We Talked to Royal-T About Grime's Past, Present, and Future
Grime upstart drops knowledge along with the bass.
I've recently become fascinated with Grime production, the way its off-kilter, 2-Step derived rhythms channel the ferocious energy of disaffected youth. Often stripped to little more than a bleak bassline and an icy sawtooth-wave synth, Grime tracks feel perpendicular to the maximalist hip-hop I grew up with. There's something sneaky in its simplicitly, like a black hoodie pulled low to avoid London's panopticonic police surveillance. Eager for the inside scoop I caught up with Mark "Royal-T" Taylor, a rising producer from Southampton whose white-hot I Know You Want Me EP recently dropped on Rinse.fm. Fellow Anglophiles take note—Taylor provides a crucial education in grime's past and present, as well as the shape of things to come.
Noisey: What was your clubbing experience like as a youth? How was the scene where you grew up?
Mark Taylor: I'm 22 so clubbing has only been in my life for the last 6 years or so. I've been producing music for the majority of it, so it had a big influence on my work. I was going out to spend time with my friends, but also for homework purposes. I would stand and observe how people reacted to certain tracks and what elements made them react, and it helped me develop a taste for how I could interpret that into my music. Even though Southampton is a couple hours away from London, I think it's one of the most up-to-date Southern cities in England. It's definitely one of the most industrial cities in the South. A lot of people get the idea it's just fields and farms when you leave London, but it's the total opposite. It has a very urban feel to it. The club scene is upbeat and student-based, which is definitely good for a city that's maybe not as large as Manchester, London, Birmingham, etc. Garage was huge here back in the day, with acts like Artful Dodger and Craig David coming through, so there's always been a relationship between my city and 2-step.
I've heard a lot of talk about a resurgence in grime production the last few years. How would you characterise this resurgence, and where do you see it going next?
It seems there's a focus on grime production that's really grown in the last few years. It's enabled people like me and other producers to bring our sound to a different audience. I do see it enhancing, as grime always does. There's no doubt about that. I feel like a lot of styles have been rinsed, though, so I'm interested to see what the next trends will be. The great thing about grime is the freedom you have when creating. There's no real set boundaries.
What do you think of grime's current reception in the US?
Grime's been around for around 10 years now, so I think that's been a long time for it to digest. I think the MC-based stuff might fall flat because it wouldn't make sense for a rapper to translate well over there, when hip-hop is so huge. I think the audience would have to seek something original and interesting, which I think grime MCs have struggled to come up with. That's why the resurgence in production plays such an important part. It's up to us to create something that sits well by itself but also emphasises the essence of grime through the MC. Trap and dubstep have trained audiences for listening to 140-BPM tunes in a club environment, so I think it's more than a good time for things to develop. Again, there would have to be something really original and interesting for it to all make sense rather than being "just another" genre label. I'm all for helping that though, I can't wait to get back over.
How do you feel about the way media tends to cover grime production?
To be honest I don't feel like there's enough coverage on it. I don't think a lot of media people have sought to find out about us. That's why this music can get lost in time, because there's not much of a platform for it. Especially in the UK there is still a big fascination with the MC, and no one really wants to find out about the producer. That's why the production resurgence has happened, because producers can now be seen as "the artist" and not just "the guy who made that track."
Can you tell me about some classic grime instrumentals that have influenced your style?
There's hundreds I can go through, but one in particular is definitely Wiley's "Ice Rink." It's such an odd production and it really spoke to me as a listener, hearing MCs flow over a track that didn't have the conventional ingredients to a club song. There are no snares or kicks, just really abstract sounds that create a rhythm. That's what really captured me, is this type of music that basically has no boundaries and has enough room for the artist to be truly creative. That's why I'm able to make tracks like "Gully Funk," because I have the freedom to draw inspiration from other genres or use odd sounds and still call it grime. If I was a dubstep producer, people might complain about it not having enough screaming synths, or just because it doesn't fulfill a certain rule for a genre. Tracks like Youngstar's "Pulse X" and Plastician's "Cha" also helped me find my taste when it came to creating.
How would you characterise grime's emotional palette, specifically in contrast to US hip-hop? There's something about it I can't really articulate, other than how classics like "Functions On The Low" feel distinctly "British" from my American perspective.
I think with rap a lot of songs have been created with an ongoing formula. They're built with a catchy chorus for the audience to repeat. Grime has never been something made to appeal to a mainstream audience. A lot of songs back in the day were purely for the DJ to spin on pirate radio so it wasn't constructed in a verse/chorus way, it was purely off of the vibe. Songs like "Function on the Low" were able to be created and to be recognised because all of it has a real and honest vibe to it. Not that rap isn't honest, but there's so much history and content in that genre whereas grime has never really had anything to follow.
Can you tell me about your experiences with pirate radio?
I wish I could say I was one of them old grime fans who listened to pirates as a teen, but purely because of my age and location I wasn't able to lock into them back in the day. Most of the big stations back then were London-based, so I was never able to hear them. When Rinse was available to stream online is when I first locked in live to a pirate, otherwise the only time I would experience it was via radio snippets, recorded sets or tape cassette bundles from raves or from radio.
Describe your creative process. Has it changed significantly over the years?
It's definitely changed over the years now that I have more of an audience to play around with. DJing has opened my eyes and ears to what people like, and how far I can push my sound. I've never been one to follow trends—I always prefer making stuff with the element of surprise rather than making something just to please. I'd rather be at the front of the line with followers behind me, rather then going through the line and serving every single person. It helps keep me sane!
As an established producer, how do you feel about the modern relationship between artists, social media, and music consumption?
My career started at a time where MySpace was booming so I've always been surrounded by all of these avenues to get my music heard. I've always felt like I've had a headstart compared to how things were before social networks. Because of that, I always feel like I owe it to grime to keep that side of things fresh. Things like Soundcloud and Twitter I want to use in full because I know what it's worth to be able to have a platform. I think it's something new producers really have to grasp, because although there is more opportunity now to have stuff heard, you can be pushed to the side just as easily. It keeps me on my toes now, making sure I'm creating interesting and fresh music.
You recently dropped a killer Eski mix. Can you describe your experience with the Eski sound?
The Eski era is one of the most important parts of grime's history. It formed just after the garage period, and even though it hgd Garage-y elements, it really added the character for Grime to be able to exist. The beats were fused with abstract sounds and had this cold vibe. I constructed that mix with the purpose of viewing the genre at all angles, and not just including fan-favorite tracks. Ice Rink, as I said before, was one of those stand out tracks from that period, and that's why Eski will always hold importance for me.
If you ruled the world, would you outlaw any particular modern trends in music?
I don't know, I used to get irritated by particular trends but the scenes and taste move so fast now it's hard to even have time to really take it all in. I guess if anything, I would love to see all DJs rock CDJs or Vinyl Turntables in sets. I have nothing against DJs using controllers or solely software on a laptop, but the whole live element to a DJ set is so important. As a raver, it makes leaving the house and actually making the effort to see an act so much more worthwhile knowing the act is performing something physically live.