Features I by I 30.07.16

The land before grime: 10 tracks that accidentally predicted East London’s signature sound

Earlier this week, SBTV unearthed a piece of music from Wolverine: Adamantium Rage, a platform game from 1994. The track, by producer Dylan Beale, was released eight years before Musical Mob’s ‘Pulse X’, but sounds so much like grime that SirPixalot created his own dub from it featuring a vocal from J-Wing. Son Raw investigates the story further to find a litany of other “accidental grime” tracks.

At its inception, grime was revolutionary on two fronts. First, it provided a voice to one of London’s marginalized communities at a time when the popular view of British music was lads with guitars or geezers on pills, but also, it sounded incredibly futuristic. Birthed from cheap DAWs like Fruity Loops and cutting-edge workstations like the Korg Triton, known for its bright, digital sound, grime’s alien syncopation and glassy textures captured the imagination of music fans who may not have related to the MCs’ bars, but knew a paradigm shift when they heard it. Grime felt beamed in from the future in 2002, so hearing the sound on a 16-bit cartridge circa 1994 feels almost distressing, and at the very least uncanny.

And yet Wolverine: Adamantium Rage isn’t even the first track to unintentionally foreshadow grime’s angular rhythms and alien sonics. Over the course of the past year, through a number of running conversations with DJs and producers, I’ve collected a series of tracks whose ideas and structures mirror grime in various ways, be it through shared sounds, rhythms or general vibe.

Like the Adamantium Rage soundtrack, these selections aren’t “grime” proper: beyond shared musical signifiers, grime was forged by a specific community, and any music divorced from it will naturally arrive at a different place. Nevertheless, it’s thrilling to hear musicians ranging from Japanese synth-pop mavericks to Jamaican dancehall producers to grime’s own forefathers accidentally land on ideas that young Londoners would expand into a fully formed movement.

Special thanks to Finn, Mumdance, SirPixalot, Robin Carolan and NTS Radio’s Bokeh Edwards for various submissions, as well as everyone else involved in the running dialogue collecting these tracks.

David Sylvian & Ryuichi Sakamoto
‘Bamboo Houses’
(Virgin, 1982)

Yellow Magic Orchestra veteran Ryuichi Sakamoto’s early ‘80s work with former Japan vocalist David Sylvian led to some of England’s most forward-thinking pop music, including ‘Forbiden Colours’ a brilliant vocal take on the pentatonic theme to Japanese New Wave filmmaker Nagisa Oshima’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence.

B-side ‘Bamboo Houses’ stands as the earliest example of proto-grime, and lands startlingly close to the genre it predates. The elements are all there: gleaming synth lead, syncopated drumming and the type of vaguely Asian motif that would go on to define much of Wiley and Jammer’s early work (later dubbed ‘sino-grime’). Accordingly, ‘Bamboo Houses’ has popped up in Kode9’s DJ sets and Boxed founder Slackk has even remixed it. It’s become a grime touchstone after the fact.

‘Bamboo Houses’ isn’t Sylvian’s only contribution to the hardcore continuum either: Japan’s ‘Ghosts’ was heavily sampled by jungle originators Rufige Kru in 1994’s ‘Ghosts of My Life’, with original continuum chronicler (and FACT contributor) Mark Fisher (aka K-Punk) exploring the sample’s impact in his book of the same name.

(Epic, 1983)

Crashing glass? Check. Square wave lead? Check. Aquatic sound effects? Double check. Japanese synth-pop trio Ippu-Do’s ‘Sorrow’ has all the makings of a weightless Boxed classic. Subtract the mid-song acoustic guitar riff (nobody’s perfect) and it’s easy to imagine it opening a Logos set. The track was rediscovered by Mumdance and Tri Angle’s Robin Carolan during an podcast, which is worth a listen for Mumdance’s reaction alone.

Interestingly, group leader Masami Tsushiya appeared on stage with David Sylvian’s Japan as a guitarist during the group’s final tour in 1983, suggesting a sharing of ideas between two groups whose experiments would both lead to some of the earliest accidental grime.

Timmy T
‘Time after Time’
(Jam City, 1989)

Latin freestyle – a subgenre that’s in dire need of re-appraisal – can occasionally sound like a distant, Hispanic cousin to 2-step. Its fusion of broken electro rhythms, rap and R&B hits many of the same notes, and just like 2-step, it was forged by a community underrepresented in mainstream pop.

Fresno, California singer Timmy T’s ‘Time after Time’ pushes this similarity into uncanny valley territory however, thanks to an eerie similarity with Musical Mob’s ‘Pulse X’. The vocal is butter-soft, but those distorted 808s? Straight out of the Youngstar playbook, but 13 years earlier.

Dread & Fred
‘Zulu Skank’
(Jah Shaka Music, 1991)

Based in East London and coming from the same Caribbean background as many of grime’s innovators, sound system pioneer Jah Shaka’s contributions to the proto-grime canon shouldn’t seem too surprising in comparison to synth-pop stars and Japanese experimentalists.

His Dread & Fred project’s ‘Zulu Skank’ could easily pass as a Spooky refix – had it not dropped all the way back in 1991, at which point he’d been making music for over 20 years. Let that sink in as you listen to the ‘Pulse X’ bass, skippy high hats and high-speed tempo. We expect to start hearing this one in Radar Radio sets soon.

(Hubba Hubba, 1992)

Sheffield’s Forgemasters kickstarted the early bleep techno movement when they released ‘Track with No Name’, Warp Records’ first ever release and a stone-cold techno classic.

They were also responsible for ‘Conga’, which not only predates grime’s robotic deep freeze through its mechanical drums and otherworldly bass pulses, but also UK funky’s Afro-Caribbean-influenced syncopation through its liberal use of offbeat snares. If you beamed Formula Records’ Champion back in time 25 years and gave him access to then-cutting edge kit, we’re pretty sure this is what the results would sound like.

Dylan Beale

The Wolverine: Adamantium Rage soundtrack’s almost ridiculous resemblance to grime has now reached viral status among fans, and it turns out that producer Dylan Beale was part of a jungle duo called Rude & Deadly, which explains a lot.

That said, it doesn’t make it any less mind-blowing. Grime and video games have always gone hand in hand, but ‘Tri-Fusion’ takes the genre’s drama, futurism and rhythmic aggression and lands on the formula a whole eight years before anyone else ever considered it. Dylan Beale, take a bow mate: you were ahead of your time.

DJ Assault
‘Blow Your House Down’

There’s a cross-Atlantic story to this one. Originally produced by Manchester legend A Guy Called Gerald, ‘Blow Your House Down’ in its ordinary form doesn’t deviate much from the standard 1988 house template. ‘Voodoo Ray’, Gerald’s acid anthem from the same EP, is far more notable.

But in 1996 the track was remixed by Detroit ghettotech forerunner DJ Assault, and the result stands as yet another example of how Pulse X’s 808 blasts were popping up in scenes left and right before finding a home with London’s young producers. Like Latin freestyle, ghettotech feeds off the same energy as grime: hip-hop, and dance music at its most mechanical, broken and alien.

Madd Dawgz
‘Virus Riddim’
(Greensleeves, 2000)

Grime owes as much to ragga and dancehall as it does to garage and jungle, and concepts like the pull-up, MC chat and the riddim are tied to Jamaican musical traditions. Surprisingly, though, not much grime actually sounds like dancehall, and few Jamaican riddims share grime’s hectic tempos or sheer frostiness.

On the surface, Madd Dawgz’s ‘Virus Riddim’ fits this template and doesn’t sound overly grimy, but listen closer: you can clearly make out the “bagoo” sound, heard on DJ Wonder’s ‘What’, Wiley’s ‘Morgue’ and Skepta’s ‘That’s Not Me’, lurking in the background. The beat even gets a mention in Kode9’s book Sonic Warfare.

Lil J
‘Right Here Right Now’
(Corporate Thugz Entertainment, 2001)

Millennial hip-hop was a huge influence on grime, so we avoided mentioning a few obvious antecedents as a part of this list. Ludacris’ ‘What’s Your Fantasy’, Jay-Z’s ‘Is That Yo Chick’ and Three 6 Mafia’s ‘Sippin On Some Syrup’ might have had an influence on London musicians at the time, but they were still American hip-hop through and through.

But check out ‘Right Here Right Now’ by Lil J, soon to be known as Young Jeezy – it’s an accent swap away from belonging in E3. Everything from the one-line flows to the hook that’s practically Southside Allstars’ ‘Southside Riddim’ screams grime. Hey Jeezy: it’s time to bring this style back.

Keak Da Sneak

OK, we’re cheating here. Keak’s track dropped after ‘Pulse X’, but it’s interesting to see how the Bay Area hyphy movement was playing with the same cards as London at a time when the wider hip-hop world couldn’t wrap its head around either region’s sonic innovations.

Despite their shared emphasis on bass, digital samples and repurposed ‘80s drum machines, I doubt there was much mutual awareness or exchange between Oakland and London (though I’m open to being corrected), but this track shares a suspicious amount of DNA with grime at its most minimal. It’s high time hyphy got the same second look that grime is currently experiencing.

Read next: The 20 best grime records ever made

Read next: How will grime’s next generation stay in the spotlight?

Read next: 11 grime producers to watch



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