Words Grant Brydon and Siobhan Bell photos Ciesay
As we head upstairs in East London’s Old Blue Last, we are faced with a sparse, almost daunting scene; backs pinned to walls except for the odd adventurer who braves the trip to the bar. Organiser, entrepreneur and upcoming rapper ItsNate is visibly stressed as he scrambles around on his phone checking that acts are alive and en route to the venue. However, this isn’t the scene for long. As every nook and cranny of the obscurely shaped room soon finds itself occupied. When we do venture outside for some fresh air, we are made to join the line to return. We don’t repeat the mistake again.
Slocal began as a lifestyle brand inspired by the model set by brands like Alife. “I want Slocal to be a city institution,” explains Nate. “Straddling music, clothing and consultancy with a distinct attitude that comes from a constant pursuit of progress.” And while he has dabbled in clothing in the past, he’s gone back to the drawing board to emerge later this year with a higher quality product. In the meantime, the brand is mostly known for its musical output. ItNate’s recent mixtape, So Slocal, was one of UK rap’s most cohesive mixtapes released over the past few years, and the nights they organize provide a platform to showcase the local hip hop scene. “I didn’t even want to do this bruv,” he enforces over lunch the following day. “But nobody else was going to, and we needed it.”
The room at The Old Blue Last is full of familiar faces from London’s fast-rising new hip hop scene, beyond the acts performing we can pick out Nate’s fellow Slocal representative and partner in crime CR-Blacks, up-and-coming acts Hawk House, Murkage Dave, Catch’Em and CONFZ, producers JD. Reid and Sumgii, videographer Stay Hvngry. There’s a whole host of other young musicians and creatives providing a refreshing sense of peer support.
First on the bill is Denzel Himself, a promising young South London rapper/producer, with his first live performance. His inexperience doesn’t show as he rides his heavy thumping beats, showcasing how well his self-produced instrumentals translate to the venue’s soundsystem, and winning over those unfamiliar with ease. Isaac Danquah follows, and despite filling the stage with people (shout out to the guy dressed as a traffic warden), still pulls off a memorable show, packed with energy and oozing with potential.
By this point, things are getting to maximum capacity, and Rinse FM’s Lily Mercer takes to the stage to introduce Dream McLean, best known for his work with Drum & Bass duo Chase N Status, who demonstrates his versatility as a rapper and the ability to control high energy EDM-infused production. The line up is an impressive one, and for those in the scene it’s worthy of small festival status than just a regular open mic night. Having been seemingly stuck in an identity crisis between the dregs of Grime, paranoid nihilistic hip hop and throwaway commercial radio hits, it finally feels like London has a promising scene and a hip hop identity worth sharing with the world. Slocal is both a platform for many of these artists to get their first experience playing for a live crowd, and beyond that is a social hub for like-minded creatives to share ideas and network – although a lot of this may happen online and via text messaging later given the packed venue, many of these connections are conceived here.
Vibes are kept flowing between acts by DJ Rivah Kray and we soon find one of the nights most anticipated acts taking to the stage. Fresh from LA, Little Simz looks small and understated on stage. Hidden under the curved peak of her baseball cap, she unleashes a spitfire flow that burns the house down.
Whereas Piff Gang and previous Slocal headliners, Catch’Em and ItsNate, have been linked for some time as the New Wave of London’s rap scene, the third instalment has a strong sense of community. It feels like a new generation have been inspired by the aforementioned and a doorway has been opened for them to share their work on the Slocal stage.
When Piff Gang take to the stage – many members intoxicated to the point of worry – they continue this spirit, re-inviting previous performers Denzel Himself and Dream McLean to join them. Using their influence with the night’s fan base, they put fans onto collaborative cuts such as producer JD. Reid’s “Nobunaga” which features PG’s Milkaveli alongside Denzel Himself, cleverly tying together multiple elements of the scene.
As more faces appear on the stage and the rowdiness increases – a surprising trademark of Piff Gang’s live show, given how chilled out the majority of their music is – the vibe feels somewhere between the Grime raves that form the foundation of the UK’s true urban music heritage, and the Punk Rock shows that East London’s youth would have been witnessing decades before. Superstar egos are rare here, and it’s more about sharing, showcasing and enjoying music. As the show comes to a close, Distinction takes to the decks to play the audience out with original productions and refixes from his recently released RVST mixtape.
As the room returns to it’s former self, a few girls who aren’t ready to leave dance to Bone Thugs’ “Thuggish Ruggish Bone” in the now empty space, while a few guys around the bar nod in approval. Nate approaches us looking relieved. When asked if he expected it to be as successful he admits that he wasn’t sure. It’s clear that the hard work and vision has paid off for him, and he has successfully created a movement that people are willing to follow and more importantly, evolve with. “Now I just need to work out what to do next!” he exclaims, half anxiously, but with clear intrigue and excitement for how far he and his Slocal brand are about to go.
Claiming that “life is too short to stick to an actual vernacular script,” ItsNate has also provided us with a glossary of terms to get hip to for those looking to get down with the Slocal Slang …
Slocal (verb) – It’s a constant pursuit of progress, dedication to cause via hard graft and ingenuity. Also an adjective meaning near in proximity, so It basically means , you’re close.. or that you’re on your grind.
No Patrons - This is a new one, it’s going to be cropping up a lot this year. I was reading a book about working men’s clubs and their origins and there was a time when they had someone financing the whole club, and that guy would have say over what went on and how it was run. He was the club’s Patron. So with No Patrons, that just means theirs no one telling you how to run your shit, you got that creative control. No Patrons.
Slondon - This is my expression of London, my habitat, the big smoke with the big red buses and park life summers.
Doondoos - Basically meaning, rubbish, of the poorest quality, shit.
Pantalon [see Doondoos] - This has a French origin, it means trousers in France if you dont know . . . But I use it to me something that was pretty bad.
Sheg / Shegged - To Flop, a let down. Someone can be Captain Shegglesworth / Young Shegglesworth.
Windy - My adaption of wavy, so feeling good, great times, of high quality, great. “Im feeling windy.”
Wavy - You Yanks get credit for that well, the great Max B does.. it’s been appropriated the same way over these shores but you can switch it up with windy.
Fully - Added for emphasis, its like saying definitely … “He fully shegged me.”