In every important cultural moment, there are always a number of different players. At the centre, you have the actors, the people creating and pushing the movement. Close by, you have the facilitators, who create the platforms, channels and pathways through which those actors can hone their craft. And then, on the periphery, if you’re lucky, you have the people who record what happens; people who recognise the importance of what is happening in front of them and document each moment for the people who come next. The actors are always there. The facilitators necessarily come. More often than not, the historians are tragically absent.
When I was asked if I’d be interested in interviewing Logan Sama, then, I jumped at the opportunity. Migrating into grime as garage branched out and involved, and one of the scene’s earliest players, Logan Sama’s story is interesting because, by virtue of his role, he somehow managed to be all three of those things – the strongest element depending on your personal perspective. As a producer, he created some of the genre’s earliest beats and helped to shape the sound. As a rave DJ regular and host of a legendary show on KISS FM, he created arguably one of the most important grime platforms to ever emerge, playing host to every big name the grime scene ever birthed – not to mention a wealth of talented individuals who never got the shine they truly deserved. And finally, by virtue of the importance of that show, and of the wealth of stories and memories he amassed along the way, he’s one of very few people who could be legitimately described as a grime scene historian.
Much like the grime scene in general there were highs and lows (if you haven’t listened to “that” Dot Rotten episode, you’re definitely not an OG grime fan), but the fact remains that if it weren’t for Logan Sama there wouldn’t be half of the record that we have about grime from then to now. As the following interview demonstrates, his knack for compiling stories was met with an equally strong gift for storytelling.
Can we talk about the effect the Internet has had on small communities like Grime? I feel like with your roots in Garage in the early 00s you’d have something to say about this.
The Internet has totally changed the way society interacts with and finds new data and information; recorded music is just that. People often highlight either the negative effect downloading and streaming has had on sales, or they look at the positive effect the internet has on widening the reach of independent artists through new DIY platforms that allow their work to be discovered by a new audience.
The reality is that the Internet has fundamentally changed all media. We have transitioned from weekly and monthly print magazines, scheduled programming TV channels, and radio stations accessible only to those within the broadcast radius. Now we have bloggers updating multiple times daily, which can lead to this morning’s big news being washed away within hours. Sites now struggle to keep up to date with every development, rather than investing in in-depth pieces that get to the heart of the matter. You see the same two-sided coin where more artists are featured but the quality of articles and journalism has fallen due to the workload and lack of paid positions. There’s hundreds times more websites than respected magazines and a feature will have far less impact now than a cover story 10-20 years ago.
Iconic music channels like MTV Base and The Box as well as Channel U (now AKA) have gone from being the focal point of music for the urban market to competing with on demand and streaming platforms like YouTube and Vevo. Again, this means that artists are not beholden to playlists to be seen by an audience as their videos are easily found, but the overall reach is much less. Radio has gone from a moment in time, bottled and treasured as kids religiously tape their favourite sets and shows, to something that can be accessed whenever. Radio premieres of new music are now simply another step in a track’s roll out alongside the online premier and the video launch. Democratisation has fundamentally changed the power balance of music and it now seems to be the hardest working and most creative artists that are breaking through rather than those who are manufactured with the biggest marketing budgets.
I’m not going to pretend it’s some musical Utopia where talent and graft conquers all. There’s definitely still the hand of big labels and big budgets in the industry. But over the past decade power has definitely shifted from being solely in the grasp of the majors, which is a great thing. The fact kids in Perth, Australia or San Jose, USA can be as up to date with Grime as those living in Bow or Brixton is an exciting shift and we’re still coming to terms with that.
You’ve talked before about the need to “educate” newcomers to the genre about its history, but the story seems so complex. What would be some of your seminal tracks or moments in Grime? For myself, for example, I’ll always remember going on YouTube and seeing videos like the Ghetto-Bashy beef, Grime’s Not Dead etc.
There’s coming on 15 years of history for people to go back and find out about, and to be honest a lot of that wasn’t even documented. In a digital age, a lot of those earliest memories only live on through the personal experiences of those who were there.
That’s why it’s so important to speak to the people who were around at the time about their history, and also to speak to emerging artists now about their memories as listeners and kids who grew up on this sound. The culture is as important as the music and we do quite well given our limited opportunities in educating people. I feel like my Trapstar mixtape collab might help some of the 2015 school of Grime fans learn about some of those historic instrumentals that set the stage for the Grime, and encourage them to go on to explore a bit more.
Grime is always going to have roots in its rough, unpolished sound. How do you think this has affected, or will affect the way the genre develops now?
I think the idea that grime has to be unpolished is misleading. Sonically, Grime is about a vibe; a spectrum of emotions. They can be stripped down, raw, dark and even basic, only utilising synths and plug-ins. They can also be expansive and wide-reaching with complex melodies, elaborate structures and skilful live instrumentation. Grime just needs to feel like Grime. If you’ve heard enough of it you will probably know what that means.
There’s always exciting tracks that dance on the borders of what we accept as Grime. That’s always been true, and it’s true in every genre of music. I think as long as people are representing for the core sounds that we all stereotypically link to Grime whilst also experimenting with different styles we will be good. And there’s never any reason to not try and improve your craft. Just because many young producers started out programming beats in cracked software with little understanding of music theory or sound quality, doesn’t mean that should be the standard we accept. Always invest in your art and skills. Always look to improve. Your mix-downs can be better. You can get new equipment. None of that will hinder you in anyway from making ‘real Grime’.
Lord of the Mics has obviously been a massive platform in recent years. Do you think we could see Lord of the Decks being pushed in a more developed / publicised form one day?
I like the fact that Lord Of The Decks is a special event. I don’t think currently we have enough of a following around the scene and culture to continually give people new music and DJ clashes in a live format and to remain as hype as the previous DJ clashes have been. I enjoy the fact they feel like ‘Pay Per View’ events. We still have a lack of dedicated Grime nights in general where an audience can come down and check out new music. Butterz and Boxed have done great work in that regard. I would like to see more nights geared around current and new music such as The Den and my KeepinItGrimy shows.
Do you think the disappearance of pirate/underground has changed the way things are at all?
I feel like the death of pirate radio really slowed down the number of new acts emerging. For MCs to come through they need places to perform. With no youth clubs, no smaller pirate radio stations and a lack of live events to perform at for so many years it was noticeable that we weren’t seeing enough new talent coming into Grime. Over the last 2 years, the resurgence in ‘Pirate radio spirit’ through online platforms like Radar, NTS and Mode FM has had a positive effect. There’s a lot more new names who are elevating and gaining recognition within the scene.
When you were at KISS you were in a pretty demanding position in terms of guiding or leading the conversation. Would you agree?
Whenever you are at the forefront of something it can be demanding. But I was working alongside the artists and showcasing the direction they wanted to go in. I viewed my job more as a reporter rather than having any sort of influence over creativity.
I do feel at times like the scene may have gotten lazy or short-sighted in terms of working outside existing channels. I saw a number of emerging acts who only bothered sending their music to me with what was then a 1-hour show with no hope of making it onto the playlist at that time, but then not servicing other DJs who were doing several shows a week on pirates and online stations, who were far more likely to be able to support them. I think it’s important to work with the people around you or on a similar level so that you rise with the tide so to speak. I always saw myself as a chair for the conversation, for the creators to express themselves, rather than someone who was driving the agenda myself.
There have always been people like yourself that have driven movements in music and creativity, some deeply involved or connected with the scene and others more outside; Malcolm McLaren, Westwood, David Rodigan, and so on. How would you describe yourself?
I suppose that is an accurate comparison. I’ve worked hard on being a point of reference for people looking to find out more about the music I love. Grime is cool because of the artists, not me as a DJ. But when people discover these current big acts enjoying success hopefully through me they can see there is a bit more going on and find some more artists they like. It is why when I play on radio or a club you will get the big Stormzy and Skepta records next to tracks from Elf Kid and Jammz for example. It’s about giving people what they already know and then showing them more. I want to enlighten the audience about the rich wealth of music we have created and continue to create. And I think over my career I have been able to do that.