A Psychogeographic Guide to Grime

A brief history of how inner city architecture influenced London’s dominant musical art form, all plotted out on the TFL map

Grime godfathers Dizzee Rascal and Wiley at home in Bow

Following on from Second Home’s talks on London’s club culture, we look at how musicians such as Wiley, Dizzee Rascal and Skepta turned their experiences of inner city London into a pivotal new art form – and what role the architecture of the city played in the rise of grime music.

It’s safe to say that in the early 2000s, Grime got off to a rough start. After a double shooting at So Solid Crew’s Astoria show in 2001, the Met issued a London-wide clampdown on clubbing — and especially on the type of nights that attracted Garage crowds. New legislation meant cops could cancel events at their discretion and without warning. As Garage’s popularity fizzled out, there was nowhere for Grime, its murkier, bassier, bloodier-minded mutation, to thrive. It meant Grime had to grow up in the shadows; in the gutted-out bus shelters and youth clubs of Bow and beyond.

Its forefathers Wiley, Dizzee, Slimzee and Jammer brought the party to the peripheries, to the Milton Keynes Sanctuary, where Grime-bash Sidewinder played host to the movement’s pivotal clashes. Spouting blackened tales of knife culture and cash-play straight from the estates, fresh collectives like Pay As You Go Cartel and N.A.S.T.Y Crew took to the stage as leaders of a fierce new frontier. But it wasn’t without a fight: because of the party-pooping po-po, when there were events they were dangerously over-crowded, with MCs having to elbow their way to the mic.

London raves were all hush-hush and usually advertised as “U18s”, craftily diverting attention. They were hard to find at the time and even harder to trace 15 years after the fact. But, after a hefty trawl through the Grime Forum archives and scratched pirate radio tapes, here are the (now largely defunct) London clubs and clash-spaces that shaped Grime, and where they sat on the London Underground Tube Map.

Stop 1: Bethnal Green station (Central Line)

Rhythm Division, Roman Road

Less a vinyl shop, more a convergence point for Grime’s early luminaries. Rhythm Division — whose Roman Road building is now a coffee house, obviously — was where MCs played their dubplates before any major label or music mogul had the chance to. It also doubled up as a venue, hosting battles by everyone from Slew Dem Crew to Levelman. Wiley supposedly made up to £50,000 flogging plates to the store from the boot of his car. He repaid them by filming his video for “Wot Do U Call It?” there — a cut which debated a brand new sound storming the Garage scene, soon to be dubbed Grime.

Spooky and Slimzee used to exchange records at Rhythm Division and zoom down the M25 to Sidewinder. If, as music blogger Blackdown claimed, “Slimzee only played the records nobody had,” you can bet he’d get them down Roman. “He was literally creating eight bar Grime in front of everyone’s eyes.”

““Slimzee only played the records nobody had,” you can bet he’d get them down Roman. “He was literally creating eight bar Grime in front of everyone’s eyes.””

Hackney Ocean, Mare Street

The Ocean, now cosy arthouse cinema The Hackney Picturehouse, was Sidewinder’s London base. So mad were the scenes at one Sidewinder Awards show, Kano was booted offstage by the night’s co-owner Mark Lambert, who mistook him for a stage invader. One of the venue’s U18s La Cosa Nostra Grime raves ended up in a full-blown, Police-pelting riot, prompting coinage of the term “Mare Street Twat” and its subsequent closure.

Palace Pavilion, Lower Clapton Road

A little way up the road from the Ocean was the Palace Pavilion — once a cinema, then a nightclub, now an Ethiopian Orthodox Church attached to the Clapton Heart pub. These days, the Heart is a stomping ground for moustache twiddling, board game hoisting locals, but there was absolutely nothing ironic about the venue in Grime’s formative years. It was the mainstay of legendary rave Young Man Standing, which the Bow E3 contingent made pilgrimages to every weekend. These were roadblock raves, which sent low-end thunderclaps down the Lea Valley. One, organised by Rinse FM founder Geeneus, was headlined by chart topping Garage-Grime crossover contingent, So Solid Crew. London historians refer to the Pavilion as one of Murder Mile’s most notorious hell-holes: even Wiley was stabbed there.

Stop 2: Bow Road station (District /Hammersmith and City)

The Linc Centre (youth club), Fern Street

Before Sidewinder, Jammer’s basement or Roman Road were the youth clubs of east London. Wiley’s dad ran one on Chrisp Street, nurturing younger members of Roll Deep. Double O’s auntie let the likes of Lethal Bizzle, Tinie Tempah and Heartless Crew clash in the yard of her Leyton home. The most famous one, though, was The Linc Centre off Devons Road, the place Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder and the rest of Ruff Sqwad honed their bars before graduating to bigger venues like the Stratford Rex and EQ Club.

Stop 3: Stratford station (Central)

EQ Club, Waterden Road

In the same battered Victorian factory in Hackney Wick that Deju Vu — one of London’s first and most important pirate stations — broadcast from, sat 1000 capacity Grime mecca EQ Club. Dizzee used to go there to watch early Pay As You Go Cartel sets and shows by the soon-to-be-fellow Mercury Prize winner, Ms Dynamite. It was the perfect place for Wiley et al to spot burning talent: as a 15 year-old, MC Saskilla was asked to join Roll Deep after Wile’ caught his EQ show. He turned him down, mind…

Stratford Rex, Stratford High Street

Bar Milton Keynes, the Rex is Grime’s most significant venue. It’s where Roll Deep first performed, springing onstage in 2002 wearing Jordan jumpsuits. It’s responsible for Dizzee Rascal’s transatlantic career, too: he was signed by XL’s Nick Huggett off the back of a performance at Double O’s clubnight Stampede. Back in 2014, MC Dexplicit recalled the seminal moment: “There were like 30 people on the stage, Roll Deep, N.A.S.T.Y Crew, Pay As You Go, the crowd is going absolutely crazy. They played Wiley’s ‘Eskimo,’ and Dizzee took the mic: ‘Stop dat start dat get dat what!’ Bare fights erupted. I remember me and my friend just looking around and thinking, ‘This is crazy.’”

Wall of fame: Inside Jammer’s Leytonstone basement

Stop 4: Leytonstone station (Central)

Jammer’s basement

Think of the basement of Jammer’s house in Leytonstone as Grime’s Studio 54. It was where the community’s front bench titans came together for incendiary clashes before the genre even knew what to call itself. When Jammer was a kid, his dad practised with a five-piece band in the “The Dungeon”. Soon, when the producer and MC was old enough to tell his parents he smoked weed, he’d invite the rap clan he was in, the N.A.S.T.Y. Crew, to clash, record and sleep down there. From 2004, Jammer started filming the battles — highlights included Wiley Vs Kano, Skepta Vs Devilman and Tinchy Vs Ears — and compiling the footage for DVD release. The now six-part Lord of the Mics series is an essential document of the game, from its nascent days captured on a shaky handheld camera to today.

Stop 5: Seven Sisters (Victoria)

Club UN, Drapers Road

Labyrinth. The Ritz. The Temple. Rudolph’s. Elton’s. Whatever you want to call it, the monolith opposite Tottenham Police Station — which finally crumbled to the ground in 2004 — was one of north London’s most significant nightspots. Frequented by The Krays in the 50s, dub-heads in the 70s and eccy-addled ravers in the 90s; Club UN, as it was known in the 2000s, was a regular hangout for the Rinse FM crew. It was at Rumble — Slimzee’s proto-grime rave — where Lethal Bizzle scored his first reload. “Even on a Thursday night you’d have all blood up the mirrors from where someone had been glassed,” DJ Slipmatt once recalled of UN. For added camaraderie, the club’s owners stuck a battle tank covered in military paint outside its Drapers Road entrance.

Stop 6: Elephant and Castle station (Bakerloo / Northern)

La Cosa Nostra, Ministry of Sound, 103 Gaunt Street.

“La Cosa Nostra” is Italian for “our thing” — a term used in the 1980s to refer to the Sicilian Mafia. It’s also the name of one of the first London raves to push 8-Bar Grime, held at Elephant and Castle’s usually hellish superclub the Ministry of Sound. Wiley and Dizzee’s clash at Roll Deep’s 2003 party was intelligent and rabid — one for the books.

Stop 7: Pimlico station. (Victoria)

Adrenalin Village, Queenstown Road.

Sun City, a rave established in the mid nineties, operated from a number of locations, from a space in Ayia Napa — the small Cypriot island that for one reason or another became the Ibiza of the Grime scene — to Adrenalin Village, a dystopian garage near the Chelsea Bridge. So post-apoc was the Village, Rinse FM’s Josey Rebelle recalled a night where bouncers let sniffer dogs race into the crowd. Sun City was a UK Garage event for the most part, but it was a good place to watch pre-Grime MCs exploring new sounds, especially at the venue’s regular Deja Vu FM parties.

Skepta on the mic in a grime rave

Stop 8: Watford station (Metropolitan)

Area, 46 The Parade

When west London pirate station Freeze FM started to fund nights in nearby Watford, the town became an unlikely hangout for the early days Grime crew. Its high street club Area was where Wiley held his first Eskimo Dance. Before the event, the MC discharged himself from hospital having been stabbed earlier that day. Pirate selector Logan Sama recalls Wiley ripping a pipe from his lungs and racing to Watford to clash MC Bashy. Needless to say, the OG came out on top.

Destiny, 127 The Parade.

Destiny, another of Watford’s carpet-floored discos, played host to an important early mashup: worlds collided in 2001 as Heartless Crew, a shirt-wearing trio who’d brought Garage to the rave scene, took to the stage with Grime groundbreakers Pay As You Go Cartel. Needless to say, the clash — which you can check out on Grime archive GetDarker’s Soundcloud — was tense and antagonistic. Speaking of trolls, Wiley once locked N.A.S.T.Y Crew out of their own rave, telling them they didn’t need to pick up Destiny’s backstage wristbands. What a king.

Stop 9: Hammersmith station (District / Piccadilly)

Po Na Na, Shepherd’s Bush Road

Like Rumble and Stampede, Shake It Up was a fixture on any Grime goon’s calendar. When Heartless Crew headlined the night in 2001, the scene was shrugging off its “Champagne ’n’ loafers” reputation, getting loader, lower and faster. The Speed Garage that Heartless Crew pushed at Po Na Na — formerly the Hammersmith Palais — paved the way for Grime.

Stop 10: Wood Green station (Piccadilly)

Alexandra Palace, Alexandra Palace Way

Off the back of the chart-storming successes of Garage, Grime promoters were, when the Police weren’t paying attention at least, able to book big venues. Alexandra Palace, these days a stronghold for Mindfulness conventions and the odd Radiohead gig, was an important venue for Grime. One night in 2002, So Solid Crew, Pay As You Go Cartel and Geenues rolled back to back. When the drugs squad inevitably tumbled in and the lights went up, the clans kept barring as everyone ran out of the building.

by Jack Mills

D Double E gets the crowd hyped up

Second Home is a creative workspace and cultural venue, bringing together diverse industries, disciplines and social businesses. Find out more about joining us here: secondhome.io

Show your support

Clapping shows how much you appreciated Second Home’s story.