While plenty of established figures got involved early on—legends like Wiley and more recent successes like Preditah and Faze Miyake—within a few days a secondary war appeared to be in progress. Bristolians Kahn & Neek were quick off the mark with the ragga-tinged "Soundboy Obliterator," while Keysound's Wen offered up the noxious "Bombarded." Rising stars Samename and Bloom traded blows, and Sub.fm DJ Threnody went one step further, organising an auxiliary competition, which pitted the likes of Dark0, Arctic, Breen and Strict Face against one another.
Young Glaswegian producer Inkke weighed in, too. His "War Dub" sampled an infamous Grime Daily interview in which Boy Better Know's Jammer tries to give Atlanta rapper Wacka Flocka Flame a musical education. "This is grime... grime music," he declares to a confused-looking Flocka as they listen to a track from East London producer Footsie that's indistinguishable from US trap rap. Inkke winds the sample down to a dismayed chorus of "Nah, nah... no way," before unleashing a vicious mash of sampled Preditah and Darq E Freaker productions.
Inkke's attitude is typical of a new generation of grime producers. Many of them are young, geographically dispersed and have minimal ties, if any, to grime's London-centric infrastructure. But more than a decade into the genre's lifespan, they have taken on its restless spirit, and look set to take it into uncharted territory.
The above artists are just a handful of those involved, alongside nascent labels including Glacial Sound, Mr. Mitch's Gobstopper, Epoch's Egyptian Avenue and Liminal Sounds (the label arm of the clued-in blog). Slew Dem DJ Spooky's show on Deja Vu FM is one of the few pirate radio shows pushing the sound. Dusk and Blackdown's Rinse slot is equally important, and several of these artists also featured on Keysound's This Is How We Roll compilation. The stylistic template is loose, as is the tempo—often indicators of a scene in rude health. Simply put, grime feels more vibrant now than it has for years.
This renaissance has, in a sense, been due for some time. Grime never quite went away, and every few years a wider audience discover its charms—think of Untold's 2009 hybrid smash "Anaconda" or, more recently, Bok Bok's square wave romp "Silo Pass." His Night Slugs label can claim more responsibility than most: their influence frequently crops up in new productions, from the Jam City-style geometries of Mumdance & Logos' "Drum Boss" or Inkke's "L-O-K," to the Jersey house- and ballroom-referencing productions of Neana.
The ubiquity of house and techno is certainly a factor, too. With the 4/4 kick drum reaching saturation point in London and elsewhere, it seemed inevitable that something would appear to challenge its supremacy. For Louis Carnell, better known as Visionist, this is only half of the story. "With a lot of the [original] grime producers not making grime any more, there's a space for it," he says. A lifelong grime devotee, Carnell has become increasingly disillusioned with his heroes lately. He cites DJ Cameo's new FGM project (it stands for "Future Grime Music") as a particularly shameful example. "The sun is shining bright / Money on my mind," goes the chorus of fluffy trance-rap single "Win," while once-credible MCs like Scrufizzer and Dot Rotten trade verses. "They're just completely killing grime for what it stood for," Carnell says. "But for them this is the future of grime. They're like, 'We made grime and now we're on major [labels]—this is our future.'"
The scene's wholesale migration online hasn't been good for MCs, traditionally the dominant presence in grime. "I think it's gone more towards a YouTube scene for an MC," says Paul Lynch, alias Slackk. "I can't remember the last year where there were five or six great MC mixtapes. It was probably about 2009, 2010." Lynch would know: having run radio rip archive Grimetapes for several years, the London-based producer has long been a connoisseur of all things grime. "To me [the MC] side of things has gone right down the toilet," he says. It's a fact he puts partly down to the rise of road rap, a close cousin of grime that took more overt influence from US rap and peaked with rapper Giggs signing to indie behemoth XL in 2010. "You did see a shift away from the MC classing themselves as a grime MC, to just being a rapper or whatever. There's a big disparity between what a lot of grime MCs—or former grime MCs—are trying to do, and what the producers and the DJs are actually pushing. It's created a divergence. Grime producers who normally would have been producing for an MC have moved towards producing for themselves or DJs."
As with many of his contemporaries, Lynch fills the space left by an MC with rich, fluid arrangements, often foregrounding melodic elements or following unusual structural contours (his recent Failed Gods EP for Local Action is a case in point). Outside of his production work he has become something of a godfather to this instrumental-focussed scene, through his monthly self-published mixes, regular show for NTS Radio and Boxed, a night he runs alongside Logos, Mr. Mitch and Oil Gang. Boxed began with a simple premise—"A few of us just wanted to play weird grime on a big system for six hours"—but, after shuttling between various London venues for the past year, it seems poised for great things. The night made its fabric debut on 4th October, but Lynch's ambitions remain humble. "The smaller and grubbier the better as far as I'm concerned," he says, echoing the ethos of foundational dubstep night FWD>>, where he was a regular attendee. "As much as I don't want to be sitting here saying, 'Were trying to do a grime FWD'—because we're not—that is the ideal atmosphere that we want to try and emulate: a dark room full of people who are into the music."
The vibe may come from FWD, but credit for the very idea of an instrumental grime night lies elsewhere. "There'd been nothing for ages," Butterz co-founder Elijah says of the grime nightlife at the turn of the decade. "People were scared that no one would come out, or people couldn't afford to do it. It's the same reason that people don't do vinyl now. But, if you make sure it's fucking sick, and you promote it well..." Alongside university friend Skilliam, Elijah ran nights and released vinyl at a time when both were a rarity in grime.
As Lynch points out, the Butterz aesthetic stands alone—think of Royal-T's lurid "Orangeade" or the full-bore assaults of veteran producer Terror Danjah. But the ethos—bypassing MCs to focus on instrumentals—has inspired many since. "Butterz coming through and the resurgence of people like P Jam and Terror Danjah, it is influential," Lynch says. "Because they pushed the idea that grime didn't necessarily have to be about an MC. They showed that it could be done."
The label emerged in 2010 at a time of precipitous change in grime. "Before we even got to do [release] number three, Uptown Records and Rhythm Division, the two main stores where you could get grime, closed," Elijah recalls. Still, the duo were well-placed to adapt with the times, either by courting internet buzz (they gave away stems of early Terror Danjah single "Air Bubble" online, and received a deluge of remixes), or reaching out to an audience beyond grime (Ramadanman's S-X bootleg "Woooo Glut" came out through the label in 2011). "The whole idea of Butterz in general was—is—to be of the scene but not in it," Elijah says. "I think that's the way to go. You don't have to be part of the nucleus to make it work. Looking for approval from the people that are already there—it's not really that important. If you're sick then you can get noticed off your own back. That's what the Boxed people are doing."
It's a message that grime's new generation has taken to heart. Producers across the globe are operating with a healthy disregard for grime's entrenched structures, from Gremino in Finland to Sublo in LA and the thriving Antipodean scene. Rabit, real name Eric Burton, is as isolated as any. Based in Houston, Texas, a place where he has said, "There's no scene to speak of and I hope it stays that way," Burton grew up on a diet of US hip-hop, before a chance encounter with Dizzee Rascal and Kano in Time magazine turned him onto the "alien rap music" coming out of the UK. While some new school producers, like Bloom, implode grime to create hyper-syncopated, particulate structures, Rabit does the inverse, exploding it in the manner of a technical diagram. The resultant ultra-sparse sound, as on his recent Sun Showers EP for Diskotopia, has an oddly desolate beauty.
Like many new grime artists, Burton spent much of the mid-'00s listening to dubstep. The style's gloomy sonics and cavernous spaces are audible in his music. Clearer, though, is the impact of Wiley's Eskibeat sound. "The Wiley Kat era is obviously an influence," he says. "He honed in on something and it's unmatched to this day." The vogue for appropriating this revered sound palette goes back at least as far as Zomby's early output, and Burton's music proves there is mileage in it yet.
Other iconic grime motifs recur repeatedly in the work of new producers, too, particularly the gabber-like bass stabs of Musical Mob's "Pulse X" and the faux-oriental inflections of the shortlived sinogrime trend. But while the scene, like any, has its fair share of imitation, an enthusiasm for cutting these familiar ingredients with non-standard flavours keeps it healthy. Burton's 2012 debut EP, Terminator, appeared on the Tumblr-inclined #FEELINGS label, and explored footwork as much as grime; Murlo expertly brings soca and bashment into the fold; Inkke has an album of dusty hip-hop forthcoming on Astral Black. "I'm a part of a scene but it's not anchored by geography, it's all people building online," Burton points out. "And that's knocked down a lot of barriers."
This reconfiguration of the scene has opened the doors to, as Carnell puts it, "A whole new type of person making grime." And what type of person is that? "People you wouldn't see at Sidewinder—wouldn't dare go to sidewinder," he laughs.
Burton is more direct. "I think [grime is] more white now, more middle class, upper middle class. It lacks some of the venom of the older material. A lot of it doesn't hit as hard, [it's] too polished, simply because it lacks the passion behind it." Still, the upside to this openness is an increased tolerance for bizarre takes on the form. As Filter Dread, Leo Johnson-Davies has worked with many of new grime's most promising labels, including Egyptian Avenue and Visionist's Lost Codes. His most striking release to date, though, is Space Loops. Released on cassette through the Bristol-based No Corner label, its zombified beats are stitched into a nightmarish mixtape-cum-sound collage. It's bracingly odd, but recognisably grime, too.
With that ethos in mind, Space Loops may invite comparisons with Lee Gamble's Diversions 1994-1996 or V/Vm's The Death Of Rave project (Johnson-Davies says he's not aware of either). And it's not the only case of an archivist's aesthetic cropping up in new grime. Wen slices up "'07/'08 era" grime vocals, setting them loose over brooding halfstep beats indebted to golden-era dubstep. More overtly, Young Echo affiliates Kahn and Neek last year released the Gorgon Grime cassette (also on No Corner) a dense collage of classic bars ripped from mixtapes and pirate radio sets. The release was doubtless intended as a celebration of grime's finest moments, but it also seemed to imply that its glory days were over; that it was a moribund genre, a carcass to be picked over. It's an impression not helped by the duo's own productions, typically loving imitations of vintage 8-bar grime, incendiary on a dance floor but retrograde in attitude nonetheless.
Kahn and Neek's style has proved highly influential with the new school, but Carnell has only limited tolerance for the trend. "It's sick in that it makes you think of back in the day. But it's completely throwback. I loved Kahn's 'Percy' when I first heard it—he can do it. But the rest of them, nah... whatever." It's certainly true that these backwards-looking tendencies, however aesthetically fascinating they may be, lend weight to the idea that new grime always exists in the shadow of its forebears.
Can these young producers ever hope to grow beyond grime's storied past? Lynch takes a more optimistic standpoint. "It's difficult in any type of music to say, 'I don't want anything to do with the past,' because to be honest that's just the way music is," he says. "There is the odd 8-bar tune where I think, 'You're really trying to go for that poorly compressed Fruityloops thing.' But the vast majority of producers coming through are really trying to do something different. Working with the ideas of, I hate to say it, classic grime—but putting a modern spin on it. I think there are a lot of producers who, as opposed to saying, 'I'm trying to make this old tune,' they're saying, 'What mad new shit can I pull off?'"