Visionist (Lost Codes / Keysound / Lit City) Talks Grime Revival, UK Club Culture, Inspiration, Production, and More!

Dubspot contributor Mike Styels catches up with London-based DJ/producer and Lost Codes label boss Visionist to talk about grime revival, UK club culture, taking cues from techno innovators, collaboration, production, and running his own label.

Photo: Wunmi Onibudo

From jungle and garage to dubstep and bassline, the steady progression of genres spawned by London seemed endless. But of all these uniquely British styles, grime had the most trouble crossing borders and leaving its mark on the world. Despite its influence on club culture within the UK, and some chart success there, it always struggled to fully escape the boroughs of London.

These days, London has become infatuated with sounds defined by other countries, with dance music revolving around house and techno, while rappers are influenced by trap. Despite this, grime is seeing a revival in the shape of abstract instrumental productions. This new wave of grime is stoking the embers of the city’s forward thinking torch.

And Visionist is among those at the forefront carrying its weight. “It’s a lost city,” he laments, frustrated with the direction of music from London. “I find it annoying the great grime producers from London think making house or rap is progressing.”

He’s managed to draw attention to himself by drawing inspiration from US sounds like footwork and collaborating with artists based in the country like Fatima Al Qadiri. But he sees the role of his Visionist persona as a gadfly reminding people of their roots. Through his production, DJing, and label Lost Codes, he’s launching a direct challenge to British producers.

Take his aptly named tune, “Revolt.” It’s built on a techno framework of four-on-the-floor kicks at 125BPM, but is flush with grime beats and sonics. “I was getting pissed off with everyone making techno,” he explains. “So I switched it up, made it ‘Eski’, and put the sample, ‘Bring the gang’ in. Like a grime vs techno war, haha.” (Pioneering grime artist Wiley often called his music Eski.)

This combative nature was one of the defining traits of grime, points out Dan Hancox in his new eBook, Stand Up Tall: Dizzee Rascal And The Birth Of Grime. “The word uncompromising gets used a lot to describe grime’s first flush of youth,” he writes. “Many of 2002-2004′s best grime producers and MCs didn’t even know how to compromise.”

“I embrace some of techno’s techniques in my music,” Visionist continues. “Like on ‘M‘– but that track in particular is like, ‘Look, you can do something different with this sound. Isn’t that what London was known for?’ I don’t like how most producers within that music are bringing nothing new to the table.”

He is, however, concerned by the movement’s lack of Londoners. Artists often associated with this new wave like Slackk and Terror Danjah have been integral to the scene for years. And Joe Muggs’s recent Grime 2.0 compilation is packed with producers who’ve been there from the start. But many of the scene’s biggest names are not from the city. “It bothers me,” he says, “because even the original crowd seems to have forgot what they grew up on. I just wish its presence was where it started, not Birmingham or up North.”

Although London is his hometown, he spent much of his teens in Nottingham and had trouble breaking into grime during its heyday because of that. So he does see a positive side to this new lack of regionalism: “I guess this has allowed people from other areas to be heard. You don’t need to be from London to make grime.”

The 23-year-old producer even acknowledges that some may not see his music as a London sound (although in his eyes it is). But he’s also not trying to regurgitate the past, it’s just ingrained in him. “The way I involve grime in my music is natural,” he explains. “I started there seven years ago and it hasn’t left. I just give it a form of my own. It’s not grime, just linked.”

That outlook of using grime only as a starting point continues with the releases on his label: “I look for producers who are able to bring something different in the sense they have stylistic character. It’s not restricted by tempo–more that I will choose tracks that are somehow rooted in grime from the sense and feel sounds used.”

Photo: Kim Laughton

Some of the innovation in this new wave of grime is due to the reduced presence of MCs. Visionist says he “was finding it hard to listen to old grime at a point because I was like, ‘This so repetitive.’ I think because I was listening as a producer rather then an MC. But then at same time, I was listening to Actress and loving tunes like ‘Rainy Dub,’ which is very repetitive but has slight changes at weird parts of the track. I like that. Slight adjustments can do so much. Music needs space. Every element should be heard.”

He bristles, however, at the idea of a strictly instrumental scene: “I still get hype to MCs. I don’t like this separation if you’re calling your music outright grime.”

Visionist’s last EP I’m Fine is out this week on Lit City Trax. His previous release Snakes, was released on Leisure System.

Mike Steyels is a writer based in Brooklyn who focuses on forward thinking electronic music, regional sounds from around the world, rap, dancehall, and more. His work can be found in THUMP, Vibe Magazine, No Ice Cream Sound, and more. Follow him on Twitter at @iswayski.

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