Audio Ammunition: A 21st Century Soundtrack To Civil Unrest

There’s been a lot of talk about Grime of late. It’s past, it’s future and everything in between. Right now, for the people who’ve been a part of the Grime journey, it’s difficult to not take pride in the achievements of the artists and underground superstars who have pushed the scene forward. That strong emotion is one that is felt by the fans of; and long term contributors to Grimes musical landscape. So, in keeping with that sense of pride, let’s talk about Grime some more. But instead of just talking about current affairs or highlighting stand out moments and events of the past; let’s talk about a new avenue for Grime based on a similarly aggressive UK street sound of the past, and the social landscape of past and present.

Now, (without going into too much detail) we’re at what seems to be a pivotal point in international politics, culture and economy. You’ve got substantial amounts of news coverage on Islamic extremism (which is rubbing people the wrong way for a multitude of different reasons), a generation of disillusioned young people who don’t have any love for western “democracy”, the inescapable and detrimental effects of the capitalist ideology on the quality of life of the many, and an overall sense that more and more members of the western population, and British citizens in particular, just aren’t happy with the way the world, and the country is operating right now; especially with the prospect of another 5 years of Tory government.

This isn’t exactly a new thing. Obviously these feelings have been prevalent and palpable at various points in recent history during times of economic down turn and have resulted in similar levels of mass unrest. Mass unrest so prevalent at one period in particular, that there spawned a soundtrack to this anger towards the establishment that reflected the attitudes of young people on the ground level. That soundtrack came to be widely defined as ‘Punk’.

In the late 70’s, British teenagers (in particular) were arming themselves with musical instruments in an effort to rebel against the trappings of western politics, British society and to express their distaste for the overall state of global affairs.

“It was kicking off here man. We had riots in the late 70s. We’re talking mass unemployment, 3 day weeks, the rise of the national front.. The popular music at the time was a million miles removed from the feeling on the street; the cultural climate was pretty dread.

Me and the brothers, we had a soundtrack to ease our pain.. we had reggae. But my white mates weren’t so lucky. So my white mates set about creating a soundtrack that was relevant to their situation.. Sort of ‘of the people, for the people, by the people’…”

– Don Letts

With a set of drums, a couple of guitars, a handful of chords and a ‘Fuck This!’ attitude these Punk bands were creating Music that a new generation of young people could truly relate to in these socially stifling times. Punk rock was simple but effective, and the DIY “We can do that too, so let’s all do it” mind set that was catalysed by the Sex Pistols who were renowned for being substandard musicians, but incredible as a performance act and were considered Punk icons for their left wing political views that were almost an exclusive theme in their music empowered a generation.

“When the Sex Pistols came along I could see it. It was like somebody opening a door in a darkened room; I saw a way out. It was quite an odd thing to do (Music). When I think about it now because i’m a ‘Musician’; why the hell would 4 people decide they were gunna make music, when they’ve never made music before.. Just coz they’d seen a shit band..”

– Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order)

tempz x johnny rotten

These same principles could easily be transferred to Grime. Punk music was aggressive, striking, simplistic and dance floor focused; people went to a punk party to brock out and the same is true for any Grime dance. Obviously, with Punk music there was no reload culture for the obvious fact that the performing acts where bands; the idea of reloading a song performed by a band was then, and is still today a completely alien concept.

DJ’s reload tracks when the crowd are so amped up that stopping the track will first, on an interactive level, allow the DJ to acknowledge the audiences positive response to the music; secondly allow the audience to collectively express that positive reaction sonically, and to thirdly calm the dance-floor after such an electric reaction to the music. In some ways even if reload culture was an attribute of rock music, it would still possibly not be one associated with Punk; after-all, the aggression was meant to be completely unrestricted and raw. Grime is still an unrestricted and raw sound, but the Rudeboy, DJ orientated roots of Grime will allow for reload culture to not take away from it’s notoriety as such. So, given that the culture surrounding the sounds are fundamentally different, they’re also fundamentally the same.

Not many MC’s have produced bars that are socially focused or directly anti establishment. Dizzee had a few bars, Devlin’s first two mixtapes did address a lot of social issues and Ghetts has made some attempts to go down this route, but the underlying fact is that for the most part, this element of lyricism hasn’t made too much impact on defining new parameters of the Grime sound; as the social context was usually tied to street life, and not in a broader context that most people could relate to; more specifically the middle class. Social issues relating to violent crime are serious, and should be addressed, but mass unemployment, the growing cost of living and a lack of housing are effecting more people in this country than violent criminal acts.

“Don’t tell me about royalty cos,
Queen Elizabeth don’t know me so,
How can she control me when,
I live street and she lives neat”

– Dizzee Rascal – 2 Far (Boy In Da Corner – 2003)

When Ghetts attempted to produce a socially focused, anti establishment project in the form of ‘Rebel With a Cause’, it didn’t work despite the social climate being seemingly ready for it. My personal explanation would be that for his project, and in general, Grime MC’s aren’t producing politically or socially focused bars that are simplistic, catchy, and delivered with the neccesary velocity to constitute a reload in the dance; which is an attribute that is intrinsically linked to producing good Grime bars. Getting reloads is the aim of the game; if you’re not trying to write bars to get reloads, you’re effectively making Hip Hop. If Ghetts, or any MC managed to balance socially focused lyricism, with the delivery to shutdown raves then we would be on to something.

‘The Left Wing’

‘The Right Wing’

In essence, the social climate is becoming practically same as it was in the late 70s, and if the generation of disillusioned British youngsters growing up in the these conditions choose to use Grime as an instrument to express themselves, the spectrum of the Grime movement will expand further, and allow for more creativity and depth within the music that makes up the genre.

Grime artists; along with a new generation that may still be in secondary school, and have no recollection of a thriving British economy, are entering a period where there is great potential to captivate the nation and engage more young people in important social issues; allowing for a modern British form of artistic expression that holds anti establishment ideals; while also retaining the same qualities we know and love about Grime music, and wouldn’t that be a great thing?

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