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A Look Inside Blackpool’s Burgeoning Grime Scene

It might have more of a reputation for ballroom and donkey rides, but it's the direct and defiant sound of grime that is now thriving in lower class neighborhoods of the Lancashire borough.

by Kamila Rymajdo
Jul 7 2016, 9:00am

This article originally appeared on Noisey UK.

“I’m an alien, here to take over earth / Man’s been doing this shit from birth,” starts a kid of surely no more than 11-years-old, spitting bars straight to camera in a Lancashire accent, filmed on an industrial estate in Nowheresville, Britain. “They call me Little T, because I’m smaller than a smurf,” he finishes.

I’m poring over a YouTube channel called Blackpool Grime Media. Yes, Blackpool grime. In fact, this is just one of three heavily populated Blackpool grime channels, with thousands of subscribers each. Little T might not yet possess bars that could justify a set in Jammer’s basement, but he’s just one of a glut of young grime MCs coming out of a burgeoning Blackpool scene, who are using this platform as a means to vent, clash, intimidate, crack gags and, ultimately, have their voices heard.

Of all the places you’d expect to find a burgeoning grime scene mirroring London’s MC culture, a small Northern town by the Irish sea probably wouldn’t spring to mind. Each year, Strictly Comes Dancing rolls into Blackpool, and portrays the town like some magical, illuminated jive city, where celebrities and locals alike quickstep and tenderfoot along the famous beaches, chewing rock, feeding donkeys and cheering on the Wurlitzer organ sounds that fill the air. It’s like Laurel & Hardy never left. But that image is one of showbiz delusion. The glitz has long decayed, and that Blackpool died some time ago.

During the EU referendum, the seaside town became the most Eurosceptic place in the North West of England, with 67.5% of its people voting to leave. Maybe these were informed decisions based on personal situations and the local economy, maybe they were immigration-baited votes driven by the aggressive deception of the Leave campaign, or maybe they simply showed a desire among locals to send a gigantic arse kick in the direction of parliament. Whatever the case, when you look around the town of Blackpool in 2016, you can’t blame the people here for feeling like they wanted to revolt against the status quo.

Over the last fifteen to twenty years, the town has become a crumbling relic of the British seaside fantasy; lost and wandering in the shadows of George Osborne’s metropolitan vision for Britain. Unemployment is high, opportunities are scarce, homelessness is rife, and funding is barren – it has become one of the ten most deprived towns in Britain, and this won’t change as another decade of cuts looms on the horizon. All of this was enough for The Economist to label the area as “a coastal town they forgot to close down" back in March.

“The decision-makers don't have to live anywhere near Blackpool and, because of its known history of tourism, they think revenue is generated that way,” says a local MC named Bimbi, who believes the government is to blame for Blackpool’s demise, “but it’s not the case anymore. No one comes here really apart from in summer and those numbers have decreased.” The sentiment is shared by another local MC who goes by the name of Afghan Dan, “It's like Emmerdale here… It's so behind, people don't know what they're doing.”

But one thing we’ve always learned from strife is that, in a strange and cyclical way – and given particular conditions – it can breed creativity. Over the years, from hip-hop to grime, we’ve seen how a frustration to be heard, a feeling of persecution, and the forced inventiveness of having zero resources, can result in people fighting harder than ever to make sure their sound or story gets out there – even if it is not yet fully formed. Blackpool may have more of a musical legacy for ballroom and punk – although the North West of England does have a strange reputation for harvesting music that involves rapping over rapid BPMs (see: donk) – but it’s the direct and defiant sound of grime that is now thriving in lower class neighbourhoods and networks of this Lancashire borough.

In some ways, the grime coming out of Blackpool is similar to that in London, but in others it’s radically different. For a start, most of the MCs rap over well known instrumentals, ranging from immortals like “Rhythym ‘n’ Gash” and “Functions on the Low” to more recent stuff like Elf Kid’s “Golden Boy”. However, nearly all of the younger MCs don’t cite Skepta, JME, Stormzy or Wiley as their primary source of inspiration. Instead, they’re motivated by Bugzy Malone, almost as if they are unaware of anything going on south of Manchester.

There are virtually no collectives in Blackpool, and there’s also a distinct lack of pirate and online radio stations, illegal raves, and a scarcity of events due to a reluctance from venues to support local MCs. Events that have been organised have usually been cancelled by promoters at the last moment due to threats of violence. As a result, Blackpool’s grime scene is largely shackled to YouTube channels ran by a handful of gatekeepers: Blackpool Movement TV, Flows Exposed, and Blackpool Grime Media, the latter of which is the most prolific of the three.

Introduced with an overstylised ident and shot on a hand-held camera, the visual style of these videos mimic those made by popular channels such as SB.TV and JDZmedia. But that’s where the similarities end. In Blackpool’s grime videos you’ll see no cars, no half naked girls, and no parties – everyone records their bars in the same two studios, recognisable by dated wallpaper and amateur graffiti. These videos present a very pure and stripped back form of grime, devoid of most cultural references or cliches; videos by a group of people for whom grime has been shaped to their own personal reality – living in a town where, for many of the worse off, the concept of opportunity has become a running joke.

“I rap about about the ‘endz, drugs and violence because that’s my truth and what I see,” says Tizzy, an MC who runs YouTube channel Blackpool Movement TV alongside JLG and Trix – a trio of artists who’ve been making grime in Blackpool for years. Mitchell Edwards, another well-known MC on the scene concurs, saying that “I don’t see the point in lying about things in in your music, if you’re going to put something out there it needs to be a message from the heart and something that’s actually happened at some point in your life.”

Of course, not all the videos are inherently interesting. Some are just not very good. A fair handful of the freestyles sound like a badly rapped version of the Vic Reeves club singing sketch from Shooting Stars, some have to stare at their phone the entire time for fear of forgetting their bars, and if you thought Chip vs Bugzy was an event then wait until you see Little T and 14 year old Soph Aspin open a whole world of juvenile rap beef. It's been enough to draw the attention of pisstaking YouTubers, although given how young some of these kids seem to be, it makes for somewhat uncomfortable viewing when their attempts are ripped to shreds by accounts like WillNE in videos tagged under ‘Internet’s Cringiest Kids Makes Grime’.

Still, the humour is not always lost on the MCs themselves. In one video, Afghan Dan slays his rival Dylan Brewer (who Dan often intentionally slurs by calling him a “space raider”) by going to the corner shop at the end of his road, buying a packet of Space Raiders, and then smashing them in front of the camera whilst saying, “This is your head; I’m going to eat you.” And when you see CallyManSam riding on the back of a scooter with learner plates at around 20mph giving the middle finger to the camera – in the video for “It’s CallyManSam” – you can give him the credit that he does so with a hint of satire.

Despite the amateurish sense of comedy that comes through many of the videos, it doesn’t mean the music isn’t inherently interesting or valuable. It would be easy to write a trash piece about Blackpool grime, but, at its best, it can also be seen as telling portrait of the psyche and situations of the lower classes in so many disregarded Northern towns. With many of the artists coming from single parent families, much of the content is about experiencing domestic instability, death of loved ones, or going to prison. Subject matter varies from the playground to painfully heart-breaking, such as Dylan Brewer’s “Deep Thoughts” where he raps about dealing with the death of his mother. Surprisingly though, there is little talk of a desire to get out of Blackpool – rather, MCs such as Bimbi and Tommy Kray are united in putting the seaside town on the map, with lines like: “I spit bars in a Blackpool way,” and the braggadocious: “Blackpool grime is the finest”. Perhaps it’s a sign that many realise getting out is at best difficult, and at worst impossible.

In order to find out more about the scene than I could from YouTube and Facebook messages, I decided to meet some of those involved in person. I started with Afghan Dan – real name Danny Martin – who gets some of the higher views on anything he puts up. Of all the MCs, he immediately strikes you as one with genuine potential, combining a barbed flow with shrewd lyrics, and a commanding presence on camera. Yet as I waited for the MC in a quiet cafe in Blackpool’s town centre, my hopes dwindled. By his own admission, Dan has a reputation around town. At the age of 20, and a father of one, he had recently been released from a fifteen month prison sentence for a range of misdemeanours ranging from theft to assault, and I’d already heard it was possible he would be going back to prison the following morning.

Photo by Emily Perry

When we eventually meet at a B&Q near where he lives in Bispham, he begins by telling me about his upbringing. Dan classed himself as the black sheep of his middle class family, made worse by the fact he was the only POC, having never met his biological father. “And I’ve got a ginger brother, you know,” he laughs.

He tells me that despite his presence within the family, he was never treated differently, evidenced by his bars on “Reality PT2” where he raps, “Never got abused, grew up in a nice house getting nice food, mother made sure she got me the nice shoes, never had to put my size 3’s in them size 2’s.” But his racial identity eventually led to discrimination and conflict in his teens. He was kicked out of school in year 7, gained no GCSEs, and was eventually referred to a young offenders team. It was here that he met local DJ Benè Marshall, who saw potential in Dan and took him to a gig at Lancaster University, where he took to the stage as a supporting hype man, performing to 400 people.

That show took place in August 2013, and Dan admits with regret that he hasn’t performed live since – mostly due to recent stints in prison and a lack of funds. Because of his previous misdemeanours, and because there isn’t much of an outlet for grime in Blackpool, if Dan wanted to MC, he would need to travel outside of the seaside town, which is something he can’t afford on Jobseekers allowance. Rather than being the product of a broken home, it feels like Dan is the product of a broken town.

It doesn’t take much of a deep dive into the Blackpool grime scene to see some of its uglier qualities rearing. Afghan Dan has his rivals in the scene, and when he ends up sending for other MCs, it never takes long for the replies to careen headfirst into racism. A send titled “Afghan Business” (since removed from YouTube) by Dylan Brewer had garnered the largest amount of views – 70,000 since April – and was perhaps the most aggressive of the videos, with lines that constantly took aim at Dan’s ethnicity and skin colour. When I approached Brewer for an interview, he told me he wouldn’t have much to say because, “I’ve hardly done any music.”

Dylan Brewer, via YouTube

Some artists concede that the racism is detrimental to the image of Blackpool grime, yet it also doesn’t seem to be going away or threatening the evolution of the scene. The movement is in part based on apparent xenophobia and a no-quality control thirst for views, yet the founder of Flows Exposed, the only Blackpool YouTube channel with a clear no-racism policy, is adamant to come up with some solutions. The channel offers free recording and editing to any artist who showcases on the channel, as opposed to what its founder, who has asked to remain anonymous, sees as an unscrupulous policy run by Blackpool Grime Media.

“I’m not in it for the money,” the Flows Exposed founder says, when asked how he funds what seems to be a full time job as the front-man for his racism-free freestyles channel. “We’re still learning,” says Bimbi, another MC who was previously racially abused by a rival MC's bars. The content has now been deleted and Bimbi says he’d rather not name the perpetrator, since they’ve made peace and he wants to move forward with a more positive image of grime in Blackpool. It’s these instances of positivity that will propel the Blackpool scene forward, lending it the potential to grow and nurture itself into something impactful, rather than shocking.

Mary Nicholson of Hush Hush Media, one of the few promoters willing to put on grime events in the town, argues that, “Blackpool’s economy could benefit greatly from the scene, with venues and clothing brands all being contenders for getting a slice of the pie, if only people started working together more.” Afghan Dan agrees, stating: “People look up to us, people see us as role models. That’s why I have to spread a positive message.” He sees potential in the movement to not only keep kids off streets, but to give Blackpool something to be proud of again.

When I meet Dan for a family party a few weeks later, he runs up on stage to perform his newest track “Ring Ring”, which, since its release, has been clocking up a few thousand hits a day. From the children who ask him for selfies, to his own family members, Dan captivates everyone he meets.

If Blackpool grime had a risk assessment, it would no doubt fail. The content is too controversial, the talent is too sketchy, and there’s a lack of foresight in some corners. But the intention is there. Given the same nurture and care as the London scene, there’s the bones of something that could grow into a self-sufficient and burgeoning pool of musical talent. In towns like Blackpool, these things are important. A Blackpool edition of Boy In Da Corner may be some way off yet, but with some work, it’s scenes like this that can help to build prosperous experiences for future generations.

You can follow Kamila here.

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Tommy Kray