It’s a dark and grey rainy afternoon when I finally sit down to a phone call with Sid Akhurst aka AS.IF KID. The 22-year-old producer from London is in the studio at his parent’s house in Swindon and we’re talking about his new track ‘Raqqa’ which has just had its first play on BBC Radio 1xtra. I ask him if the title was a reference to the Syrian city of Al-Raqqah.
“Yeah man you got it! It’s very heavily influenced by Eastern/Arabic sounds. That’s why I called it ‘Raqqa’. I’m paying homage to that Eastern sound. I also like to think it’s a tribute to the globalisation of Grime music that’s happening right now. Grime is a lot more open to influences from the wider world.”
Grime has always been a subversive genre built upon a foundation of rebellion. Starting in the early 00’s as an offshoot of UK Garage culture, the genre quickly morphed and established itself as a soapbox for the disenfranchised.
“MCs at the time were rapping about their own personal struggles and they needed a sound to reflect that. UK Garage DJs were all about the bravado: fast cars, glamour and women. A large part of Garage music is its 130 bpm (beat per minute) sound which has essentially been the building block of grime but a lot of producers thought the music should have a much weightier, more brooding sound” explains Sid.
Born in the bowels of neighbourhoods like Bow in East London, the unyielding rap style dominated the airwaves on pirate radio stations such as Rinse FM, which was founded by UK grime producers Wiley and DJ Slimzee.
“It was DJ Slimzee who essentially started the whole grime revolution in 2003. He started playing much darker tunes and experimenting with the tempo of some Drum and Bass and garage tracks, going from 130 to 140bpm,” says Sid. “Although there were plenty of producers who didn’t like what he was trying to do.”
“He was kicked off Pressure FM (a radio station which plays mainly garage) because they didn’t like the music he started to play. Slimm just didn’t agree with the culture and wanted to play the music he liked and felt represented him. So he and a couple of other producers, including Wiley, set up Rinse FM, which at the time was a pirate station. They hung the aerial out of Slimzees bedroom window. That was until they got shutdown, which happened a lot.”
In the mid 00’s grime music suffered from its association with violence and the continual police shutdown of both pirate radio stations and the now infamous Sidewinder raves. For those of you who don’t know, the Sidewinder raves were a series of genre-defining raves that took place in the early to mid noughties. Unlike UK garage and dubstep events at the time, these raves were all about performance. The crowd faced the front and goaded the MCs as they passed the mic back and forth. It was at one particular Sidewinder event in 2002 featuring Dizzee Rascal and Wiley that gunshots were fired into the audience.
“Yeah it was pretty bad back then,” Sid agrees his speech laboured with sincerity.
“People would get stabbed at raves, I mean just go crazy. People who were maybe in gangs or trying to get out of them made the music itself. The MCs lived those lives on the streets and that translated into the music. It’s different now. The gang culture element has really died down. I think a lot of that comes from the rise of the Internet which has widened the culture as a whole.”
It would certainly seem that you don’t have to be in the same neighbourhood anymore to be making grime music. A once hyper-local music scene is starting to garner a global following. The popularisation of Soundcloud and stations like Rinse FM moving from bedrooms to online radio have made grime more accessible. Sid himself admits that he wouldn’t be a Grime artist if it weren’t for the Internet.
“My only exposure to grime music was the Internet. I remember being in Junior school and crowding around my mates phone listening to the beats, having MC battles in the playground. Sites like Rinse and Pressure were the only outlets for people who loved grime music.”
Between the years of 2007 and 2009 you could be forgiven in thinking that grime had all but died out. Artists such as Tinchey Stryder and Wiley had shed their MC backbone to experiment in pop and house music. It wasn’t until 2009 when Chipmunk released his album, I am Chipmunk, that grime propelled itself out of the shadows and onto the main stage.
Grime purists have suggested the move to mainstream has diluted the genre; though it’s hard to deny the overwhelming success artists like Stormzy and Skepta have enjoyed. Skepta’s song ‘Shutdown’ still pointedly maintained the trademark aggression and rapid-fire beats that are synonymous with the genre.
At ground level DJ Slimzee, often dubbed as the Godfather of Grime, is once again nurturing the revolution: re-launching the classic Slimzos recording label and fostering new talent at the helm of the resurgence. AS.IF KID is one of those new producers signed to Slimzos who are revolutionising the genre.
“I sent Slimzee a few of my tracks whilst I was in America on a university exchange. He sent them back at first, said they were too low bit.” he laughs.
“So I went back and improved them and Slimzee started playing them on NTS radio where he was DJ-ing at the time. I got invited to an event and introduced to some producers: DJ Argue, Sir Pixalot and obviously Slimzee. Slimm signed me earlier this year.”
AS.IF KID is rising fast in the world of Grime and has appeared as an up and coming Grime artist in features by both FACTmag and The Guardian.
“It’s an exciting time to be signed to Slimm and to be involved in the new wave of grime. The amount of global interest is fucking insane. Just the other day Slimm showed me a guy in China who’s making his own tracks influenced by UK grime. We sold 20 records to Japan the other day!”
The genre is certainly starting to diversify, but for a scene that’s always felt a little cliquey, you have to wonder what’s next for the culture of Grime.
“I just think the culture is growing. It’s new people bringing in new styles and new sounds. That’s what the culture is about and some things that have faded out of British grime music and influenced other countries are being reintroduced. There’s a bit of a renewed interest for the 808-drum machine, the kind of sound it makes. At the minute you’ll hear it in some trap and drill tracks in America but it’s starting to come back to Britain. It’s an exciting time to be a grime artist.”
Be sure to check out AS.IF KID and his latest single Raqqa below!