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How Grime Shutdown UK Culture - Cheltenham Literature Festival 2017

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by David Keyworth (subscribe)
Iím a freelance journalist and published poet, based in Manchester. https://uk.linkedin.com/pub/david-keyworth/49/b3a/b83
Event:
Grime of the Century
Cheltenham Ladies College and Grime is a combination on a par with chalk and cheese or Donald Trump and self-effacement. The alumni of Cheltenham Ladies College includes Conservative minister Amber Rudd, amongst many other famous women. It is even where Madonna chose to send one of her daughters.

My familiarity with Grime stretches as far as watching the exploits of Kurrupt FM on hilarious, BBC spoof documentary - People Just Do Nothing. So, the question of what is Grime music, was one I hoped this event - at the college's Parabola Arts Centre, and part of the literature festival - might answer.

Elijah - a Grime MC and DJ - came closest to providing a definition, albeit a suitably eclectic one. He said that culturally, Grime comes from a combination of "Jamaican influences, electronic 'Jungle music', DJs and sound system, Pirate Radio, MC Culture, lo-fi production and bootlegs''.

Cheltenham Literature Festival, Grime, Elijah
Elijah. Credit: Still Moving Media


For someone like me, who was a teenager in the 1980s, it was comforting to hear cassette tapes referred to so frequently. Both Elijah and poet Kayo Chingonyi mentioned how teenage pocket money didn't stretch far enough to buy cutting-edge technology. Kayo even confessed to borrowing AA batteries from the TV remote control. Suitably, he read a poem called Guide to Proper Mixtape Assembly.

Cheltenham Literature Festival, GrimeKayo Chingonyi
Kayo Chingonyi. Credit: Still Moving Media


This raised a smile from Jeffrey Boakye, the author of Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime. He is a teacher and said that his pupils would be bemused by references to taping from the radio.

This DIY, teach-yourself element of Grime was, Kayo argued, an element of Grime that is hard to reproduce and commercialise.

The poet said: "You can't commodify 30 teenage boys sweating in a room that smells of smoke". Jeffrey Boakye agreed that although some Grime artists might become mainstream, the energy of the form was "not commodifiable".

Cheltenham Literature Festival, Grime, Jeffrey Boakye
Hold Tight: Black Masculinity, Millennials and the Meaning of Grime by Jeffrey Boakye. Credit: Still Moving Media


Guest curator and author and Chair, Nikesh Shukla, asked Kayo about the influence of music on his poetry. In reply, Kayo said: "Lots of my work comes directly out of music". Partly because he originally arrived at poetry via writing song lyrics. The challenge, he added, was to bring the lyrical rhythm of Garage and Hip-Hop to a genre where "the air is the beat".

Cheltenham Literature Festival, Grime Nikesh, Shukla
Nikesh Shukla. Credit: Still Moving Media


Discussion moved to the topic of Grime's current relationship with UK politics, specifically the Grime4Corbyn movement. There was a general consensus that Grime artists talking about politics was one factor behind the increased youth vote, in June's general election.

Elijah, who confessed that he'd been at a rave until 5am that Sunday morning, made the point that many young people "didn't believe in any politics" and "wouldn't know what was left and right." He was concerned that Grime could become intolerant of artists who were not Corbyn supporters.

The event lasted an hour and with the panel in a talkative mood, there was only time for one question. A young woman asked about the role of females in Grime.

In response, Kayo said that the low visibility of women in Grime was a consequence of underlying cultural issues. "People granted visibility often have the loudest voices", he observed. He added that 'we' tend not to encourage boys to think about girls as people who could be friends, in a non-transactional or sexual way.

Jeffrey Boakye mentioned Stormzy as someone who was beginning to talk about mental health and other non-masculine issues and portray women as more than just sex objects, in his videos.

Despite a stimulating and amusing crammer-class in Grime, I still don't think I could pass an exam in the genre I've probably heard Grime music and enjoyed it but, for better or worse, my cultural world is The Smiths, Brit Pop, the Arctic Monkeys et al.

But music isn't football - you don't have to pick one team to the exclusion of all others. Elijah made the point that his own definition of Grime changes every day. That's something that could be said of all creative forms. This event reaffirmed that, although definitive definitions may be impossible, we learn a lot in the attempt to find them.

Cheltenham Ladies' College, Parabola Arts Centre, Cheltenham Literature Festival
Cheltenham Ladies' College Credit: wikipedia/commons
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Where: Cheltenham - various venues
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