Grime Pays

By Philip Halloween


East London is throwing up new film and music hybrids

Since the birth of rock ‘n’ roll, kids have consistently picked up instruments of all kinds to create their own hybrid and revised versions of what’s gone before, therefore consistently changing a scene that forever moves on. Whether it be guitars, laptops, or DJ decks, the teenage bedroom has always been the place where musical sparks are ignited and imagination flows. But music’s neighbouring popular art form, film, hasn’t quite had that grass roots young input. Perhaps it’s been the industry’s conspiracy to make equipment difficult to use and expensive, where we are constantly told you need years at film school to learn a craft taught by old masters of the game, or to have a knowledge of the history before you can even pick up a camera.

However, since the advent of video in the eighties, oppositional waves have been made, albeit in small specialised areas. It’s been well documented that skateboarders were one of the first youth groups to pick up a camera to record their scene without any outside influence or help, and eighties and nineties skateboard VHS magazines were churned out to an eager obsessive fanboy public. To constantly develop ideas within a perhaps limiting genre, filmmakers became more adventurous, leading to the Jackass phenomenon, and those original purveyors such as Spike Jonze pushed the envelope to move into a more mainstream world of pop promos and feature films.

But that was America. Now here in East London in the new century, a new tribe is using the camera in their own unique way, but to spread the word of their own vibrant scene. Grime music grew out of London’s drum ‘n’ bass and ragga explosion of the nineties to mix with a harder edged version of the US commercial urban R&B and rap sound. Fast talking rappers spit out rhymes at 90 miles an hour over a clipped electronic backing. But rather than release CDs, filmed DVDs have been passed around and put out through East London independent record shops, with titles like Practise Hours, Aim Higher and Thrown in and Spat out, all featuring boys and sometimes girls shouting aggressively at the camera either in a club or a pirate station, or more recently in well-lit studios using tripods and editing.

Filmmaker Lucia Helenka has been collecting both skate videos and now grime DVDs for a number of years. Of both, she says “they are the only two youth groups to embrace the camera as their own. It’s this that has made me want to collect it and present it as a body of work for cinema. It’s a unique form of filmmaking, for its elements of documentary and for its grass roots, untampered purity”. Self taught filmmaker Troy Miller first shot hand-held in an East London underground club back in 2002, and continues to make a DVD every two months to fill in what’s happening on the scene. In the future both Troy and Lucia are planning a feature documentary, so watch this space. And there’s a planned programme of DVDs due to screen at the National Film Theatre in early July.

Philip Halloween is a co-director of the Halloween Film Festival, works at animate! and is a major film / music / events producer and programmer in London and beyond.