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Is Grime Dead?

I am first black British artist to headline Glastonbury. At 25 years old I am the second youngest solo act to ever headline Glastonbury, the youngest being a 24 year old David Bowie in 1971.

The words of Stormzy as he headlined Glastonbury in June 2019. Some people questioned the announcement that Stormzy was to take the coveted Headliner slot at the festival. In an interview with BBC1Xtra, he answered the sceptics, saying, “There were so many doubters being like, ‘Oh, he hasn’t had a No 1 song’, or, ‘Oh, he’s got one album out, he’s not ready.’ I’m there because I’m a serious musician.”

However, despite the controversy around his performance, Stormzy already has a long list of achievements. He was awarded Best Grime Act at the MOBOs in 2014 shortly after releasing his first EP Dreamers Disease. This was followed by a performance on Later with Jools Holland, which saw Stormzy become the first unsigned rapper to appear on the programme. 

The following year brought more success. In January 2015, he came number 3 in the BBC Introducing top 5 on Radio 1, and in March that year he released the single “Know Me From,” entering the UK Singles Chart at number 49.

In September 2015, Stormzy released onto iTunes his final instalment to “WickedSkengMan” freestyle series, “WickedSkengMan 4”, along with a studio version of his “Shut Up” freestyle over XTC’s Functions On The Low instrumental. This track debuted at number 18 in the UK chart in September, becoming not only Stormzy’s first top 40 hit but also the first ever freestyle to reach the top 40 in the United Kingdom.

After some time away from the spotlight, Stormzy released his album Gang Signs and Prayers in February 2017. This went on to debut at no 1 in the Album chart in March – the first Grime album to achieve this.

Stormzy has achieved a number of major steps for Grime music.

But what actually is Grime..?

Grime is a style of music with fast, syncopated breakbeats, typically at a speed of 140 beats per minute (bpm). Tracks often feature aggressive or jagged electronic sounds.

Stormzy

The genre emerged from Bow, E3 in East London in the early 2000s, developed from earlier UK electronic music styles such as UK garage and jungle. It was originally known by various names such as 8-bar or nu shape. Among the first tracks to be described as Grime were takes by Wiley such as EskimoIce Rink and Igloo, Pulse X by Musical Mob and“Creeper” by Danny Weed.

Dave, the London MC and Drake collaborator explained the difference between rap and Grime in an Interview:

“Grime is its own sound. The instrumentation usually dictates it. It’s not limited to one tempo, but it’s mainly at this one tempo. It’s the entire sound in the industry that’s behind it. Basically, like you’d have drill music or trap music… grime has the tempo of 140 bpm, set usually goes up to 144.5, never goes down to 138. It has very grungy basslines, a lot of melody [and] a really hard-hitting sound.”

Dave continued: “Grime MCs usually have radio sets where they rap and switch instrumentals, when the beat changes they have to catch the drops in. If I’m rapping, there’ll be a beat underneath me, then they’ll change it and I’ll have to catch the drop.”

“There’s a lot more to it,” he added. “It’s like a sound, culture, style — the way that they dress and speak. Rap, for me, I go at any tempo and any sound of beat and incorporate melody as well.”

“Grime must be its own genre,” he said, when asked if grime was a sub-genre of rap.

The sound of the new genre spread via pirate ratio stations such as RinseFM and through the Underground scene, initially in London, then across Britain. By the mid-2000s Grime was mainstream.

However in August 2018, the BBC ran an article entitled Is grime dead? Or has it ‘just gone back underground’? The article suggested that Drill music, with its slower trap beats, was becoming more popular, along with Afrobeats, Afro-swing, or Afro-bashment. In the article, London-born photographer Courtney Francis, who had worked with Stormzy, stated:

“Grime had a boom, but then people changed. The music changes, people’s appetites change, and it’s gone on to Afrobeats and UK rap and drill now, and grime has gone back to the back burner.””Those same artists, and new artists as well, are doing their thing right now. The only difference is that it’s not in public spaces. It’s no longer the backdrop for TV programmes and you’re no longer hearing it on radio often.

“But everywhere else where grime existed before, it’s still there. 

“People are saying it’s dead because it was commercialised and it was accessible for more of the country. You didn’t have to search for grime. Grime was just there.”

“But,” he stresses, “only for the people who look for music in the commercial spaces.”  

“Grime isn’t dead. It’s just gone back underground.”

With one of Grime’s biggest Artists headling Glastonbury, just a year later, it could be argued that Grime is back in the mainstream.

Interview sources:

 https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/newsbeat-45017057 and https://www.nme.com/news/music/santan-dave-grime-rap-difference-video-2027048  

50 Years Since Woodstock

August 2019 marks 50 years since Woodstock ’69, the ‘most popular event in music history.’

Held between August 15 and 19 1969, Woodstock took place at Max Yasgur’s 600-acre dairy farm in Bethel, New York. The festival, which was billed as ‘An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music’ drew crowds of more than 400,000 people who heard 32 acts performing open-air gigs, sometimes playing through the rain.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Described by singer songwriter, Joni Mitchell as, “A spark of beauty” where half-a-million kids “saw that they were part of a greater organism”, Woodstock has long been regarded as a pivotal movement in both popular music history and within the larger counterculture generation. Rolling Stone listed the festival as number 19 of ‘50 Moments That Changed the History of Rock and Roll,’ and in 2017, the festival site was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. While it wasn’t the first music festival, it was certainly the biggest of its time, and quickly assumed almost mythological status.

The event was recorded via the 1970 Academy Award-winning documentary film Woodstock (and its accompanying soundtrack album), and encapsulated in Joni Mitchell’s song of the same name which became a major hit for both Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Matthews Southern Comfort. 

Performers included Richie Havens, Ravi Shankar, Joe Cocker, Joan Baez, Santana, Grateful Dead, Janis Joplin, Sly & the Family Stone, The Who, Jefferson Airplane and Jimi Hendrix.

The Effect on Music and Musicians

Woodstock had a powerful impact on rock musicians, folk musicians and those invested in counterculture. This was a transformative time in music. The Beatles broke up in September 1969, though John Lennon’s departure from the group wasn’t announced until April 1970. Janis Joplin died in October 1970 of a heroin overdose, Hendrix in September of the same year of a barbiturate overdose – two of the most influential counterculture musicians gone shortly after the festival where perhaps their fame had peaked.  

The festival advanced the popularity of many budding musicians too, and helped solidify lasting careers. Carlos Santana, now considered to be one of the greatest guitar players alive, has released 25 studio albums since appearing at Woodstock.

The former promoter of Humphreys Concerts by the Bay, Kenny Weissberg, reflects in his 2013 memoir, Off My Rocker:

The music, the sharing, and the collective zeitgeist were all life-changing…Even though I was only 21, I came away from that weekend profoundly aware that anything was possible. From Woodstock on, I embraced the idea of taking chances and following all of my musical dreams. Three days at Woodstock crystallized my life’s path.

However, Pete Townshend of The Who presented an alternate opinion. Despite the fact his band played a career-changing performance at Woodstock, Townshend’s assessment was:

The dream and ideology of rock ’n’ roll was rooted in the idea that this generation, the ‘Woodstock generation,’ were super-luminaries, but I’ve never agreed with that. I always thought that was the biggest crock of s— America has ever come up with.

The Who’s set at Woodstock was interrupted by an anti-war activist, Abbie Hoffman, who grabbed a microphone and launched, mid-song, into a political rant. Townshend hit Hoffman with his electric guitar, pushing him off stage and dispelling any idea of ‘peace and love.’

While the spirit of the festival was very much anti-materialism, and due to ineptitude it took the promoters nearly a decade to recoup their losses, Woodstock was essentially created to make money for its promoters. In the aftermath, the success of Woodstock became a capitalist goldmine. It was immediately apparent to corporate America that this young audience represented a huge untapped market.

The music may have been seminal, and the event undoubtedly changed the way live music developed as an industry, but the overriding nostalgic image of peace, love and freely available drugs certainly wasn’t for everyone. Commenting on a 45thAnniversary feature in the San Diego Union Tribune, singer Billy Joel said:

I went to Woodstock and I hated it. I think a lot of that `community spirit’ was based on the fact that everybody was so wasted. Because everybody was stoned — everybody was passing around pot and acid — and I wasn’t into it… I was there for a night and a day, and then I left just before The Who went on. I really wanted to see them, but it was very hard to because everybody was hopping up and down and banging into you. So I walked out and hitched a ride home.

Woodstock’s place in culture

This was also a transformative time culturally. Barely four months after Woodstock, the utopian bubble burst at the Altamont free music festival near San Francisco. Fans arrived in their hundreds of thousands to hear the Rolling Stones and Woodstock veterans including Jefferson Airplane, Santana and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. Things took a turn for the worse – the Stones had arranged security for themselves, provided by members of the Hells Angels, leading to some festival goers being beaten, and a young African-American man, Meredith Hunter, who waved a gun, was stabbed and beaten to death. While Woodstock attracted a peaceful, multiracial audience, Hunter’s death stood in stark contrast.

Woodstock presented a place for people who embraced hippie culture to find a sense of deeper community – in that sense the festival became a flagship for counterculture ideals such as equality of race and sex. It was also a place where LSD use peaked – drug taking was seen as a way to protest, to make a political and cultural statement against society, and to have fun whilst doing so.

Issues surrounding Vietnam were very present at the time, and Woodstock was followed in October 1969 by Moratorium to End the War in Vietnam – a massive demonstration and teach-in across the United States against the United States involvement in the Vietnam War.

Image: Derek Redmond and Paul Campbell

Woodstock 2019

Fifty years have passed since Woodstock, and society is still struggling with issues of equality, war and community. Under the banner of the utopian nostalgia around the festival, promoters were planning a huge Woodstock 50 event to commemorate.

One of the main investors was Japanese international advertising and public relations joint stock company Dentsu, the fifth largest advertising agency in the world in terms of worldwide revenues (932,680 yen in 2018).

Dentsu explained its involvement, underlining how commercial the music industry has become:

It’s a dream for agencies to work with iconic brands and to be associated with meaningful movements. We have a strong history of producing experiences that bring people together around common interests and causes which is why we chose to be a part of the Woodstock 50th Anniversary Festival.

However, Woodstock 50 has been cancelled because investors “don’t believe the production of the festival can be executed as an event worthy of the Woodstock Brand”. 

50 years on, what has been called a “spark of beauty” and remembered an iconic event that centred on community, social justice and love of music has been relegated to the status of ‘brand’.

Woodstock’s impact on live music has been phenomenal – in terms of musical influence and maybe even more so in terms of the money that non-musicians can now draw from the industry. But the music and political hope that this gathering promised live on.

As, perhaps, does the ideal described by Kenny Weissberg: That anything is possible when enough people believe.

The State of the UK Music Industry in 2017

In October, we looked at options for study at Higher Education for those interested in studying music. This month, we look at the Music Industry in the UK thanks to UK Music and their Measuring Music 2017 and Wish You Were Here 2017 reports.

Each year, UK Music produce a report giving an overview of the UK Music Industry, exploring factors such as the value of the Music Industry and where revenues are being generated. It’s an exciting time for the UK Music Industry with a 6% growth in Total Gross Value Added (GVA) contribution in 2016, a total of £4.4 billion. This breaks down as £2bn from musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists, £1bn from live music (including festival organisers, ticketing agencies and venues), £640m from recorded music (including music labels and online music distribution), £474m from music publishing, £121m from music producers, recording studios and staff and £96m from music representatives (including collection societies, music managers and trade bodies).

Alongside the contribution to the UK, £2.5 billion was made in export revenue in 2016, with £946m generated by musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists.

For those thinking of entering the Music Industry, the report shows good news. Employment was up 19% in the sector in 2016 with 142,208 people employed within the UK Music Industry (up from 119,020 in 2015). This includes 89,800 musicians, composers, songwriters and lyricists from big name artists to lesser known musicians. Other large areas of employment include 28,538 people working in live music, 11,300 music producers, recording studios and staff and 9,100 working in recorded music. This really highlights the range of career opportunities across the sector.

The Live Music sector is a very important growth area for the UK Music Industry with a total audience of 30.9 million attending live music events in 2016, up 12% from 2015. This includes 27 million attending concerts and 3.9 million attending festivals in 2016. Of the attendees, 12.5 million people were music tourists in 2016, of these 823,000 were from overseas. The popularity of live music and music tourism in the UK means that 47,445 people are employed full time in music tourism.

While we might think of major festivals being key to music tourism, small venues are also vitally important to the music economy in the UK. 6.2 million people attended events at smaller music venues in 2016 with 107,000 of these being overseas music tourists. Sadly, numbers attending events at smaller venues are declining with a 13% drop in total audience for smaller venues in London last year leading to a 16% drop in spend at smaller venues.

This challenge is being address by the Music Venues Trust – http://www.musicvenuetrust.com, a registered charity, which was formed in January 2014 to protect the UK live music network by securing the long-term future of iconic grassroots music venues such as Hull Adelphi, Exeter Cavern, Southampton Joiners, The 100 Club, Band on the Wall and Tunbridge Wells Forum. However, Beverley Whitrick, Strategic Director of the Music Venues Trust emphasised

For the first time in ten years, the number of GMVs operating in London stabilised; the capital finished the year with the same number of spaces for new and emerging talent as at the start of the year, halting a 15-year decline in the number of spaces. This picture of a more stable sector was reflected across the UK, with regions reporting small but significant increases in audiences in the grassroots and small music venue sector.

The Measuring Music report also explores how people are accessing music. Drawing on findings by AudienceNet’s June 2017 survey, the report highlights the different ways various generations are accessing music. For example, radio accounted for just a tenth of 16-19 year old listening time, while on-demand streaming accounted for 62% of their total listening time 2017. However, for over 65s, more than 65% of their listening is via Radio, with 4% utilising on-demand streaming.

The report also highlights the importance of online access to music, with 31% of people using YouTube to listen to music and only 16% using Spotify and 15% CD. YouTube, Spotify, Apple Music and the combination of Amazon Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited hold 87% of the streaming market, according to the AudienceNet survey.

When exploring how people access music online, there are again inter-generational differences, with 59% of 16 to 19-year-olds using for Spotify or Apple Music against 33% who used YouTube for on-demand music with just 34% of the over-45s listening to the two most popular subscription services (Spotify and Apple Music) compared to 39% who get their music from YouTube.

Key highlights for the UK Music Industry include 20 million cumulative track streams in week one for the release of Stormzy ‘s Gang Signs and Prayer. Stormzy is the first grime artist to reach number 1 in the UK Album Charts.

Music is a vital part of the UK’s Economy and it’s continued development is vital. The UK really are world-leaders when it comes to music – did you know, one in every eight albums sold worldwide is by a British artist?


The Music Workshop Company team is passionate about music and music education. If you have any questions for us, would like to pick our brains about a career in music or are interested in booking a workshop, contact us today!

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