Rewind to the mid-noughties with the key players of Grime and the style story of the east London underground
Ewen Spencer's Grime documentary Open Mic premieres tonight at 12.05am on Channel 4, kickstarting series two of Music Nation. To mark the occasion, we're celebrating all things Grime on Dazed Digital – look out for a Visionist's mix, a How To from DJ Logan Sama, plus a dA-Zed. Here, stars of the doc plus fans dig into their archives and share personal photos and style memories from the early noughties and beyond for our What We Wore gallery.
Though virtually unrecognisable from the flash labels of its predecessor UK Garage, Grime was, under the surface, more than just dark hoodies and tracksuits. Here photographer and 'pop-ethnographer’ Nina Manandhar of the people’s style history project What We Wore traces the style of a firmly underground, east London movement.
“While the sound of Grime was hard, edgy and aggy, the feel of its trademark garms was soft and probably smelt like Lenor. These were clothes for comfort, clothes to play Playstation and smoke weed in, and most importantly, for a generation of burgeoning bedroom producers, to sit around and make beats in. Not so much about getting dressed for the rave, but getting dressed for the home and neighbourhood.
Although footage from MC battles will show a sea of navy and black sportswear, bright primary colours were popular too, an influence from US Hip Hop. These colours added a kind of cartoon element, as did brands like Lot 29 with its Tazmanian Devil mascot. These were big tough boys dressed like child super heroes – quite literally in the case of Jammer's green and purple Murkle Man.
Accessories played their part. Pockets were out and the man bag was in – for your phone and lyrics. Roll Deep had it covered; Danny Weed with his neon crucifix beads and Scratchy in his headband and ponytail.
The Grime 'look' would not be complete without its hats. Summer time Grime and pretty much all year round was owned by the New Era fitted 59Fifty – worn straight up, peak low, covering the brows and possibly the eyes too. You had to leave the tag and the Hologram sticker on for as long as possible. Winter was all about the Skepta Russian army hat, which is still hanging around almost 10 years on.”
A prominent voice in Ewen Spencer’s Music Nation grime documentary Open Mic, is that of Logan Sama. Kiss FM DJ for 10 years until leaving to concentrate on personal projects just this year, Sama witnessed the birth and evolution of Grime from Garage as a DJ on pirate radio stations Plush and Rinse FM from 2002 – 2004. Here he shares his thoughts on the style of Grime, its proud independence from the mainstream, and why YouTube and Soundcloud are drawing in a new gen of Grime lovers.
You were in London working with Rinse FM during the years that grime began to emerge. When did you first start noticing the shifts to grime from garage?
Logan Sama: As soon as people gained access to production software around the turn of the millennium it kind of democratised the process of making Garage. You got this 'underground Garage' sound that was all about the ideas, the sounds and the energy rather than being polished and mainstream. That's when it started.
How important was the east London environment to the emergence of grime?
Logan Sama: East London had the prominent pirate stations that were welcoming of that sound and style whereas many of the stations elsewhere were trying to hold onto the affluent Garage sound. You had a good infrastructure in South London when So Solid formed, but they got blocked out by the industry and it stalled the South London progression.
"Grime will always exist without ever truly holding hands with the mainstream. The message, the image, the energy. It's party music. It's aggressive music. It's uptempo music. It's hard music. It isn't for everyone"
The style of garage was flash, with labels like Moschino and Iceberg. How did the style of grime compare to garage? Was there a look – or certain labels that were associated with grime?
Logan Sama: That affluent 'flash' style that Garage was about just wasn’t realistic for many of the kids growing up in London and estates across the UK. The image of the tracksuit and the Air Max and the caps... that was actively banned from the 'no trainers' policy in most Garage clubs. The fashion style was in a way representative of how the Grime scene in general was originally blocked out by the Garage scene. No entry. That's why many of the artists started their own scene which became Grime.
Did the style change at all do you think when people like Risky Roadz and Jammer started making grime DVDs – and grime fans could see not just hear their favourite MCs?
Logan Sama: That happened, but it was also a case that more money was coming into the scene. It went from people making a couple hundred quid a month from vinyl sales and small shows, to big raves and DVDs/mixtapes making thousands. So a lot of the artists went out and upgraded their wardrobes.
Do you think grime has a distinctive style today?
Logan Sama: Grime has actually come full circle in terms of style, notably with Skepta accepting his MOBO in an all black Nike tracksuit. That sort of thing is a statement. A celebration of the roots.
Do you think grime still retains a certain independence from the mainstream, compared to what happened with garage? Do you ever feel nostalgic for the past of pirate radio and bedroom production?
Logan Sama: Grime, by its very definition, will always exist without ever truly holding hands with the mainstream. The message, the image and the energy is not for the mainstream. It's party music. It's aggressive music. It is uptempo music. It is hard music. It isn't for everyone. Therefore it isn’t for the mainstream. I am glad that 10 years on, artists are realising that isn’t a bad thing, nor is it a flaw or shortcoming.
Grime has really grown with tech over the last decade – you being a pioneer of this using social media for Kiss and now your personal projects. What do you see for the future?
Logan Sama: Grime is coming into it's own again due to the excitement of the live performances and the energy of the artists and the music in general. The more multimedia platforms we utilise, the more people that see what we do, the more people will appreciate and understand how exciting it can be. I think that is infectious. That excitement and hype for a Grime set or performance. It's a rarity out there. It really sets it apart. Hip Hop struggles to match that energy.
How do you think younger generations are discovering grime now? How important is radio now in comparison to YouTube?
Logan Sama: YouTube and Soundcloud basically gives these kids access to nearly the full 10 years of history, but it also gives a platform for new sounds to emerge and new artists to gain recognition. Everyone's phone and laptop is like a musical library now. With a few clicks you can find nearly anything. So it means underground music like Grime can thrive without representation on mainstream channels.
What We Wore – A People's History of British Style by Nina Manandhar is out now, published by Prestel. The What We Wore People's Archive is still open for submission. Email firstname.lastname@example.org