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Unpacking Manchester's Blossoming Grime Scene

Ahead of BBC Radio 1Xtra's Street Studio session in Manchester this weekend, we catch up with local MCs and promoters to discuss the city's grime culture.

by Jesse Bernard
12 July 2016, 2:49pm

This Saturday, 16th July , BBC Radio 1Xtra’s Street Studio will be setting up shop in the Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre between 11am and 7pm, and you’re invited to come down and record some bars, with the best performances being in with a chance to appear on BBC Radio 1Xtra during their current 'MC Month' series. To celebrate that, let’s take a look at grime in Manc as it stands.

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Manchester has often found itself at the centre of Britain's rich music history. You can venture into a student bar anywhere in the UK at 2am and guarantee you’ll hear "Wonderwall" being bellowed by a couple hundred half cut teenagers. Britpop was driven by Manchester: it birthed the working class sounds of Oasis, The Smiths and The Stone Roses. For many that’s what has always represented the city's music scene, but times have changed, and to overlook grime when discussing Mancunian music in 2016 would be criminal. For Manchester’s working class kids, it's 140bpm that's providing the soundtrack to life in the Rainy City in a more meaningful way than enduring guitar bands, and it goes much deeper than the outstanding success of Bugzy Malone.

Hailing from South Manchester, Hypes (of the crew, Burst Gang) considers himself one of the city’s longest serving artists in grime. He, like many others, witnessed the birth of Dizzee Rascal and subsequently, a new culture. “That’s why I say I was birthed into it because I was in year seven just as all of this was happening,” he explains. “We used to have clashes and stuff in people’s mums’ houses, in parks as well. It’s the same nature as how grime was in London and I feel like it’s only now that I’m finally understanding it.” But it wasn’t a case of Manchester following in the pioneering footsteps of London; grime has existed in Manchester longer than those outside care to admit.

Of late, the origins of grime have been debated and picked apart, in order to establish some ownership among the communities that nurtured it. If grime is by extension, a narrative from the perspective of Britain’s black working class communities, then it must be fully representative of the diversity within those. “Just how it was only east London at one point then you probably had guys in North London, like JME and Skepta, who weren’t as widely known compared to Dizzee,” Hypes adds. This to a degree is true, had grime remained something to consume only for those born and raised in the East End, it wouldn’t be where it is now.

During a brief chat on the phone, former student, Liam McDermott, who went to university in Manchester and regularly attended grime-related events, speaks of the city’s fragmented but present grime culture. “Throughout uni there were always DJs who would play grime on nights out, usually guys who played sets at Murkage, Hit & Run, Ape, and other affiliated nights. You would almost always hear grime at Monday Murkage. It started out as an ‘anything goes/not taking anything too seriously’ type vibe, playing hip-hop, grime, dubstep, funky, bassline, garage, dancehall, house,” Liam explains. Whilst it’s clear that there was a burgeoning club scene, the lack of consistent turn outs and commercial appeal led to fragmentation. “It became very unprofitable because turnouts were erratic and the artist booking fees were very expensive.”

For years, artists such as Shifty, Blizzard and K1 have all made their presence felt within Manchester but few have taken it beyond the city’s borders. “To be honest, there’s a few other people, but I think they’ve only got back onto it now grime’s popular again. Over the last three years people started doing electro, funky house, hip-hop – everything apart from grime – and I was still doing what I was doing,” Hypes recalls. Last August, XP and Hypes of Burst Gang both appeared on 1Xtra’s #GimmeGrime segment, giving the world an ear into Manchester’s talent. In order for it to be taken to the next level, greater synergy and collaboration is needed to ensure a self sustaining culture is created.

Recently, Bugzy Malone has helped put ‘Manny on the map’, as he confidently proclaimed in his BBC Radio 1xtra Fire in the Booth in 2015. The significance of that set isn’t to be understated - to challenge Chip, one of grime’s most formidable lyricists, in his hometown was not only bold but it marked a significant moment in Manchester’s grime history.

Since finding himself in the charts with "Walk With Me" last summer, Bugzy Malone has continued to propel himself into conversations surrounding the UK’s best grime artists, which seldom include acts from outside of London. Not to mention, the ongoing saga between Bugzy and Chip, which saw the former’s name reaching beyond Manchester and into the mind’s grime’s newest fans.

While the beef between Bugzy and Chip didn’t quite descend into anything territorial, it provided an opportunity for Manchester to rally behind one of their own. It also provided an opportunity for other local artists to make themselves known on the national and possibly international stage. However, the lack of harmony among artists within Manchester means that the scene often finds itself fragmented. “No one wants to represent anyone doing well for themselves and I think the business mind is probably lacking as well,” says Hypes.

Comprising of five members, Burst Gang have been tipped by the likes of Murkage Dave as one of crews worth giving the time of day and with Hypes’ experience and deep knowledge, with the right methods, there’s no reason why the scene can’t become stronger. “Burst Gang are the most exciting grime crew in Manchester right now. They have the tekkers and are fully certy, but also manage to bring that real rave energy to their sets also. They are smashing every party right now up north, they killed Eskimo Dance in Manchester, but they are also able to come to London and hold their own on radio sets with ease,” says Murkage Dave.

He's a prominent figure in Manchester’s scene, hosting the Murkage club night at South Club, and he’s created a laissez-faire, anything goes approach to scheduled grime nights. From 2009 artists like Ghetts have been performing there on a regular basis alongside locals.

Despite the focus on grime and support from people like BBC Radio 1Xtra over the last few years, Manchester needs to organise if it wants to succeed. While heads are turning and people are beginning to take notice, within Manchester there’s a lot of work that needs to be done. Since the earliest days of grime, it’s been referred to as the ‘grime scene’, as opposed to just a genre. As much as the artists, DJ and producers are important in grime, it’s those behind the scenes that add to the very DNA of the culture. “We need people who aren’t MCs to put on shows and nights; we need radio and photographers. Those are people who make up a scene, as much as the MCs,” says Hypes. Manchester is the same as anywhere with regards to nurturing a culture: it requires tastemakers, radio, photographers and an establishment of its own.

At face value, it may appear that Manchester is enjoying the same successes as London. The reality is that although there’s loads of great stuff going on, in order for grime to grow and develop in Manc, it needs to get a bit more of an infrastructure. With 1Xtra’s Street Studio heading to Manchester, the scene now has an opportunity to push forward and create something that will have an impact on the city's wider music culture in years to come.

You can join in by heading to the BBC Radio 1Xtra Street Studio in Manchester on Saturday 16th July only. Come step up to the mic! Get down to Manchester Arndale Shopping Centre between 11am and 7pm to record some bars to have a chance to get your performance heard on BBC Radio 1Xtra. Come show us what you’ve got, right here.