I'm an Anthropology graduate with a Master's in Migration & Diaspora Studies. Currently pursuing my ambition to write creative and innovative content.
- Grime's Sonic BoomNote: the following is an abridged, article version of a 5,000 word piece. Grime’s Sonic Boom: How the subterranean genre went visual. Arundhati Roy has described democratic space as necessarily defined by contestation. In a capitalist, neoliberal climate, it is in those places where there is still potential for the unpredictable that hope is to be found. She says of her native India: “It’s not always that the unpredictable is wonderful — most of the time it isn’t. Most of the time it’s brutal and terrible... The point is that we have to rescue democracy by being troublesome, by asking questions, by making a noise. That’s what you have to do to retain your freedoms. Even if you lose.” In this vain, there remains an alternative space of unpredictability in the marginal urban world that spawned grime music in the early 2000s. Like Roy’s India, its unpredictability is often more likely to incite fear or despair than it is joyful spontaneity, but it is within it that the urgency to construct and communicate a counter-narrative arises, one that is noisy and one that is troublesome. Desolate though the lyrics often are in their expression of an unending sense of stagnancy, their introspection contravenes the desensitisation developed by urban youth to their surroundings and creates an outlet for vulnerability that does not compromise performers’ performative masculine identities, by the very fact of its anarchic independence. Distinct from the kind of civilised monotony described by Roy as being the lost cause of ‘the West’, the tower blocks of East London, Tottenham and the other London postcodes are able to seek and claim a complex democratic solidarity apart from the dissonance of their lived daily reality in the clashing reverberation of the genre. Just as Paul Gilroy once described the transatlantic slave trade as ‘capitalism with its clothes off’, these London locales are the arenas where the inherent inequalities that remain enshrined in neoliberal governance are laid bare. The glitter of London’s financial city lights up the skyline at night, a mere stone’s throw away and glaring in its reminder of the unabashed inequality that appeared sanctioned by the New Labour politics of the time. Seemingly ubiquitous police presence lurks at the peripheries of the daily comings and goings of inhabitants, CCTV transforming the already greyly homogenous, cellular structures into panoptical surveillance systems, within which they become simultaneously spectacle and imperceptible. Since its inception, Grime has been embroiled in the violence of representation itself, revealing it to be a force that dictates the way things are, rather than revealing them as they appear to be. This began with the agentive coopting of sonic space and eventually, some fifteen years later, actively contested both its right to visual space, and the characterisation of that visual representation itself. Historically, grime artists harnessed sub-legal means of occupying sonic space — through, for example, pirate radio stations and appropriation of their immediate urban environment for clashing and recording together — as well as being designated as sub-legal themselves in their attempts to physically occupy spaces like nightclubs and performance venues. The outlets that Grime has depended on represent a subterranean navigation of the often discriminatory and hegemonic space of mainstream British music culture, within which the overbearing determinants of race and state securitisation constrict Black presence. The use of grime music as a vehicle and praxis of resistance is significant. For, in its sporadic yet often explosive success stories — embodied in the likes of Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Skepta and Stormzy — Grime carries an autonomous potentiality of transcending the oppressive reality of a racist, classist modernity, encased in concrete and hegemonically forced through systems of education and discipline. Skepta describes: “Pirates were, like, the sickest, most rebellious type of pop-up that you could ever have.” With artists harnessing the hustle that has characterised the often legally ambiguous livelihood strategies that sustain their urban localities, this gives credence to Gilroy’s claim that the tradition of black music is anti-capitalist. Its history of orality, irregularity and improvisational mode of production and performance facilitating its slip through the grasp of mainstream technologies of standardised recording and dissemination and there is an inherent pride to not needing a ‘co-sign’. Grime as a democratic space cannot be conceived of beyond ideas of race and nation, because it has emerged from the marginalised arenas within which these ideas are most violently encountered and contested. Erupting from such a space of enforced subaltern silencing in black male voices, unrecognisable in the white national imaginary, its reception has been one of control, caution and criminalisation but most fundamentally one that is complexly bound to British national self-conception. Couched in the sociological climes of the turn of the millennium, Grime and its emergent trajectory can be seen as symptomatic of the contemporary demonisation of black youth. A sudden awareness of ‘Self’ and ‘Other’ was effectively neutralised in its racist and classist intonation around the time of Grime’s inception, with the advent of the ASBO. The ASBO arguably forms part of what Wendy Brown has termed ‘imperial liberal governmentality’, which “regulates the presence of the Other both inside and outside the liberal democratic nation-state and often forms a circuit between them that legitimates themost illiberal actions of the state.” In terms of Grime and its primordial urban spatiality, these illiberal actions entailed an increase in surveillance of public space, particularly around estates, while ASBOs themselves operate based on a model of diffuse social discipline, dependent upon public informants and self-policing. The arbitrary nature of both the potentially offensive behaviour and its prescribed reformatory punishment, however, worked in a manner that was both cynical and cyclical. Orders often appeared anything from counterintuitive, to convoluted, to the outright impossible to uphold, leading to individuals being taken into custody for violating orders originally sanctioning relatively minor offences. Such legislation works precisely to infringe on the potentiality of Grime’s democratic space, and the scene was shortly followed by an even more in the 2008 implementation by Police of ‘Form 696’, which requires music venues to provide details of performers and prospective attendees of musical events. Crucially, this form is intended not for live music events, but specifically for an event which “predominantly features DJs or MCs performing to a recorded backing track,” — in short: Grime. Form 696 caused considerable outrage it its initial format, as it included a section that required ethnic profiling of the audience. In its amended instantiation it retains an ambiguous question concerning the event’s ‘target audience’ and an inordinately comprehensive profiling of performers — distinctly less ambiguous in its requirement of their real name, date of birth and address, details that can be arduous to amass, particularly when there are large numbers of artists performing that might not have representation in the form of easily contactable management. Bureaucratic as it may seem, the prohibition implicit in these acts should not be underestimated. Once again, Police enlist both the public and privately owned entertainment venues in their tightening chokehold on Grime’s democratic spatiality — sanitising it with paperwork in the hope it might nick itself on some technicality. Naturally, the disproportionate level of police attention accrued to black events results in a higher incidence of these events being cancelled and the democratic space of hope that they promised being denied, not only to the performers, but to the audiences that find resonance and recognition in pleasure and place-making that affirms black subjectivity. Here we come to a point of (dis)juncture. Bids to keep a hooded ‘underclass’ firmly out of British public space and the cohesive national imaginary are being challenged by their refusal to be silenced or rendered invisible in representative regimes any longer. Kanye West’s 2015 BRIT Awards performance commanded the stage of definitively national representation with a narrative laced with more recent memories of racialised fears that haunt the British consciousness, embodied in the more than thirty grime artists he brought with him, all dancing in black with their hoods up. This narrative is one where violent and discriminatory policing remains a reality, where questions about deaths and brutality go unanswered. In the 2011 case of Mark Duggan (a friend of Skepta’s who appeared in a music video with him in 2009) the demand for answers, for accountability, for the shedding of some light on the corners of society that have been shadowed and forgettable in the very fact of their blackness, erupted into rioting. Darkness was lit up in flames, referenced in the blow torches of West’s performance, momentarily insuppressible in its visibility — only to be re-contained by the revised savage scripts, repackaged and repurposed for the meritocratic shirking of responsibility that sustains the contemporary neoliberal incarnation. [Figure 1: Kanye West at his 2015 BRIT Awards performance] [Figure 2: Flames illuminate performers at the 2015 BRIT Awards] [Figure 3: A scene from the 2011 riots] The performance was heavily criticised for its alleged ‘glorification of gang culture’ — something Skepta has teasingly referenced in the interlude on his track ‘Shutdown’: “A bunch of young men all dressed in black dancing extremely aggressively on stage, it made me feel so intimidated and it’s just not what I expect to see on prime time TV.” The plummy intonation of the indignant female complainant represent a nod to colonialist tropes of a threatening black masculinity, an overtly racialised spectacle that does not fit with the self-affirming reflection white Britain is accustomed to consuming in its representational media. This was undeniably a spectacular act of placing black bodies where black bodies had previously only been tentatively accepted. The significance this act of invading space rather than just conceding to enter it in prescribed fashion can be definitively brought this marginal, democratic space of resistance forcefully into the public gaze of the centre. The transatlantic implication of it being an American rapper’s intervention invokes the symbolism of a shared black experience of marginalisation that extends beyond the tokenism of British multiculturalist displays and forcibly inserts race into a national conversation that has avoided it. The triumphant conquering of 2015’s stage was, however, short lived. The BRIT Awards have served as a catalyst in the debates over grime’s representational right to the spaces of nation and a right to make noise and ask questions about race. Stormzy’s track ‘One Take Freestyle’ did just this in 2016: What? None of my Gs nominated for BRITs? Are you taking the piss? Embarrassing ...This year, I’ll let that slide, stop panicking But next year, I’m going on dark Like wah gwan, is my face too dark? Last year, they told the mandem that to be nominated You’ve gotta go on UK charts So what do we do? We chart Don’t come here with your lies, don’t start ...Deny our ting, I’ll bark Despite Grime’s historical and continuing rejection of the mainstream in dissemination and record deals, the BRITs remains an uncompromisingly public arena wherein the illiberal character of British representation can be laid bare and its terms can be negotiated. 2017 saw the nomination of three grime acts and the chairman of the British Phonographic Industry (BPI), Ged Doherty, admitted that Stormzy’s public criticism had been an expediting factor in the so-called ‘shake up’ of the voting academy for the awards. The shift marked by these three nominations and performances that featured both Skepta and Stormzy in 2017, brings up the question of whether there is a necessarily finite quality to the temporality of resistance space. If Grime provided artists and listeners with an underground breathing space in which to organise and attack the hegemonic grand narrative of British representation, does its shift in focus to the visual arena — with the accompanying shift this has represented in its fan base to one that is largely white — mean a dilution of its antagonistic potency to resist from its dissonant and marginal vantage point? To quote Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem ‘Bought and Sold’: “Smart big awards and prize money Is killing off black poetry It’s not censors or dictators that are cutting up our art. The lure of meeting royalty And touching high society Is damping creativity and eating at our heart ...And we give these awards meaning But we end up with no voice.” The question is whether ‘kicking down the doors’ (CITE Wiley) to these visually privileged central spaces and endowing them with meaning with regard to the valorisation of resistive black art connotes an expansion of democratic space. Is this a synergistic and compromising coopting wherein certain black figures gain subjective recognition, tokenistically leveraged to the point of complicity in Britain’s reinvigorated bid to be ‘on the right side of racism’? The prolific muting that subdued Skepta’s 2017 performance at the awards contains within it an eerie echo of Zephaniah’s final two lines. Let us choose to adopt a position of radical hope, that puts faith in the mixing and retelling of diasporic musical cultures have historically represented for Britain’s marginalised populations. The new visibility of ‘young black kings’ (Omari 2017) in places of prominence, which they have attained through countercultural means of production and from which they continue to espouse a subaltern nationalism that retains a ground-level loyalty to the streets, while boldly seizing spaces in the British cultural imaginary that have previously been off-limits certainly inspires optimism. Remaining firmly rooted in the representative politics of race and nation, there has — however fleetingly — been created an agentive space of affirmation for demonised and disavowed bodies at the centre, dignity and authority intact. Set to Stormzy’s rallying decolonising incantation of: “All my young black kings rise up, man, this is our year/And my young black queens right there/It’s been a long time coming, I swear,” (Omari 2017) the struggle for the expansion of this democratic space of hope is far from won, but it certainly comprises a defiant refusal to remain ‘sittin’ here’. - Words by Mollie Farley
Blog WriterSouth London Club
London, United KingdomInternship
Researching and producing original and engaging content on a variety of subjects in order to highlight businesses that participate in the scheme as well as reaching out to prospective new clients. SEO optimisation, proficiency in Google Analytics and MailChimp. Writing to a variety of different audiences and writing adaptively according to trends and interest levels.
Volunteer AdvocateHackney Migrant Centre
- London, United KingdomFreelance
Interviewing visitors to the Centre to try and establish what they might need and signposting them to relevant support. Liaising with charities, the Home Office and other relevant authorities on visitors’ behalf. Working compassionately and productively with clients to compose grant applications and access support.
+ Show more
- Academic Writing
- Foreign Languages
- Visual Art
- London, United Kingdom
MA Migration & Diaspora Studies (Merit) Current and politically charged dialogue on issues concerning the movement and dispersal of people across the globe. Producing presentations and written work of various lengths and to tight deadlines. Required an acute awareness of the intersectional forces impacting contemporary global issues. Modules in Race in Britain and the Contemporary World; Gender; Postcolonial theory and practice.
- London, United Kingdom
1st Class Hons Study of diverse populations and cultures, social patterns and diagnostics. Use of visual and material culture and consumption patterns. Study of human behaviour and use of environment; ecological change. Term abroad in Istanbul, Turkey. Module in Japanese language.
+ Show more