Sunday, March 26, 2006

Is Grime Getting Better?
I've been wanting to write this one for a while. It's a difficult topic to tackle with my limited frame of reference but what the hey...

For quite a while, as far as I was concerned, grime was (i) something I read about on blogs; (ii) something I couldn't actually get to hear. During this period my expectations were extremely high and constantly growing.

Although drum'n'bass (still!) has quite a following in Vancouver, UK garage never caught on AT ALL. So, it took a while for grime to arrive on these shores. When it did, I didn't even notice. Honestly, I didn't realise that The Streets, Dizzee Rascal and Wiley were considered to be grime artists. When the penny dropped my reaction was pretty much: "Is that IT??? They ain't even that grimey!"

I was shocked and disappointed when I still didn't get it after hearing the first volume of "Run the Road". Simon Reynolds even went so far to say something along the lines of "if you don't like this comp, then you don't like grime." The only explanation I could come up with was that I'd been out of the UK for too long and that I simply had no context to fit this music into. Grime, after all, is All About context.

Things have changed a bit since then. This is partly due to expectation adjustment: it's not as great as I thought it would be but it's not all that bad either. It's also partly down to my growing acceptance of the fact that really great music can be - and often is - unintentionally funny. Actually, the best stuff (and The Fall are a perfect example of this) is often both unintentionally funny AND intentionally funny. My point is, if you don't fuckin' love "Pies" then you seriously need to get over yourself, hipster.

I only really started to dig grime unreservedly after Reynolds sent me a bunch of his CDR comps (in exchange for some primo English folk). To my surprise the stuff I liked best was the more recent stuff, rather than the classic hits - particularly tracks from the first half of 2005. This seemed odd as the bloggers who had turned me onto things grimey had recently started claiming the genre had pretty much run its course.

So why does this new stuff connect with me more than the epochal cuts? Here are a few initial thoughts and possible factors:

1. Trim, Trimbal, Trim Trimothy... This guy is a fucking genius and the first truly great MC to come out of the scene. He is the Ghostface of Grime.

2. More like 90s hip-hop than noughties R&B: slower tempos; more dissonant; darker; more complex rhymes.

3. Occassional triplets. The riddim makers have discovered this simple shorthand for "experimental" and that Prefuse 73 bloke is going to have to find another gimmick with which to justify his existence.

4. Less in-yer-face annoying. I am a 32 year-old white man who spends most of his time at home playing with his cat. I mean, C'MON!

That's all I can come up with for now. Questions, comments wanted, please.


Brady said...

Well, it could just be the case that we hear so much American hip hop that grime doesn't seem as relevant. This fits with your 'context' thesis, obviously. Context-wise, we also live in a slightly different media universe than in the UK. There are things we share, of course, but stuff happens over there that has little or no impact here, and vice-versa. Or, if there is an impact here, it's more, um, sectarian, enjoyed mostly by pop culture anglophiles (somebody has to buy Paul Weller CDs, after all). Personally, I listened to both speed garage and grime with some interested expectation, hoping for some cool new mutated musical synthesis. In both cases, as usual, there was both good and bad stuff, but mostly a lot of only okay stuff, not to mention plenty of stuff that was boring (and I must side with your 'unintentionally funny' evaluation: The Streets are hilarious in this respect, if also a little embarrassing). Almost independent of the music, however, is the English media attention about the music. Alas, it seems typical that the English press gets disproportionately excited about new groups and trends, or whatnot, filling pages and pages with heated, articulate words of praise and analysis. And hey, what the fuck? Why not? It's an end in itself, its own fulfilling 'fan' pastime - surely a fine reflection of an old and literate culture! And yet, consequently, how can grime therefore not be overrated? And that much of the most excited (and academic) words come from blogging music intellectuals doesn't really add anything to grime, musically-speaking, even if such texts are themselves insightful and interesting (no disrespect intended - I'm talking to you, Simon Reynolds!). Besides, summer is on its way - a great time for the next new thing! Sharpen your pencils and turn on your laptops, music nerds. Speaking of which: psychosociologically, I am more interested in your almost-consternated concern for the subject. It is fascinating to watch (and read) you reconcile your past and present cultural contexts, retaining some allegiance with the former, but qua the latter. Good luck, buddy.

Samuel said...

Obviousy, there's a lot of stuff here but one thing does jump out. Does the British music press give a damn about grime? I guess they got pretty excited about those certain artists but that seemed to have little to do with said artists' place within the grime subculture. Grime PER SE seems to be the preserve of (i) 'ardkore pirate radio ravers (ii) intelectual music bloggers. I'm not sure grime-as-a-scene has ever received ANY substantial press in the print media (could be wrong here). It certainly hasn't invaded the British pop charts the way UK garage did. Does this mark grime out as truly underground or merely unpopular?

Brady said...

Or maybe this isn't an either/or equation: "truly underground or merely unpopular"? I think that the situation has changed overall (and it remains to be seen fully how and why, etc., of course). In a broad sense, I think popular culture isn't really the same as it was, structurally speaking. Most notably, access has changed. All it takes nowadays is an afternoon and Google to get basic information about most every new (often minor and local) trend, band, thing or whatever. Honestly, would we be selling as many Arctic Monkeys CDs as we are right now at Zulu if not for the Internet, for example? Or Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, for God's sake? And yet, 'basic information' doesn't exactly equal appreciation or knowledge (although it does help set the way forward, I figure). Perhaps grime is suspended in the cultural-lag between underground and unpopular? Maybe it needs confirmation in America before it truly goes global (perhaps read as 'mainstream'). By the way, grime entered my vocabulary by way of the English press - own it, buddy!

Samuel said...

I'll admit that I don't really read about music in the print media nowadays, except for The Wire and Grooves. I wonder, though if the internet has really changed that much. Has the quality of music people listen to changed or just the quantity? Have people become more open-minded and discerning or is it just that more people have adopted the lifestyle choice marked: Open-Minded but Discerning Music Afficianado? Would grime have stood a chance either way??

I'm not proposing an anti-Internet stance here, just suggesting that we maintain a critical attitude. I fear that things like Pitchfork have only really changed which specific terrible rock bands get to be famous for a year. I still think The Record Buying Public per se would go for the same SORT of dross en masse.

Maybe I'm just insecure because the easy expertise of the Internet threatens me as a de facto elitist.

Brady said...

I think this last comment is the right one: "Maybe I'm just insecure because the easy expertise of the Internet threatens me as a de facto elitist." I feel that I'm in the same place, but it doesn't really worry me. Over my (long, long) time spent at Zulu, I've witnessed first hand a growing number of better-informed, more open-minded and honest-to-goodness into-it fans of cool new music - also cool old music, come to think of it. At the same time, there has been an increase in music of all kinds, both within and across genre. It's impossible to keep track of it all, as you well know. Furthermore, and we've debated this, I'd argue there is proportionately more good than bad music now than in the past (I think the potential drawback of this is, however, that there is a new, somewhat paradoxical common level of humdrum high competence, if you follow). I don't think the Internet is the cause of this in a determining sense, but it certainly has helped facilitate this new situation, and this has altered the structural character/operation/constitution of popular culture, perhaps especially with respect to music. But because I think this doesn't mean I don't have a critical attitude. This outlook of mine is part of my critical attitude. The truth is that Pitchfork has helped more people get into more new, comparatively good music than they might have using the resources of the recent past. The evaluation of the quality of the music.... Well, that is a topic for perpetual discussion. Finally, I think you should invest in a different word that 'elitist' that might retain some of the meaning of elitist, but that can also express something less based on hierarchy, more on difference. And yet, elitist has some sweet rhetorical flourish, doesn't it?

Samuel said...

Also, I feel that there's a particular type of elitism associated with music fandom that's worth hanging on to. This brings us back to the matter at hand: grime. Both sets are of grime fans are outcasts who have used the music to establish a kind of elite status. The black working class East London kids who make and consume grime use it as a form of creative self-aggrandizement. This is also the case for the bloggers, who use grime as a springboard for theorising that’s simply too smart for the print media. The elite status that music fans flatter themselves with is largely an illusion but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it. Committing to a musical culture is all about the dream of a better life. Certainly, I respond to grime on this level.

Samuel said...

None of which gets us any cloder to answering the question: is grime getting better? Any grimeficianados care to weigh in?

Brady said...

Hey buddy, you said it perfectly here: "The elite status that music fans flatter themselves with is largely an illusion but that’s not to say there’s anything wrong with it. Committing to a musical culture is all about the dream of a better life." With all that I can agree completely. Except, grime is still neither here nor there for me. Does it need to get better? I dunno. In the meantime, however, I'll keep listening - to grime and everything else worthwhile. Nice exchange, Sammy-town.

luca lucarini said...

thought i'd weigh in on this one. i've been listening to grime since about 2002, got into it right at the time of the first 'lord of the decks' comp. i think about this a lot myself: is the shit getting better or worse? it certainly feels a lot less exciting than it did when it was being invented. how can that not be the case though? 2002-2004 was a golden age during which many of the genre's templates were set. i feel in terms of recorded material things are on the up, but qualities that made the music exciting to me initially (radio, watching videos of eskimo dance) aren't there anymore. you're hard pressed to find any radio sets as good as deja vu roll deep b2b nasty c. 2002. and the raves are dead (live in london BTW). that said, the i feel like the culture itself has a bright future on account of its popularity with teenagers. in particular, i find it interesting how the younger generation value lyricism, the challenge for these MC's to articulate a distinct British rap voice is still up in the air. sonically/vibewise though, i dunno, the scene is pretty dead to me right now.

Anonymous said...

jus searching around for some other info and came across this (old?) post.

in response to a couple things:

there is indeed a uk garage scene here. there are regular rooms at events dediceted to it.

there is also a thriving, alive and well scene for uk grime (along with dubstep and other stuff that fits) here. there WAS grime sessions @ shine, which was incredible while it lastest, too. both lighta! events and the foward series (from konspiracy group) are dedicated to genres like grime, dubstep, mutant dancehall, etc. etc.

Anonymous said...

that last comment was me, michael red. this is my first time posting to such an interface.