“I’m here now, I’ve been waiting, but I swear down, this is the grand opening … ” So ran the opening bars of “Grand Opening” on Terror Danjah‘s debut. They were spat by an MC but functioned as a poignent statement of intent for Danjah. Terror Danjah had been waiting. A refugee from the drum’n’bass scene at the turn of the millennium, he, along with a number of other street experimentalists loaded with cheap music software, tugged at the margins of garage, darkening it and exposing its gristle until it became grime avant la lettre. Dense, pinched, and multicoloured, his instrumentals didn’t need an MC to impress a character, it was already implicit within the music. Still, while he has provided instrumentals for the likes of Dizzee and Roll Deep or helped launch the careers of Kano and Tinie Tempah, he has staunchly refused to dilute his sound, preferring to continue doing – in his modest words – “what he knows”. When his long time coming debut Undeniable was released by tastemaking label Hyperdub in 2010, he was knee deep in credibility but recognition on the scale that seemed appropriate still alluded him.
Then, in 2012, approximately eight years after grime’s first crest and in the midst of the genre’s second upswing, it finally seems to be coming together. His second album The Dark Crawler is ratcheting up high scores from a new generation of critics now fully literate in the hardcore continuum. When I call him up on Skype he sounds relaxed ahead of a world tour which takes in a large section of Europe, China and Japan … “Grime’s first world tour” – he explains, although nobody’s realised that yet. He’s also overseeing his label Hardrive, and alongside Elijah and Skilliam, running a series of Butterz x Hardrive parties geared towards test driving new tracks. Proof positive that he’s as plugged into the grass roots as ever even if, as he reveals to EB, has been swapping beats with Danny Brown (who has some form in this area). Now, as Terror Danjah and, more pertinently, grime as a movement asserts its prominence once more, we called upon trailblazing producer to reappraise the landscape he help shape and his place within it.
Listening to Dark Crawler, the first thing that struck me was that it has this vibrancy surging through it. With grime becoming prominent again, was this something you wanted to tap into?
Yeah, it’s got more energy on this one than the last one, I feel. The first album from Hyperdub was too broad, too wide, it went over a lot of people’s heads. I thought, you know what, I want ‘Dark Crawler’ to be for the grime enthusiasts, ‘Rum Punch’ will be for the bassheads, ‘Baby Oil’ or ‘You Make Me Feel’ would be more for the R’n’G heads; specific tracks would be different styles or tastes of music in my so-called scene.
Grime is in a strange place right now, on the one hand grime artists have gone been absorbed into the mainstream, while there’s a whole cabel, like yourself, who are championed by Wire magazine or Hyperdub. Being in it, do you feel that there’s this tension?
The mainstream grime isn’t even grime. It’s just grime acts over pop tracks that have already been there over the last fifteen or twenty years, your Kiss FM tunes, the tunes that we used to rave to. You haven’t got something that I produce going into the charts. Someone like Wiley is doing an Ibiza track with Heatwave, he’s still doing grime but those aren’t the tracks that he’s getting known for. If someone had gone along and used an original production and found mainstream success would it have got to where it has commercially? Flipping to the other side. Where grime is at now is not where grime was originally. Now grime’s more like trap, halfbeat, I don’t know what it is.
How do you feel about external influences like trap seeping into the grime DNA? It’s obviously a touchy subject on grime message boards.
I think personally it should go back to how it originally was: dancefloor music. Grime was all about people going to the rave, whereas trap is concert music, as part of rap culture, you stand up and watch. MCs are coming in now and everyone wants to be Maybach Music. All good and well, but call it rap.
What did you think when Darq E Freaker did “Blueberry (Pills & Cocaine)” with Danny Brown?
We’re in talks of doing a tune, we follow each other on Twitter and I’ve sent a couple of beats but we’ll see what happens.
Really? What have you sent him?
You know what, I’ve sent him “Dark Gremlinz” off the album and something more sparse. Not trappy or anything. We’ll see what happens, it might not happen but it’s all good that he knows what’s going on.
One of the aspects of your new record that interests me is how the title track is repeated, like a motif. Each time it has a different MC spitting over the top. How come? Was it to create a sense of consistency?
Do you know what, talking of hip hop, there were two reasons: one of the was Lil Wayne’s album Carter IV. On his album he started with an instrumental intro and then another version of it where someone like Bun B and someone else, and then another with Buster, Shine, Nas and that. When it first came out it reminded me of old grime, and that was the second reason. You used to have your “Ice Rink” say, and you had lots of people of on one riddim, just like how the dancehall thing was. That was what grime was all about, everyone takes a track and slaughters it and sees who can do it the best. That’s what the essence of grime in 2003.
We’re seeing this a lot in hip hop at the moment with the proliferation of free mixtapes, with artists co-opting beats and making them their own. But it goes back further than this, right?
I’d interpret it as a dancehall thing really. When you hear a riddim that’s popular, every artist from Jamaica has done a version: Beenie Man, Vybz Kartel, Movada, everyone on this one cut. That’s how it started off and grime was led by dancehall culture. Obviously rap has that relationship to dancehall anyway but this is how we did it, in 2003.
You’re about to go on a massive world tour, taking in Asia including Beijing and Shanghai. It seems like a huge deal to take something as localised as grime to those cities. Have you played there before?
Never. I don’t know what to expect. I feel I’m the first one, that a producer/DJ is going and doing the first world tour for grime. It’s mad that no one has even documented it like that. If it was someone like Wiley than it would be “oh my god! oh my god!”, but I suppose because I’m not an MC it’s different. I thought about it a couple of days ago if it was anyone else they would be making a song and dance about it, but it’s cool to be doing it first.
Are there any producers that you’re really feeling at the moment?
Nah, I don’t really listen to anything new – I don’t know if it’s my age. I was having this discussion and he was talking about house music in general, he was saying how house music has gone soft and I’m going “Imagine if I’m talking to Champion, people say that Champion’s gone harder but if you really check out his work, he’s obviously improved but he hasn’t changed his sound. I was making the point that if I’m playing funky house tunes in my set, they’re harder than most grime tunes out now, and then when you compare grime tunes from five years ago to now, the tunes now are just head bopping music. It’s across the board for me, the new stuff for dancehall, it’s just trying to mix with other flavours. And hip hop, that sounds like washed r’n’b, r’n’b sounds like electro. Every genre is not what it says on the tin anymore. You need a translator! I prefer the Nineties and early noughties stuff, hip hop and rn’b and jungle and grime. It reminds me of the time when we had the energy. You’ve got sections; there’s your Predators, your Swifta Beaters, your DLKs, your P Jams, Royal Ts and Swindles, they’ve got their own vibe. But Predator, he sounds like 2003 – 2004 Skepta. Spooky’s got that 8-bar thing going on. But look at all the people I was cursed with: Wiley, Davinci, none of us are making the beats we were known for. Obviously Wiley’s an MC so he can command beats off people, but the producers, none of them are making the music we were making then. I know we’ve got to move on, but it feels like a regression, like everyone’s switched down.
Is Dark Crawler is a manifesto? Are you laying the blueprint of how it could be again?
If you check it out I’m just sticking to what I know, I’m not saying evolve. With R’n’G [his prescient, self-coined genre Rhythm n’ Grime] I was a bit early with it because now all the hip hop sounds like what I was doing in 2003. The album, the tour, it’s a testament to if you continue what you’re doing then this could happen. If there was ten of me right now we’d probably be like the dubstep scene but bigger. Maybe even one or two of me is all we need?
How do we switch it up, what would you say to people getting into grime now and wanting to make beats?
Go with your instinct, the reason why all us grime people are here in the first place is because we took that leap of faith ourselves. I haven’t made it yet, I’m yet to break it through, but the goal trying to be set for life. You can have your Nas situation where you never beat your first album, or you can have a Jay Z situation where you mature and get better in time. That’s my motto, getting better in time. I never wanted my first album to be my best album, I wanted it to be good, don’t get me wrong, but I love the fact that Dark Crawler is outshining Undeniable. That’s progression. ~