Sunday, September 28, 2008
Spyro v Marcus NASTY v Mak 10 v Maximum = wot do you call it?
· Spyro v Maximum
· Spyro v Marcus NASTY
· Marcus NASTY v Mak 10
Over the last month, the rate of acceleration of the funky scene and it’s interaction with grime, has seemed to speed up through the sets of four super selectors. No doubt the warm, 4x4 housey end continues to flourish, but it’s the interaction with grime DJs that has been enthralling.
Recently there seems to be a loose collection of super DJs, a-list grime or funky selectors, who’ve been collaborating on Rinse in various formats in ground breaking fashion. Marcus NASTY, head of grime’s NASTY crew but longtime uk house/funky DJ on Déjà Vu, turned up on Rinse for an impromptu b2b with grime’s Spyro which featured MCs Griminal and Badness. Marcus also went b2b with NASTY’s DJ Mak10, once the grime DJs’ DJ but now a convert to funky. Spyro then went b2b with Maximium, the Roll Deep and Boy Betta Know selector, the latter of whom have spent several summers in Napa trying to take the pan-genre entertainers crown off Heartless Crew, and succeeding, by all accounts. (It was Maximum who broke Benga and Coki’s “Night,” turning it into an anthem in funky, bassline and grime).
Of the three sets - Marcus NASTY v Spyro, Mak10 v Marcus NASTY and Spyro v Maximum – it’s the latter that seems to break most ground. Here’s some highlights:
Spyro v Maximum on Rinse
Within 5 minutes Maximum is mixing the instrumental of (ex-grime and UKG) Donae’o’s funky anthem “African Warrior” into Frisco. In general most funky is around 130 bpm, which is standard for funky house, while grime’s stayed around 140bpm but feels slower because of the MC-friendly halfstep drum patterns.
Within that mix, you can see the power struggle in grime evolving. As grime moved into the mixtape era, where the mix CD was the dominant format and creative goal, once major deals became scarce, the beats chosen began to massively favour the listening experience over the dancefloor. MCs wrote to establish their “artist” status, not to scream a trademark one-liner it got a reload on Slimzee/Logan/Cameo’s Sidewinder set.
The roles of the DJs have increasingly become marginalised in grime, which is why it is little surprise to see DJs like Mak10 or Ruff Squad’s Scolar migrating through the porous border with funky. If grime is all about on-road peer status, and being the DJ is second fiddle to the MCs, who wants to be a DJ?
As grime went further down the MC/mixtape/rap/halfstep route, it made grime raves increasingly like concerts and less like, well, raves. Crowds would wait for the clashing and sending to start and only react when trademark bars were dropped, not a big riddim. This makes for an amazingly raw spectacle, as Ghetto’s mixtape launch at Dirty Canvas showed earlier this year, but the rise of funky does suggest many of the female urban music fans had long since migrated to the more danceable funky.
(Yes I know, saying girls don’t like grime and only want to dance sounds like a bad argument, but I’ve chatted to funky promoters who’ve been worried no men would turn up and have had girls complaining to a-list funky DJs that there’s next to no men at the rave. Conversely grime nights are overwhelmingly male dominated, in my experience.)
I’ve been saying grime needs to get more danceable for about two years now but given how the power balance in grime favours the MCs, who pre-“Rolex Sweep” have little incentive to go danceable, it’s been down to the DJs to make the change.
Given the rise of funky, and the subsequent influx of ex-grime producers/youngers into the older scene, it’s inevitable that part of it would go grimier. Add in the fact that DJs like Spyro and Maximum are master artists with the Pioneer CDJ1000 decks, which have massive pitch bend range (most vinyl decks = +/-8%, CDJ1000s = +/-100% !!!), and the 130 > 140 bpm barrier is near irrelevant, as Maximum shows when he blends in “African Warrior (instrumental).” Shorn of the (embarrassing) vocal, its dark strings sound Eski; it’s flailing percussion add energy to Frisco’s bars: funky and grime begin to blur, just like Kode blurred dubstep and grime on Dubstep Allstars 3 with mixing and EQing.
Dusk and I had talked about funky earlier, how interesting it was and how it might apply to us and our sound, as I know a lot of London producers in dubstep and grime are too. The question is, with parts of dubstep off chasing the post-new-school d&b wobble dollar at 145bpm and above, do we cut out and drop to 130 bpm? Dusk was like “ah don’t worry, let’s wait: there’ll be a speed war and before you know it, funky will be up with us at 138bpm.” And he was right, only far quicker than either of us anticipated.
“Dem man are happy with a reload/me I want a dutty yard in Finchley...”
- Frisco “Big Man Ting”
The electro angle is an interesting aside to this debate, but it’s essentially motivated by commerce. Electro isn’t big in the ends, it’s the preserve of the NME/Hoxton massive, but grime MCs have never been shy of doing anything that will get them fame and money. Once Wiley took the risk and hit the jackpot with “Rolex Sweep,” Skepta, Stryder, Ghetto, Lethal Bizzle and Flowdan weren’t afraid of getting involved too.
In comes the bongos, like it was Skream’s “Konga”.
“Ner ner ner... n n ner...”. In comes Lil Silva’s funky anthem. “Next one sounds angry!” shouts Spyro.
D1’s “Oingy Boingy” gets mixed into Lil Silva’s “Mash Up the Ends.” “This tune is so effed...”
If any more proof of the interaction between grime and funky, then Maximum’s special of Lil Silva’s refix of “Pulse X,” the tune that cleared the vocals out of UK garage and made a (dark) space for grime.
Roll Deep’s Danny weed or Target come in with some driving congo work out
59: hold tight Will [Wiley] on the last one.
Dizzee on IceRink!!!
JME refix/Maximum special of Groove Chronicle’s remix of Myron. Spyro: "What can i play after this that can do damage? Nothing. You're an idiot..."
Beyond and around
One of the things that I’ve found fun about funky since I first interviewed Gee, Supa D and Soulja, is the sense of familiarity of the patterns of evolution of funky, having seen UK garage expand and then fragment. It all seems to be one big Circle, sorry circle. Simon Reynolds, in an amazing piece of insight describes it with a swing of a pendulum’s arm.
“Historically, there's been an internal pendulum between pleasure and the more-than-pleasure X-Factor/Edge-Factor... This pendulum swings back and forth between pure-pleasure-and-nothing-else versus the ascesis/punitiveness of Edge Factor pursued to the exclusion of entertainment. It's a self-correcting mechanism... These mechanisms are activated (deejays, producers, promoters responding to the desertion of the dancefloor, or deterioration of the vibe) whenever the music goes too far in one direction... techstep leading to speed garage was the classic landslide election "swing" (punters voting with their dancing feet)....
Funky house seems to have been activated by the doubled upshot of grime and dubstep, indeed there was a trial run of it a few years ago called "urban house" (timmi magic talking about getting rid of the MC and the rewind and restoring "live percussion"--clearly the latter is the hallmark of funky house! [that Timmi Magic Deuce piece was by me, I really must dig it out sometime... – Blackdown]), but perhaps has swung back too far in the opposite direction, to the nullity of pure pleasure.”
On Thursday I swung down to the launch of Geeneus’ funky night, Beyond @ Bar Rumba. One of the circles, cycles that goes on is the relationship between a genre’s incubation on the margins of London, in clubs like grime @ Sidewinder and Rex, jungle @ Peckham Lazer Drome and then how they migrate into the centres and broaden their audience/gain visibility with the media, i.e. Speed @ Mars Bar or Forward>> @ Velvet Rooms. Beyond had the feel of that moment again, this time for funky.
Beforehand I was thinking to myself: when did I last go to Bar Rumba? It reminded me of a time in about ’97, though I’m sure I’ve been back since. I was doing work experience at Mixmag and ended up at some launch party there. A friend and I got wedged into one of those a booths they have there and started chatting to the people next to us. I met some bloke called Neil, who worked at a distribution company, then forgot all about him. Two or three years later, circa 2000, I was Mixmag’s garage editor. I bought this dark garage record on Shelflife, emailed the contact name on the sleeve to say I liked it, and realised it was put out by Neil. That year he quit his job to found Tempa and Forward>> with Soulja.
So as I came down the stairs, I bumped into Kode9, preparing for his set. I was just beginning to say “I was thinking to myself: when did I last go to Bar Rumba?” when 9 cut me off mid flow.
“You know Neil’s here?”
Full circle anyone?
To add to the headspin, Beyond felt like early Forwards>>. Kode was playing the warm up set (he was the resident warm up DJ to empty crowds at Forward>> for years! Hard to imagine in these headlining, Sonar-rocking times!) to an empty dancefloor. Literally: the club had put a curtain and cordoned off the dancefloor so you couldn’t go on it. Inside it felt like early FWD>> again only because of the overwhelming number of headz: shout to Soulja, Grevious Angel, Boomnoise, Dan Hancox, Farrah, Dusk, Chris from Kiss, Dave from Rinse, Melissa Bradshaw and no doubt more.
Soon we invaded the dancefloor, to hear Kode b2b sour funky. One tune of his has been beguiling me since he dropped it at FWD>>. It is such pitchbent analogue sour broken bliss I videoed it so everyone can hear it.
The urban crowd, late as always, began to full the club as Kode’s set ended. Dee and Perempay stood at the bar with a bunch of dressed up gyals. MA1 began dropping some more standard funky, including the epic “Something in the Air” by Dee and Permpay (aka Da’vinche and Bossman). Never let it be said I only like the dark stuff - I love full on vocal tunes and Kyla “Do You Mind” is one of my tunes of the year - I’m just fussy about which ones.
I had to cut out long before the night ended, due to a very unfortunate very early start the next day. But if the cycle goes round to where previous rotations have taken us, Beyond is just the beginning.