Grime has always been an innovative genre — forced into creative ways of getting their music heard by a lack of mainstream music industry funding, its proponents and champions are natural adapters and creators.
So the prospect of playing a completely different style of gig isn't phasing two of the genre's biggest names. Producer and Boy Better Know founder JME and veteran DJ Logan Sama are getting ready for something of a break from the usual type of show: this time a roller disco as part of Red Bull Music Academy's UK Tour.
Of the two, it's JME who's probably most at-home on eight wheels. He tells Londonist he used to skate a lot: "I started skating back in the day — I must have been 16 or younger — there was a place on the A406 and I used to skate there, skate all night and then skate all the way home.
"Then I got a BMX, but me and [brother, also a renowned grime artist] Skepta have still got our skates."
His skates may be dusty but his skills aren't, as you can see on this advert for the forthcoming show:
For Logan Sama, the exciting thing about the show is the new type of interaction with the audience: "The standard format when we're performing is I'm behind the decks, the MC is on stage and the crowd watches the stage. This way, it's going to be a completely different dynamic — you've not got a static crowd, they're going to be doing laps — that means they might be responding to you, or they might see some guy doing some wicked spins in the crowd, or the guys on stage might be responding to that."
From London with love
Grime is a London sound — born in the east of the city about 14 years ago, it has always been a niche. And although American artists have flirted with it once or twice in the past, it's recently broken out of the capital in a big way. US rapper Danny Brown often cites grime as a big influence on his sound, and most recently, Kanye West shared the Brits stage with London artists such as Jammer, Skepta, Novelist, Stormzy and Krept & Konan. It's left JME with mixed feelings.
"When I was growing up I remember when Jay-Z did [Lethal Bizzle hit] Pow back in the day — I thought all these big American stars would start paying attention to us and I thought it would be the best thing. Now, it's coming to that day, they've realised that there's a culture and a genre of music that's come from the streets just like theirs has, but I'm not having the feeling I thought I would have. I feel more like 'yes, it's good, but now let's work together and do the next step'. This is not 'oh it's amazing they're paying attention because they don't have to pay attention' but what I'm thinking is: let them see and realise that we have something and it can benefit everybody here and in the States — let's use it to improve the people's experience. Let's take this music or vision and make it better for people. It was a brilliant image we saw on the television.
Logan Sama says: "From my perspective, sitting at home and watching it, flicking between that and the Champions League game... everybody was waiting for Kanye — as a grime fan and as a music fan it was really exciting. But if you look back to when Jay-Z did Pow it was 10 years ago and not much has happened since then. We have to realise these moments are good but we have to get on with what we're doing every day. It's not a case of, 'oh yeah finally we're being acknowledged', it's about cementing those relationships now. I spoke to Skepta after the show and he was really galvanised and energised for what's going to happen next and I think it's good that things like this happen and it energises people. As a DJ and a grime fan I want to hear Kanye do a grime track. I want to hear that."
JME adds: "It makes you realise there's always someone out there who cares about your music and that it matters. Because grime is such a niche market, whenever something isn't going well it doesn't matter. Some people in the pop world are desperate and some little thing like not being in the papers is like a really bad day for them. For me, if a video I do doesn't get many hits, or a track doesn't sell as well as I'd like, I think 'so what? fuck it — I liked it and I liked making it' and that's all that matters."
Whatever happens as a result of the new interest in grime, it's not going to slow up the pace of these two veterans of the scene. For them it's still about the purity of the original spirit.
"When we were beginning everybody was really about the music — no-one wanted to be famous or was chasing money," says JME. "None of us had any money — we had to pay for everything ourselves, for the petrol to drive to the radio, for the dubplates — we had no money, it was just about getting the music out there."
Red Bull Music Academy Tour runs 8-12 April, various venues around London. See the website for more details and tickets. Tropical Roller Disco is 9 April at 7pm, York Hall, Bethnal Green, tickets are £15.