I requested this book via NetGalley, after being notified of it by the publisher, mainly because in my job as a transcriber for music journalists, I often come across (and have to check the endlessly inventive spellings of) the names of grime artists, but apart from seeing Dizzee at the Olympic Opening Ceremony, spotting the odd posse of artists shot against a tower-block skyline and some very fast beats as I surfed the music TV channels and being transfixed by Stormzy’s track Blinded by your Grace, I haven’t known much about this modern, urban genre. I leapt at the chance to find out more, and I can honestly say that this book really opened my eyes and changed my opinion on the music. I’ve even compelled Mr Liz to listen to some Wiley!

Dan Hancox – “Inner City Pressure: The Story of Grime”

(26 March 2018)

An excellent book on the music genre of grime, which sets it brilliantly against the neglect and then externally-forced gentrification of the areas of East and South-East London where it grew up as a result of those pressures. There are plenty of marvellous, apposite and wonderfully written descriptions of the dual nature of the growth of the City and the decline of the inner city, juxtaposed but with a barrier between them that is never crossed.

What comes across most strongly through the whole book, from the beginnings of grime in a pre-social media age to its current incarnations, is the community, communal nature of the genre, starting off with many of its proponents’ parents knowing each other, moving to people inviting each other on to their pirate radio shows (the descriptions of the pirate radio era are fascinating and compelling in themselves), and supporting each other. Another aspect is the DIY nature of the scene, with people selling records and t-shirts out of the car they buy with their first income, or borrowing money from their nan to buy a camcorder then home-producing DVDS. This turns out to be why even now grime videos tend to feature a group of friends in their neighbourhood).

There’s also a refreshing lack of consumerism, embraced sometimes in the mid-period resurgence of more pop-friendly tracks, but rejected as the artists realised they failed to see themselves reflected in these brands’ advertising. Artists have tended to work with brands such as trainers sold in JD Sports, for example, keeping close to their origins and the buying power of their fans.

Regenerating London is beautifully and humorously described, and there’s a real anger at the politicians, well-founded and well-backed up, and a real admiration for the artists and their tenacity and entrepreneurship. Although it’s very much not a hagiography, and details of beefs and violence are not skirted over, the author has been involved in and reporting the scene for a long time and has obviously gained the trust of his subjects through repeated interviews, and can take a long view on their changes and development. He quotes them verbatim, not cleansing their speech too much, which is refreshing and respectful.

There’s some really good material on how grime has been blamed for violent culture rather than reflecting them conditions imposed on its artists and communities, institutional racism and the like (although, as we see, it’s not a monocultural institution itself). There are also good and interesting points made about the multiculturalism of the grime movement: not just black and white artists, but people from a huge variety of African, Caribbean and multi-generational backgrounds (contrasting with US rap, which tends to be less diverse), which the author claims comes from the natural multiculturalism of the working classes on the estates in question, rather than an enforced, establishment version. Hancox carefully picks out the many cultural and musical influences which have come into play in the construction of grime and this is both fascinating and vital.

Wiley comes across as a real hero for donating time and money to the people coming up alongside and after him, but everyone appears to help other people and this is an aspect which is not really found in other music genres. YouTube channels may have replaced pirate radio and grime may have experienced various strands and changes, but it remains lively, funny and very British. The final words of the book sum the whole thing up:

The power of grime comes from transmuting the anxiety, pain and joy of inner-city life into music. That power shifts and bends its form as the world around it changes, and it will continue to do so.

Thank you to 4th Estate / HarperCollins publishers for making this book available to me via NetGalley in return for an honest review.