London is a bustling metropolis to which it holds over 8 million people, and such a large city will always have to deal with issues concerning the government, racism, poverty social cleansing and classism. Two fighting forces within music which have been so prominent in London during the 20th century and now into the 21st century, is that of the music subcultures Punk and Grime. Many would debate against this musical comparison although when you dig deeper, both genres project anger and rebellion against those in power, “When there’s no future, how can there be sin. We’re the flowers in the dustbin, we’re the poison in your human machine. We’re the future, your future” (Sex Pistols, 1977). Lyrics from both genres come from a place of deep personal experience, people who have come from nothing and are constantly dealt the short straw while fighting as a real working class person, “I’m straight from the gutter my brother, we never had” (Ghetts, 2014). Due to both genres emerging from working class backgrounds they began in similar ways and were born in someone’s home studio or garage and so the essence of anarchy was in the air. Many people still do consider Punk and it’s bands such as Siouxsie and the Banshees, the Sex Pistols, and so many more to be the true standing subculture of London and it’s people, but over the last ten to fifteen years that position has been put into question due to the undeniable rise of London’s grime scene, “move over, punk – it’s grime’s turn to enthrall the masses.” (Public Pressure, 2017.)
Punk originally began in America, specifically New York in the years 1974-76. The scene began focused on a few clubs like Max’s Kansas City and CBGB in which bands such as Blondie, The Ramones and Television would play. The New York Dolls were also quite prominent in the scene at the time and it was after Malcom McLaren, who was their manager for a short time, returned to England with a new vision for punk. The subculture was driven in a new direction and one that would take the world by storm. Once back in London with Vivienne Westwood, they set up the shop SEX, which sold clothes to suit the radical words and thoughts of the punk generation. Together with Westwood, he combined political ideology, music and fashion to history-making effect. McLaren began managing The Swankers, who we know today as the Sex Pistols. McLaren said, “Punk allowed one to be a flamboyent failure, rather than a benign success” (The Guardian, 2009). The kids who were involved with the punk scene at the time were extremely opposed to politics and at the end of the 70s, Margaret Thatcher was elected into power as the Prime Minister. Thatcher destroyed Britain’s manufacturing industry which made thousands of people unemployed. People were angry, and the punk scene was ever more so political. Lots of kids were jobless, disenchanted and on the dole. The British economy was in a mess and Britain was also involved in a war based in Ireland. The general feeling for young people at the time was that there was no real future out there for them, “Is this the MPLA, or is this the UDA, or is this the IRA, I thought it was the U.K., or just another country, another council tenancy.” (Sex Pistols, 1977). Punk was there to express collectively everyone’s anger at that time, much like grime has been able to do for a lot of young people in the last few years. As Complex have shown us with the 10 Grime and Hip-Hop songs to lead your next protest (Complex, 2017), one of which songs is by Ghetts who speaks cleverly and correctly for many, “all I acquired from the riot was that people are sick and tired of being quiet” (Ghetts, 2014).
Much of this anger was, and still is today, projected as pure aggression. What people can only describe as ramage and upheavel, as both genres side with the idea of ‘anti-establishment’. This was clear as gigs and concerts in the past, for both punk and grime kids in London, have been notoriously linked to violence. Nowadays most punk gigs are held to a certain level of pushing and shoving, also known as moshing, but in the 1970s and 80s punks who attended the concerts were compared to football hooligans, “there were riots all the time at gigs,” recalls Peter Hook, former bass player with New Order and before that Joy Division. The worst he saw was at Bury Town Hall, “there was a massive riot there and I got beaten up. I got beaten up all over the place”, (BBC News, 2015). Stories of people being slashed and stabbed with pocket knives, beaten and left bloodied, were commonplace at the time. In recent years, people have questioned whether or not the violence which is linked to grime could of been holding back it’s growth in the world. Many venues and promoters have struggled to agree, or not agreed at all, to let grime performances and events take place due to the violent outbreaks which occur all too often. Even some top grime artists, such as Giggs, have had numurous tour dates cancelled because he had been adviced to do so by the police. A reason as to why this is still so prominent could be because of grimes origins, rooting from the London Boroughs of Hackney and Newham where reports have shown crime and gun culture/violence are extremely common, and this is without a doubt conveyed through the lyrics of artists. As mentioned before many grime artists have come from deprived areas and so gang culture is a big thing to some of these boys. This mentality, can more often than not, bring brutality, “I can hear screams from his wife, run after man let me draw for his life, blood’s pouring I go stains off the knife”, (Tempa T, 2012) spits Tempa, and although the MC is known to many as an excitable character who is funny and extremely quick witted, it does not deny the aggression in his music, “strangle man head with the microphone lead, bax mans head with the side of the mic.” (Tempa T, 2012). Violence and attack should never be ok, but this boils down to the fact that these kids are angry, angry about the government, social cleansing and racism. London is constantly brewing, and the kids of these subcultures will always try to raise their voices and represent for the masses, because this is how people truly feel.
The kids involved with the subcultures of punk and grime also represented themselves in a certain way, almost like verification stamp, and that is the fashion which comes with each genre, “Music defined who you were… You were very quickly associated with people who had the same record collection as you. Everyone is wearing a kind of uniform and you’re easily identifiable like that.” This even extended to potential boyfriends: “If someone wore the uniform of a different tribe there’s no way you’d even consider going out with them.” (BBC News, 2015). As much as this was the motion in the 70s, it still is today as the Nike Air Max is practically a requirement for any MC (Highsnobiety, 2015). As for punk, mentioned before was Vivienne Westwood, a pioneer in creating the quintessential look for London’s punk kids. Based on 430 King’s Road with McLaren, they ran their shop which was renamed a number of times but today is known as World’s End and can still be found in the same spot. In ’74, once decided upon the name SEX with their catchphrase, ‘rubberwear for the office’, no one had ever really seen clothes or fashion like it in London before this time. Images printed on t-shirts were progressively becoming ever more so offensive, as one t-shirt features Snow White being held down and raped by five of her seven dwarfs, while the other two dwarfs could be seen having sex. Everything else was saftey pins, zippers, leather and tartan. Westwood was not inspired by the fashion statements in London during the 1960s but more the 50s, and their era of rebellion. Some would say this sense of fashion derived from a dark place, and in some aspects it had. Most people would say that grime certainly came from a dark place, not just with the feeling of disenfranchisement, but these kids would stick together in gangs and skulk around at night on the streets, hunched up against walls and quite literally, emerge from dark places. Referring to themselves as ‘roadmen’, they know the local streets and area very well. In terms of grime fashion, it looks nothing like what punks were wearing but their attire does feature a lot of black. Black tracksuits, black caps, black gloves, black Nikes and hood firmly up. This is the true essence of London grime for a lot of people, nothing about it was flashy or overbearing. It’s just a guy and his story. It was about being true to yourself but also scubbing up quite well and looking good.
Like punk was made for gigs, grime is made for the clubs. Both can be played at home on records of course, but from neither subcultures do you get the full effect than when punk and grime are played out for the fans in a particular environment. Both genres have a connection to reggae and the Carribean. The culture and community of people as a whole has always had a large link with London especially now, and it is not unheard of to hear grime MCs use Jamaican patois. The MC tradition was imported and a soundsystem culture took over. In terms of the connection with punk and reggae, one story in particular story recalls a time when punk and reggae came face to face. The band the Stranglers were headling a gig and Steel Pulse a reggae roots band were supporting them. Steel Pulse began playing and having not even finished the first song, the bassist Ron McQueen felt a huge lump of spit land on his hand. Everything on stage was quiet and then an entire crowd of punks was quiet. “McQueen didn’t react, however it was Stranglers bassit, Jean-Jacques Burnel, stepped out of the wings, waded into the crowd, indentified the culprit, and knocked him out cold. Then he turned to face the crowd, ‘You fucking wankers. You love reggae’.” (Guardian, 2007).
In progressing years, London and the grime scene has exploded, Stormzy, Skepta, Wiley and JME with their collective Boy Better Know have taken the youths by storm, pardon the pun. Stormzy in particular, has been widley accepted into many British people’s hearts and is a household name. Skepta has been welcomed into the fashion industry creating his own collaboration with Nike Air Max and is linked to British fashion designer Nasir Mazhar. Grime artists have been awarded at British award ceremonies and are now being showcased as kids who have come from ‘the gutter’, who have done something extraordinary with their lives. Furthermore, in contrast to the typical opposition of politics, the Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn has shown great interest in the youth and those involved with grime, particularly applauding black communities and recognising black excellence, which is something which should be done across the whole of the UK, “the MOBOs play a crucial role in the British music industry showcasing music of black origin” (Jeremy Corbyn, 2017).
Overall, as we look at punk and grime together there are undeniable similarities and it’s hard to tell whether or not one has taken over the other. Punk and grime I feel have certaintly had the same impact on people, and although it may seem grime is currently reigning, punk has not died out. London is still very punk in it’s true sense, and this has evidently morphed into other forms, grime being one of them. Grime could be represented as a punk ideology as it has a lot of the same values as the original punks did. London is home to many incredible movements and humans which break boundaries, but today I feel grime is an amazing example of black excellence and it is pushing people’s minds further open into a modern age in which hopefully racism can lessen.
Highsnobiety. 2015. A Guide to Grime Fashion | Highsnobiety. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.highsnobiety.com/2015/06/03/grime-fashion/. [Accessed 01 December 2017].
BBC News, 2015. A time when gigs were violent – BBC News. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-34184563. [Accessed 30 November 2017].
Complex. 2017. 10 Grime And Hip-Hop Songs To Lead Your Next Protest | Complex. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.complex.com/music/2015/12/10-grime-hip-hop-protest-songs/. [Accessed 29 November 2017].
Sex Pistols, 1977. God Save the Queen. Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Virgin Release.
Sex Pistols, 1977. Anarchy in the UK. Never Mind the Buzzcocks, Here’s the Sex Pistols. Virgin Release.
Tempa T, 2012. Next Hype. All Star Pars. DEFENDERS ENTERTAINMENT.
Ghetts, 2014. Rebel. Rebel with a Cause. Independent label, Disrupt.
Public Pressure, 2017. Is Grime the new Punk? | Public Pressure. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.publicpressure.org/is-grime-the-new-punk/. [Accessed 28 November 2017].
The Guardian, 2009. Portrait of the artist: Malcolm McLaren, Musician | Culture | The Guardian. [ONLINE] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2009/aug/10/malcolm-mclaren-musician. [Accessed 28 November 2017].