By Cammy Thomas
Strings and Skanks!
Since viewing the seemingly bonkers but equally intriguing fusion of strings on Grime when Dizzee Rascal took centre stage with the backing of a 30 piece orchestra way back in 2009; I have always had an affinity for the classical elements found within the orchestra when contrasted with the syncopated, bolshie, in your face rhythms of Grime. Fusing two opposing genres which should not mix (One which burst from the cracks of a concrete jungle at the close of the 20th century, the other flourished from historical recitals amongst the aristocrats at the dawn of the medieval era) I came to the conclusion that they do in fact mix as well as sweet and sour chicken on your Chinese takeaway menu!
Segueing the soft and sweet with the rough and tough, creating a percussionist version of a palatable sweet and savoury dish is not a new feat, lets time travel and journey across the pond to 1995 when Mariah Carey and ODB of the Wu tang clan used this exact formula (combining sweet and savage) on their global smash ‘Fantasy Remix’, which created a subculture in and of itself, termed the ‘Thug / R&B love ballad.’ R&B and hip hop although differing genres, gravitate around the same cultural core – urban, predominantly black music. Grime and classical music however, are from completely different sonic solar systems altogether, divided by hundreds of centuries in their genesis, but somehow despite the contrasts; they connect. Strings on Grime introduces another dimension to Grime’s bass led output, which often heightens the MC or rappers’ delivery, adding an emotional context to a gruff flow, (e.g. ‘Non glory hunter’ or ‘goal hanger’ Giggs, on the stunning ‘Landlord’ intro.) Orchestral elements can also add dramatic effect and suspense to an otherwise standardised Grime arrangement (e.g. Lethal Bizzle’s iconic performance of ‘POW!’ at the Grime Symphony, in 2015. The orchestral performances of Grime classics we all know and love, at the Royal Albert hall at 2015’s Grime Symphony, added new layers, depth and texture to the computerised compositions of Grime.
It is all of the above that makes Tanya Cracknell, AKA Grime violinist such an intriguing performer, she has carved out a niche in a scene you would not automatically place her, as a classically trained musician, bringing live instrument to Grime’s earth shattering logic pro beats. The Grime violinists’ covers of contemporary cuts such as Ramz’ ‘Barking’ and Stormzy’s ‘Big For Your Boots’ as well as the classic ‘Ghetto Kyote’ has seen her popularity soar over the past few years, ensuring she is in constant demand to string up the beats! Whether she is doing her thing on a set with Flirta D and Lady Fury at her very own E.P launch, or making a cameo in Madders Tiff video ‘Chief’, The Grime Violinist is someone whose unique talent will guarantee she remains a prominent fixture in Grime’s present and the foreseeable future.
Dine on Grime // Munch on Music, Cammy: Heeeeyyyy, thank you so much for having me at your E.P launch the other night, it’s been a busy one for you hasn’t it, having your launch, and performing here at Grime Originals, within a few days of each other!
Cammy: As a classically trained musician, how did your journey in Grime begin? Did you grow up in Grime’s birth place of East London?
Grime Violinist: I know! It has been a mad one, but I love it and glad you could make it to my E.P launch party. So, I studied classical music from the age of 7, going on to take music at university, but all the time listening and raving to non-classical music like, Hip-hop, RnB, garage and soul. When I left Uni I didn’t want to play classical music for my living, as I didn’t like the idea of forever playing music that other people had written, without having creative input into it. So I explored different angles, like performing with bands and recording sessions for pop artists. Eventually I decided to focus on Grime a few years ago, which I fell in love with. I grew up on the outskirts of London, but have been living in London for about 10 years now and wouldn’t want to live anywhere else. I love it here and East London is definitely home.
Cammy: Why did you gravitate towards Grime? – as you’ve mentioned, there are many music genres, but what is it in particular about Grime you love and relate to?
G.V: I love grime’s infectious energy, the way you just have to move to it. I love that it’s a voice of city life, to spread understanding to listeners. I love working with the people in the scene who have made me feel welcome and respect what I do, even though it’s different. My love of Grime and of playing the violin inspired me to become the worlds first Grime Violinist. To be approached to work by some of the artists I admired growing up is a great feeling.
Cammy: In your opinion why do people say at intermittent points in time; ‘Grime is dead?’
G.V: I’ll be honest, I think that’s a publicity stunt to get the word ‘Grime’ in the media more. It’s a talking point. If anyone actually believes it’s dead, they should do their research and go to an authentic Grime night, like Grime Originals. The term ‘Grime’ will now represent more than one sound, as it’s developed since its conception, but the energy, the way that writing lyrics is a release, and that the same lyrics are relatable for so many; remains.
Cammy: You recently released a fire EP, thanks for my copy by the way. What was your motivation for making an instrumental album?
G.V: No worries on the C.D, I hope you like it. I wanted my first independent release to start at Grime’s roots by making hard-hitting tracks that showcase the violin and my writing skills, and that would be shared by DJ’s and MC’s to inspire their creativity.
Cammy: I love that, congrats! So now that you’ve released a well received instrumental Grime EP, are there any plans to drop an album in 2019?
G.V: Yeah I do actually! I’m aiming for a late 2019 release which will be a collaborations album, but I know how long these things take so I’m not putting a definite timeframe on it.
Cammy: Sounds sensible to me! In what direction would you like to see Grime venture in next? What would you like to see in future for the genre, and for yourself within the genre?
G.V: Production-wise, my favourite sound of Grime is the original, simple instrumentals, (Me: Amen to that!) which is the style I nodded to on my latest EP of Grime instrumentals (“This awesome project sounds like it’s from 2005 but it’s not a plugin and it’s not dated…LIVE violin over fresh productions form some of the best in Grime.” – DJ Logan Sama.) However, I also rate the newer sound with many more layers and often full orchestral and vocal elements in the production. There shouldn’t be any limit to creativity in the genre, listeners will have a preference of how they think Grime ‘should’ sound and what they like best, but creators should be free to take it in any direction they want to best represent them. Grime is already influencing other music genres and will continue to do so as it gets more popularised.
I predict that the structure of some Grime tracks will become more generic to match pop, with the use of sung choruses etc. which mainstream consumers expect, though the subculture will remain more true to its roots, with hard-hitting lyrics at its heart. I’d like to continue working with artists and producers as a writer and performer, bringing the sound of Grime to new audiences and breaking stereotypes about how the violin can be used. Look out for collaborations coming soon!
Cammy: Why is it important for the Grime culture to have events like Grime Originals?
G.V: Grime Originals represents both new and old generations of Grime MCs, which is essential for Grime’s legacy. For me to be invited to perform at the last Grime Originals, shows that the event is open to new ideas and progression within the scene. It’s one of the most supportive environments for new artists, combined with everyone getting gassed to see OGs perform bars everyone has been listening to since childhood. Big up Sharky Major all day!
Cammy: Each and every time! Thanks Tanya! I really appreciate you taking the time to do this interview.
G.V: That’s cool Cam, you’re welcome, any time.
Grime Violinist’s cover of Stormzy’s ‘Big For Your Boots’
Grime Violinist stringing up the set at Grime Originals in September
Grime Violinist Instrumental E.P