Wednesday, March 19, 2008

MORE FIRE CREW, More Fire Crew C.V.
Uncut, 2003

by Simon Reynolds

Someone’s gotta coin a snappy name for the genre represented by So Solid Crew and the hordes who came in their wake. UK garage doesn’t cut it anymore, it’s misleading. Listen to the debut from Leyton crew More Fire and you’ll hear hardly a trace of house ‘n’ garage. 2-step’s swing and sensuality is banished in favour of hard-bounce riddims and punishing textures. More Fire’s primary producers, the Platinum 45 team, draw on the most anti-pop, street vanguard elements in black music history: electro’s angular coldness, jungle’s bruising bass blows, ragga’s lurch and twitch.

“Oi!”, More Fire’s Number 7 smash of 2002, made for the most exhilaratingly extreme Top of the Pop appearance in living memory. For pop punters who like a nice choon and fans of Artful Dodger-style softcore garage alike, “Oi!” had the shock impact of punk: “is this even music?!?” The answer, eventually, is “yes”. But it takes several listens before what initially seems hookless reveals itself as incredibly contagious. Platinum 45’s idea of melody seems derived almost entirely from videogame musik and mobile ring-tones. Their dry rhythms connect backwards through time to Schoolly D and pioneering dancehall riddim “Sleng Teng”, and sideways across space to current rap like The Clipse’s “Grindin” (a drum machine on auto-pilot). If James Brown was a 19 year old from an E4 estate who’d mispent his youth in a purple haze of Playstation and hydroponic, this might be his idea of future funk. Factor in the rapid-fire jabber of Ozzie B, Lethal B, and Neeko, with its blend of gruff ragga grain and uncouth Cockney, and you’ve got music that instantly creates a massive generation gap.

Can this sound, brutally shorn of pop appeal, sustain a whole album? If you make it past the incomparably dreary “Intro” (in which More Fire refute the charge that they’re one-hit wonders and damn near hammer coffin-nails in their career), you’ll find an album that’s highly listenable. Alongside Platinum 45 stand-outs “Smokin’” and “Politics”, two killer tracks are guest-produced by members of Roll Deep, hot crew of the moment. Wiley’s “Lock Down” pivots around a bubble-and-squeak bassline similar to Roll Deep’s insidious “Creeper”, while Dizzee Rascal (the MC/producer to watch in 2003) contributes the asymmetrical anti-groove of “Still the Same” over which he spits rhymes in trademark edge-of-hysteria style.

Lyrically, no ground is broken. Haters are castigated, ho’s get humiliated, weed strictly high-grade) is hymned, and “soldiers, fallen” are mourned as mawkishly as Bone Thugs or P. Diddy. But the art of MC-ing doesn’t really involve opening up new areas of content, it’s about finding fresh twists on the same restricted set of themes. What we’re witnessing with this genre-without-a-satisfactory-name that More Fire Crew exemplify and excel at, is the final arrival--after many false dawns--of an authentically British rap. No longer a pale copy of the American original, different but equally potent, it’s something to celebrate.


Do you get much inspiration from American rap or are you coming more out of the tradition of MC-ing that runs through UK garage and jungle back to hardcore rave?

We've got nuff love for hip hop and it takes up most of our listening time. But the garage vibe came from jungle and the main bones of it come from heavy jungle influence--that's what gives it such a British Flavor. Our favourite jungle MCs were Skibadee, Shabba and Stevie Hyper-D.

Were you aware the word "Oi!" has this dodgy connotation, as the name of this punk/skinhead movement with a reputation for fascist allegiances? More Fire nabbing their catchphrase almost seems like a jab in the eye for the racist scum.

We didn't even know about that! That's wicked that we can change perception on something like that, turning something totally negative to a positive thing without even realising!

The whole garage-fronted-by-MCs upsurge seems unstoppable at the moment--so many crews coming through, so many new rhythmic ideas bubbling. Tempos are slowing and it seems like the music is turning from UK garage into UK rap. If so, will this sound ever break America?

It's anyone's guess where Garage is going with all the madness surrounding UK urban music at the moment. It's just not getting the support it should be. The good thing is that it's still thriving in its own way. People are still pushing the boundaries. I think a lot of UK hip hop will come through now, but with a totally British flavour through all the garage influences. The MCs coming through right now have the talent where they can rap at 90 b.p.m. or 140 b.p.m. We'll break the US soon, but we need to focus on cracking the UK market properly first. It's no good going over half baked!

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