Enter The Positive Hustle

So, Generation Next, presented by Gemma Cairney went out on on Sunday and it’s on iPlayer til the end of the week. The idea was to shine a light on the young people coming up with creative responses to the recession but it also required some historical digging. This was a highly enjoyable part of the process.

It was clear to me that grime had a big part to play in this story. I remember seeing what my friend Kevin Braddock once called ‘crews with a business plan’ right back at the point where UK Garage turned into grime. Acts like So Solid Crew might have seemed like a raggle-taggle bunch of talented MCs but from their perspective, they were an early incarnation of band as brand. They were a business, with a record label, promotions arm, radio station and huge fanbase. They were a Wu Tang Clan, born from a Battersea estate rather than Staten Island projects. To the front and centre of Wu Tang were crews like Ruff Sqwad, More Fire, Pay As U Go, Musical Mobb who were channelling music and business without the former polluting the latter. The old idea that art and money shouldn’t mix was being broken down by a new generation of artists with an eye on the future.

I didn’t actually cover So Solid in the documentary but that’s because you have to make fairly brutal decisions about what to include and what to leave to the side. I did catch up with JME though, who provided a perfect Year Zero for the new generation of grimepreneurs. He was the first person to monetise the impulse sent out by the UKG Wu Tangs in a way that resonated outside of the margins. Boy Better Know became famous within and outside of grime for selling thousands of T Shirts, and built a solid base primarily by being one of the funniest and smartest MCs on the block, but also by making sure his business was on point.

You can’t look at grime without looking at hip hop. Dan Charnas wrote The Big Payback: The History Of The Business Of Hip Hop and provided the expert American voice for this section. I read the last part of his book before we spoke but hadn’t read the whole thing til afterwards. It’s an incredible read and one of the best music books I’ve ever read. He has a lovely style that fuses a minute attention to the detail of what happened with dialogue that reads like fiction. You don’t have artists telling you the boring stuff about what they did, you just hear them talking amongst themselves, as if you’re in 1984, hearing Rick Rubin motormouthing across a table somewhere, or as if you’re earwigging Damon Dash and Jay-Z shooting the breeze somewhere in the mid ’90s.

He placed hip hop firmly at the centre of this trend for a new wave of enterprise that sits comfortably with art: rap, he says, changed everything.

There was one more historical corner to examine. You couldn’t normally justify talking about punk on 1Xtra but it’s a jubilee year and the parallels were just too compelling to ignore. So I went along and interviewed Pete Donne from Rough Trade East who spelled out the links between the new wave of creatively-inspired entrepreneurs in 2012 and the kids inspired by punk to start record labels, make fanzines and start bands.

It’s up til Sunday, if you want a listen.

Classic Clubs Vol 1

Way back in Spring I got my first radio commission. Well, actually, I got three: a short feature about tattoos and piercings which I made for The Surgery and went out in August; a documentary about why people make music which transmits next year; and a two-parter on Classic Clubs.

The first part of the latter goes out tonight on 1Xtra, with the second part going out next week. As the name suggests, it’s about nightclubs. Part one is about the clubs that laid the foundations for the powerful and self-regenerating underground music scene we’ve got in the this country, and part two looks at three clubs that invented a new genre. I chased down MCs (got some, lost some), DJs (ditto) and club regulars to try and tell the story of what those places were really like, and to show what they created. I honestly believe that clubs are a massive motor of creativity, and a place where social boundaries can be explored and extended, and I wanted to find a way to communicate that. Clubs (and those that know, will know) can be more than places to show off, more than places to pull, more than places to experiment with drink and drugs. At their best, clubs become a focal point for creativity, for flow, for good times, and for building things that didn’t exist before. Alright, so I’m sounding excitable, but I can’t help it. I’m just not a cynic.

I interviewed Martin ‘Blackdown’ Clark for the documentary and he summed it up: “to see a scene develop in front of your eyes is the ultimate thing for any music fan.” There are tonnes of clubs I never went to that I know had major impact: daytime1970s club Crackers, the clubs Norman Jay and Gilles Peterson ran at Dingwalls in the ‘80s; AWOL, Roast, Labyrinth and the hardcore clubs that helped invent jungle; Speed; Eski Dance; Club 69 in Paisley where Detroit techno dons would come and play in a basement under an Indian restaurant on an industrial estate and many others. When people make music together their biochemical signals synchronise: a group’s heart rates, blood pressure and breathing step into collective line and I’d bet a large amount of money that the same thing happens to people who are on a dancefloor, lost in a musical zone.

I took my friend Graham Styles to Deviation a year or so ago, when it was still at Gramophone. Deviation sums up everything I really rate about London clubs: amazing music, a solid sound system, a cool, mixed crowd and that interplay between DJ and crowd that you only get at proper clubs. Graham was one of my original club buddies and we drove in his car from Orpington up town on numerous occasions to numerous clubs. When I took him to Deviation he completely understood and totally loved it. He found his spot at the back by the speakers, and it was like he’d never left. On the way home, he summed it up “I’m just glad the stuff we built is still alive” he said. And that’s why this country is so good at nightclubs, at proper clubs. We keep building on the foundations like a city, pulling down derelict buildings and building new ones, layer upon layer, sound upon sound, memory upon memory. We build, we destroy, we build and that’s why (along with pirate radio) our music is picked up all around the world.

Anyway, the documentaries are what they are. I interviewed DJs in my car in Beckenham Marks and Spencer’s carpark. I caught up with grime promoters on a Northampton roof. I went round to the delightful Jazzie B’s house. I went down to Heartless Crew’s subterranean studio. I finally managed to grab Goldie for ten minutes before he went to DJ at the Red Bull Revolutions in Sound event on the London Eye. It’s not perfect, it’s not definitive, but it was made with love and respect for all the people everywhere who’ve ever had the balls and the energy to put on a club so they can hear the music they love.

Right then, I’m off.

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