Unboxed: an introduction to instrumental grime’s new wave
Wot u call it – a renaissance? Instrumental grime is sounding as vital and exciting as it has in years, with producers like Samename, Bloom, Slackk, Visionist and Rabit forgetting MCs and twisting the genre into brand new shapes. FACT’s Joe Moynihan speaks to some of the artists involved to find out what’s in the water (clue: it’s not a fatberg).
Grime has hardly been a steady ride. Its inherent unpredictability is what has often made the sound so vital and exciting of course, but its volatile nature means it has undergone more visible ebbs and flows than most of the UK’s dance music offshoots. Be it because of the best voices sacrificing their potency for major labels, getting swept away by lifestyle choices or whatever this was, you could understand how appreciation from its listeners during these ‘ebbs’ proved to be just as fickle. How many times have you revisited a Risky Roadz freestyle or an old pirate radio set on YouTube and the only sentiment in the comments is something along the lines of “before grime was dead” or “when grime was good”? I’m not saying that YouTube comments are definitive of public opinion or anything that daft, but it’s a shame to see the ‘flows’, be they subtle or tidal, go underappreciated or overlooked completely. Right now those sorts of comments seem more ignorant than ever as grime, in terms of its instrumental side anyway, is arguably as crucial it has been for years. This has been no small secret on FACT, but the sheer amount of producers delivering consistently ‘are you fucking mad’ material in 2012/13 deserves more publicty.
If Musical Mobb’s ‘Pulse X’ was year zero for grime’s first wave then I’d argue the current wave kicked off proper with Logos’ Kowloon EP, released on Keysound in 2012 (though it had been appearing in sets since ’11). Embracing the seminal eski template alongside the leftfield sparseness of Night Slugs and setting the whole thing in what felt like a dystopian hologram of Bow’s demolished flats, Logos created something that sounded, as grime once did – and at its best still does – like the future. Among others who have dabbled in instrumental grime since then, Moleskin has described Logos’ early grime tunes as “the catalyst that prompted me to experiment with grime”. It’s not at all surprising: try and listen to ‘Atlanta 96’ and not want to float in that space he creates yourself. “It’s not strictly grime,” Moleskin adds, “but it perfectly understands grime’s weightlessness and energy and it’s channelled with that in mind. For me, Logos’ music is king.”
Logos has attributed the uncertain period that followed dubstep’s downfall in 2010 as to part of the reason Kowloon came about. “It followed a period where I hadn’t finished much music [and] I was going out less,” he tells me. “At the same time there was this drop in tempo and the people I wanted to play my music were playing much less 140 and more house-influenced grooves. So I went back to my old Rinse FM rips, my grime DVDs and 12”s and decided I wanted to do something with the eski/8-bar sound palette but I deliberately dropped the tempo on the basis that I wanted to get people to play it.” By recontextualising grime’s key identifiers in a synth-driven 130bpm context, Logos spearheaded a collective of producers buzzing off grime, not to mention all sorts of personal influences, and getting frequent attention on Dusk & Blackdown’s Rinse FM show. Like Logos, Blackdown points towards an aversion to brostep and big room house, as well as the fact that “all those Wiley Kat instrumentals still sound ahead of the game”, as a key muse for these new grime mutations. The radio show, long-established as a platform for producers to experiment within the various strands of UK’s long underground dance music history but ultimately favouring innovation over nostalgia, has proved an ideal breeding ground.
“There is interesting stuff being done with grime as an influence in adjacent contexts, and that’s what we’re dealing with,” says Blackdown. “People like Visionist, Slackk, Bloom, Breen, Samename, Murlo, Rabit, Strict Face, Wen, Sublo, Gremino and Logos [are] trying different mutations of some of grime’s core components, alongside other ideas.” It’s those “other ideas’ that make each producer cropping up on Keysound’s Rinse show and, more recently, populating Slackk’s essential monthly mixes so noteworthy as individuals, while also contributing a sense of excitement to the scene as a whole. When I ask Slackk about the tracks he’s being sent for his monthly mixes, he explains that “the invention and variation in what’s coming through from different angles is I think what’s interesting now, it’s the oddest it’s sounded in a long time. Obviously I mean that as a compliment.”
With all these producers feeding off each other and making tunes aimed more at DJs, dancers and each other than MCs, a club night that focused solely on this instrumental crowd was both necessary and inevitable. Enter Slackk, Oil Gang, Mr Mitch and Logos who have teamed up to form Boxed, a night dedicated exclusively to instrumental grime that this October will debut at Fabric. “I think that it’s been the case with grime for a while that the instrumental side of it has been quite unsung, which isn’t the case now,” says Slackk. “[There’s a] lot of good music and bar Butterz and a couple of other things there’s nothing really to represent that … We just wanted to do a night which was playing all the stuff coming through right now really, the idea is to just get the right people down, the people who, you know, get it.” Though he’s speaking about picking DJs in that last point, so far the crowds attending have been, for want of a better word, the ‘heads’, those that get it too. It’s dangerous to draw comparisons between the initial Boxed at Peckham Palais and the atmosphere of early FWD>>, but when you’re dealing with a bunch of largely familiar people losing their shit to strange music in a dark room, including Coyote Records’ Tomas Fraser claiming that his life has just changed forever, it’s hard not to think that a movement is coming. Of course, grime’s movement never really stopped, but the new instrumental wave is the most vital and healthy it’s sounded in years. In the words of a mate of mine upon first hearing Moleskin’s ‘Pulskimo’: “fucking hell … it’s alive”.
Interest piqued? Turn over to hear 10 tracks from some of the artists mentioned in this feature.
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