Photo Mixtape: Grime

Three photographers talk about their time embedded in the scene

May 6, 2016

Grime’s success hinges on the careful combination of the right beat, the best bars and an electric crowd. The MCs and rappers behind grime, a genre that splintered from garage in the early 2000s, at once shout out their London roots and make forward-thinking music for the future. Those helming grime’s first generation were determined to thread their multicultural makeup and shared struggle into something that would have a crater-like impact on culture. And judging from grime’s explosive resurgence as of late, they succeeded.

But for the South London-born photographer Ashley Verse, Grime has always been a part of life. “I used to listen to grime in school as it was always around me,” he says. “We were playing and sharing it on old mobile phones via Bluetooth and always used to spit bars in the corner.” These mobile sessions would go on to attract outsiders, too, such as Japanese photographer Jun Yokoyama. He was living abroad in London when he first encountered grime on a night bus. “It was on upper deck of the N21 to Bexleyheath in 2005. I overheard these kids spitting bars along to this music, and I was so curious that I went to check it out,” he says.

Conversely it was London’s ever-changing club scene, particularly raves, that introduced photographer Vicky Grout to these new beats and MCs. “I started at house and garage nights but it was Butterz records, that was my introduction to the sound,” she says. “From there I started shooting the raves I was going to.”

For this Photo Mixtape, Verse, Yokoyama and Grout detailed the stories and personalities behind a selection of their iconic Grime shots.

Ashley Verse

Ashley Verse hails from Mitcham, South London – a cultural hotbed in its own right. “The South always had its own style,” he says. “So Solid Crew [the proto-grime pioneers] were from South London, so it was always around us.” First a schoolyard fan, Verse later began collaborating with various artists on visual projects, including what he calls “low budget hood videos” for local stars like Stormzy.

That’s a picture of Wiley at the Halloween Eskimo dance – which explains the mood – he’d just finished spitting and was backing into the shadows. But the light was still on his eyes. You can imagine how eager I was to get the shot, I was really concentrating on him because he has that reputation of not always making his shows. Ashley Verse

Verse's work has been informed by his roots as well as his own fandom, which causes his photos to speak to viewers at eye level. “When I first started out, I was in the crowd and didn’t have access to the press pit, so I’d give you the vision the fans had,” he says. “If I was in the studio, I wanted to see how the artists made this and how it all came together.”

That was in Croatia, at Fresh Island Festival. Shooting at a big festival out of London is a different dynamic than a smaller party but there were a lot of UK people there, so that made it easy. Skepta was meant to perform but couldn’t make it. So his brother and crewmember JME came instead. He’s very select about his performances and he shelled it for an hour, so it was sick. He really gave the crowd a lot of energy. Ashley Verse

Jun Yokoyama

Japanese photographer Jun Yokoyama felt compelled to contribute however he could to grime upon moving to its epicenter, even though he couldn’t do so in a traditional way. “I didn’t have many choices to get into the scene since I couldn’t rap, produce tracks, or write articles,” he says. “I got the feel for the grime scene through Simon Wheatley’s ‘Don’t Call me Urban’ photo book when I was back in Japan. It’s a masterpiece that captures grime’s early moments in the 2000s.”

This picture of D Double E was taken at Fire, Vauxhall, at an event called Oi Oi. This was the first real picture I took when I started grime photography. D Double E is my favorite emcee and he has unique flow and is incredibly important throughout all of Grime history. To represent his talent and maverick quality, I blacked out the spaces around him and shot it in black and white. Jun Yokoyama

He cut his teeth at pirate radio and Internet radio stations, which proved pivotal to him meeting up-and-coming stars in grime. “Firstly they were my subjects, but I also spent a lot of time with them in their daily lives,” he remembers. Eventually, Yokoyama says that grime became not “just a genre; it is how I lived in London.”

Jun Yokoyama’s solo exhibit of London photos is currently underway in Tokyo.

This is a shot of Novelist and Jay Ammo at Simulacra studio in Brixton at his “Novelist presents SOUND” [party]. Novelist did three days of gigs there at end of July last year, performing with countless MCs and DJs. The vibes in the tiny venue was full of energy from the new generation of grime currently rising up. Jun Yokoyama

Vicky Grout

Vicky Grout’s career, which often finds her documenting the greats of grime, has taken off in the Information Age - a time when grime has made a huge resurgence, too. “The first event I took pictures at was something Skepta did with A$AP Bari in Hackney when ‘It Ain’t Safe’ came out,” the London-based photographer remembers. “I took one of Skepta and one of Siobhan Bell, and Skepta posted them on his Instagram.”

This was the second or third rave I’d shot – Sian Anderson put it on. Jendor from OGs and Jammer who’s in the background both performed. I love this shot so much, because Jammer looks like Jendor’s dad looking out for him! When Jendor was emceeing, Jammer was just getting him gassed and it looked like a little family moment. Vicky Grout

In her photos, Grout seeks to highlight the individualities and idiosyncracies of grime’s personalities. “In terms of live shows, because the emcees are moving a lot and so much is going on, it’s important to get everyone’s character because each emcee stands for something,” she says. You can find Vicky Grout’s photography via her Instagram handle, @Vickygrout.

This is Footsie and Chipmunk at Footsie’s King Original Event at Village Underground, which is quite a big venue. It was my first time shooting there and I didn’t have the bad boy lens I have now, so I didn’t get that many usable pictures due to low lighting. But that one really came out. It was during the performance and I got lucky as there were a lot of things going on. Vicky Grout

Header image © Vicky Grout

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