Wednesday, April 29, 2009

New nuum?

So I went along to the Hardcore Continuum talk in the post below, and it was pretty fun. First up was a journey through east, always a joy. I have to confess I haven’t been through Hackney Wick, where I used to work, in daylight for ages and bwoy, I've seen the pictures in Time Out, but the Olympic building site is staggering. All that weird, post-industrial hinterland east of the Wick is now a hive of activity, skeletal metal shapes making incredible sky rhythms that will soon be stadia. But really I was on the way to witness the construction of other great structures.

The UEL Docklands Campus is odd too, not a part of London I know well - perched on the river by the City airport. Hard to put a finger on but seemed to be an surreal mix of the shiny new and dirty old architecture around there.

The seminars themselves seemed to go well, props to Jeremy and 9 for organising them. I think transcripts or audio of the talks will go up so I wont spoil them all. But the began with K Punks defence of the nuum which provided several of the most contentious points of the day, including the line "producers dont know anything about music" and the assertion that we live in creativity-deprived decade, relative to the '90s. I couldn’t help clocking that in nuum terms the 90s had given us rave, jungle and garage, while this decade had given us dubstep, grime, funky, wonky and bassline. That's 5-3 to the '00s by my reckoning, so who you calling deprived Mr Punk? ;)

(Oh and Photek is a certified badman, made some of the greatest **music** of the '90s bar none, texturally and rhythmically. If your theoretical framework tells you he's crap, then your framework is completely broken!)

Alex Splintering Bone Ashes read a great piece about the naming of genres, including quite a bit on wonky-as-a-process, "wonkification" if you will. In fact I was pretty amazed how much the wonkword came up time and time again during the five hours. I took the opportunity to take the piss of 9 on his allergy to it, reminding him of the irony that it was he who took the piss of me for never inventing genre descriptors.

Joe and Dan made their cases and i think everyone in the room bar K Punk seemed to accept some kind of progress needs to be made. But it was left to Kojo and 9 to provide a dazzling afrofuturism framework, that stretched from Joker to Prince, used deliciously rich language while going to extraordinary lengths not to say the words funky or wonky. Kode kicked over the dictaphone while heading for his iPod, blanking the audio recording, so you'll just have to read the transcript if it goes up.

Overall the day was very enjoyable, even if a little too much time was spent claiming jungle is the be all and end all, Australia isn’t a thing and producers don’t know anything about music. Trivialising reductions aside, I thought I'd share my talk here.

Where now for the Nuum?

My position on the hardcore continuum is the following: it works great at the macroscopic level but breaks down at the microscopic level. It’s this breakdown that has brought us all together today. Because if you have to throw away all your exceptions to make the rule, what value does the rule give?

For many years the nuum had it good: it evolved as an essentially linear progression, from hardcore to jungle, speed garage to 2step. Some musical aspects branched off but essentially culturally eliminated themselves from the continuum, like say drum & bass in 97 or broken beat in 2000, preserving the linearity of the continuum as the offshoots removed themselves from the nuums cultural heartland.

The nuum also had time on its side. Ravers who had it large in ’88, went to jungle mecca AWOL in 94 could then join the mature ravers at Twice as Nice in 2000. Continuity was preserved.

But the implosion of garage in 2001/2 presented the continuum with an unprecedented challenge: no longer was the progression linear. Garage fragmented into three parts: grime, dubstep and house. Could it still be a continuum if it had broken into three, one part of which had temporarily – let’s say 2002 to 2006 - migrated off to join another continuum, ie the global house one?

By the very nature of fragmentation comes dilution, and this is where the nuum begins to be challenged. In the divorce from garage, each of the three offspring took different parts: in general terms, grime the role of the MC, dubstep the focus on bass and house... the girls.

On his blog yesterday simon says a fallacy about the nuum is that it is prescriptive.

“The misconception here is a mental image of a bouncer standing in front of a door barring admittance. How it actually works: new sounds emerge from the area of sound/culture/demographic under consideration, they have links to what came before, and what's interesting is to work out how strong the continuity is and what are the significant differences. Sometimes the links start to seem tenuous to the point where it feels like the music has branched off in another direction, perhaps ultimately to merge with other traditions/continuums. But this is descriptive as opposed to prescriptive.”

But right now I would begin to challenge its ability to even be descriptive. In his talk in Liverpool recently, Simon reduces the musical side of the continuum to the confluence of four factors: house, techno, hip hop and reggae dancehall, which works great for hardcore, jungle and garage. Yet as you increasingly migrate further from hardcore, elements of these become less influential, as new ones rise to the fore. So with grime you could reduce it to: jungle + garage + hip hop + dancehall. With dubstep: garage + jungle + dub reggae.

With each iteration of the nuum the founding pillars become shakier, and with justifiable reason. Not only did fragmentation post-garage cause dilution of the common pillars but the collective memory of those pillars began to fade amongst its creators. Ravers who had it large in ’88, went to jungle mecca AWOL in 94 could then join the mature ravers at Twice as Nice in 2000. But what tangible influence do those bastions have now compared to the wealth of current music , when you consider MOBO winning grime MC chipmunk was ten years old when Twice as Nice was at its peak or unborn when rave began?

The question then is can we re-define a new set of continuity elements? Because with these the continuum would regain more value, and begin to better describe its current key movements. To do this I’d like to look at two cases: funky and wonky, both of which Simon has raised questionable concerns to as their validity as part of the continuum. Those concerns in term throw light on the limitations and the improper use of the theory.

For better or worse, I coined the term wonky in a piece in Pitchfork Media last year, to describe a common thread I saw running through multiple genres as disparate as instrumental hip hop, crunk, chip tunes, grime and dubstep. Unfortunately it has since been latched onto as a genre, something I still refute. But for the purpose of this talk, I’d like to talk about a specifically group of producers i mentioned in the Pitchfork piece: Joker, Zomby and Gemmy.

While there’s no point claiming these three are fully “running the roads” right now, surely the gold standard test for nuum or not-nuum, in an attempt to preserve the theory’s integrity simon takes the opposite position on this moot point.

“Wonky has the same relation to Ruff Squad as Squarepusher had to Remarc” he wrote on his blog.

Yet Joker came from grime, got advice from Wiley back in the day, lives in one of the nuums second cities – Bristol – is black and working class. Last year he was voted in the top 5 vinyl releases by the grime forum, alongside Rudekid, Logan Sama’s new label, Silencer and... Ruff Squad.

In the same piece, Simon wrote on wonky, “I can’t imagine real bodies moving in real space to this music.” He wouldn’t have needed to imagine if it he’d been at the Rinse FM rave last year to see Boy Betta Know’s Maximum drop Joker tunes in a grime set.

Gemmy shares similarities with Joker in this regard and Zomby grew up hanging out with DJ SS and lived through both midlands rave and bassline scenes, as well as later attending seminal dubstep parties in London.

These three acts share many of the continuity aspects that are so key to the strength of the nuum, yet simon uses the nuum to reject them because they don’t fit its original core tenants.

Indeed if you are to reject Zomby, Joker and Gemmy as part of the continuum, so should you reject dubstep as a whole. And while Simon was very sceptical of dubstep for most of this decade, perhaps out of loyalty to garage, he now accepts it as part of the continuum, ironically as it finds itself as far from its London roots as it ever has been.

Similarly we move to the current iteration of the continuum, funky. If you applied the litmus test to funky – is it big on road? – you’d get a resounding ‘yes’ but confusingly for the continuum, unlike d&b/garage in 1997, the urban popularity vote is currently split, between grime and funky. Either way simon’s not sure.

You can forgive a musical theorem for being unable to cope with the scenario that unfolded in 2002 -06, where post garage’s implosion, an entire section of the UKG massive silently migrated from grime to the existing global house continuum. It was only when DJs like Supa D and Marcus Nasty reclaimed UK ownership of a strand of the international house megacorp that it began to fit back into the continuum, incorporating influence from another of its rejected progeny, broken beat to form a near mirror image of grime. But overall a scenarios like this in 2002, where everything except the music stays nuum, displays the limitations of the continuum.

So despite funky’s perfect credentials, Simon seems unsure of its place in the canon. The reasons for this are twofold: he seems to have misread the signs and again is holding the 2009 genre to account to ’89 continuity pillars, perhaps for his own reasons.

“Funky has an overall deficit of rude + cheesy” he claims without investigating “Sirens” by Hard House Banton or “Heads Shoulders Knees and Toes” by KIG Family, both respectively rude and cheesy and two of the genre’s biggest tracks. He also dismisses any dancehall influence in funky, despite the prevelance of skank tracks like the “Migrane Skank” that directly parody Jamaican dancehall dance routines.

So between dubstep’s inclusion, wonky’s exclusion and funky’s limbo status, we find the central crisis that undermines the hardcore continuum in 2009: not that it has broken or is invalid, because it describes accurately in many cases the musical heart that beats in urban London and other UK urban multicultural centres. But its inflexibility in the face of edge cases and fragmentation, is causing it to be presented as fact but actually be used as a theory to make value judgments in order to preserve its own existence.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Rinse that nuum

The Hardcore Continuum? A discussion

Presented by the Centre for Cultural Studies Research, University of
East London In association with The Wire


Wednesday April 29th 2009 2:00pm-6:00pm

Simon Reynolds'’ commentary on the ‘'hardcore continuum'’ - the
mutating sequence of dancefloor music to have emerged from the
breakbeat hardcore matrix of the early 1990s - has recently generated intense debate in the musical blogosphere.

What is the value of this concept? Does it still usefully describe the
context from which dynamic new beat musics emerge? Can the conditions of creativity in the 1990s be replicated in the era of web 2.0? Should we even want them to be?

Speakers: Mark Fisher (K-Punk), Alex Williams (Splintering Bone
Ashes), Steve Goodman (Kode 9), Lisa Blanning (The Wire), Dan Hancox (Guardian, New Statesman), Kodwo Eshun (Author of More Brilliant than the Sun), Joe Muggs (Mixmag, The Wire), Martin Clark (Blackdown), Jeremy Gilbert (Co-author of Discographies)

Attendance is free but pre-registration is recommended. For info or to register contact

Location: UEL Docklands Campus (Cyprus DLR) Room wb.1.01

For full travel details see this or this.

Room wb.1.01is located on the first floor of the West Building (the
building to the right upon entering the main square from Cyprus DLR)

UPDATE: Oi Oi, Mr Reynolds has launched a pre-emptive strike!

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The man who cycles through glass walls part 3

Last year I published two blog posts (here and here) about Nico Hogg's amazing documentation of London via his camera. I left some breathing space between those two and this, the final installment in the interview.

The five months between the first post and now hasn't dimmed my awe for his shots and the journey that leads him to them. In truth, as incredible images continue to appear on his Flickr stream, it makes me think this series might never end. But for now, here are the last shots and thoughts, grouped into loose themes.


B: "Bricked 309 bus, Bartlett Park." Can you tell us the full story here?

N: "We were heading off the Lansbury Estate, going past Bartlett Park when a couple of kids, maybe 11 or 12 years old eyed up the bus from a bush behind the road with excited expressions. One of them raised an arm and the next thing I did was turn my head away, because I knew what was coming next and I didn't fancy a face full of broken glass!! Thud, bang. One shattered window, kids running off.

The driver took the bus on a bit further to get out of the conflict zone and pulled up. One kid on the bus got a bit of glass stuck in his neck and his mum went ballistic, ranting that she knew "the little fuckers". Never had that happen to a bus I was on so close to town before, but terrorising buses is an art form on the outlying estates..."

B: "Stonebridge Park Station" - while this tube shot comes from one of the rougher parts of London, it reminds me what a communal and shared experience transport is in London. The tube seems to out-price some of the lowest earners, but the overland and busses still unite everyone...

N: "Definitely. Comparing the overland to the underground, there isn't the blanket presence of ticket gates and staff to make the railway feel like an artificial, protected safe zone, so to me it just an extension of the street. Anyone can walk onto a train, ticket or not if they really wanted to. The same interactions, some pleasant, some not, the same feelings of risk.

And a lot of the overland really does unite everyone – the North London Line going from wealthy Richmond to Harlesden, through Hampstead to Camden, Highbury, then Dalston, Hackney, Stratford. Halfway round London for a pound or two, all different people squashed up together in those run down old purple trains. Night buses are the same – half the cabs disappear, the tubes and trains stop, and everyone's thrown onto the party bus. I fell asleep on one on my way to Hammersmith one night, surrounded by people coming back from the clubs. When I woke up again I was a few minutes from Heathrow, and the bus was full of bleary-eyed workers heading in for a 5am shift at the Airport! At some point in that time I was asleep they were sharing the same space..."


B: "Ponders Endz." How do you feel about grime? Are you aware of the micro-local identity issues that litter the genre...

N: Mixed. I'm not sure how I regard it in my head. For me it's very fluid, hard to pin down, my mind is trying to whack a cloud of gnats with a tree branch. It's definitely a much leaner, angrier London within a London, but finding the outside borders is no more clear cut, even if it has a fairly well defined 'middle'.

That vitriolic element to grime mcing impresses me, it can be quite sharp, but I find it can get a bit blunt and clumsy too. Overall, I prefer an instrumental noise to a string of vocals. I see the appeal of it, there are shards of a dark and sometimes cruel sense of humour that comes through in a lot of grime music that I love.

That predates grime, but it has found a well-lubricated conduit through the lyrics for me. Geography is an important part of it, this and that endz trampling over one another, but there's the transcendence of geographical lines too. Linking that up to grime as a bigger thing has always been hard for me, but that's down to a lack of knowledge on my part. The tensions of both are born of the same parentage. As an expression, or really, manifestation of a certain kind of urban reality it does it's job pretty succinctly, but I think about what would happen if the messages started reinforcing themselves on a big scale, self perpetuating, growing bigger than they are and spilling into something else, somewhere else and I worry. Or something. Arrgh, too easy to talk out of my arse on this! It's a stereotypical concern about grime, I think, and an outsiders one, but it's one I find myself unable to shake it off."

[As a quick aside here. Last year I enjoyed a piece by Matt Shadetek on Cam'ron and the issue of "No Snitching." A friend commented about what an out of control beast hip hop, and some of the values it perpetuates, has become. Given the obvious parallels between grime and hip hop, perhaps this what happens with the "scale" Nico worries about.]

B: "Wednesday: Enfield Highway." More micro-local identity tagging.
but then there's the overlay with what looks like BNP sticker. Do you know who the unitedbritish.corp/ are?

N: "Anything I could tell you would be thanks to Google! That part of Enfield, running along the Hertford Road has always been a strongly working class white area, but it's gradually becoming more and more popular for ethnic minority groups moving out from inner London. There are a few large estates too, and that extra sense of territory that comes with them. I see that up there, increasingly, it's a developing thing. I also see a lot more of this expressed territorialisation further out than closer to town, in any area notorious or not, graffiti on estates and bus shelters. I wonder, with those three things coming together, how that will evolve."

B: "Sunday afternoon: The lift." Racism: it's about. Even between different ethnic minority groups. In your trips to take shots, do see it a lot?

N: "Yeah, for years, from school onwards. There's more inter-ethnic group tension here any white vs other. Sometimes it's within different parts of what would be considered from the outside to be the same ethnic group – big troubles within the Somali groups in Woolwich and Plumstead, traditionally the elders kept a lid on trouble but they're losing the battle, it's a community that has come close to the edge of tearing itself to shreds from the inside. But it's worth distinguishing between barefaced racism and another issue, the settled population vs new arrivals.

People from half the countries in the world live in Tottenham, many are well established in the area now, so it's worth separating the two. The Polish thing, as displayed in that pic – someone elses afterthought, is a new one. A lot of Poles have come to Tottenham recently, to private rented housing, rather than in the estates, and there is some insecurity in the area about that from the multicultural base of people already settled. It stays off the estates though, mainly... this is a bit of an exception."

B: "London Road, Mitcham." How did you get inside this building? Who and what lead you? How do you feel about tagging/graffiti?

N: "An open door in the night.. walking past this block of flats I saw a few bits of graffiti inside and wandered in to take a look, curious. The walls were saturated, completely, every surface, a spiralling hysteria. A clamour for the ownership of space gone insane. Nothing 'artistic' in the traditional sense, just tags tags tags tags tags on everything, saturation bombing.

"There's an identical block right next to it that has properly locked entrance doors, and that was totally untouched. Most of Mitcham is pretty tidy. This one block was like a pressure vent for some force, some statement. I hadn't seen anything like it outside of club toilets and squatted buildings, where that sort of thing is tolerated – or even welcomed - by the people who share the space. It felt like it belonged to a different era and a different place. Suburban South London meets 1980s New York. There's some principled part of me that says graffiti is wrong, an eyesore, report it, get rid of it – the "right thing". But really, I love it. I think you need to feel threatened by graffiti to want to get rid of it, but I see a game in it, laying a claim to a space lays down a gauntlet for that space to be challenged, questioned, and that's exciting to see."

B: "Nana's gone now." This one's twice as powerful when you add in the title. Do you know if Nana is gone? Who was she?

N: "I've got to admit to a bit of poetic licence here... I don't know. I just threw in the title!

B: "Avenue Road Estate" - can you elaborate onto the background of this one? do you get the sense of people reclaiming walls to be a kind of people's broadcast medium... Badman Broadcast Corp...

N: "This wasn't long after the stabbing of Paul Erhahon. Some say it was a gang thing, some say it wasn't, I don't know the background well enough to say. But there are two big estates in South Leytonstone, Cathall and this one, and there was politics between them. We found this one afternoon when I'd met up with a friend who has an interest in human geography (he's doing it as a degree now, and if he sees this he'll probably be laughing at my 'amateur' answers for months...), and I'd decided to show him around an estate near his house.

I think this was more about someone having a sick dig than some real statement of racial hatred. Test the water and gauge the reaction. Given the way that all the entrance doors were busted and the intercoms ripped out, anyone could have wandered in from off the estate and done this. The estate was a bit of a disaster zone at the time.

Definitely a broadcast medium! But not as evident as it could be... maybe people are just so hot on removing graffiti now, there's more of a focus on broadcasting the messages where it will definitely been seen and heard. There's the internet for that now."

B: "The lift lobby" - more graf. Does this say 'IRA flex?'

N: "This one was taken in my block of flats. There were a few 'IRA' tags around here at the time, but I think "IRA" and "flex" here were two separate tags. Really, I don't know where they came from... there was speculation at the time that a kid from one of the Irish families just off the estate was having a joke."

B: "We're in ur hoodz" - obviously "E8 bang bang" is a local tribal assertion of power via weaponry...

N: There was a bit of a fashion in statements like this, with "bang bang" tacked onto the end a year or two ago... haven't seen so much of it about lately, but it wasn't just E8 saying it.

B: "Stratford" - whereas most of your work seems more social, this seems to have a political bent...

N: "I don't see this sort of thing about that often.. but perhaps I just don't keep my eyes peeled so much for political statements. There are enough people out there already with cameras and a political mindset... it's heard, it's known about."

B: "Seven Sisters" - signs and signifiers, light and atmosphere...

N: "I've never understood the appeal of this one, but people do seem to like it. Sometimes I end up detached from the scene itself as I'm taking the photo, like in a trance. A sense that it'll be 'good' without consciously appreciating why, just recording it."

B: "No Spitting" - have you heard of the music genre dubstep? their top label, Tempa, their designer emailed me this once, as an idea for my own label artwork and obviously I used it recently on a Geeneus record. Then I was in a tower block lift with him a week or so after it came out, and there it was!!! Anyway, were you aware of the dual dictionary/grime meaning of the word 'spit'? and there it is, translated into two languages too...

N: "Haha, yeah I clocked that.. funnily enough, it seemed a very cliquey little block as well, there was a noticeboard behind me with a load of residents association stuff on it and warnings about not leaving the door open, letting 'strangers' into the block. "No spitting", none, of any kind. Not here. Dubstep, I got introduced to it last year through a mate showing me some of Burial's stuff, that was an eye-opener, a great sound... it's gone on from there, in fits and starts. Material things hold me back... my music playing capabilities are limited to an ipod and a stone age laptop. The sound of dubstep, really, deserves to be played through something that can bring out the richness, otherwise you're missing out on something. I'll have to sort that out, I'm deliberately holding back on it until then, odd as that might sound."

B: "EasyHajj!" I love this one, whereas most of your photos are more neutral, this is a rare entry of religion into your work. Do you think religion influences your subject matter much?

N: "I don't think it does! I had an almost completely unreligious upbringing.. the only times I've ever come into contact with it I've ended up pairing the circumstance up with either a social or political matter, religion playing second fiddle. I do feel like I'm missing something out by ignoring religion, as it is one of the most important things.. full stop."

B: Broken window theory, 2004 - do you buy/have you read any broken window theory ?

N: "I haven't read the literature, but I am aware of the overarching argument. I do think it sort of works as a concept, on the face of things, but (and wikipedia says the same here) how much of an effect it has on any bigger underlying problems is questionable to me. You don't have to have no smoke without fire, something can just be really bloody hot and you'll burn your fingers on it anyway. I'll have to read it someday."

B: "64-220 The Lintons (edit 2)" - So this was arson... can you elaborate?

N: "Nope...don't know anything about it!"

B: "64-220 The Lintons (edit 1)" - awaiting demolition... can you elaborate?

N: "This one's gone now. It used to loom over Barking, big style, shades of grey, a battleship on the skyline. Then the council came along in the 90s, painted it all these colours, put a dome on the roof and added a concierge at the bottom to ward off trouble. People still complained that it was an eyesore, then the council realised that for all the misguided beautification the building had undergone, things like 30 year old single-glazed windows 15 floors up and substandard insulation, things that actually mattered for basic quality of living there, were too expensive to bring up to date – why, I don't know.

Anyway, 8 years on they decided to pull it down instead and started moving the tenants out, but some of the leaseholders who had bought out their flats wouldn't leave; they wanted more money for their flats than the council was prepared to give. So the building stood there in this limbo state for over two years while the arguments dragged on, bit of arson here, few broken windows there, slowly deteriorating into oblivion."

B: "Ponders End" - what about London's ignored industrial wastelands? The Lee valley. The docks out east near the Blackwall tunnel. Wapping etc... these are ghostly in a different way to abandoned/deserted estates, they're places of huge steel dinosaurs and twisted metal scrap piles. Unguarded, uninhabited and unwanted. Does that interest you too, as a photographer?

N: "I've just never had that interest in photographing industrial decay that others have. Turning it the other way round, there are people who wonder where the worth of taking photos of empty estates lies. I find it hard to find a social significance in abandoned industry, that 'human' aspect is more easily sensed with residential areas.

Maybe I'd be singing a different tune if I lived in a town where the major employer was a factory and they'd shut down, some things need understanding first-hand."

B: "Luke House, Bigland Estate, E1" - this one is towering, literally. Do tower blocks 'work?'

N: "I don't know, it depends how you define 'work'. Maybe, yes, sometimes, but not often in their original form. Some councils have got innovative, putting students in them, putting old people in them. They work if you turn them into fortresses, with fences round the outside and someone behind a glass window controlling who comes in and out. If you've got a cliff face 20 storeys high filled with people that live there because they were given that flat and no other choice, it's not going to work well – but it won't fail either. If they came there out of choice, it would work."

B: "Patriotic" - often found near to the impoverished multicultural communities, is white British nationalism. Do you see much of this? Where?

N: "Quite a few places – the thing I notice is that it shows less the closer you get to Central London, it's most evident in poorer or traditionally working class white areas further out that are starting to react to the outward migration of different cultural/racial groups from further in. In inner London I think there's this element of acceptance, if not always readiness to intergrate, from the white groups in areas like Globe Town, the Isle of Dogs and Bermondsey.

"The tensions have played out and it's in the past now. It's mostly housing estates over there, and the queue to get a council property is massive – the chances of even getting onto the waiting list are seriously limited, so the breakdown of the population doesn't shift and change much as an area with mostly private renting and six-month tenancy terms. So in a way it's quite stable, the white population aren't about to lose their flats, there aren't sudden influxes and no need for reactions.

The flags hanging from tower blocks, it's more a defensive statement than an aggressive one, and it's pretty harmless. Further out, where minority groups have got onto the housing waiting lists and got places, and are setting up home where the property is cheaper, that's where the ugly aspect of nationalism rears its head in the same way it did in inner London 20 or 30 years ago. Round the Royal Docks, Erith, Dagenham, where this reaction is taking place and these fears are replaying themselves. I personally know some Albanians who have settled in Erith, and they paint a pretty ugly picture of prejudices acted out towards them."

B: "Bow, towards Mile End" - this photo demonstrates the uniqueness of your shots. Of all the millions of photos of London on Flickr, this is one of the very few of the legendary 'three flats' Crossways Estate. What was it like being there?

N: "Eerily quiet for a late afternoon. Hardly anyone was about at all. I spent half an hour inside this block taking shots in the stairwell and out of the windows, and I didn't hear a soul. I had expectations of the sort of thing I'd see – groups of youth milling around, there was none of it. I wonder if there was this air of fear in the empty space, like a western film with a showdown about to take place, but if was there was I missed it completely. It might well have been there. (btw: this was taken from inside one of the Crossways blocks, but the tower blocks are on the British Estate down the road)."

B: "Nicholl House, Woodberry Down" - more arson? Interesting comment you add to this shot: "Condemned? on levels, certainly I'd agree, but in my mind it's in the same sense that everyone in social (particularly council) housing in London is, because the gulf between that and anything better is unattainably wide and getting wider. For the households in this block, hopefully the new social housing that's to replace the estate provides some promise, even if it is some years away yet."

N: "I was having a bad day when I wrote that comment. I was going on the premise that a lot of council/social housing in London is in a bit of a mess at the moment – I sometimes forget that there are decent flats on good estates too! But the core point sticks – just as anyone who needs a council property should be able to have a decent one with enough rooms to avoid overcrowding, anyone should be able to afford to move into decent private housing as well. We're just a long, long way from that in London."

B: "High Rise Floodlighting" - these are in Luton (a satelite town outside the city), are they the ones you can see from the M1? They always look like Crossways...

N: "Yeah, that floodlighting... any block I see now with them reminds me of the Crossways. They make estates look like prison camps, spotlights waiting to catch someone or something out. There are two of these tower block estates you can see from the M1 as you go north through Luton. The first one is near the town centre, then the second one further out is Hockwell Ring, where these are."

B: "Newmill House, Bromley-by-Bow" - this is much more 'social/local/person' than the epic but distant tower block shots. The balconies on these council houses are classic design...

N: "Yeah, to me these older sorts of flats work best, as estates go. London County Council classic, red or yellow. The flats themselves are tiny a lot of the time, but in a way it forces there to be a sort of communal existence – everything spills over outside, washing hung up on the communal balconies, the younger kids play out in the squares and the aspiring street soldiers sit around in groups, but at ease. Even in the roughest, most deprived parts of London many of these blocks seem to get by without fortress tactics, security doors at the entrances.. you can just walk in and out. The estate, functioning as a whole, seems to manage the job by itself."

B: "Old Stonebridge" - this is creepy, desolate, it could be in a bombed out part of Sarajevo...

N: "This was a weird moment. I walked down into the entrance expecting the corridor opening to be boarded up, but it wasn't. I could just walk right in. It was almost pitch black, the lighting had been turned off. I wondered if anyone was still living in any of the flats in there, who they were, etc. It was taken a couple of days after Christmas. I can think of better places to spend the holidays."

B: "Tewkesbury Road alleyway" - do you think there is a beauty in decay? Or is the true value of this shot it's documentary qualities because while you can find beauty in this shot, the reality of an existence in an alley's like this is less romantic.

N: "They two are separate things, but one almost always seems to come with the other. You document to record, to get a idea or sense of something, and that sense of something is impossible to separate from the decay. It can be reality, and beauty too."

B: "Seven Sisters Road" - this one is pure atmosphere...

N: "There's this stereotypical image of a foggy London. That stark shape of the houses of parliament in the fog in old photos, that kind of thing. But it really isn't that common, not nowadays anyway. I like to try and use it when I can, because it does change everything, even in a familiar scene."

B: Can you tell me about these (first, second) panoramas...

N: "Haha, "welcome to my world!". I got up on the roof one evening and did this; it's pretty much the same view as from various windows inside my flat, which is partly why I did it. The untagged one is for me as a sort of record, the one with the labels on.. I don't know, a chance for other people to see how I relate – strictly geographically, was the theory – to the areas I can see around me.

It's hard to see this block I'm standing on from many of those places, even the high ones like Ally Pally and I was very aware of that at the time I took this. Maybe I was trying to say, 'I can see you out there, but you can't see us here – but we are here!' I do think Tottenham gets overlooked in many ways, and when it is noticed it's with a roll of the eyes – sometimes justified, sometimes not. But it isn't such a bad sort of place, really. And it is home to me, so I'm prepared to defend it in my own way."

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

The funk phenomenon

"It has already been recognised that the individuals behind this music wouldn't meet the requirements of entry at an event aimed at the mature raver due to age, and these tracks, even the ones receiving appeal from the public, are not favoured by those who would.

This therefore means that the age group of producer and listeners of the 'Nursery Grime' category fit into same demographic. However this isn't a demographic on a low scale of overall capacity within the scene. So there has become a divide.

Those that appreciate the enjoyment found within the fun and games of the music, and those that feel that an environment that serves alcohol in freefall is not the correct place to relive childhood games and rhymes."

-- Makeda Wilson, Itsalot Mag

Funky seems to be at the same time both exploding and tearing itself apart, whether it's DJs battling for the ownership of certain sounds, key players renaming offshots or what kind of MC tracks are acceptable. The sheer amount of activity can be overwhelming, so I caught up with blogger Queen of Sheba, writer for Itsalot mag, the digital Deuce mag for the funky generation.

Blackdown: There seems to be a big internal battle going on right now for what "house and funky" is or isn't, do it feel like that to you? Who to your mind, are the key players involved right now?

Queen of Sheba: It definitely is like that at the moment. It’s a very political subject that many members of the scene are voicing their opinions on. Marcus Nasty and Tippa (from Circle) are being pinpointed at the moment, but that’s because some fast person posted Marcus’s Facebook status in a forum, but it’s actually been a major topic ever since Heads Shoulders Knees & Toes [HSK&T] first unearthed on the circuit. Everyone has an opinion when it comes to one to one conversation, but not everybody can be asked to get involved in the public politics.For this reason, to me, there are no key players involved. What is said publicly by one may be a repeat of what another said behind closed doors.

B: For people that don't know, can you try and describe the main different types of styles in house and funky right now and why some of them are so controvertial?

QoS: WOW! The different styles.... the genre is so diverse! We have vocal which is more towards soulful, tribal, but there’s a darker kind of tribal which is deeper and darker. Kinda like Grimey. There’s broken, afrobeat and we also have MC tracks and skank tracks. The MC and skank tracks are the ones that are most controversial. MC tracks have been around for a while with Versatile’s funky anthem getting airplay on the major music channels and there was also a track made by Dubplate Wonder a while back that not many people seem to know about but the more controversial ones are the recent ones.

The controversy mainly comes from the fact that the tribal and broken instrumental tracks are being taken by budding MCs who are then applying bars to them and then passing them off as their own. Some of the tracks being taken haven’t even been able to get their own sufficient amount of airplay so the producer is getting cut out of the deal. What makes it worse is the producer hasn’t been approached for consent first so it’s causing conflict.

B: I see what you mean about tracks being vocalled without permission but it also seems to me that there's a fear within house and funky that MCs, especially grime MCs, might "take over" funky, kinda like they did to UK garage. Do you think people in funky are concerned about this and if so, why?

QoS: For some it may be a concern, but for me personally I think it’s a good thing as it can help to push the sound. I don’t really think people fear it taking over, I think their more upset about people jumping into Funky to get a quick dollar or buck as opposed to those who have been there from the beginning cultivating the sound to what it is today. There are a lot of new faces in Funky that are obviously not here for passion. That goes further than the MCs though and spreads into DJs and club promoters. There are a lot of people abusing the genre in hope of personal gain and recognition. Nah I wouldn’t call it fear at all, I would more call it and anger due to lack of authenticity. That’s something I can identify, emphasise and agree with.

B: OK. I see that and I can understand the position of the heads who have built funky up only for it to get popular but to me part of the appeal of funky to its core fans was that it wasnt grime ie obsessed by violence, dominated by MCs and better to watch than to dress up and dance to. So it seemed logical that they might be worried about an influx of grime youngers...

QoS: Yeah I get you. Most of the new youngsters who are coming over from grime are into these skank tracks though, which I guess just adds to more conflict. The new MCs are irritating the new ones who are more about one liners or hooks and the new ravers are irritating the old ones who aren’t into getting instructions about how to dance to a particular track at a given time. The funny thing though is the new ravers think Funky is all about dances, but that’s something more associated to Bashment rather than Grime so although the new MCs are making a transition from Grime to Funky, the followers aren’t realising that the trend has really been birthed from one person’s or group’s desired trademark within the Funky circuit. A lot of people within the original UK Funky circuit came from Grime, that isn’t what created this influx. When KIG Family made HSK&T, that was their rendition within the genre. Because it was so simple, it made a lot of people think they could do the same. If that track wasn’t signed within a major bidding war of record labels, I don’t think half of the people that have been turned on by funky in the last 6 months would’ve been interested. But the Bashment dance track thing was due to be there trend, if they hadn’t publicised that on national commercial radio, we’d probably still be waiting on the second or third of its kind.

B: These kinds of generational conflicts remind me of UKG garage all over again. Old school garage DJs storming out of photoshoots because they dont like cheap novelty tracks like "I Don't Smoke Da Reefah". Is there a tension between the youngers and olders right now, and would you say that before the HSK&T, funky was generally an older scene rather than full of youngers?

QoS: Nah there’s not any tension at all. Mainly because the older club promoters cater for the older ravers, and the younger promoters who tend to be university students cater for ravers their age. The commercial events however is where you find an amalgamation of the ages, new ravers and old so there is always an event or two to provide for whatever it is your preference.

Because of that there isn’t a need for any hostility. Everyone gets on with their own. This has been the case from before HSK&T and the influx that has followed hasn’t been confined to the younger generation either. So I think that would be an unfair judgement if I’m honest.

B: Do you ever think that there's a risk that the vocal funky tunes - whether novelty tunes or grime MCs over funky instrumentals - could begin to be more about something you listen to with MCs on and less something you dance to?

QoS: I don’t think that is possible within the more mature side of the scene as that side of things hasn’t changed. The host still perform the same without an overload of bars so it’s the same as always. The only difference in those areas is that they no longer willing to address the music as funky. The younger and more commercial areas of the scene are in danger of heading that way though without a doubt. It’s already happening in some areas.

B: There's various "Nursery Grime" tracks like "Heads, Shoulders Knees and Toes" and "Ring-A-Rosy" - all using songs from the playground. Plus you mentioned there's funky versions of kids classics "I Spy" and "Wheels on the Bus." With the nursery rhyme tunes, it seems uncanny to me that there's these fun MC tunes in funky, whereas grime is trying so hard to be road, raw and aggressive, it rarely lets itself be funny or silly. Do you think its possible that there's a link between MCs in one scene being serious and the other being fun?

QoS: I don’t know if there is any element of truth in those tracks being around. I haven’t researched it. A lot of people are making jokes about these tracks so it’s possible to be another joke. The fact that its believed shows how much people aren’t taking these tracks seriously though. If MCs are using Grime to be serious and Funky to be silly it really just highlights that the artists who are producing the music are as serious about the music as the people who are listening to it. Another reason why the connoisseurs aren’t willing to take it on as they on the other hand are very passionate about their music and the scene as a whole.

B: Lemme plays devil's advocate here: if funky goes back towards house, what is it that makes it unique? London has a long history of taking sounds and making it ours (jungle, grime, dubstep, funky), but if funky DJs go back to playing mainstream house, will they truly be able to make their mark in that long-established scene?

QoS: I don’t think it means they’ll revert back to mainstream only. There are still ‘Funky’ producers making music ie Fuzzy Logik, D-Malice, Roska, MA-1 to name a few. They will just stop using the name Funky to disassociate themselves from the current trend that is getting into the mainstream. The skank/MC tracks are pushing the Funky name into the commercial market, but these people aren’t willing to sell their souls to the devil in order to achieve fame. As fame and success are different things. So it will just get referred to as UK House, as these people will tell you that House is the sound they are trying to achieve within their production above anything else. On the other hand, these tracks are getting called ‘Skank’ music too, so there may not be a need for name filtering after all. Who knows?

B: What do you think about the terms "dubbage" and "tribal" and do you think they are a clear sounds or offshoots that are developing?

QoS: Dubbage, Tribal..... I don’t really want to comment on either as I’m not deep within either but they are developing so things are still to be seen. I’d personally class them as the same thing though, but really I think Dubbage is a UK spin off of Deep House as Funky is a spin off from Soulful House. If you get what I’m saying?

B: You said on Dissensus...

"What I hate about [funky tunes with MCs] is that they're flung together with no form of foresight. When I first got into the genre in mid 05 this would've never been accepted. The genre's effect in Aiya Napa last year has led to this huge change over of artists and listeners so many of the new influx are unaware what this genre is really about."

B: Could you elaborate on what you feel the genre is truly about?

QoS: Funky to me is our adaptation of the more recognised House producers such as Karizma, Kerri Chandler, Dennis Ferrer and an amalgamation of all their different sounds. However as there is also influence from Garage and Grime due to the individual backrounds the overall sound is very diverse. However, you’ll find none of these, including Garage where there was MC tracks, included any dances. Which is why Funky Anthem is as acceptable in Funky as Do You Really Like it and Good Rhymes was in Garage. The songs are about the vybe so everybody relates to them.

Queen of Sheba's top 5 tracks

1. Mystery ft Miss Bree – Worth Much More
2. MA-1 - Waterfalls
3. Darkus Beat Project (Roska Remix) - Promise
4. Fuzzy Logik ft Egypt – In the Morning
5. Geeneus ft Katy B – As I

· Queen of Sheba's blog is here. You can read or download Itsalot Magazine here. Check the Itsalot Magazine podcasts here.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Dusk + Blackdown archive page launched

Rinse FM

Something I've been meaning to do for a while is this: an archive page for all our old mixes.

Most of them are Rinse shows that are no longer hosted by Rinse but I've included the two older Keysound Radio mixes and a little exclusive to launch the page. Out to the reader of this blog who sent me the only archive we have of our old Groovetech show.

Dusk and I took over the show on now-defunct internet station Groovetech when 1Xtra was founded and recruited Ghost's Jayda Flex, which dates it to around August 2002. This show comes from November 2002 but ironically I'm not there as I was doing shift work for 1Xtra. So Dusk runs the show solo for nearly three hours. Enjoy... Show on Groovetech Nov 1st 2002

· Download it here.

· Download all our old Rinse mixes here.

PS if you have any more of our Groovetech shows, please can you send them over?

Monday, April 13, 2009

DVA ft Badness, Riko, Flowdan and Killa P Bullet A'Go Fly

LDN010 DVA ft Badness, Riko, Flowdan and Killa P Bullet A'Go Fly (Original and Dusk + Blackdown remix). Forthcoming on Keysound Recordings...

Monday, April 06, 2009

Forward forever

Roots of El-B poster

It was 24 hours ago but I'm still hyped and energised by an amazing Forward>> last night. It was so great to see El-B finally getting his props; so nuts to play alongside him - he was the man that made me want to produce. And while he's a bit busy these days, dialog with Kode9 have been a massive influence over this decade, so it was great to warm up for his mix of funky and, well, wot do u call it?

(Out to the guy shouting "play some dubstep" at Kode. Are you sure you really want to bait Mr Contrary? Foolish behaviour: don't make him draw for the Sun Ra. Update - fuck, turns out it was Corpsey, ah well at least we know it came from one of us.)

Kode9 and Flying Lotus @ FWD>>

I'm so happy Forward>> is still the force it is and - thanks to Soulja - willing to take risks and lead rather than follow, so it was nuts to see a decendent of the mighty Alice Coltrane take to the decks. Yeah Kode's mate Mr Flying Lotus did an impromptu set, news of which broke on Sunday afternoon, only adding to the sense of anticipation of the evening. With Mr Lotus in the house, I love how the dots can be joined - speaking of which, it was nuts to see not just Benji B but the Theo fuckin' Parrish up in Forward, chilling by the stairs where Slimzee used to hang, back in the day. Speaking of a Rinse don, large bits of the night went out live on London's leading, look out for audio.

In retrospect our set seemed fun, though any DJ who says it isn't hyper intense being up there must be lying to you. But our rollage and 2step009 seemed to work, so I want to shout all the producers who made it possible: Kowton/Narcossist, Grievous Angel, Silkie, Sbtrkt, Burial and the swing don himself, Sully. Let's roll.

Friday, April 03, 2009

Pitchfork: back!


My Pitchfork Column returns post-site redesign, with a guest spot from Logan Sama, a third way for funky ("dubbage") and an interview with Swamp 81's Kryptic Minds and Loefah.