeds and I had only ever played there twice before: nobody was doing it. That’s where our most successful Jamz night is. There are a lot of passionate young people promoting across the country but the advantage I have is the relationship with loads of different artists that have done several shows with us previously live and on the radio. Really it’s just about making the music easier for people to experience.
We are now bimonthly in Leeds, Manchester and Berlin and we only started taking it outside of London. Some new residencies will be added in the New Year too – people have seen it doing well and they approach us to replicate that. I think it can work in probably 10 cities in England but it just needs the right people on the ground and a good club to manage it consistently, which is the hard bit to find. – Elijah (Butterz)
Sonically, everyone was spreading out in different directions. Artists like Slackk, Shriekin and JT The Goon took Sinogrime from raw, synthesized riddims to orchestral re-imaginings. Mumdance and & Logos inaugurated Different Circles, pushing a weightless devil mix sound. Dark0 sampled the videogames of your childhood. Miss Modular and Sudanim developed a clubbier direction, but Mr Mitch slowed things to a crawl. Gage & Bloom went full industrial, but acts like DJ Q and TRC kept things feminine and funky. Finally, R&G returned to the limelight thanks to names like Spooky, Gundam, Finn, Milktray and Murlo, proving the scene isn’t a bunch of dour beats for lads in hoodies. For Loom, whose Grade EP on Gobstopper explored the genre’s Squarewave origins while pushing it in new directions, 2014 was all about continuity and movement:
2014 has been sick, everyone’s feeling out the boundaries of Grime and it’s expanding outwards, out to places with no maps. We all honor the past, yet we can’t stay static. Instrumental Grime albums are now fully fleshed out pieces of work; fully immersive headphone listens, but you’ll still hear Grime when walking past inner city clubs. As a producer in 2015 I’ll be writing a new EP and exploring Love/youth/transition. – Loom
The instrumental Grime full length also seemed to come of age this year. With Logos’ 2013 stunner Cold Mission setting the tone, releases by Wen, Slackk, SD Laika, and Mr Mitch used Grime signifiers to explore musical ideas and complex emotions that listeners would have thought impossible from the genre in years past. As Mr Mitch puts it:
It’s great, all the albums that have come out or are still set to come out aren’t the same as each other. Each producer is exploring a different side of where Grime could go, or what Grime is to them, or what Grime was to them. An album I’m really excited about is Yamaneko’s Pixel Wave Embrace – that is just on my wavelength, it’s beautiful music. It’s great that we’ve gotten to this level where we can put out a full body of music that isn’t for the club. But Wen’s album for example, DOES work for the club – so we’re just in a good place. – Mr Mitch (Gobstopper)
It’s also been a great year for listeners outside of London: there’s never been more opportunities to hear the music live outside the capital. That’s also translated into a slew of producers everywhere from NYC to Ireland, each with their own interpretations of the sound. Bristol, as it often does in the history of UK sound system music, deserves a special mention for its contributions. Pushing starker riddims than London, and pressing them to wax, the community there seemed to march to the beat of its own drum machine – something all the more special in our era of online interconnectedness. Mixclique’s Big Deann, who recently moved there for University, spoke about his adopted home:
Bristol has been a real nice experience for me since I moved here to study. Everywhere I seem to go there’s culture oozing from the brickwork. Whether art, food or music, there’s opportunities you can stumble onto without even looking for. Plus anyone is at an arms length here. HI5Ghost’s studio is at the end of my street, Lemzly Dale is a 10 minute cycle away, and realistically you can bump into anyone who makes music on Stokes Croft. You definitely have to be prove your worth here though, people have circles here and its very apparent. I’m not going to sugar coat over that fact, not enough people mention this. I’m blessed enough to have made good friends in music and established contacts here. Others may not find it so easy.
As for how it effects my music, it’s almost a different experience. Being around guys like OH91, The Bandulu lads, Notion and others gets me listening to more of what they’re making and jamming to whenever I’m chilling with them. So when I get home I’m more likely to flick on the mac and make something based off of what I was vibing to 10 minutes ago at Lemz’ yard, rather than what I’d play on soundcloud, y’know?
Without forgetting, Bristol is a beautiful place. For its nice and its rougher places. Whenever I’m walking through the city at night, I tend to listen to a lot of spacious, not-so rhythmic music in my headphones, to help me draw inspiration on my melodies and sound design. I find something about walking through the dodgy parts of Easton Way at night, while soaking up a bit of Strict Face, Arca (or maybe some Attractions) to be a very soul-soothing and peaceful experience. It leaves me with a clear head for when I get home and start writing again. – Big Deann (Mixclique)
Finally, 2014 left a lot of people asking… is this stuff, 10-15 years removed from Pulse X, Roll Deep and Pirate radio… even Grime? Should we even be calling it that? Some artists I spoke to were dead set on calling their music Grime, others were just as adamant that I not. Ulimately, it’s a question that will continue to be debated into the new year, but Crazylegs’ DJShandy leaves us on this note:
I’ve said it a lot this year but I think rounding everything up as Grime does a bit of a disservice to the vast range of music being made right now at this level. I honestly think the best thing we could do in 2015 is chill and let the music breathe a bit – there’s a whole world of producers making amazing shit that doesn’t fit into existing boxes and that’s exciting – it doesn’t need to be pinned down. Have you seen Logos play out this year? It’s an amazing, cinematic experience – it belongs at the centre of a 3D visual show or something – but you tell most people he plays grime and you’re just conjuring up images of gunfingers and reloads – and that’s gonna limit how far this whole thing can reach, you know? – DJShandy (Crazylegs)