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On why punk was never punk, and grime is punk as fuck

On why punk was never punk, and grime is punk as fuck

Trim getting totes emosh'

Every so often a former member of the Sex Pistols says something more fitting of a middle aged home counties man six bitters deep stumbling over his words and then subsequently over a bar stool - making you listen to his boring views about shit that he reckons you find offensive but actually you just find tedious. All this before he goes home and fails to have disappointing intercourse with the wife that no longer loves him and wonders if she ever did - than of a representative of a radical oeuvre in music.

At these points there is a chorus that rings out "Punk is dead!" or in the era of social media optimised head-lines "Is punk dead? Don't buy another album before you read the SHOCKING thing that former SEX PISTOL John Lydon said about FARAGE,  BREXIT and TRUMP"(1).

Spoiler alert: He said he liked them and wanted to be their friend.

Now, the extent to which the cunt formerly known as Jonny Rotten is being serious as opposed to just trying to wind people up because he is a talent-less attention seeking former boy band member(2) who the world should have grown bored of a long time ago - but for some reason didn't, the walking talking equivalent of click-bait, is a matter for debate. But not here, as I said the guy bores me.

Instead I'm going to talk about the music that was getting the late, great Tony Wilson - the man who signed Joy Division to his legendary label Factory - excited before his untimely death: Grime(3). I'm also going to explain why punk rock was never punk and why grime is punk as fuck. Deconstruct that one.

Essentially what Wilson realised a lot sooner than the guardians of youth culture at the NME is that the early-00's witnessed the birthing of a genuine, authentic, creative cultural scene. One created by and consumed, primarily or initially at least, by working class inner city youth. Punk for it's part was created in the early to mid 70's by art students and consumed for the most part by suburb dwelling petit-beourgeoise youth.

The New York origins of the genre aside, as soon as Punk became an artefact of mass culture it is expressed in a form that is antithetical to being working class - given the working component of that conjunction. If you think that is a mischaracterisation, then it may be instructive to consider it this way, if you work in a factory or on a building site in the late 70's and turn up to work with a mohican, your legs taped together and an arse-flap in your jeans, what do you reckon the outcome is going to be? How you gonna' shift a load of rubble when you can't walk?

Now skip forward and examine the cultural artefacts that one might typically expect to go along with being a fan of Grime music. One will realise that the fashion that goes along with Grime is not an affectation it is simply an expression of the social position of the people producing and listening to the music. Which also means that it is much more apt to claim a sense of authenticity for Grime than it is for Punk, even though Punk explicitly values authenticity.

There is also the DIY ethic of the two genres. Watch any documentary on the birth of punk and you'll have it forced down your throat that punk resulted in a whole generation of kids picking up guitars and bashing out three-chord headaches. Establishing a convention that people don't need to be talented to start making and performing music is all very well and good - it will arguably have led to more creativity and all that shite. But eventually you're going to have to move past three chords and shouting otherwise all the music you listen to is going to be dull as fuck.

Grime requires little talent to start doing, but a lot of talent to master it - but even when an artist is not at the top of their game - wordplay is an interesting thing to listen to. This being a blog I have to relate this in some way to my own experience so - being in high school when grime started to become a thing, which I'm going to arbitrarily define as somewhere around when Ruff Sqwad's DJ XTC released the  "Function on the low" instrumental or when Dizzee Rascal released "Boy In Da' corner" (So about 2003) - I can personally testify as to the impact that it had.

From memory I reckon there were about nine fairly prolific releasers of songs in my school year alone and about twenty others who had released one track or featured on a B2B(4). Technology and ease of access to it has surely played a huge part in this - a decent quality mic at that point was expensive, but not mind boggling so. Given that the equipment required to make even a very good beat is essentially just a home computer it didn't even require the purchase of equipment - it could literally be done with stuff that would be in your living room or at your school- making grime actually more like skiffle, wad'dya'know?

It's similarity to bizarro 50's music aside though. At the time I'm talking about to distribute your music you just had to post it on MySpace - job done, no need to even press a record or put in on a tape(5). So essentially fifteen per cent of the people in my year at school have released a song. Not bad eh'? Well spring of creativity init'.

There is also the anti-establishment stance of Grime music. Being black music primarily, it has never had a particularly easy time from the authorities. In London, where the genre was born, it is incredibly difficult to book a night to perform grime because the police consider to it to be a public order risk. The extent to which this is because of the content of the music or more likely because the Metropolitan Police is institutionally racist and even they fucking know it - is besides the point.

The fact that young black men performing music is considered to be illegitimate by the Metropolitan Police is a fucking travesty. It does however afford the kind of cachet to the genre that Lydon would give his left nut for. It makes it difficult as a fan of the music because nights always seem to be getting shut down. This is the case to such an extent that two separate Conservative Culture Ministers have told that Met' to sit the fuck down and stop harassing musicians - currently to no avail.

To cap it all Grime even does anarchism better than punk ever did. The Sex Pistols where nothing if not a band that fundamentally mis-charecterised what the political philosophy of Anarchism is. Anarchy in the UK is not a statement of what any anarchist believes. For a better summation of position we could ask Skepta - a hugely successful and respected artist with no label and no corporate affiliation, how fucking punk is that - who puts it like this in an interview in Time: "The government is a gang and they're bullying us". Which is a fairly pithy formulation of one of the key tenets of anarchism. If you'd like further proof of Skepta's rejection of authority and general woke as fuck nature you can find it in his music;
"Me and my Gs ain't scared of police/We don't listen to no politician/Everybody on the same mission/We don't care about your -isms and schisms"
Skepta, Shutdown, Konnichiwa  
Making the man who gave us "Rolex Sweep"(6) far more radical in his outlook than Little Jonny Rotten and the Carnaby Street Boys ever where. Tony Wilson was right to be excited - you should be too.




Just to nip this in the bud - I know that there is more to punk than the Sex Pistols - I've made a legitimate rhetorical move and you can't prove otherwise.


(§1) Yeah I can do it too, I just choose not to because I'm not a bell-end.

(§2) The Sex Pistols where as manufactured as One Direction or the Backstreet Boys - the goal was to sell trousers, which is bizarre. Tbh, I think that was Malcolm McLaren just fucking with people when he said it in a 1989 interview with Q Magazine. The point stands however that they where manufactured, whether it was as a "situationist inspired art project" or a wheeze to shift some of Viv's ole' tat remains to be seen.

(§3) He had set up a new label F4 Records and signed Manchester based Grime act Raw-T. Saying of the genre, in 2005 in promotional material for the label -  "This is a confession of utter failure. I have completely failed to either grow up or calm down. I am as excited about Raw-T as I was about Joy Division or the Mondays. And as excited about technology and what F4 can do for my beloved Vini and the wonderful Young Offenders as that Tokyo night my mate Takao-san at Nippon Columbia handed me Power Corruption and Lies, my first CD."

(§4) That's a duet - or back to back. It's actually drum and bass terminology I think.

(§5) The extent to which punk is conservative in nature can be seen by the fact that tape is still a fairly common format for punk bands to publish on.

(§6)A pretty fucking terrible song, which even Skepta admits.


  1. Grime selling out to Corbyn though :P

    1. Haaa, tbf there must be another post in the fact that the majority of Anarchists I know are supporting Corbyn, only takes 7 years of Tory rule to prove your "lesser of two evils" argument.


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