Locked Out

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Every generation has its youth movement, whether it is the psychedelic 1960s, punk in the 1970s, New Wave in the 1980s or dance music in the 1990s. Grime is a current social phenomenon in London and elsewhere in Britain.

A whole generation of young people from a part of society normally invisible to the mainstream, unless labelled as "hoodies" or "gangs", have aspirations to be MCs, producers and DJs.

The grime scene has evolved from the rave, jungle and garage scenes, utilising the same infrastructure, personnel and context. It's therefore wrong to describe grime as a version of US hip-hop because, like Jamaican dancehall (which emanated from reggae), it comes from an entirely different place. Also, like jungle and garage before it, grime is essentially a London thing, though its influence is now spreading throughout Britain.

Despite all this, you won't see many "grime" labelled nights if you scan the Time Out listings magazine, because there aren't many. The scene's live circuit is suppressed by the police and local authorities.

This state-sponsored anti-garage lobby had enough clout to effectively shut down the live scene, ward off major label interest and dampen interest from the music media. Radio 1 lost interest, HMV stopped stocking the records, and music critics, fine with tales of gangster lives in US rap, were seemingly less keen to hear about the same issues played out on their doorstep.

Grime was borne out of the suppression of the garage scene. Pirate radio became even more important for grime when the other outlets closed. With the pressure to succeed being less about populating the dancefloor, the sounds became more experimental and MC lyrics became more serious, occasionally nihilistic, and combined street slang with patois and cockney. Pay As You Go Kartel signified the mood with their underground hit "Terrible" - "Now we're going on terrible, I've had enough that's it, now we're going on terrible."

New underground stars have emerged in the last three to four years - Dizzee Rascal, Wiley, Kano and D Double. Some parts of the media have started to take an interest again in their perennial search for the next big thing. But there is still very little evidence of a re-emerging live circuit.

Eskimo Dance, organised by central figure Wiley, was an extremely popular grime night, but after only a short run it has been pushed outside of London's M25 orbital to towns such as Hemel Hempstead and Chelmsford because of difficulties in securing permissions and licensees from authorities in London. In October 2005 Kano, a new major label signing from the grime scene, had his gig at the Scala cancelled following "safety concerns" from Camden council and the Metropolitan Police. Similarly, Mobo award-winner Sway was banned from the Jazz Cafe in north London.

Indeed, to an outsider, the live grime night would appear to have a level of rowdiness, but in this sense it is not too dissimilar to punk. Crews of young black and white teenagers leap around with their hoods up calling for the DJ to rewind a tune. Like punk, it is a positive instrument of disaffected youngsters organising themselves to question the way things are.

Perhaps it is this bit which is unpalatable, in need of what could only be described as censorship? Police are openly advising promoters to remove "dangerous" acts from their line-ups. Even pirate radio, grime's trusted media, has received a clampdown from authorities, with over 40 transmitters confiscated near the end of 2005.

Music providing a voice for the disaffected, alienated and angry is not being tolerated at the moment, possibly because that anger, alienation and disaffection are a little too real. Grime lyrics can be unpleasant, homophobic, misogynistic and celebratory of gun culture. But it's so easy for the authorities and the media to blame the plight and alienation of urban communities on means of expression and reflection, rather than examining what their own role might be in this. Tony Blair wants a little respect according to his latest policy agenda, while Dizzee tells us, "You people are going to respect me if it kills you."


David promotes the grime event Dirty Canvas. For more information go to www.tinyurl.com/8gtbr