I've been alarmed recently to see how Grime's history is fading away, at least in the digital domain. Aficionados are probably familiar with how some of the most important tracks never even got a release. "Headquarters" by Essentials, the original version of their track "State Your Name", is a paradigm case, a posse cut Grime track where each MC would state their name and location before spitting 16 bars of lyrics – when time came to release the track commercially, the track's big name MCs such as Kano and Crazy Titch mysteriously disappeared. Perhaps it was contractual obligations, but either way, commercial releases seemed just an echo of the real music.
In retrospect it's easy to see why - some tracks were just CD-Rs sent to DJs to play on air, or in the case of Essentials, thrown into the crowd at shows. This stuff circulated quick, but old tracks would get left on old harddrives, or copied over, etc etc. But it illustrates an uncomfortable paradox: that this most digital-savvy of musics could get cut and copied until it was unrecognisable from what really happened.
(some cases in point: you can hardly find any tracks online by Essentials, although you can check out "Headquarters" via a tape rip; the amazing "Sidewinder" by Wiley, Flo Dan, God's Gift, Trim and many others is available to watch right now, but half the time I look for it it ain't there; and one which really tears at my heart is that Wiley's "Dylan's On A Hype Ting", an extraordinary response track to Dizzee Rascal, can't be heard anywhere)
Anyway, anyway: the point of this post is to introduce the excellent Grime Historian YouTube channel, which while it isn't remotely exhaustive, at least goes some way to plugging some of the gaps in Grime's history which have been punched in the last few years. There's over 200 tracks on there thus far, and it's been worth it for me simply to check out many long-cherished tracks by Ears, one of the best Grime MCs of the mid-2000s who somehow never really quite broke through and whose work seems to have disappeared into the ether. How can you resist a track called "Verb And Pronoun Boy"? I certainly can't. Ears was known for a tongue-twisting, syllable-mangling vocal style which somehow managed to always sound precise and elegant, and it's put to good effect on "Backwards Riddim", where he neatly tip-toes around a reversed version of Dexplicit's "Forward" rhythm. Finally, you can check out a version of Ears's "Fine Fine" – this is just a snippet, but this track is absolutely devastating, a sing-song delivery which darts in and out of the most futuristic body-popping beat that I'd ever heard, at least back in 2005. Back to the future...
The big news doing the rounds of London club culture last week was concerning the future of Plastic People, the longstanding home of the FWD>> club and a key part of dubstep’s history. The Metropolitan Police have applied to review the license of the club, citing reasons of prevention of crime and disorder and public nuisance. DJs such as Kode9, Theo Parrish and Mark Ernestus have regularly appeared there, and it’s one of London’s most intimate venues, a small space designed for close listening. An organisation called The Friends of Plastic People has been formed, which aims to help the PP management to comply with the licensing conditions.
On a personal note, I find this disturbing and bizarre news. Plastic People is certainly one of the most welcoming and most trouble-free places I've ever been to. Compare with the rest of the Shoreditch area – one of the most densely populated places for strip clubs and brothels in the whole of the UK, due to the nearby presence of the City – and it's baffling how police could conclude that crime prevention would be well served by focusing their scrutiny on this intimate club, where you'll generally find 200 odd fairly well-behaved music fans.
To me, I find it part of a slightly unsettling trend – urban music events are being regularly cancelled on the whim of the police, it seems, from the UK tour of rapper Giggs to numerous grime events over the years. The notorious Form 696 is apparently used by police to monitor grime events in particular, which requires addresses and contact details for all artists appearing on the night (which for a grime event can be many, many MCs). I can't be alone in viewing this as a gross invasion of privacy.
The problem here is that the police are essentially the sole arbiter of what constitutes safety in the context of club culture. From the outside, it appears they're more comfortable with busy, boozy, pubs and superclubs than intimate and self-regulating underground events. At a time when binge drinking is seen as a serious public health threat, it seems that police are unwittingly whittling down events into just the kind of mainstream, mass-market entertainment channels that encourages conspicuous consumption.
On Saturday, I went to another London club, Proud Gallery in Camden. Truly one of the most unpleasant clubbing experiences I've ever had, it was dangerously packed to capacity, full of aggressive punters packed into close-quarters, and with unsmiling security guards moving crowds from pillar to post to stop people congregating in the quiet areas. Is this the terrifying future of clubbing, where security guards make sure there's no disruption to the surrounding neighbourhood by packing clubbers in like cattle? Perhaps that should be horses, given the building's history. I mentioned the dangerous amount of people in there to a black clad, baseball cap wearing security guard at the end of the night, who merely shrugged. We walked away from the club, feeling like we'd narrowly escaped from a mass bar-room punch-up. But at least there was no crime or disorder on the street, eh?
As things stand, there are two ways to help Plastic People. You can sign the petition at petitiononline.com/PP2010/petition.html . The most important action, though, is via local letters sent to Hackney Licensing from local residents and businesses. Details of Hackney Council's licensing section can be found here. A Facebook group is also distributing information on how you can help.
A hearing on the future of the club’s licence is due to take place before 31 March.
UPDATE AND RIGHT TO REPLY FROM PROUD CAMDEN:
I got an email in response from Alex of Proud Camden. Here's part of it he asked to be quoted:
We stick to police capacity and have done since we opened.
We don’t allow any AIS security guards to wear headwear and never have. We also don’t allow any form of military clothing.
We try to make all our staff polite and pleasant.
We have to stop people congregating in fire exits, it’s simply the law. This annoys people obviously, but it’s the law, not us!
We were not over capacity and it was not dangerous. There are 7 sets of double width fire exits, 2 or more to each room, a fire alarm that cuts out the music and over 17 floor staff who are on the radio and there to watch for everyone’s safety at all times.
It was hot on Saturday night and that made the club unpleasant for an hour until the ventilation was cranked back on for the first time since summer.
There never has been a punch up and we pride ourselves on how safe Proud is and will continue to be.
We will review all procedures , and I am sorry you had such a bad evening, we honestly hate it when people have a negative time!