As I walked out onto the South London streets, I looked up and saw the name of the underground station synonymous with the drill collective Harlem Spartans. As I played ‘Kennington Where It Started’, I looked around and saw familiar sights from the music and realised the motivation that would inspire a generation to leave the roads for something better. I had arrived here to meet South London native Grandmixxer, who has been at the forefront of the resurgence of Grime in the last 3 years.
Today, he’s left his high rise block to find me as I’ve got lost in the labyrinth of the little backroads of the estate. As we take the lift up towards to sky, we enter his home which he has transformed into a creative hub. Everywhere you look there is something music related. As a DJ, he has toured the pirate radio stations with notable artists and taken his sound across the globe.
I’ve crossed the river to speak about a new venture he’s embarking on, something that Grandmixxer believes will expand his sound and his stake in the game. “SLSA is actually a record label at the moment. It’s also a publisher as well. We do everything. We’re creating, recording, nurturing artists, booking acts. We’re doing everything. We’re putting on raves, releasing vinyl, distributing our own music, doing merch, we’ve got our own studios with our own producers so we’re able to do everything in-house. SLSA is a company that I formed a year ago but I thought of it before then, so what you’re seeing now is 2 years worth of ideas and work coming to fruition.”
What Grandmixxer is referring to is the South London Space Agency. It’s easy for me to say that it’s a record label, but it’s much more than that. I don’t hear many people speak about publishing. It’s only recently I’ve started to see merch at shows. I also don’t hear about people from within the scene handling show bookings. Those sort of tasks have traditionally been outsourced to third parties. So it’s interesting to me that Grandmixxer would want to step into that role. “I’ve got the experience of doing everything myself. I’ve been mixing for 15 years and have been DJ’ing on the underground scene for over 10 years. Pirate radio sets, DJ’ing for different artists, touring.”
Grime is DIY. So it’s surprising that I haven’t heard of a notable name from the Grime scene stepping out of traditional roles, whether that be an MC or a DJ, and entering the more business-focused roles. “Exactly. I’m currently working with some young MCs like Mez, Big Zuu, Mic Ty, Jammz and PK,” Grandmixxer tells me as he rolls off the names of some of the best Grime talent in the country. I remember all of the radio sets from 2014 to 2016 that set these guys apart from everyone else. Every week, you would hear them all on various radio stations, working on their craft and expressing their art in the form of bars and hooks. The DJs would spin new instrumentals that would serve a new generation and provide them with a feeling that hasn’t been paramount since the early ‘00s.
SLSA is the undiluted version of Grime. We’re not trying to make anything designed to play on the mainstream radio at any time.
“These MCs were a big part of the resurgence of the culture of radio sets from within Grime. So it’s only natural for me to want to work with them. The good thing now is that I can do whatever I want because there is no one else involved. SLSA is the undiluted version of Grime. We’re not trying to make anything designed to play on the mainstream radio at any time. If what we make gets played on commercial radio, that’s a blessing. Our aim is to make Grime tunes, put them on digital platforms and vinyl and sell them to the people who want them. We’re not searching for acceptance at the high level, you know what I mean. We’re not going to make any compromises to the sound. I’ve seen in this game that people always influence you. Like, people would say “You know if you made the record sound like this, then it could get you that”. It happens a lot. The only way I could combat that and not have anyone influence me and my sound is to release everything myself.”
Listening to Grandmixxer’s production over the last 18 months, it takes me back to the ‘Devil Mixes’ of popular instrumentals back in those pirate radio days. The focus would divert from the percussion and go more towards melodies that would normally be eerie synths. I wanted to find out more about his influences, “When I started listening to Grime, I was listening to Deja Vu FM. My cousin from Hackney was like, “do you know about this? Lock in”. Luckily from here, I could lock into the stations’ frequency and every week I would listen to N.A.S.T.Y Crew. I fell in love with the Jammer productions, the Geeneus productions, and the Wiley productions. Actually, they were using a particular keyboard for the sounds. I got one of them in the studio next door. When I started producing, I was a geek so I knew what they were using and I made sure I got the same one. That influenced my production because I was using Triton sounds. Even though I’ve only been producing properly for 3 years, I definitely know what I want to hear and make.”
One of the reasons why I like the Grandmixxer sound is because of that nostalgic feeling it gives me, taking me back to the dark sounds of Saved Soul riddim by DJ Narrows & and Musical Mob’s Pulse Y. Fans of Grime will hear the subtle cues to the old guard, but it’s the new listeners of the genre who will have the most fun. Those who choose to dig a little deeper will find a treasure trove of riddims going back over a decade, a time when producers would distance themselves from Garage to make something that had more of a connection to the streets.
I feel that ol’ skool Grime is a lost genre.
Songs like ‘F.F.T.R.’ which see West London’s Big Zuu spraying bars on a Grandmixxer production, sound like you’re being teleported through space. “I’ve got a lot of fans that were 3 years old when I was buying records. They don’t know about that era. I feel that ol’ skool Grime is a lost genre. We get glimpses, we get certain tunes but, like, all the old radio sets are on cassette tapes and have been lost. So when someone like me comes along who is still disciplined to that type of doctrine, it’s sort of like martial arts, kinda. I’m disciplined to the ol’ skool ways of pirate radio. I’m working on a lot of stations. Rinse, NTS etc. I’m about.”
Back in the early noughties, radio sets were the place to hear all of the nang instrumentals and new bars from the MCs. But the archiving practices back then weren’t the best. If you didn’t put in a TDK cassette and make a recording yourself, chances are you wouldn’t hear that set again. This is why people like Risky Roadz are so important. Grandmixxer’s newly formed agency is tasked to preserve and cement his productions in a way that will allow listeners to enjoy the music for decades to come. “You see the early music that is lost. I’m definitely making sure that this will not happen with my music. It’s what should’ve happened in the past, but people weren’t experienced. It’s easy for me to look back in hindsight and say, yeah, you should’ve done this. It’s easy to say that. But what I’m doing is making sure that I’m bringing out Grime that the whole world can get access to and will live forever. It’s underground, but I want people to know that underground Grime exists, now. The word Grime is being used and abused so much.”
In media, it was considered that the term ‘Urban’ was a blanket statement that would describe any type of black music. A journalist wouldn’t learn about the differences between Garage and Bassline when they could just say ‘Urban Music’. This is what is currently happening with the word Grime. Artists such as J Hus, Section Boyz and Stefflon Don have all been considered Grime artists by the music press. It’s a lazy assumption and one that’s damaging to a scene still fighting for relevancy in the mainstream. Fortunately, Grandmixxer has recognized this and is taking steps to provide some clarity to the genre for the masses to understand.
Hailing from South London, his love for Grime took him all over the city to consume it. But he always remembers where he came from and has chosen to make his mark using the South London Space Agency. “I come from South London Grime. I come from listening to OnTop FM. Roadside G’s, N-Double-A and everyone else that was big in South was on that station back in the day as well as stations like Flex FM. These stations were big if you’re from South London but because the narrative of the Grime story begins in East, they’re not known. But they contributed to every ol’ skool Grime artist in South London that you’ve heard of. They relied on these stations. We had our own little thing going on before our station got cut like everyone else’s. Some people go on like Bow was the only place doing their ting but no. There were guys all over London, different pockets, doing Grime. Releasing Grime tunes. The involvement of South London in Grime is lost so I thought, going forward, I want my fans to identify with me more and they will if they understand where I’m from. As far as the space thing, I’ve always been interested in space exploration and aeronautics.”
My music is intergalactic. I’m proper from the ends, but that doesn’t mean that I’m ignorant to the universe.
As he says this, I notice the joystick on the desk opposite us which he’s used for flight simulation, as well as a NASA inspired painting on the wall. I also clock that he knows who Neil DeGrasse Tyson is so from that point, I understand that his interest in space is something clearly influences him. “Space is the unknown. It’s infinite. I don’t wanna put a ceiling on my music or the label. So even though I’m making underground Grime music, it doesn’t mean that we couldn’t get chart success if one of these songs resonates. D’you know what I’m saying. I’m not limiting anything. Also, if you look at the artwork… I’m from the block so the artwork is a picture of the block, this exact block, with a rocket attached. I’ve been all around the world because of music and now, it’s time to go further. So I’m saying, I’m from the block. I’m from South London. But my music is intergalactic. I’m proper from the ends, but that doesn’t mean that I’m ignorant to the universe. You can be on the block but still be on a spaceman ting. If you look at how I mix and produce, it’s not normal. The idea of space enabled me to do something different. Space is the scale of what we are trying to do.”
Being a nerd for anything space related myself, I totally understood his thought process. Why contain yourself to what peoples views of the world are? Why be put into a box by the music industry? Instead, why not become a spaceman from the ends and use your skills to entertain the world and beyond. What Grandmixxer is doing is future proofing his music and anyone he works with. No longer will songs be lost due to a lack of archiving and distribution. SLSA will make sure that the music is available for intergalactic travelers to enjoy.
SLSA will surely become an all-encompassing entity involved in many different factors, but initially, it’s a record label, intended to work with artists and release their songs on digital and physical platforms. But, it didn’t begin that way, “So, South London Space agency first started as a beat. That beat was named SLSA. My friend Oil Gang who also runs an independent Grime label, he was gassed about the tune, because the tune is hard, he made an artwork based on the NASA logo for SLSA and I was like “Naaaaaahhhhhh!!” Everything went through my head really fast. I was like, this is everything now. Everything is SLSA. So it’s only right that the first release is named SLSA001. What I’ve done is make different versions using the beat… So its the DJs and the people who can decide which is their favourite version. Right now, if there’s a sick beat, there’s usually just one person on it. Or, if it’s a beef ting, then there’ll be different versions but you see Grime, it’s based off a Ragga ting but we made it our ting. Back in the day, tunes would have Frisco, Flirta D, Wiley, everyone. The version would be spread around. That’s why I got Mez and PK on SLSA001.”
The two artists mentioned are an example of the different styles that exist in the scene. If you’ve ever seen them perform, you would understand the level of energy that they bring to the crowd and this same level of energy is heard on loads of radio sets. With the styles that they possess, it makes perfect sense that they would be the first to feature on this dark minimalistic beat. It will provide a solid foundation that will anchor the artists and allow them to shine through. “These are 2 of the artists that mash up the riddim whenever it’s played. But more than that, I’ve been around PK from when he started this ting. The YGG DJ is in my DJ crew. AJ Tracey’s DJ is also in the crew. The way that I’m connected to these young MCs is different to the normal DJ and MC bond. It’s more about being in a team. Some things were destined. Anything I was going to release was going to have PK on it. Guys like Big Zuu is gonna be on releases. You get me. Man like Mez is gonna be on anything I’m doing. Mez is like… and this is why I say these things are cosmic… Mez is so good at what he does that he has teleported out into the London scene. He’s a fixture here now. I had to get him on it. To be honest, when I did the studio version, there were a lot of MCs involved so there’s a lot of different versions coming. It was just deciding what to come out with first and because I’ve been doing a lot of shows with YGG, we do a lot of radio shows together, it just made sense to put PK and Mez on the first release. Their versions are amazing.”
The world of collecting vinyl has grown exponentially in the last 2 years, I’ve even started to buy records for the first time in over 20 years. When Grime artist Jammz released ‘Keep It Simple’ on vinyl, I had to show support and buy the instrumental that was one of my favourite beats to come out in 2016. As I speak with Grandmixxer and look around, it’s clear that he never actually stopped buying records and now, he can add his own to the mix. SLSA001 will be his first ever commercial vinyl release and I want to find out how he felt about it, “To be honest, I was fucking excited bruv. It felt better than how I thought it would feel. I got to listen to the test pressing for the first time yesterday. Ah man! And it sounds better than I thought it would.”
It’s clearly evident that Grandmixxer has a vision, passion and fortitude to push it forward, you can hear the enthusiasm in his voice. The fact that he’s entering into the business behind the genre, is very important to black people who are almost exclusively the face of the genre, but also need to be productive and influential behind the scenes. Whether it be booking acts for raves, distributing music or getting songs to appear in advertisements, it’s progressive to see the people of the scene taking charge of what happens with the scene.
So, what’s next for SLSA? “The vinyl is being released on the 10th and the launch night for SLSA is on the 11th November. I’ve got Big Zuu, YGG, Capo Lee, Mez, myself, DJ Courts, DJ Travis-T, Vision Crew and much more. I wanted to celebrate the launch of SLSA with a party. Then, of course, we’ll have the release of the different versions. So they’ll be SLSA002 and so on. I’m working with a producer who actually lives down the road called Jeb1. He’s perfect for SLSA as he reminds me of myself when I was his age. Stuck in South with no one to help. So, we’ve got some collaborations being released on vinyl and he’ll have his own EP. Next, I’ll be working on EPs with Big Zuu, MicTy and Mez. That’s actually an exclusive you got right there bruv. I’m gonna be doing sick campaigns around each one as well to help the release.”
Grandmixxer is of the ol’ skool but he’s tasked himself to help the future of the genre. The South London Space Agency will no doubt be a force in the game while making sure that Grime continues to be championed in the underground by bringing an undiluted version of the culture to the mainstream.
“When they send satellites into the vacuum of space, they sometimes put a disc on them with information and sounds on there in case something finds it out there. Maybe, one of my tunes would be propelled out into the great beyond.”
Head to the launch of South London Space Agency with Grandmixxer, Mez, Capo Lee, General Courts, DJ Travis T, YGG, Big Zuu on the 11th of November. Tickets are available now.