Friday, September 28, 2007


My PinchFork column this month features Lewi White, Ghetto, Peverelist, Burial, Guido, Quarta 330 oh and some guy called Pinch. Check also the first in a new series called Words into Sound. Checkit.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Under and over

It’s been a busy few months on the music front, between one thing and another but recently it occurred to me that a common idea kept appearing again and again.

First there was my Dizzee review for eMusic, as I came to terms with the changes he’d made to his sound and his message. In last month’s Pitchfork column I interviewed Skepta. The week before last I was invited to a “dubstep round table” for music marketing magazine Frukt, that featured MJ Cole, Plastician, Del from Drum & Bass Arena, Geeneus from Rinse and Dan Hancox from Dot.Alt. Then last week I was interviewed by Mary Anne Hobbs for a forthcoming Radio 1 dubstep documentary, due to go out at the pretty much peak time slot (for dubstep) of 9pm. It was in talking to Mary Anne that I realised the common thread that united all these events.

Both dubstep and grime are, by and large, underground phenomena. Dubstep is currently in an unprecedented growth period and grime has, in aspiration, always aimed high. In all four events, the Dizzee review, Skepta interview, the Frukt round table and the Radio 1 interview, the issue came up of what happens to underground scenes when they reach for the mainstream.

I’m not intrinsically against the mainstream. I love hearing Timbaland’s or Ryan Leslie’s weird beats on the radio and it was incredible when Dizzee won the Mercury Music Prize with “Boy In Da Corner.” Kanye does confidence on a global scale. And yes, while it’s true that I struggle to relate to most mainstream music, it’s fair to generalise that most artists would like their music heard by the widest possible audience: for them to think otherwise would be irrational. But increasingly reaching the widest possible audience comes with some very large terms and conditions, ones that like a straight jacket, tend to restrain.

First off there’s my eMusic “Maths + English” review, the closing paragraph of which reads:

“Much of what made Dizzee so utterly compelling has been discarded, a unique message replaced by the everyday urge to entertain. “A couple of years ago in my road-yout days/I was into pirate radio I guess it was a phase…” spits Dizzee on “Pussyole”. It’s a tragic admission. While the track as a whole lays into his former mentor Wiley, those bars cheaply dismiss pirate radio, the medium that first afforded him a voice and that continues to function as the voice of inner city London that mainstream radio will not allow. If Dizzee has fought his way to the heart of commercial media only to loose his message, did the end justify these means?”

Skepta, alongside his brother JME, has done more to work with mainstream media than any other unsigned grime act (they played at celebrity socialite Peaches Geldoff’s birthday party – that’s breaking serious cultural boundaries!). Speaking to him, prior to the launch of his self-released debut album about his strategy on reaching a wider audience, it was interesting to hear some compromises he makes. From the start, one of the appeals of grime has been its unique use of language. Even in my first Dizzee interview for almost five years ago, I spent time with him clarifying what the slang terms he used meant (“shotters/blotter/HMP…”). The slang itself evolves within the grime community and takes dedicated listening by an outsider to decipher. Talking to Skepta, his approach seems to be a process of lyrical self-clarification, both in vocabulary and delivery, to ensure his message is heard and understood. It’s about knowing your audience, he believes: speaking to 50 grime fans on London pirate radio is not the same as MCing to 1000 clubbers in Russia or wherever.

I mentioned this at the Frukt round table and Plastician, who’s tight with Skepta and has spent time on tour with him, attested to this change in approach by Skepta when facing audiences abroad. Lots of the Frukt debate centred around “what’s next for dubstep?” with many inevitable comparisons to drum & bass. “Will dubstep become ‘coffee table’ music?” went on line of questioning. Will we see dubstep-lite on adverts like we saw drum & bass-lite selling shampoo and conditioner in the late ‘90s?

Whether we will or won’t can only be speculation. The bigger question is, will it still be dubstep if it is? How much do you have to compromise for it no longer to be recognisable and furthermore, if the price of compromise is a complete loss of everything that made your art form unique and interesting in the first place, was it worth it?

The Mary Anne Hobbs interview was a strange experience. Putting headphones on in a broadcast studio so you can hear your own voice – and only your own voice – reverbed, and then being asked emotive questions you feel deeply about, gives the an effect that’s not unlike having the entire room be able to hear your deep, near-subconscious thoughts.

During the interview this “future of dubstep” question came up and also “should dubstep go down the ‘live’ route” and I thought back over the Skepta, Frukt and Dizzee encounters. Then an analogy came to me, that I’d been mulling over for some time, that applied to all the situations.

Imagine a political party with a brilliant, nation-changing idea. They do everything to gain power, except in doing so, have to compromise the one idea that made them unique and important. You’d have to ask, as a voter, was it all worth it? The same question applies to dubstep and grime.

I try wherever possible, to remain positive and idealistic about music. But I appreciate that with a few exceptions (Dizzee’s “Boy In Da Corner”, Burial’s “Burial” and Lethal B’s “Forward Riddim” aka “Pow”), access to the mainstream audiences – if an artist wants to go down that route – requires some degree of compromise. I guess then, the crux of this arguments then reduces itself to, what compromises are acceptable for the two genres if they’re to retain what makes them unique, vital and interesting?

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

The original nuttah

Trim_02 by Stu Give Up Art

Blackdown: So Trim, here we are in your ends, the Isle of Dogs, just standing on a wall. To start with, how did the Soulfood mixtape series come about?

Trim: Wiley asked me for a name. I said “Soulfood.” That was it. He said “why Soulfood” and I said “because there’s drugs out there that fuck with people’s souls.”

B: That’s deep… the name has a funk feel to me though. Like James Brown.

T: We found out afterwards that there’s a record label called that so I’m just going to do 1-5 and then I’m gonna change it. But yeah it’s a good little theme.

B: The mixtape thing: it’s like having your own albums out. Do you see it like that or do you see it differently to albums?

T: Way differently to albums because I’m not putting 100% effort in, I’m only giving you 75%... 50%. But I’m peaking at the minute so I’m going to keep trying, keep going on until I think, this is as far as I can go.

B: So vinyl… there was the "Boogieman" 12” with the diss thing on the flip…

T: It’s now 2007: we have evolved. [Laughs]. Those are the classics. They were hot stuff but yeah, we just keep going on from there and hopefully every tune’s a hit.

Trim_05 by Stu Give Up Art

B: So tell us about your new crew, The Circle?

T: So The Circle are a new group of people that I know, that I want to work with, from around here and everywhere. From all walks of life. What it is it, I was working with some people I already knew and we always have arguments, another one’s occurred, so I can’t live with them, I cant work with them, never gonna work with them, not mentioning no names but you’ll just not hear them on my mix CD again. Or anything to do with me. But yeah. The Circle is going to be a sick thing.

B: So I know about Crunch…

T: He’s the front runner at the minute. He’s gonna be the next guy. He’s got a lot to say for himself. But there’s a line of youngers ready to go, like soon. I’m setting them up, getting them all together… there’s producers involved, like T-Spark [or this one].

B: One of the things I liked about Soulfood vol 1 is that you seemed to be working with a whole bunch of new producers, like DVA, Mega, Jerzy…

T: Yeah man because I’ve veered away from Roll Deep and just wanted to let the world know… we always used to have arguments because they didn’t want to do the same music as me, it was always the case that I had to do tunes that I didn’t want to do, so I went and found tunes… “…My Playground” was made by Maniac but not credited to him – he’s so upset about that. He’s a good producer, a good producer from E3 … we’re from E14 but it’s a different thing, Chrisp Street.

B: [Trim mentions Chrisp Street in the tune we’ve done together called The Bits so I’m curious about it.] Where is Chrisp Street?

T: It’s just up the road from here. About two miles away, it’s the bits, my bits. Limehouse is also E14, Stepney is E14, so E14 is quite big, not just Chrisp Street and Isle of Dogs. There’s so much to it.

B: So what about the early days, when did you start MCing?

T: Everyone asks that question and I always tell them, it’s really hard to believe but I started … the first time you heard me on the radio. I had about seven lyrics [laughs].

B: Is this [his old crew] Bomb Squad days?

T: So I’m 23 now and this was about five years ago, so when I was 18. Maybe 17. Fresh outta jail, packed with lyrics…

B: Did you write lyrics in jail?

T: Nah that wasn’t the case.

B: Because when a lot of MCs that go to jail, like say Riko or Goodz, seem to store up lyrics and come out really hungry for MCing.

T: I had bars that no one had heard before I went to jail anyway. So I needed to get them ones across first. Obviously you can get pen and paper, but that wasn’t the focus of jail.

B: What was jail like?

T: Normal. Like a boarding school. Jail’s like a boarding school with no girls. That’s it.

B: But like, really harsh or bearable?

T: It’s bearable but I’m a strong minded person, if you’re not, if you’re a weak minded person it’s not bearable. I’m a strong minded person so I dealt with it.

B: You make it sound like it’s literally bearable, where most people would try everything to avoid it.

T: Yeah I’m trying to avoid it obviously, I’m not trying to get locked up in a cage, I’m no bird, but yeah bruv… if you can avoid it, avoid it. It’s not something I’m planning to do. Holidays: that’s what I’m out here for…

B: What about Ayia Napa, can you go there again?

T: Hahahahaha… I dunno, can I? Let’s ask Marcus [NASTY], phone him up and see if he’s dropped the case.

B: OK. I take it you haven’t been this summer?

T: No but I’ve been to Malia, Kos, Faliraki. I’ll be going next year so if you want to see Trim n Scratch, we’ll be there. Scratchy wasn’t there this year, he went for about two days but came back because he got arrested. Yeah dawg, they just wanna take your money when they know you’re working in the rave as well, wait ‘til you get drunk, come out on your bike and then nick you…

B: Who’s they?

T: The police. But yeah, I had a different case. Long story but it’s definitely not water under the bridge.

B: OK… so tell me about your use of wordplay? It’s kinda unique in grime.

T: Yeah I’d say I’m an artist, wouldn’t you? I can play with words, do anything. I’m that guy.

B: I don’t really know anyone else in grime who does this though. Most guys spit standard bars…

T: I don’t spit standard bars because I’m not a standard person, I’m not thinking like these guys, I’m not from the same place as these guys, they’re from E3, I’m from E14, I’ve got a different set of words in my head and I play with them. Wordplay: it’s just what words come to your head and how you say it. You can always say the simple words but I always try to look for the thing you’re not looking to hear next. So you’re always on the edge of your seat.

B: Tell me about remixing your own bars because you do that thing when you take one of your own lyrics that everyone knows from radio, you hear it again, you think you know where it’s going and then – bang – it’s gone the opposite way…

T: Yeah man, you have to keep people on their toes, like: are you listening? I want people to be listening, and if you ain’t listening, you’re just gonna think it’s the same old bar and switch it off.

B: On "The Bits" you use the lines “speedboat/I’ll leave the rowing to you.” That’s pretty abstract.

T: Yeah cos like, rowing… speedboats, it’s got a lot to do with Roll Deep, it’s on my conscience, I cant get them out of my head.

B: It must have been hard going from being part of something like Roll Deep to being by yourself, what was that like to deal with?

T: It wasn’t hard, it’s always been just me. Just me. No one else. [looks around him, into an empty residential street] I’m just here on my ones. But there are other people supporting me, and my family, but yeah I’m my own guy really.

B: Back to wordplay, what’s that “coco butter” bar about?

T: Bruv, it’s that black brown that you never see on TV advertised but every black person uses it.

B: I love the lyric because it had that extra meaning that other people don’t notice. Plus it references the jungle classic “Original Nuttah.”

T: Bigup the Apache Indian!

B: I know Goodz memorises all his lyrics, some MCs have a pad by their bed. How do you go about writing your lyrics?

T: I’m in seven states of mind. Sometimes I’ll be in a state of mind to write a lyric, then I’ll know it’s there and think “OK, where’s the beat! Get the beat!” Whatever comes out, I try and talk myself into what I’m saying. I write stuff down, say it, write it down… once the first line’s down I’m away. It’s like a zone and I’m in dere. You see something, or someone says something, it triggers a part of your brain and you have to say something. I’m trying to paint a picture for you, so you can see what’s going on, not leave you blind.

Like the tune “I’m Not” that ends Vol 1 and starts Vol 2. “I’m in a playground full of hobbits/And on-screen goons.” Now THAT’s a bar. You’ve got to look into that. “On screen goons” because they’re only goons when they’re on screen. Gollum’s another character I chose for myself, he’s another person’s that gonna be in The Circle. The character with three personalities.

B: An alter ego of yours?

T: Yeah, he’s mine, it’s mad. Like a mad person bwoy.

B: Trim, Trimble, Trevan, Trimvan, Trimothy, Trim Trim Cheroo: you’re amazing at playing with your actual name, especially when names are very important to MCs in terms of their identities and reputation…

T: Like I said I’m in seven states of mind, so I’ve got so many names for each state of mind. There’ll be different days and different moods. We’ve all got different moodswings and those moodswings are my names.

B: What’s your original name?

T: My original name is Javan. My surname is [censored] it’s French.

B: How did you get the name Trim?

T: It came from road. But you can have Javan but don’t put my surname out there…

B: Where did the French surname come from?

T: My parents are St Lucian, they speak broken French.

B: Do you speak any French?

T: Nah nah. I don’t speak no French, call JME for that job. English is the most: I don’t really need to know French.

Trim_03 by Stu Give Up Art

B: OK so, you have a reputation for being fearless in ‘war,’ aren’t you ever concerned about starting things?

T: Concerned? About? Nah, nah, most of the people in this game we know of them, that’s it. So whatever they’ve got to say, they can say it. We’re out here.

B: You’re never concerned?

T: I can’t see what they possibly could say. They stick n stone can break your bones…

B: It’s not saying, it’s doing though.

T: Yeah but when I’m saying stuff, I’m willing to do it, but I won’t do it unless I’m forced to do it.

[Trim has two phones, held together, back to back, by a rubber band. One of them rings, but after a short conversation, he returns to the interview…]

B: So, were you born around here, the Isle of Dogs?

T: I was born in Mile End. E3 but yeah, f-that.

[Phone goes again. OK he’s back now…]

Trim_04 by Stu Give Up Art

B: Do you still play football on a Sunday?

T: Yeah but I’ve currently stopped because I’ve dislocated my big toe getting away from police, and I didn’t get away, because obviously I dislocated by toe, but I got rid of the food so I was alright. But the leg’s getting better so I’ll be back playing football on a Sunday. I don’t play for a team, I just play with the local goons, the mandem from the area.

B: Where do you play?

T: I’m got going to tell you because there’s so many goons there I wouldn’t want no one to come and feel that they’re safe there. They’re not really safe there.

B: Is this the same game the one Roll Deep play against Ruff Sqwad on a Sunday?

T: Nah, but I’ve played in that game. Ruff Sqwad are a good team, healthy people. And they’ve got heart so they won’t let Roll Deep just win, though Roll Deep have won on a few occasions.

B: Who in grime is good at football?

T: Me personally, I think I’m one of the best guys…

B: You would say that!

T: I would because I’m really not shit at football. But um, Tinchy’s quite good but he’s little so gets barged off the ball. DJ Begg from Ruff Sqwad. Riko, he’s a striker, you put him up there and he will score. Jet Li. Wiley can have a good game. Scratchy’s not into football. Flow Dan plays basketball… thinks he’s American.

B: You likely to work with Scratchy again?

T: Yeah he’s on two tunes on Vol 3. Yous are behind me now, because I’m on Vol 5 now.

B: What’s the 12 Monkeys theme about on the artwork?

T: The film was not used the right way, they never had 12 real goonbags. Ha. I think that the 12 monkeys that represent the circle that are gonna be here when I’ve left. And I’m not saying “left” as in getting a record deal I’m saying if I don’t get a record deal by the end of this year, I’m leaving and I’m gonna make sure these people have got a better chance than I have.

B: You’re gonna leave MCing?

T: Yeah I’m not gonna force it too much just do these mixtapes, start another project, get onto it by the end of the year and then by January if I haven’t heard anything, I’m outty.

B: You can’t leave Trim!

T: I can’t leave? Watch me! Wiley said he was leaving, he came back. I’m not Wiley, I’m not gonna come back. So these labels better fix up, look sharp. Holler at a boy because I’m willing to work. I got the words. The scene better not let me leave, I want to get a record deal.

[Trim gets interrupted by an older guy on a bike who wants to meet him. Trim wanders off for a second, then returns…]

T: That was Richie Campbell, by the way, who does the boxing on the Isle of Dogs. I aint really a boxer but I used to do martial arts when I was younger, so I can kick and that, but it’s good for you innit? I eat good so, I wanna just tump someone in the face sometimes, my mates all do it, so I wanna show up one day and say “come on lets ‘aaaaave it!” My mates all go so I’m on jumping in the ring with some people but I don’t ever show up for the gym so Richie’s telling me “get on it.” I used to do Tae Kwon Do and Open Hand Karate. But obviously I was young and thick so I didn’t listen but I clocked a few things, the things that hurt innit, haha. But I aint trying to kick anyone so don’t look at me like I’m some kind of Karate guy.

B: OK. You mention your dad on one of your mixtape tracks, saying he was famous and to ask about him, what’s the story behind that?

T: Bruv you gotta do your history. He was a reggae artist, well I don’t know if he was… he was on… don’t know much about him apart from I’ve got pictures.

B: Do you not see him much?

T: Nah, am totally locked off from his family. There’s never been a word from each, but I spoke to his brother one day, that was it, that’s as far as it goes. I was too young to have a proper conversation with him.

B: Is he gone?

T: Nah nah, they’re about I just have to go find him but the way I live, like I’ve grown up in a set of family, I’m alright, no bad to him or nothing but one day we’ll speak, we’ll see the other people, but right now, I’ve got my own family to worry about.

B: Do you know where he lives?

T: Yeaaah, I think he has a yard near Brixton. But anyway, not that it matters. We’re talking about grime…

Trim_01 by Stu Give Up Art

B: OK so tell me about the Roll Deep situation, is it completely finished?

T: Do you know what it is with Roll Deep, I don’t hate them, but it’s people that have grown differently to me and they believe in different things. I cant hate them for believing in different things but I don’t agree with everything so I just want to be on my own if I cant make certain decisions. I’m my own boss, no one cant tell me shit. That’s the best thing.

B: I suppose being on your own makes it easier to get signed for you…

T: Yeah but Roll Deep should be getting another record deal, I think they’re getting another one so they’ve gotta pull another album out of the bag. But I’m on Vol4, holla at a guy, labels: I’ll do a lot of work for yous. Let me be the only grime act. If you’re sitting there and you’re thinking, “Trim” then I’m thinking of yous.

B: What do you look for in a beat from a producer?

T: I just look for space for me. If I can hear it, I will know. Sometimes I jump on beats that are nothing to do with my kind of thing. Makes me sound a bit off but I like jumping on beats I can hear myself in.

B: What other genres of music do you like?

T: Hip hop, r&b, reggae, bashment… I don’t really like crunk and all those guys but I do believe if they gave me a beat that was serious I would move to it better than every other guy. I swear.

B: Any chance of hearing you on radio soon?

T: Yeah I’m gonna run up on Rinse soon.

B: What about grime DJs, which ones do you rate?

T: I don’t rate grime DJs, Karnage is my cousin. Boy betta know that DJ Karnage is my blood cousin.

B: Literally?

T: Yes so everybody should know that he is the best DJ. It’s not loyalty, he’s my cousin. That’s it. But there’s other DJs that are good. Johnny Skeng is good. Geeneus is one of the biggest DJs that there could ever be, I think Slimzee’s nang. Maximum is definitely nang.

B: How do you feel about funky house?

T: Um, I like it, I do like funky house. Bit of a dance and that, it’s alright man. I don’t specifically go out looking for certain raves but funky house: I will maybe make the occasion to go to those girl-raves. Haha…

B: Ahaha, I see where you’re going with that…

T: I love funky house because the girls love funky house. And if the girls love funky house, we can go to funky house.

B: The only thing is it doesn’t leave a lot of room for the MC. So we’re back to the UK garage thing, with MCs as ‘hosts.’ What happens if there’s no room for MCs anymore?

T: Yeah that would be a bit shit but I always believe there’s room out here for me. I’m guaranteed a spot haha.

B: You don’t hear grime MCs on Radio 1, but you hear funky house on adverts…

T: Yeah, I know where you’re going with it but I think there’s space for me. If there’s space for Take That, there’s space for me bruv.

B: Maybe Take That are taking up too much space, and if they took up less, there’d be more room for you?

T: Nah nah, The Spice Girls be taking up too much space…

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Woooooooof Ahhhhh

In an era of full on digital submersion, you've gotta commend people willing to swim against the tide. Woofah mag, is a real, in print-magazine dedicated to all the good shit in life (reggae, dancehall, jungle, garage, hip hop, grime, dubstep and bass) and none of the bad (adverts, very high pitched noises, people who write about music they don't burn for).

It's edited by John Eden and Paul Meme, aka Grievous Angel. The latter's just finished a ragga-techno-dubstep LP: clearly he's beyond such mere mortal necessities as "sleep."

It features writing from many fellow bloggers, including Mel Bradshaw, Simon Silverdollar, Dan Hancox, and amusingly some bloke called "Martin C" taking the piss out of Forward>> who isn't me. Seriously, it's not me. Photos come from George Infinite and illustrations from Woebot. In the game of UK blogger bingo, this baby's a full house.

I'm still in the process of reading it all, but it's a total joy so far. Here are some of my favourite quotes:

"Badman don't drink Snapple"

From the Badman Commandments feature by Gabriel Heatwave

"They had no idea about dubplates, but we did. We had a certain one telling 10 things about Unique 3 - why they were going to get buried - 'Unique 3 this, Unique 3 that'. Awww, fucking 'ell it was ruff!"

Dub's Mark Iration on clashing Unique 3 in Bradford during the bleep era.

"Jungle is massive!"

Pinch on being asked which is better, Krome and Time or Photek

Woofah mag costs only £3: far cheaper than starting your own mag called Tweetah aimed at dogs, bats and all ultra sonic-hearing animals. Honest.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

PF Sept 07

Pitchfork column time ft. Skepta, Dysfunktion, LV and The Bug.