"Grim. Dublame. Wackstep. Different people call it different things, depending on their age, haircut or shoe size. If you listen to the music we love the chances are you probably call it something different from us. Shite. Awful. Unlistenable. It's been the same through the 80s and 90s. We've called it so many different things that the journalists can't even be arsed to listen to it now, let alone pigeon-hole it. This is a good thing - it's music. Mongoloid, multi-mingmong music made by middle-class myrmidons with misshapen genitalia. Music that's great for hoovering to, perhaps while injecting PCP into your pancreas with a cake-icing pipe. It's instrumental dance music that's clearing the dancefloors across Croydon, Wolverhampton and King's Lynn. It's the perfect forum for anemic doombrains with bad haircuts to create music that few people like, then earnestly brag about their revolutionary genius. That's why we here at Werk Records are calling it Grim, to try and dress up another set of releases as a new musical movement, outside the specialist world of ourselves and our sad little circle of friends. And hopefully help us sell a few more records. Some people will say we're just zeitgeist chasing, trend-hopping, jumping on an imaginary genre and greedily trying to fill our boots with the rest of them. To those people, let us say this: we're going to ride that bandwagon all the way into town, whooping and cheering, with our trousers round our ankles and cans of Special Brew clutched to our breasts. Chances are you're already listening to Grim, trapped there in your tin-pot rave-den in suburbia. And by God, if you're still reading this drivel, you might just be the kind of person creams their pants every time someone invents a new genre. Now is the time to change those pants, and the soundtrack is Grim."
The above press release, issued by Werk Discs to accompany their "Grim Dubs" series earlier this year was, on the face of it, an insolent/amusing statement of intent that also contained some serious nuggets of truth. Some people were offended. Others grinned knowingly. Yet with Grime's Eastend originators currently engaged in a compromised 'war on pop' and the latest crop of dubstep innovators still mainly banded into tight, protective units, clustered around certain influencial DJs, observing dubplate culture's strict codes of conduct, the Grimists are free to dance mischieviously in the margins, cherry-picking the best ideas and bending them to their own Warped vision, cross-breeding with other styles to create weird mutant hybrids. It's a parasitic, white, middle class phenomenum of a kind that's been occuring cyclicly for many years. It's lineage can be traced to the appropriation of dub, funk and disco by experimetal acts like A Certain Ratio, 23 Skidoo and Cabaret Voltaire in the early '80s, through to Graham Massey's 808 State injecting new possibilities into acid house in the latter half of that decade and on to Rephlex affiliates hijacking jungle's hardcore essence in the mid '90s. In the wake of Grime's blindingly original explosion of energy, Grim had to happen. Whether it has the longevity to develop into an established sub-genre remains to be seen, but with Grim now starting to appear on forward thinking club flyers alongside it's more firmly rooted cousins Grime, Ragga-jungle, Bashment etc, the immediate future looks decidedly Grim. But as yet Grim has no focal point - no FWD club or Rinse FM to call it's own. It needs exposure and I'm hoping that this will be the first in an occasional series of posts exploring it's development.
Appropriatley enough, my first guest is 23 year old Bristol-based producer Sam Atkins aka Atki2 who, as one half of Monkey Steak was responsible for Volume 1 in Werk's series. I got to meet Sam last month when he performed a solo laptop set at the Ruffneck Discotek (see picture above), and he kindly agreed to do an interview and also record an exclusive mix for Gutterbreakz. This is his story (so far)....
Gutta: You started your recording career in a group called Anarchic Hardrive. Could you tell me a bit about that project?
Atki2: We formed Anarchic Hardrive in 1999, comprising of myself, producer Razor Passive and lyricist D'Herbalis'. We worked together until 2004. Our efforts culminated in the "Feeding Our Paranoia" CD album released on Peace Off . During that time we gigged round Bristol, including twice at Toxic Dancehall, with artists such as D'Kat, Parasite, The Bug, Venetian Snares, etc... played at the first Kamikaze Warfare party in Rennes, and released tracks on a few compilations including "Ballroom Blitz" on Bristol's Death$ucker Records.
G: You're now best known as one half of Monkey Steak. When did that collaboration begin?
A2: Jon (Hanuman) and I started making tunes together in 2001 - we were both studying in South London at Goldsmiths College. Initially we experimented in quite a few styles - jungle, hiphop, garage etc - writing music in our spare time. At that stage I was into breakcore and electronica, while Jon was listening to jazz and indie - we had a pretty eclectic influence of sounds! But we both quickly got into the early grime sound through listening to lots of local pirate radio…
G: Your first release was Vol.1 in Werk Discs' "Grim Dubs" 12 inch series. Who came up with the Grim Dubs concept?
A2: The guys at Werk Discs. They came up with the whole anonymous mysterious twelves format.
G: Are you happy with that situation?
A2: Yeah. The whole Grim 1 thing was fun - it got people speculating about who was behind it and what it was all about.
G: Did you already know the other artists in the series, or was it just the guys at Werk creating a concept to hang over a bunch of disparate demos? What I'm trying to get at is whether you feel that you're all part of something together, or have you been absorbed into someone else's concept?
A2: Well we didn't all know each other beforehand like some collective of artists. Werk pulled in work from all of us and created the Grim Dubs series. But it’s certainly not a case of them pulling the strings in that we (Jon and I, or myself) are in that lovely position of having complete control over the music we’re making. At the moment the partnership is working very well in terms of both our interests and the label’s.
G: I'm just wondering if Grim is a genuine movement, in terms of building/developing into something on the scale of, say, breakcore. Has there been a bit of a 'buzz' on the series?
A2: That's the impression I've got from the Werk guys and certainly that's the impression I get from people I've met at our Monkey Steak gigs. But it's hard to get a real sense I suppose. It's interesting that you mention breakcore. A kind of mashup / hybrid of breakcore and grime was my initial idea for the Atki2 project.
G: Would you say that the whole drill'n'bass/breakcore thing seems a bit stale now? That every possibility has been explored?
A2: A lot of the output is fairly samey. There's still a few artists I really rate though. Electromeca for instance. His grooves are very fresh and properly filthy! But you're right, a lot of this Amen mash-up is boring. I wish some of the producers would try incorporating some different sounds and styles. I think exploring riffs, rhythms and basslines from Grime is the way to go - pushing all that into new extreme patterns!
G: Just like what you're doing!
A2: I'm glad that's coming across!
G: I'm calling this sound Grim for now, although it doesn't quite fit for me...
A2: It would be too early to coin a term for an experimental, digital kind of grime. From Werk's point of view, Grim isn't the start of a new movement but a way of testing out new artists. But I like this tag and I quite like adopting it for what I do. I like this idea of Grim being a bit separate from dubstep / grime.
G: It has to be, I think. Otherwise it would be like calling Squarepusher 'jungle', if you understand my meaning.
A2: Indeed. I do. I've been listening to Squarepusher for a long time and always really appreciated that "composed" quality to his work.
G: A lot of these underground artists have never used anything apart from software/sequencers, which is brilliant, 'cos they think outside the boundaries and create new styles, but I still think it's fascinating to see what more musically trained artists will do with that blueprint. With Squarepusher, it was his virtousty on real instruments that gave him the ability to work with jungle in new ways. It's different viewpoints pulling the sound in different directions, which is all good!
A2: I play proper instruments too. Classical piano, mate. I'd definitely say my early music training has a sizeable influence on my approach to making this grim stuff - simply because I started playing very young and the disciplines are engrained. I think there's a lot of space to incorporate some of the techniques into writing Sublow - I mean, why not? During my teenage years in Bristol, I was exposed to an unusual mix of classical and d’n’b. For me, it was all good. I think musical hybrids are the way forward.
G: Have you felt any negative vibes from the 'underground'? I know a couple people were a bit annoyed about that Grim Dubs press release...
A2: I guess that's the risk with a blurb like that. Some people think that we're taking the piss or somehow we look down on grime/dubstep. As far as I'm concerned, that couldn't be further from the truth. I love this music and have a lot of admiration for the guys pushing it.
G: Speaking of which, any particular artists or tracks that inspired you?
A2: Well Vex'd are certainly up there...Slaughter Mob...that new Kode 9 & Space Ape tune is killer. I’m very impressed with Skream’s recent mix for Blackdown’s blog too, some really innovative work in that, mixing up lovely jazzy licks with those heavy growling basslines! Also been getting into some of the Rag 'n' Bone/Dirty Needles stuff - there’s a great rawness to their tunes.
G: I think Vex'd are gonna be so influential on the way things are going, especially now they're on a high profile label. Alongside your work in Monkey Steak, you've also got a solo track on the latest Shadetek release, "The Dudes" EP. How did that come about? From a demo?
A2: That's right. I sent them a cd and they liked it.
G: Are there plans for any further releases with them?
A2: There's an Atki2 EP coming out - pretty soon I think - called "Sweaty Palms", featuring a collaboration with South London MC Renée Silver and a remix by Drop The Lime which is proper grime/breakcore mashup! Quite similar to the b1 track on his Mirex 12". I forget the name of it. There’s also some more Atki grimness planned for release on Werk, but that’s all pretty hush-hush at the moment…
G: Any further releases planned for Monkey Steak?
A2: Yep. We have a forthcoming release with Death$ucker and are just completing a 6 track EP for Werk Discs. The former is actually on more of an old-skool jungle tip, while the latter has a fair amount of grim on. I’m really excited about the Werk EP in fact, we’re taking our grim sound and mixing it up with different styles. One track uses Ska for instance, and another has more jazzy brass riffs. We’ve also collaborated with a couple of vocalists on some of the tracks, including Indi Kaur who guests on one of the tracks in my mix. Indi is a fantastic singer I met through Renée. Her vocal training is in the classical Indian approach. It’s been a pleasure to work together - and to mix up the tonalities!
G: You've also been playing live quite a bit, haven't you?
A2: Past gigs include Alt*Ctrl in Brixton, the annual Werk Das Boot! knees-up (see photo above), Toxic Dancehall and Sheffield's c90, with artists such as Radioactive Man, Christian Vogel, Vex'd and Werk associates Actress and Po-Ski.
G: And I'll be witnessing you in action in Bristol again this weekend, won't I?
A2: Yep. Monkey Steak play at Heatwave vs. Ruffnek Diskotek with MC Renée Silver at The Croft, this Saturday (10th September) with DJ Joker, Turbo Dominator and Dub Boy.
G: See you there, mate....
At my request, Sam has generously given his time to record this exclusive 20 minute mix selection, showcasing some of the tunes he's got nestling on his hardrive awaiting release. At once familiar and yet decidedly strange, this is the sound of Grime shredded through the sonic mangler of Grim. It's a complex, jittery music yet still retains a hard steptime undertow and a spacious, bassline-driven flow that allows it work as dance music for the mind and body. The Grim sound is now online - things may never be the same again....
ATKI2 SESSION - SEPTEMBER 2005
Atki2: Duty Free
Atki2: Old Sow Caught In The Fence
Atki2: Stoop Beat
Atki2 & Renee Silver - Shocking Out Proud! (Guilty Pleasures Mix, feat. Indi Kaur)
Atki2 - The Crabs
Atki2 - Duty Paid (VWE Mix)
Atki2 with D'Kat - Untitled