#cultureclash

Last Wednesday was a momentous day. Obama was re-elected. Celtic won against Barcelona. And grime collective Boy Better Know beat Annie Mac, Major Lazer and reigning champs Channel One at the Red Bull Music Academy Culture Clash.

I jest, slightly.

Culture Clash was more than just an awesome night of sound entertainment, and I’ll tell you why. First, it’s the full and final confirmation that the British iteration of the Jamaican dancehall soundclash has been fully revived and revitalised. Secondly, it tells you a lot about the power and forward motion of grime. And thirdly, much like in the ‘90s when rave music was all over the charts, it means our current crop of teens are getting schooled in UK street-up music, which bodes well for the next generation of British musical hybrids – and indeed for British culture and society in general. Mainstream society might not recognise it as such but this is art.

The original Jamaican soundclash was a development of the way liquor store owners set up speakers outside their shops to bring in more custom. This turned into dances as we understand them: outdoor musical events where American R&B, and then new Jamaican music was played to appreciative crowds at loud volume. Rivalries ensued between competing sounds, which eventually turned into the soundclash, where two systems would be placed facing each other with the crowd inbetween and would take turns to play sets, with the people deciding the winner through the volume of their appreciation.

In the UK, it shifted and changed. It wasn’t possible to hold dances outside and most of the year it’d be too cold anyway. So the dance moved into community centres and the clash moved with it. Two sounds at either end of places like Pountley Hall, showing off their selections and their ‘specials’, big songs that had been re-vocaled by the artist to ‘big up the sound’ or diss a rival. I don’t know exactly when the soundclash died out in this form but it must have been at the point that single sound dances run by dons like Aba-Shanti-I or Jah Shaka took over, so perhaps the late ‘80s.

In the interim, there was silence. Well, that’s not exactly true. Soundsystem culture swung into the DNA of every new hybrid of UK street music since Lovers Rock, coursing through our version of house music, jungle, garage, grime and dubstep. But there was no clash apart from the grime MC battles so memorably recorded on the Lords of The Mic DVDs or perhaps in the shadows of the MCs waiting to get on stage at grime raves like Sidewinder determined to outdo the previous performer, or perhaps even in the idea of the b2b where two DJs would play together, five tunes on, five tunes off.

In November 2010 as part of the London Red Bull Music Academy (of which I was part – I’ve hosted interviews at the Academy since 2002) the clash was revived. DMZ, Metalheadz, Trojan, Soul II Soul went head to head in a supersized four-way clash at The Roundhouse. I’m easily pleased by this kind of thing but this was a night to convert even doubters. This was high-octane musical collaboration and abrasion at it’s finest. Metalheadz had Goldie dashing about on stage, DMZ frontman Sgt Pokes insulted everyone, Trojan drew for the original style dub reggae and Soul Jazz mixed up the selection. Metalheadz won. The following year four different sounds (reigning champions Metalheadz, dub specialists Channel One, Soul II Soul and Skream and Benga) stepped up with similarly energetic effects – and Channel One reigned supreme. This week, the whole thing moved up a notch or two. It was at Wembley, there were 7,000 people there including a swathe of 16-18s allowed by the lowering of the entrance age and the participants came from Radio One (Annie Mac’s AMP stage), from LA, with hitmaker to the stars Diplo aka Major Lazer, reigning champions Channel One and grime dons Boy Better Know. I hate to sound smug, but my money was on BBK right from the start because who knows better about battle styles than London’s grime MCs?

I’ll post some footage when it’s up.

BBK’s powerful, hilarious, no-holds-barred final round and eventual win says a lot about the healthy state of grime. Wiley is all over the charts and is packing out his Eskidance raves. Elijah and Skilliam’s Butterz empire has shifted instrumental grime into hyper-loaded jump-up rave territory but with brilliant tunes that nod to early grime instrumentals like Musical Mobb’s Pulse X and multiply them. JME’s ‘chatty policeman’ series on YouTube, where he films himself being (repeatedly) stopped and searched has many thousands of views. Grime is national, multi-ethnic and as open to ladies with the right flow as it is to the thousands of boys who step up their literacy by writing and practising bars every lunchtime. If the government wants to explain recent rises in literacy (according to NASUWT, not Michael Wilshaw) it might want to thank grime rather than the counterproductive literacy curriculum which gets results despite of rather than because of its impact.

So who’s for next time? There are some big names who have not yet entered the arena: David Rodigan; Jamaica’s multi-winning Stone Love team; the aforementioned Butterz; Lemon D and Dillinjah’s Valve Sound; a UK garage sound headed perhaps by revivalist DJ Oneman… this thing could run and run. And hopefully, it will.

Skream Interview For Groove Magazine

Sometimes you end up interviewing the same person over and over again because they’ve got a record out. I remember interviewing Dizzee Rascal about eighteen times for various magazines circa 2001/02 and went on similar multiple interview missions with a whole load of people from Massive Attack to Mike Skinner over the years. And so it is with Mr Oliver Jones. This interview is for Groove Magazine’s version of Desert Island Discs, the Radio4 programme where a person of stature talks about their life through a selection of eight records. The German version of this comes out very soon.

When did you first start buying music?
To be honest I first started buying music when I was in primary school, mostly East 17 and Peter Andre. I was six or seven. It was generally from Woolworths and I’d always buy the deluxe CDs with bonus remixes on it and I always liked the remixes best. Return Of The Mack, that remix was sick. Back then, the boys liked East 17, the girls liked Take That. Then I realised my brother worked at a record shop and I would find any means of making money so I could go and buy records. Anything I heard I needed. It wasn’t that I wanted it, I needed it.

How much music do you have?
I got fucking loads of vinyl. I was buying vinyl from the age of 12 and that’s a lot of garage, a lot of ’99-2000 drum and bass. And I got all my brother’s records from ’89 to ’94. I got every big garage record, every big remix that was every made, every shit bootleg that was ever made, any record that any big MC MCed over, then as I got older I got into disco. I went into this shop in Canada, and me thinking it was the same price as buying garage records, I picked up a pile and it cost $500. I bought three records. I got into a phase of buying funky house, not UK funky but Naked Music, soulful funky house. I’ve got a Paul McCartney album. Temporary Secretary! That was electro back in the day. I got a few hip hop acapellas that I tried to turn into dubstep before dubstep existed.

What does your collection look like? How is it stored?
Up ’til two years ago they was on my wall, shelves on my wall. My old bedroom was my brothers old bedroom and he built stacks on the wall, but then my mum boxed them up and put them in the loft. He was very not happy. The one thing about all my records is that they’re made around the baselines. I’ve got a two faced record collection: one’s really pretty, ones horribly disfigured. Some I’m ashamed to have bought like Eminem Vs Judy Cheeks. It was sheer boredom. I didn’t even play it. I used to play a lot of house parties and them tunes was necessary.

OK, so let’s move on to the tracks you’d take to a desert island….
Artwork
Rank

Artwork had just bought this Nord keyboard from Japan and I’d never heard nothing like it. It was so dark and weird and horrible. It amazed me. I actually heard this record while it was being made because their studio was upstairs from Big Apple and me and Benga would go and hang out up there. It was the same with Sounds of The Future. I made the ringone for that actually. That was my sideline at the time: Arthur would give me the notes and I’d programme it on the Nokia 3810. I head the first loop of the bass and I was gone. I once tried to remake this record but I couldn’t do it.

Elephant Man
Log On (Horsepower Remix)

We all first heard this tune for the first time in Big Apple. I remember it really well. There was me, John who ran the shop, Benga, Hatcha and Artwork. It was a real ‘fucking hell!’ moment. This tune is so heavy. The vocal was there obviously, but the beat behind it was so original and it was a massively inspiring record to us all. This mix was around even before FWD>> started and it came out around the time when Big Apple did the Xmas party in Croydon, when Fonti from Heartless Crew did the dubplate-only party. That night was how FWD>> started. It gave everyone the idea to do our own club and that’s how the night got started.

Wiley
Eskimo

This track sent everyone mad. There wasn’t one person that didn’t like it. It was a tune that made people do gun fingers before gun fingers were trendy. I listened to a lot of pirates and I was obsessed by the clashing and good MCs. One of my favourite clashes was the Heartless Vs Pay As You Go when Heartless proved they were kings. It was amazing. Heartless were fun whereas Pay As You Go were a bit more ghetto. Dizzee was my favourite, though. There’s a reason he’s so big. When he come on the circuit on those old Sidewinder tapes, he’d bring such a strong vibe and agginess. The only equivalent now is Tempa T’s Next Hype, that’s a tune with agginess and hype. I think Wiley’s a genius.

Tortured
Coki

All I can say is it never heard anything like this tune before and it nearly made me break my neck once, I actually injured myself going mad to it. It used to send people bonkers. I’ve always been been amazed by Coki. Everything he has ever done has been groundbreaking. In my eyes, he’s the best engineer around and I’m really glad he’s starting to step out of the shadows. He should be headlining places, getting ten grand a set and producing for everyone. He don’t sound like nobody. But it’s musical at the same time. I listen to the programming and I swear I can’t get my head around it. And his basslines talk. It sounds like they’re saying words sometimes.

Prince
Erotic City

It’s amazing. And I love the fact it caused so much controversy. At the time it couldn’t get mainstream play because he never said if the lyrics said ‘fuck’ or ‘funk’… I think it says both. It’s a dance record but the record is really political: Am I straight or am I gay? Am I black or am I white? When i’m walking in the sun, and you’re listening to this, you just start shrugging your shoulders, getting a swing in your step. People think it’s a swing record. Those classic Prince chord changes are just killer.

Jimmy Edgar
Hot Raw Sex

I bought the album yesterday. It’s sexually creepy, it’s quite nonce, and the whole album is filth. You can imagine someone whispering it in someone’s ear. It’s the nearest to that Prince era I like, though the shameful thing is that it won’t be massive. Why would I take this to a desert island? It would make me feel a bit sexy and if I was stranded alone I would need to feel sexy somehow. I’m saying I’d take Jimmy Edgar, I’m just talking the music. I’d be laying there under the stars, no-one watching, at one with myself.

On Desert Island Discs you can also take a book and luxury item. What would you take?
Anything by Martina Cole. I read The Take and that’s amazing. It was the first book I read since I left Primary School. Luxury would have to be a laptop with some kind of production otherwise I’d fucking go mad.

Guardian Music Weekly Podcast

I’m recording a guest spot on the Guardian’s Music Weekly Podcast tomorrow, with Dan Hancox and Rosie Swash. So I’ve spent the whole morning trying to work out what the heck to take along as my singles club choice. In fact, I spent a fair few hours over the last few days pondering this, because all the music I like sounds quite different out of context and all by itself. Pop records can easily stand alone and you don’t need anything else before or after to make it make sense; it’s self-sustaining. But an amazing techno mix of a drum ‘n’ bass tune; or a bare-to-the-bones juke track (that’s also unspeakably filthy), or a new bit from a grime producer’s new free-to-download album just sounds a bit strange out there by itself, surrounded by conversation. And it didn’t help not to have any electricity for most of the morning. Out to Alan and Pat the electricians, sorting out my heaters.

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