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How Australia Discovered Grime and Made it Something of Its Own

We asked the Smash Brothers how they brought a London subculture to Melbourne and launched a national movement.

by Mahmood Fazal
23 January 2020, 12:00pm

Fraksha, Diem and D Double E. (Image Supplied)

This article originally appeared on VICE Australia.

When most people think of Grime, they think of London. Some think of Stormzy, others think of Wiley. Most think of syncopated electronic beats that raise your heartbeat to a police-chase temperature. Very few think of Australia, where the movement has slowly evolved from a few obsessed fans in Melbourne, to a national scene that's now feeding back to the UK and energising its original founders.

Here in Australia, the movement really kicked off with Smash Brothers, a UK-born, Australian-raised collective who were committed to spreading Grime across a new frontier.

Specifically, it started in the early 2000s when Fraksha from Smash Brothers was out buying sneakers from Tottenham Court road in London. He was sitting down, flicking through a copy of RWD magazine, when he saw something that caught his eye: “I started seeing pictures of all these MC crews, realising there was a whole scene of underground music I wasn’t aware of.”

Curious to hear the sound he'd seen in photos, Fraksha headed home. “The first real proper grime tunes I heard would have been ‘Terrible’ by Roll Deep or ‘Bounce’ by Wiley & Dizzee," he explained. "They were tunes I downloaded on Limewire at my dad’s house fucking up his PC with viruses.”

Having been raised on MC led Garage artists like Pay As U Go Cartel and So Solid Crew, Fraksha’s ears were finely attuned to Grime's lyrical style and aggressive beats.

At that point, Grime was virtually new, having only just emerged from London's migrant Caribbean communities who'd taken earlier UK electronic music styles, such as UK garage and jungle, and fused them with elements of dancehall, ragga, and hip hop. The style was energised by syncopated breakbeats—around 140 bpm—and MCs who would pass around microphones while spraying lyrics about the harsh realities of urban life and sending for each other in competitive battles.

Like Fraksha, Scotty Hinds of Smash Brothers was uniquely placed to appreciate Grime's nascent sound as he'd grown up in the same back-streets of West London. “My father was from Barbados so we had a massive influence of West Indian culture in our house; Dancehall, Reggae, Soca. All of the music that actually spawned Grime was in the environment I came up in,” he explains. “My dad played pans or drums in the dances. So to me, seeing a bunch of MCs passing the mic to the left, and letting the next man have a go is something I grew up with.”

Soon Fraksha, Scotty Hinds and their best mate Byron would form a crew called Nine High, who would eventually become Smash Brothers. They started playing London's rap circuits supporting such acts as Skinnyman, Klashnekoff, and Kano. Fraksha remembers the early days: “The first time we would have really experienced Grime was when we supported Kano and Ghetts in Oxford around 2004. I remember just being blown away by the energy and intensity of it all. They turned up with like 15 guys, all on stage and it was mental.”

In 2006, Smash Brothers’ Fraksha and Scotty Hinds moved to Australia and hit the ground running with hip-hop duo Bliss n Eso during their sold out “Get Loose” tour. When Smash Brothers started rapping over fast and aggressive beats, they were initially met with awkward confusion. Scotty Hinds laughs as he recounts their first tour, “I remember when we played a Risky Roadz mixtape backstage and everyone was like, ‘why are you lot listening to Doof Doof?’ And I didn’t know what Doof Doof was! But they thought Grime was like Techno.”

It was 2009 when Fraksha and Scotty Hinds teamed up with Murky and Diem, the only other people they had encountered in Melbourne who were obsessed with Grime. Diem, respected in the underground as Australia’s best Grime MC, remembers the early days: “Me and murky used to stream Logan Sama on some old dial-up internet connection and get gassed up! Ghetto 2000 and Life was one of the first releases I listened to on repeat. The sound was new and crazy to us. We didn’t know anyone else in Melbourne who was into grime!”

Together with Scotty Hinds and Fraksha, they formed Smash Brothers and were quickly booked to play a Black Saturday fundraiser at the Prince of Wales in St Kilda. Diem from Smash brothers says, “The crowds kept calling it Techno music. They couldn’t catch the swing of the original grime sound and didn’t understand the one liners or repetition. They just thought the MCs were simple, and not as skilled as the hip hop artists because they didn’t get it.”

50 / 50 fully gassed event Australian Grime
All photographs by Kyel Gully

Fraksha recalls the chaos of those nightclub tours, “Me and Scotty started getting booked as residents at Wobble off Flinders Lane. It was a pretty wild and lawless place. [Graffiti] writers were rolling people in the toilets, I saw people getting head on the sofa, everyone smoking weed inside.” It was in these underground haunts that Smash Brothers observed which elements of Grime were working for Australian audiences, and refined their sound. On the dubstep circuit, they tailored sets to a generation on the borders of rave music and rap—kids on the outskirts looking for something different.

“We were listening to the ‘Fuck Radio’ sets from The Movement and as we didn’t have pirate radio in Australia, so we used that as a template to make our own pre-recorded sets.” Those sets would culminate in It’s Just Barsthe flagship mixtape of Australian Grime.

Fraksha is still proud of the monumental release that put Australia on the global Grime radar, he says, “All of it was recorded with Affiks in his bedroom. A lot of it was typing ‘grime instrumental’ into a search engine. We only had two original beats, one from Loco (UK) and one from Juzlo (Canberra) who was the only Australian-based grime producer at the time.” The mixtape was enthusiastically received throughout the country, winning Mixtape of the Year in the 2010 Oz Hip Hop Awards, which forced the Australian underground to start taking the genre more seriously.

The following year, 2011, the Grime scene found a home in Fitzroy when Fraksha, Affiks and Arctic, launched the first and only dedicated grime party in Australia; 50/50. As Fraksha recalls, “The time I realised that our little scene was gonna go somewhere would have been at one of the 50/50 Fully Gassed events, when we hit capacity and there was a new younger generation of MCs who seemed to understand the format.”

The scene began expanding with artists from across the country getting stuck into the Grime lifestyle. Alex Jones (Flea) from Melbourne quickly stamped his foot on the scene with unmatched lyrical word-play, which was recognised by the London scene when he featured on UK Youtube channel P110. The scene quickly spread to Sydney, in the underground where through graffiti and hip-hop there had long been affinities and rivalries that led to monumental Melbourne Vs Sydney grime clashes. In NSW, rappers like Sarm, Brinks, Rappaport, Swarmy, Nebz and Mr Wrighty, were all committed to pursuing the genres aggressive energy. There was even a Smash Brothers and Sydney collaboration that featured Kerser on the classic “Spartan Riddim”.

In the years since, Smash Brothers have created a Grime scene that empowers youth on the fringes by providing a mosh-pit platform to voice their stories. The 50/50 events would have lines snaking up the street, with desperate fans keen to get a glimpse of the heaving madness inside. The walls would be dripping and the floors shaking. The crowds would chant back the lyrics to a new-wave of Grime artists like Nerve, Wombat, Shadow, ChillinIt and Hazrd.

By 2015, the Grime scene in Australia had become a creative ecosystem. Smash Brothers have performed alongside Footsie, D Double E, Dizzee Rascal, Jammz and Stormzy among a long list of others. They’ve featured on the pioneering grime DVD Risky Roadz where they represented Australia in the Grime Worldwide series. And just last year, Fraksha’s “Wicked like that (Remix)” was played on Sir Spyro’s BBC 1Xtra grime show, the only international track to do so, with Grime legend Jamakabi declaring, “[Australia’s] holding down Grime on the other side of the world. Shout them out!”

These days, grime artists like D Double E, Stormzy and Skepta regularly tour down under. At Grime shows, there’s less Polo and although there aren’t any Avirex jackets, hordes of young fans from Byron Bay to Frankston rock Grime staples like C.P. Company and Stone Island. The scene officially became part of Grime culture when Smash Brothers released a track with the Godfather of Grime, Wiley, stretching the movement beyond borders and paving the way for artists like ChillinIt to feature on Charlie Sloth’s Fire In The Booth, Nerve to feature on a Remix with Aitch and Wombat to plan a release with Devlin.

Australian Grime will always live in the shadow of the cultural monolith of the UK’s scene, but the urgency of the lyrical street protest and the unity of the theatrical performances, has inspired a generation of artists chipping in to forge something of their own.

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