All photos by Wot Do You Call It
Back in grime’s heyday, you’d see some pretty big photographers dropping in for weeks or months at a time. Ewen Spencer, Jamie-James Medina and plenty more all churned out youth culture portfolios gleaned from East London raves, portraits of a young Dizzee in front of a fence, Skepta pulling some sort of menacing expression, or JME with his hood up. Funnily enough though, that interest dried up a bit once the grime scene lost its momentum, and any attempt to artistically document happenings photo-wise kinda fizzled away with that.
Enter Marco and George, two lads in their early 20s who have taken it on themselves to chronicle grime culture from a front line perspective via their Tumblr style photo blog Wot Do You Call It. They’ve been involved in the grime scene since their late teens; Marco as a would-be MC and George via a record label that put out singles from Wiley, Tre Mission, Blizzard, Dexplicit, and more. “From the relationships we’ve built,” starts George, “I feel like, there aren’t many people in the scene who we can’t get access to. So, we decided we needed to make best use of it.”
From weeknight clashes in Enfield, backstage at Soundclash or in the studios of Flex FM—every image Marco and George capture glows with a knee-deep gonzo style. And you can tell that these kids carry a hall pass of trust to whatever they turn up to, no matter how much conflict or competition boils up around them. “You get a lot of outsiders looking in,” explains Marco, “but we’ve been involved in grime for a long while, so I think our work comes across a bit more honestly. We’re on the inside looking in.”
From their unique perspective, do they feel like grime is going through a renaissance period? “Big question” laughs George. “I feel like there is a lot of expectation. It’s definitely coming back, but I feel like MCs more so than anyone else have to up their game and increase their levels of originality. These new MCs are very serious in terms of what they’re saying. Back in the day you’d get songs like “Gash by the Hour” or other jokey songs. Ones everyone could relate to and get on board with, and that is what pushed the scene forward. I feel like grime will never be where it should be until it gets that level of enjoyment back.” Marco adds “There are a lot more young MCs now, who are seeing the Wileys and the Skeptas suddenly doing well off the same grime that these boys are making at home. People seem to be paying attention again.”
It’s been a big year for grime, and about eight months since the duo launched Wot Do You Call It, so we asked them to show and tell some of their most treasured pictures of the 2014.
Marco: That’s Saint P at a Spooky set in Deja Vu FM. He’s an up and coming MC who isn’t so well known yet and he’s very good. I feel like this image sums up the grime culture. The gun finger; the fact they are young kids; the way they are dressed; the guy on the mic; people laughing. If someone said they don’t know what grime is, I’d show them this picture.
Marco: That’s Novelist and his crew The Square. We were on our way to a radio station, and I felt like said a lot about what grime is. This is their local area, and as much as the music has changed, the sound has changed and the names have changed, some things haven’t. This picture shows how grime MCs all come from similar places. They come from places that aren’t the most comfortable to live in. But, they are pushing to make something of themselves.
George: This is mine. I was backstage and onstage at Red Bull Culture Clash and I saw the synergy between Boy Better Know and the other people there helping them out, like D Double E and Stormzy. It was a good place to be, and a big brand getting behind grime is only gonna make the scene excel and give it focus. This, of Skepta, was the best photo of the night.
George: This one is from a recent set that I went to with Werewolf and Flirta D, plus new guys such as Row.D, Pauly Papers and others. Everyone was just waiting to start MCing, and I thought the two guys leaning up against the board was a great image. Werewolf is an older MC from a crew in West London. That shows to me that even though it’s a different day and age for grime, he’s still willing to travel to North London to get his lyrics out, on his own, representing. There was a bit of conflict after that as well, between him and another MC in the room. But all those people were in the same room for a reason, and that was grime.
Marco: That’s Prezident T, one of the original Meridian guys. He has been around for a while and is one of the best MCs around, it’s very rare to get a photo of him, and it’s even rarer to see him spitting at anything these days.
George: This was when Boxed did a Boiler Room and it was literally their whole line up in the one room. That particular moment was Mumdance’s dub of “Take Time”; the Riko Dan version. Everyone knows who Riko is from Roll Deep, so from the first bar it went totally crazy. That just shows that the amount of people coming to Boxed are still in touch with the roots of grime and they know their shit. From going to these raves, I’m seeing the same people there day in day out, and it fills me with confidence.
George: This was when Slimzee got The Square on his show. This picture is of DeeJillz as they were doing 8 bars each and passing the mic in a circle. Slimzee is one of the godfathers, so him embracing them is a great mix of the old and new generation. It’s nice to see the big guys accepting the new guys and letting them have their moment.
Marco: That one is Streem from The Square. This is all gun fingers, angry MC, cinematic vibe.