At 12pm tonight, Channel 4 will be charting the history of grime as part of the second series of their Music Nation documentaries (in partnership with Dazed & Confused). This particular episode was directed by Ewen Spencer who took the reins on the Brandy and Coke episode from series one, and gave us a fascinating glimpse at the early days of garage and how it eventually took over. Tonight's doc, Open Mic, will feature grime heavyweights Dizzee Rascal, Kano, Jammer, Slimzee, Logan Sama and more, and with grime currently enjoying a renaissance, this film could not have been more well-timed. Complex speaks with Ewen Spencer about some of the difficulties he faced when filming the episode, his first-hand experiences attending grime raves, and what he really thinks of today's scene.
Interview by James Keith (@JamesMBKeith)
Grime is quite unique in that it hasn't compromised itself for the most part and yet it's more popular than ever. Why do you think this is?
It's been over ten years since the sound was named "grime" so, naturally, the music has evolved and experienced some different incarnations and developments along the way. I think it was intentionally kept underground and then it reached mainstream "pop" status but it's now rediscovered its roots. The interesting accompaniment to grime is the whole scene as a lifestyle or a movement—not just music but the look, the attitude, the linguistics. In a similar way to US hip-hop, all of these factors contribute to putting the right people off. Black British music hadn't experienced this before now. These are all some of the reasons that grime will continue to exist; it’s far more than the dancefloor and many young people in Britain will continue to share this vernacular.
Was there anything you filmed that you wish could've made the doc but didn't quite?
There were parts of interviews that couldn't make the cut for legal reasons, but in the main, we squeezed an awful lot into 22 minutes. We showed a few people on Monday and the immediate response was that it needs to double in length. It’s been tricky trying to do justice to grime within this time frame, but I think it will appeal to the heads and those who have little to no interest in the scene.
What were some of the key events/milestones that came together for grime to be so successful?
Raves, radio and record shops were all hugely important and don't exist in the same way that they did a decade ago. The hysteria around hearing a white label at a rave and then catching it on your favourite pirate station, then being able to get a copy at the local record shop, that's gone now. We consume music in a different way now, and that has become very democratic, but the underground was developed around 2003-4 around the three Rs and then came the self-made, self-distributed DVDs like Lord of the Mics and Risky Roadz. These DVDs began to link a visual communication to the existing tracks and bingo: record companies came knocking.
Tell us about some of the important venues in grime's journey from birth to where it is now? Where were the best raves?
You had Sidewinder that is now thought of as a seminal moment because of that collaboration between DJ Slimzee and Dizzee Rascal. They developed a sound from that rave that would move the scene along, but at a similar time, you had Wiley's Eskimo Dance that was dominated by Roll Deep. Again, Dizzee was appearing here but so was a very young Tinchy Stryder and Kano. Then you had what have been called "hood raves" like Young Man Standing; these raves were sometimes under 18s. Then, by around 2004, you had Movin' at Ministry which had been a garage rave that became more grimey—that was a big attendance and almost a mainstream type of venue for the sounds to be heard in. I remember being there with Kano and Ghetts around 2004 and they were MCing after Sharky P and all of the garage legends. It was lively!