suck his ballbag recently. Jamie asked me if I'd answer some questions on the interaction between technology and grime/dubstep, and as everytime I answer a query like this, it detracts from my blog, I thought I'd share my answers here.
Then today, I get a call from the NME asking about a dubstep primer they're running, which has a Hadouken boxout as part of it. Apparently indie clubs are having "a dubstep hour". Eeek. Ah well, my primary gripe with the NME (and all the powerful rock press) is that they're so narrowly monocultural, so I won't complain when indie clubs embrace the bass.
TECHNOLOGY AND GRIME
Jamie: What effect is Web 2.0 having on Grime and Dubstep? Is the distribution of content having a positive effect or is the piracy starving finances or killing off the record shop as an institution?
Martin: “By its very nature, “Web 2.0” is beneficial to niche, underground genres like dubstep and grime. Instead of relying on the blessing, or lack thereof, of ‘head content’ providers, walled garden portals trying to attract mass ABC1 advertiser audiences by pushing out mass market content, Web 2.0 allows the proliferation of niche ‘tail content’ to diverse, ill-defined and disparate audiences, who’s net sum might be significant in size yet their total numbers in any one location or demographic might be small.”
“Web 2.0 sites like Blogger, Wikipedia, MySpace, Flickr and Del.icio.us allow fans to not just gain information (the traditional Web 1.0 model) but contribute information back to the community or scene they’re interested in. You only have to look at how grime has adopted MySpace (now UK broadband penetration has dropped costs to such mass market affordable levels) to see how much a role it plays.”
“Personally I can’t see how distribution of (written) content can be a bad thing for scenes like these, where the threshold to get in to traditional media (TV, Newspapers and magazines – in order of descending threshold size) are sufficiently high as to act as a barrier to growth and sustainability of scenes.”
“As for the distribution of digital music content, well this isn’t a “Web 2.0” phenomenon per se but yes, as iPods have become ubiquitous, clearly digital music sales and piracy are closing down physical vinyl stores.”
Advances in technology and web development seem to be wiping out the need for a record label middle man, as case of JME seems to be proving. Do you feel that this direct release of content is the way forward for Grime Acts?
“What grime needs to do is not tied to any one technology per se, it’s about infrastructure because it’s lost its moment with the major labels – people who would do all the industry work for them. Whether it sells traditional vinyl or builds the next iTunes from scratch, the grime scene needs to learn to work together, start legal businesses, sell to a wider audience, get good distribution links and understand proper promotion. This isn’t Web 2.0 this is Music Industry 101, whether you use MySpace or Radio Caroline to achieve your aims.”
Advances in technology have given birth to such concepts as the Grime DVD. Would you say embracing new formats such as this is detrimental to the future of Grime and the underground?
“Embracing technologies that widens your current fan base and appeal can never be detrimental to a scene’s growth. Everyone has a Playstation in their house that will play a DVD, but how many bother with record decks these days? Grime DVDs were clearly the right move when traditional mainstream TV or DVD manufacturers wouldn’t touch them with a barge pole.”
What effect would you say the dominance of the mixtape format is having on the Grime scene, in terms of promotion, finances and nurturing talent?
“Firstly it’s killing vinyl sales, which if you’re passionate about the format, is a sad loss, but at least CD mixtapes can get to the widest possible audience, which is great for promotion. Financially they make much more sense than vinyl, because you recoup your manufacturing costs after about 15% not 80% sales (approximate figures). However you have to consider the studio costs of vocalling 20 CD tracks not four or two vinyl ones. I still think they’re lowering the entry barriers though, because they can be made cheaply. This has a short term detrimental effect on quality control – not just the quality of the artist but the quality of the tracks on a given artist’s CD - but a positive effect on long term size and health of the scene as new players take new risks.”
Do you think that the aggressive nature of Grime music exacerbates, or merely reflects the violence on the streets of deprived areas?
“I think in a list of factors of causes of street violence, the music is very low down, below poverty, lack of education, lack of job opportunities, lack of positive male role models, the increase in divorce rates, access to cheap illegal fire arms, access to drugs, the inequalities of the UK class system and ill informed life choices by the community itself. I don’t see people who perpetuate street violence as completely helpless victims, because they should have some responsibility for their actions despite the hand life has dealt them but equally I see anyone from that background who chooses to make music and not focus on violence as someone who has made a positive choice in life.”
Why has the mainstream music industry been reluctant to pick up or appropriate Grime acts? Do you think this is something we are still yet to see?
“The mainstream music industry has taken some acts on (Lethal B, Roll Deep, Kano) while other acts have gained substantial independent funding (Dizzee Rascal, Newham Generals), but largely there has been a dysfunctional relationship between grime and the UK majors. The UK majors know how to make aggressive MCs like 50 Cent sell in the UK, so they can’t argue that aggressive music doesn’t sell, yet they can’t seem to sell grime to the UK. Equally a lot of MCs have spurned the chance to work with the majors by acting too “road” (unreliability and an inability to take orders scares off majors) and acting like they’re “owed” a big deal for the work they’ve done in the past (which is largely invisible and therefore worthless to a major label audience), rather than having the mindset that they get a major deal and then “earn” back the money invested in them through mainstream sales.”