Stormzy
Reflecting on a superb summer...

Since its emergence in the early 2000s, grime has illuminated the stories of countless artists. First broadcast on UK pirate radio stations, grime has ascended into the mainstream – and now looks like it’s the sound of UK festivals too.

Perhaps the real turning point occurred in 2003 when Dizzee Rascal’s album ‘Boy in da Corner’ won the Mercury Music Prize, opening the door for more exposure. 13 years after Dizzee Rascal and it was Skepta’s turn to claim the 2016 Mercury Music Prize, with his fourth studio album, ‘Konnichiwa’; an album critically acclaimed for exploring the growth of grime, particularly in the international market. This same album entered at number two into the UK Albums Chart.

Stormzy then went one better, releasing the first grime album to reach number one in the UK Albums Chart. ‘Gang Signs & Prayer’ has in turn been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize too, for 2017. But it is not just album success that is defining the ascension of grime. Aside from this commercial success, this year Stormzy has appeared at what many may call the Holy Trinity of UK festivals – Glastonbury, V Festival and Reading and Leeds.

Many other prominent Grime figures have also found themselves on these festival line ups. Artists include, Lethal Bizzle, who was responsible for bringing Stormzy to reading, and the previously mentioned Dizzee Rascal and Skepta. Joining these names are pivotal figures such as Giggs and Wiley, alongside his Boy Better Know counterparts.

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So how exactly has Grime gone from street sound to the big stage?

Festivals often attract a young audience – it’s the musical alternative to a lads’ holiday nowadays. With grime’s landscape dominated by young performers, they’re often figures the same youth culture who attend these festivals, can relate to. It’s the same young audience that gave grime its exposure, on platforms like YouTube, now finding their commitment to the genre rewarded, with more and more opportunities to see their favourites live.

Also true is that festivals are fun for the sense of community that is created, with everyone sleeping in a field together, sharing airbed pumps and sitting around in a coliseum of camping chairs looking onto the pit of rubbish that is accumulating whilst waiting for the first act of the day. This sense of community is mirrored in the grime genre.

Not only is grime drawing fans together, but it’s arguably the genre with the closest connection of artists, with no network quite like the group Boy Better Know. The group often appear together even when only one artist is listed and it’s the enticing prospect of seeing them all perform together that often draws a big crowd.

In fact Boy Better Know created their own form of festival with their sell-out ‘takeover’ event of the O2 which saw them perform to the 20,000 capacity main arena and host a number of other events including a five-a-side kick around, gaming consoles and a roller disco. The night featured a number of other famous musical faces; J Hus, Tim Westwood and international superstar Drake even made a surprise appearance - shortly after supporting Giggs at Reading festival.

The support and appearances from such a renowned artist also has aided grime's movement into the mainstream - and it could signal the growth of this predominantly UK sound into a worldwide genre.

This network of support has moved from strictly musical to a political phenomenon. The Grime4Corbyn movement shows how the message of the genre resonates with the concerns of many listeners and their struggles in the current political landscape. And with Jeremy Corbyn making appearances at festivals this summer it makes sense that grime artists would be invited too.

The support of festivals has perpetuated the promotion of grime as a festival sound. Giggs discussed his event blacklist that made it difficult for him to perform due to police shutdowns, thanking Reading Festival for its continued support of him and his music. Glastonbury of course has always been a celebration of diversity, and V Festival has recognised the chart successes of grime artists to also invite them along. These three iconic UK festivals have continued to support and promote grime as the emerging festival sound.

The eclectic mix of music, politics and community has pushed grime, in a commercial sense, to the forefront of the music industry – but its place as the new sound of UK festivals is inviting the broader nation to behold something so much more; a culture.

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Words: Matt Griffin
Photo Credit: Vicky Grout

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