Illustration by Sam Taylor
Sup y'all, it's Noisey Features Editor Drew Millard here. I live in Bushwick, which is a neighborhood in Brooklyn, which is a part of New York, which is a part of America. Recently, my UK counterpart Sam Wolfson came to America to interview Diplo and The Clash, and over beers and brisket we discussed the
CRAAAAZY~ differences between America and the UK. For example, did you know that in England, they think the concept of "DIY" is stupid? As someone so DIY that I dumpster-dived for my MacBook Pro, this blew my mind. Anyways, Sam and I got to talking, and we decided to ask each other questions about the differences between American and British music culture.
SAM'S QUESTIONS FOR AMERICA
Sam: One thing that always surprises me about the US is that it's still seems cool to be in an unsuccessful - or as you guys would call it "underground" - band. Like being in a shitty guitar band that plays to 40 people every weekend seems to get you laid. In the UK, if you're in a massive band you get to sleep with hot celebrities, and if you're a DJ you get to sleep with students, but if you're in a shitty band with limited 7' releases and a Bandcamp page that Kim Gordon once tweeted about, everyone just thinks you should give up on your dreams and get a proper job.
Drew: I think that stems from a fundamental difference in the size of the US and the UK—there's a SHITLOAD of people over here, which means there are a shitload more bands here than in the UK, which seems like a dumb and obvious thing to point out (mainly because it is). This means that in the US, you can have an audience of, say, 50,000 people and still be relatively unknown. Like, Majikal Cloudz is pretty well-known here, but his audience is spread out over the country—he showed up on Pitchfork's Albums of the Year list, but then when he goes to Arizona he'll still play for, like, five people. Ergo, he is still "underground." Meanwhile in the UK, everybody lives in like three places so if your audience is 50,000 people that means you're going to play for a shit-ton of people every time you have a show, which means you appear more successful than Jim Underground over in America. Then of course you have like Hype Culture in the UK, where NME has a new band on their cover every month proclaiming them The Greatest Band of All Time, which probably leads to them sleeping with celebrities and shit. I dunno, maybe I'm wrong about all of this, I'm kinda drunk right now.
Another thing that weirds me the fuck out is that you seem pretty chill with Ellie Goulding and Charli XCX even though their music is objectively terrible. Like have you actually listened to "Burn"?
Why do people hate Ellie Goulding and Charli XCX? Are they bullies? Did Ellie Goulding and Charlie XCX conspire to take everyone in the UK's lunch money? They seem chill, but then again people in different places like different things. Like, we think Skrillex is the shit, and you guys think he sucks (I think?). What American artists are big over there, anyways?
People are pretty into Haim and Bruno Mars, I think. I wanted to check on something actually, because I'm pretty sure the prime minister of the UK, SImon Cowell, has been feeding us some bullshit propaganda. He keeps saying that he's making all these UK X Factor contestants massive stars in the US, but I'm not sure that's true. So let me ask this, have you heard of any of the following people: Alexandra Burke, JLS, Olly Murs, Cher Lloyd, Little Mix, Wagner?
OK so I can't confirm that Simon Cowell's asshole is full of shit, but his mouth is definitely full of shit. I have heard of Olly Murs, but the rest of those people I have never heard of. Do you guys have Justin Bieber over there? What about Austin Mahone?
Austin who? We have The Vamps? Do you have them? They are like a knock off One Direction that you bought from a market stall on a beach. Ok so another thing, why do white kids at frat parties love turnt-up hip-hop? Like how did Rick Ross become house party music? Or I guess more pertinently, if white kids at frat parties love it, doesn't that make it uncool? Like how can you stand to like the same music as a guy who only shops at J.Crew and can only get social validation from some kind of weird all-male secret society based around chugging?
OK so I think your perception of American frat culture is slightly outmoded—while turnt-up rap will forever remain a relevant part of any fraternity function, the big, hairy cash machine known as EDM is sort of horning in on its market share. This is because Bro Culture™ doesn't actualllllllly give a shit what's soundtracking it, as long as it's loud, sort of obnoxious, and could hypothetically convince girls (not real-life women, more just "chicks" as an abstract concept) to dance. Maybe I'm weird, but I don't care what other people listen to? I feel like if somebody likes a thing I like, that's awesome. So if I'm listening to Young Thug and then "Danny Glover" gets blasted at the frat party, I think that's pretty cool!
Please can you rate the American music awards in order of importance.
Grammys > BET Awards > AMAs > VMAs > Soul Train Awards > Teen Choice Awards
What does mainstream non-blog reading America think of a) Robin Thicke b) R. Kelly c) The Chainsmokers?
B) Talented Creep
Do you ever wake up in the night feeling guilty about Pink?
No, but I had a dream about making an Instagram video of Wiz Khalifa dancing last night, so that's uncomfortably close.
I think one thing Brits are really jealous of in the US is having cool bars or venues where you can go any night of the week. Like when Americans say "I know this pretty cool spot". No one would say that in the UK, cause a place can be awesome on night and shit the next. So I guess my question is…what's the coolest spot?
MAN. SPOTS. Fuckin' A, bro. I guess the coldest of cool spots in New York, depending on what you're into, are St. Vitus for metal/hardcore/generally heavy shit, and Bossa Nova Civic Club in Bushwick for a more "club" type experience. Somehow, Bossa Nova has become this place that dudes like Kanye and Drake go to when they're in New York, but it's mainly populated by scuzzy Brooklyn kids who like to dance and shit. The drinks are cheap-ish, which is important, but ever since Drake started going they've started charging a cover, which sucks. But yeah. Those places. Very chill spots, swaggily low temperatures.
QUESTIONS FOR BRITAIN
Drew: What is the current status of Grime in the UK? Is it dead? How crazy is Wiley IRL? Were people mad about "Wearing My Rolex?"
Sam: This is the eternal question and pretty much everyone in the scene will give you a different answer. I guess the easiest thing to say is that grime has never crossed over into the mainstream - a couple of grime artists have crossed over but only by making music that patently isn't grime, kind of like when Nicki Minaj claimed she was the new queen of hip-hop and then released Starships.
I think the problem is that UK people tend to think if something hasn't gone mainstream it's failed, whereas, as Skepta said on the radio the other day, we should be happy that grime is still cool, still underground, still producing the most talented lyricists in the country. There's a lot of good new shit coming out from Wiley, Skepta, JME, Jammer, Tempz, D Double E as well as newer guys like CAS and Kozzie who aren't too bad. There's also an explosion in grime producers, and that side of the scene is really having a renaissance. There's also this crossover tune called German Whip which everyone, including us, is getting pretty gassed about.
(Gassed is a London slang word that means overexcited - for more information, click here)
I guess the problem is that the police and the government will stop grime happening in any kind of live space. A lot of MC (rather than producer) led grime shows get shut down. The police use a racist form that promoters have to fill in and then shut down shows accordingly (it specifically used to ask the race of the people attending the event, now it just asks the type of music being played but the only examples they give are black genres). Even massively popular former grime artists like Wretch 32 who has sold millions of records still struggle with the police trying to shut down their shows.
Wiley is batshit fucking mental but also really sweet. I once went to Spain to interview him and we were having quite a nice chat about everything. After about 30 minutes he was like, "I've just got to do a few things, we'll pick this up in a bit." Then without telling anyone he got a cab to the airport and flew back to the UK. I thought his management would be mad apologetic but they were like "dude, you're lucky he showed up at all." A few hours later he was tweeting from a branch of Wimpy (like Arby's but even shitter).
Wearing My Rolex is a mad banger and anyone who tells you different is, as we'd say in the UK, a fucking cunt.
I get a sense in the UK that since popular things are often perceived to be good and cool (as opposed to the US, where popular ≠ good/cool), when something is huge and young, hip people don't fuck with it, they get angry. Why is that? Here, we have bands like Florida Georgia Line and shit and we think they're sweet, but I doubt that's the case in the UK.
I think around the 2000s, in response to the NME getting overly gassed about terrible pop-indie bands like this, there was a shift, particularly in music journalism, to say that music that is independent and DIY is not inherently better than music made for mass production. I think bands also kind of came to this mass realisation that they didn't have to write songs that sounded like Shellac and then go home and listen to Justin Timberlake.
At the same time, DIY culture became really uncool in the UK with young people. The vibe is very much: You do your own artwork and started your own label? Who gives a fuck dude, tell me when you've got a brand partnership with Red Bull. Being unpopular and indie is still very cool with old people, but I think us cunts in generation Y are much more interested in cult success rather than authentic underachievement.
What music do stupid people listen to in the UK? A lot of our music press has to cover bands for stupid people, because they're more popular than bands for smart people.
Mainstream British music is a lot worse than mainstream American music. The best selling albums in the US last year were Justin Timberlake, Eminem, Imagine Dragons and Bruno Mars. The best selling albums in the UK were One Direction, Emeli Sande (with the same record that was the best selling album of 2012) Michael Buble, a swing covers album by former boyband star Robbie Williams and an album by the aforementioned Olly Murs - a sort of TV presenter-cum-cheeky chappy for whom music is very much a spare time hobby when he's not doing his main job of just being a really nice guy. Stupid people like stupid music in the UK, but there are a lot more of them.
What do British people think of American dance music? Like, "trap" (note the scare quotes) and EDM and Ryan Hemsworth type of detached lite-R&B?
The first thing we thought was: you morons. Here we've been for 30 years, with probably the richest dance music heritage of any country in the world - a vibrant and politically resistant scene that has developed from rave to house to jungle to drum'n'bass to garage to grime to dubstep to UK funky and fractured infinitely beyond that - and you guys come along with the worst eurotrash crap the world has ever heard and think you've discovered dance music.
Now I think things have calmed down, a lot of trap production is appearing grime music and that's got the seal of approval more than EDM. EDM is still a filthy word, and you wouldn't hear any British person saying it without phlegmming on the floor afterwards.
What is the equivalent of a frat bro in the UK, and what do they listen to?
The UK equivalent of a frat bro is a uni lad. Weirdly, they assert their masculinity by wearing giant animal costumes called kigus. They drink obscene amounts of alcohol and a couple of them died during the recent neknominate craze. They don't really have musical taste, per say, but when they go out they listen to terrible novelty music: TV themes, hit songs from their childhood, one-off comedy singles, that kind of thing. This music is called "cheese" and it's what you hear in most student nightclubs.
There is another group of kind of frat bros who go to University in Leeds, Bristol and Manchester and tend to prefer dubstep and taking copious amounts of MDMA and ketamine. You can tell one straight away because they will have been in the same tracksuit for 9 days and have blasted the bits in their brain giving them the ability to conjugate verbs. But I guess they might not really be considered lads as they tend to have a modicum of respect for women.
I heard people smoke crack at raves in London. Is that true, or did I just make that up? What are the cool drugs associated with music?
Here's a fun thing a doctor told me recently, she fits a colostomy bag for a person under 25 every couple of hours. That's how much ketamine is ruining people's bladders.
The crazy things is that ketamine is probably only the fifth most popular club drugs, after MDMA (which is so much better than what you call Molly it's not even worth discussing), coke, pills and mephedrone. Drug culture is massive in the UK - especially at festivals and raves where it is basically mandatory. A few years ago there was a club drug called mephedrone that was briefly legal and there was a pretty weird time where literally every weekend people would be out of their fucking brains. I miss it.
Crack is not such a big thing anymore, I think it might have been in the 90s but Pete Doherty made it lame.
Do British bands ever get bummed out about being huge in the UK, then touring America, and playing to like five people?
I guess but I think they're mostly just excited about the tacos.
If you had to impregnate a Spice Girl, which one would it be?
Are the Spice Girls still fertile? I would guess no. But if I had to give it a go, I'd say Posh - because that'd get me the most exposure as a homewrecker and loverat (which is what all British people crave).