On a wet Saturday afternoon at the Tate, making my way through the quiet galleries of the 2nd floor, I find myself following the hum of heavy bass and stumbling into a set by MC MANGA SAINT HILARE. A member of the pioneering grime crew Roll Deep, Manga is here spitting bars alongside DAPZ ON THE MAP from Birmingham and two of Liverpool’s own, KOJ and P3LZ. These performances mark the end of an all-day event and exhibition produced by On Record, a programme that celebrates Black music and its place in Merseyside over the last 70 years. Today, GRIME>PUNK is exploring the parallels between these two subcultures as a response to Lucy McKenzie’s new show, currently on display at the Tate. With grime’s socially conscious lyricism, disruptive nature and DIY origins, is it fair to call grime the new punk?
Before taking to the stage, Manga and Koj are joined by journalist Hyperfrank, Fashion Programme Lead at LJMU Andrew Ibi, and DJ G33 for a panel discussion tracing the history and culture of grime. Looking back to the early 2000s and the genre’s evolution from UK garage music, there is a nostalgic pang in the air. Manga and Hyperfrank were there at the beginning, they witnessed friends rapping over beats blaring from a phone at the back of the bus and were intimately acquainted with the pirate radio shows that proved pivotal in getting tracks out there. In order to be accessible, everything was home produced. Loud, provocative and political. It is here where parallels with punk appear most potent.
Like many subcultures, grime thrives sitting at the intersection of music, fashion and art, cradling a close-knit creative community in its lap. You can see that community within this room. On display are unique garments fusing grime and punk aesthetics, created in an earlier workshop led by Ibi. He reminds us of the important role fashion can play in resistance against hostile systems, offering alternative images in opposition to mainstream trends and political views. Hanging on the gallery walls are photographs by Anthony Wilde, shining an unvarnished spotlight on those who make up the grime scene in Liverpool. These sit adjacent to striking paintings by Sumuyya Khader. With flattened perspectives and bright, life-affirming colours, they are, in the same vein, a celebration of Black joy in the everyday.
To those who aren’t familiar with it, the fast pace, aggressive beats and inflamed lyrics of grime may not make for easy listening, and nor should it. “Grime was born out of rejection,” Koj reminds us. It comes from a place of struggle and frustration; a means of expression for those who are so often pushed to the peripheries. The discussion reaches its apex in its final ten minutes as the question of authenticity finally arises. With Skepta having won a Mercury Prize and Stormzy headlining Glastonbury in 2019, grime has achieved a level of commercial success that was once unimaginable. Considering its origins and anti-establishment ethos, can it still claim the badge of authenticity? This event is, after all, taking place at the Tate, a cultural conduit of the middle classes.
The question seems almost irrelevant. “It’s a cyclical thing” Manga shrugs. Boom and bust. All of the guests appear more focussed on doing what they enjoy and cultivating a community within that. “It’s about passing the mic […] and anyway I’m still poor,” he adds, the room laughing along.
Local rapper P3Lz is the first one to takes to the stage. By far the youngest here, at just 17, her somewhat insular demeanour is countered by her hypnotic flow and confrontational yet confessional lyrics. By the end of the performances, Manga gathers the whole room together, surrounding him in the centre. Arms are in the air and smiles line faces. Everything presented today, from DJ G33’s beats at 140bpm to Sumuyya’s bold paintings, act as a vessel of raw expression. There is a sense of resistance through simply existing proudly within a system that seeks to diminish your experience. That’s a pretty punk thing to do.