The Lowdown: Grime in Prague [Final Edition]
I’m afraid I have to start this edition of The Lowdown with some very sad news.
After 2-and-a-bit years of weekly updates from the grime scene, including premieres from amazing artists, exclusive interviews and lots more, this will be the last ever edition of The Lowdown.
Thank you for reading, whether you were a regular reader or even if this is your first time joining us here.
Before we start this week’s piece, however, let’s go back to our very first edition of The Lowdown where we talked about the possibility of the spread of grime abroad, into what were at the time fledgling scenes in eastern Europe, Holland and Japan. Read it here.
It’s fitting, in that case, that we’re rounding off The Lowdown with a look at the scene over in the Czech Republic, and a rave hosted by the Czech MC, DJ and label-head Smack, who has a gold-selling grime album to his name.
On the surface, Prague is a crazy place for grime to have gained popularity. Grime is a sound which sums up London, a sound that was made in and broadcast from concrete tower blocks by Tower Hamlets youths, a genre which takes in influences from African, Caribbean and American music of traditionally black origin and spits them back out in an East London accent.
The Czech capital, on the other hand, is famously conservative when it comes to its aesthetics and its architecture. While you may see former Soviet Panelák blocks on the outskirts of the city, Prague’s centre is packed with cobbled streets, bronzed domes and quaint pubs. Most of the concert posters on the walls are for orchestras and classical musicians. It is a European capital of history and high culture where more than 90% of the population is white and barely 25% speak English, and yet almost 2000 people packed out one of its biggest clubs to show their appreciation to one of the UK’s most innovative yet inward-looking genres.
First up on the night were Czech MCs Dryman and Tchagun, before Smack took over himself. It’s worth pointing out at this point that Smack is held in the highest esteem in Prague. He isn’t just a grime MC, he’s a fucking rockstar with his own brand of vodka and a ton of hits to his name. His performance was an explosion of pure energy, the kind that lots of young MCs could learn from. His delivery was flawless despite his onstage theatrics and while he has a sound unique to the Czech scene, it isn’t hard to hear his appreciation for British MCs. At various points his flow aped Grim Sickers’ ‘Kane’ as well as Hitman Hyper’s classic ‘Cock Back’, and apparently he often translates bars from his favourite UK MCs into Czech to pay homage. There was no denying, however, that he was the star of the show in the Roxy tonight.
At a time when grime performances are in a state of flux, it’s interesting to see how established and polished they are in the Czech Republic. Towards the end of the night when Sir Spyro took over duties on the decks it became more of a UK-style free-for-all, but Smack and his Achetyp 51 brothers performed songs with professional PA backing tracks, pyro and smoke machines. In the UK we’ve recently seen more of a shift towards this style of performance, even at clubs and raves, which has led some to (prematurely and perhaps unfairly) claim that younger MCs aren’t as keen on going bar-for-bar with other MCs on sets.
The UK was well represented at this event though, by some of its best and most experienced performers working the crowd from the start. P Money was the first UK MC to take the mic, performing his collaboration with Smack and getting one of the biggest wheel-ups of the night. P Money’s international prestige means that he can probably do this anywhere, there are few MCs with more stamps on his passport than him. Later on in the night we saw P return and perform the likes of 10/10 and even dip into his old dubstep back catalogue to huge crowd reactions each time.
Next up though was Discarda, who performed Moshpit with Smack. Moshpit is perhaps closer to an EDM banger than a classic grime song, but there’s no denying its grime influence, and its impact on this Czech crowd was huge. After that we were treated to a debut for his upcoming single Discarda’s Out, which is somehow still a singalong even in a country where three quarters of the crowd don’t speak English.
Grim Sickers and Flirta D also demonstrated the importance of hype and flow to a foreign crowd, with Sickers’ Kane, Bread and Black Bin Bag Him bars being instantly recognisable, and Flirta’s in-depth knowledge of how to control a rave ensuring the crowd was hyped up for the return of P Money and, later, Sir Spyro.
Recent classics in the UK such as Spyro’s ‘Topper Top’ (performed by Killa P on the night) and ‘Side By Side’ went off, with huge moshpits, circle pits and stage dives accompanying them, but it’s fair to say that the Czech MCs here weren’t sideshows or support acts to the UK artists. They were legitimate stars in their own right.
It’s fair to say that grime has been held back in many ways in the UK, particularly when it comes to radio play and live shows. This has resulted in a scene in the UK with only a few real club bangers to its name, and a scene where lots of artists were (until recently) out of practise and unsure how to perform to crowds. With none of the problems that have plagued the UK grime scene, including institutional prejudices, notably Form 696, the Czech scene is growing at a quite incredible rate and has plenty that the UK could learn from. There aren’t many artists of Smack’s stature in the UK grime scene, for example, able to sell out a venue the size of Prague’s Roxy and have a gold-selling album.
It’s worth remembering too that the night before this show, Spyro was DJing at Boxed’s night with Local Action Records at Bussey Buildings in Peckham. The fact that there are two raves of completely different format and style, in two different countries within the space of two nights really does help demonstrate the reach and strength of the grime scene right now. In the two years since my first ever edition of The Lowdown, grime has gone on to establish itself as one of Britain’s finest and most demanded exports, and a truly international scene. Truth be told, grime has never been in a stronger position than it is right now. It might have suffered its stutter-starts and its false prophets, but there is an audience in the UK and raves like this one show there is an audience abroad too, so from here we can only hope it keeps growing to fulfil its potential.
For now though, goodbye, and thanks for reading The Lowdown.