Grime as Working-Class Creativity

Les Back talks to East Man about his new album Prole Art Threat

1 June 2021
Originally published in our Old Blog.

In this edition of Street Signs we meet East Man – aka Anthoney Hart – and talk about his second album Prole Art Threat.  Ant is a London-based electronic musician who was born in Hastings, England in 1979, but grew up on the boundary of East London and Essex, playing Drum & Bass on pirate radio.  His first album Red White and Blue include liner notes from postcolonial theorist Paul Gilroy

The new album and what it tells us about the life of London’s multiculture.  The album brings together a stable of London grime MCs under the banner of the East Man Sound.  Like the reggae sound systems and DJs that preceded grime, these are voices that come from somewhere.  It is the sound of life from London’s East and South where heritage from Ghana, Jamaica and Nigeria is tangled and woven into the new sonic tapestry.

It might surprise some that the album’s title is taken from a track by The Fall. Led my Mark E Smith, the post punk band formed in 1976 were proudly working class but never stereotypically so. Similarly, East Man describes his music as: “a reflection of working-class creativity and how the establishment, including the likes of the Arts Council etc marginalise us, and (perhaps on a subconscious level) see us as a threat.”

Listening to Prole Art Threat is like being at a dance.  As the mic is passed between each of the MCs, a different tale is ‘elevated… off the map’ as Ny Ny puts it.  We hear instalments from Forest Gate, Peckham, Lewisham and Manor Park as these ‘lyrical gaffers’ and ’top boys and girls’ tell tough stories of life under the scrutiny of the ‘Feds’ in a brutal and divided city.  The bars and rhymes document what it means to live here; from the double standards applied to the sexuality of young girls and boys to the corrosive violence of everyday life. All this is dissected without compromise.

This is not just a London story though, the inclusion of Fernando Kep from the burgeoning Grime scene in Brazil is evidence of the outernational reach of the music. The tracks on East Man’s album explode the wilful ignorance of those who see ‘the working class’ in contemporary London as code for whiteness. This is the sound of a proletarian urban multiculture, made from Caribbean and African influences, sound system culture, pirate radio and the inexorable rhythms of Drum & Bass, Techno and Dancehall.  It is the stirring of the “white” & “black” working classes who are living together and coming together on their own terms in sound.

Les Back is Professor of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London, and Director of CUCR.