At present, grime appears to be at the forefront of the mainstream industry, but the underground genre has quite a complex and long history with the mainstream world.
Over a decade ago, terrestrial television got a taste of the grittiness of grime culture in the form of the ground-breaking series Dubplate Drama. The show, which first aired on TV in 2005, was well-received by the public and one of the people behind the show’s success is the creator of the series, Luke Hyams.
As well as writing the script, Hyams also directed the three series of Dubplate Drama and has since gone on to create more engaging content. He is currently an executive at Disney and a well-accomplished writer, director and producer of various digital shows.
We recently caught up with the man himself to reflect on some of his memories making Dubplate Drama, to discuss whether or not he’d ever bring the show back and much more. Check out our exclusive interview with the creative Luke Hyams below.
How did the idea of “Dubplate Drama” come about?
‘I was like 20 years old doing another show for BBC2 and I was looking for someone to do a theme tune. My friend showed me Delight FM and showed me So Solid Crew, so I got one of the Delight FM garage light flyers. I rang up [Megaman] and I was like ‘you don’t know me but I’m making a show for the BBC, I’d love this to be the theme tune. Let’s link.’ He came, he did the theme tune for that programme and at the same time I was young, I wanted to get in to raves for free. I was working at a youth club that had access to cameras so we just started talking to Mega about coming and filming the raves. We went, started filming the raves and I just started to write things down. There was so many stories of what those guys were going through that I felt was like so incredibly unique.
“I remember one conversation, distinctly with Mega, where he was like – I told him I’d seen a poster for garage delight down near where my gran lived near Feltham – and I was like ‘how much do you pay for the company to put those down there?.’ I just saw this look on his face and I was like ‘you do this yourself, don’t you?’. So I saw there were so many great stories there and then what happened is I started to write the script for what would be a movie called Dubplate Pressure and it wasn’t really working. Then I just kept learning more and more stories. I started doing Channel U videos myself. I was directing videos. I am the man responsible for Southside Allstar’s “Southside Riddim”. I’m in the trenches making those videos, so the second season where a lot of it is about Minus, who is making music videos trying to get through, was really based on a lot of experiences that myself and others have had making videos.
“That was kind of the points of inspiration and then the icing on the cake was, I realised from being in so many grime raves, that the real story and the real power was about a girl who can spit better than guys. I had Ms Dynamite in mind but she was very busy. I was left in confusion. Obviously Nolay’s sick, people were suggesting Alesha Dixon and then one day a very wise man knocked on my door. His name is Justin Sennett [MC Keflon of Genius Cru] and he was like ‘I heard you’re trying to put this thing together, there’s a race car without a driver – I have Shystie.’ Obviously I was aware of Shystie but I was only aware of like her pop singles. I wasn’t aware of how grizzly she could be on the microphone. Immediately the chemistry was there, I started to bounce off her and we had a way forward.”
And the rest was history as they say. What was one of the most surprising things you learned whilst you were filming?
“If you have a group of people who you can inspire, you can do anything. Literally anything. Like, we had a crew who loved the music, we had a cast who many of them were curating the music, pioneering the scene. The fact we had no money to pay people and it wasn’t one of these things where me and the producers were skimming the money or Shystie was getting a giant pay check – we all got paid nothing or next to nothing because we just loved the programme, loved the message it was breaking out. The thing I felt at home being with my cat and seeing Skepta or Durty Goodz on terrestrial TV for the first ever time because of something I had written in my bedroom and knowing that so many people believed in this music and had a passion for it made them not just go and work but work so hard – like six day weeks and whatever – to get this cracking was something that was amazing.”
The show was aired on mainstream channels such as MTV Base and Channel 4. Was it difficult getting these channels to support a show as gritty and authentic as Dubplate Drama?
“It was really difficult to get support from the mainstream channels. We were doing something that was pushing barriers in terms of the artists we wanted to feature and also the interactivity. The investments we received from the channels and brand partners was, as you can see on the programme, drastically lower than anything else they paid for. The funny thing is, Channel 4 actually spent more money on the bumpers that go 3 Mobile presents Dubplate Drama than the actual programme. That’s the madness!”
So you just talked about the interactive element. Was that always a part of your initial idea or was that something that came later on in the process?
“Originally we were just gonna do a movie called Dubplate Pressure, and then we teamed up with this really cool company called Livity – they were our executive producers – and they brought that suggestion because they felt like we needed something to separate it from just being a show about grime. At first I was really worried about how it would work and then I went away and did a lot of work on the storyline and came up with a kind of chart of how it would work when we were doing the fifteen minute episodes.
“The interactive idea was one of those things that made it so much more difficult. There were also some really great scenes that got put in the bin. There was an episode where Adam Deacon’s character was getting rushed outside of his house by Warren and basically there’s two versions of that. One where the mum stays in the room and calls the police and the other version is where she goes outside with a walking stick and basically ends up with a gun in her face. That was definitely one of the best scenes I’ve ever directed in my career so far but it had to go in the bin because people voted the other way. That was really frustrating but it also made it so exciting. The secret of a great dilemma is loyalty versus respect. Are you gonna hold shame or are you gonna protect your people? A lot of the most successful ones would always come back to that question.”
The series was full of hilarious scenes and scenarios but the show also explored a variety of important themes which the audience could relate to. As the director and writer, what did you want viewers to gain from watching Dubplate Drama?
“The criticism that grime had for so long was that – and I felt this particularly when I was making Channel U videos – is that it’s a very very aggressive style of music. At the time we were making this, a lot of the tunes were about ‘see that guy over there, I’m gonna shank him, spray this’ and this kind of talk and I know music is a big influence. If I’ve got my favourite MC in my ear telling me ‘do this, do that’ it just goes in and it’s how developed your brain is where you can separate the art of it from the ‘I’m feeling this’. So the vision was this: could we do a show that had all of the music, completely natural. as the MCs wanted to do it with no censorship or anything from me and the team? Could we put that in a show where there are real dramatic events and their consequences played out? We just made sure Shystie’s character, Dionne, always stayed on a straight and narrow and did the right thing. So if she was just the centre of it, then everyone else could be crazy around her.”
A lot has changed in the UK since Dubplate Drama first aired in 2005 but even when you watch the show now, it doesn’t feel like it’s outdated. Why do you think it’s still relevant today?
“It’s still relevant today because the issues it dealt with are still very present in the world. There was a lot of issues that were very very very true to what was going on in urban lifestyles. When you look at grime music as well and see how it’s come around – with Skepta and Wiley using the keyboard that Jammer used to have back in the day with all the old sounds on it to make their recent tunes – people are harking back to that ’03/’04 kind of sound for the modern music and guess what? It sounds great! The young people are in to it as well. I think it’s relevant because of that.
“I think I was very lucky to collaborate with a load of artists that still have a presence today so that when you look back and you see those artists, they’re still familiar with what’s going on right now and some of them have been through some crazy dubplate dramas in real life and the audience still feels a connection to it.”
Did working with artists and actors who were new to the industry make it more challenging or more fun to film as a director?
“It made it more challenging. You really just wanna get on with it. We had no time and no money. Anybody you saw in the core body of the show was professional. No two ways about it. Mike GLC, Big Narstie, Tulisa, Dappy, Fazer, Shystie. I mean Shystie in the second series worked fifty days in a row! She was such a soldier. Ms Dynamite was professional, Akala. Skinnyman was great. There were very few exceptions. People were really, really good for the show because they believed in it and they wanted to take their careers to the next level and they wanted to help out.”
What did you like most about filming? Do you have any standout memories?
“The very first day. Picture this, we made a 15-minute pilot before we made the first series. Everybody was working for free and we had to rent a couple of crappy cameras. We were filming up at the pirate radio station, Origin FM, which is a drum and bass station up in North London. The first thing we ever filmed on the first day was the scene where Shystie comes to the radio station to try and get on the set with Crazy Titch and J2K. You know, Titch accidentally drinks a Red Bull with a cigarette in it, she picks up the mic and Titch comes back and he’s like ‘why you tryna get on the mic for?’. Because J2K and Titch, at the beginning of that scene where they’re just MCing was so fire, it looked so authentic! We were at a real station, it felt so real and raw. It basically encapsulated the whole series.“
Similar question now. In recent years we’ve seen grime go global. Why do you think people from other cultures are gravitating towards the UK urban culture?
“I think that when you have a combination of a beat structure that is so kind of hypnotic – but hypnotic in a way that makes you wanna jump up – and I think that the predominant style of MCing over grime has so much energy and I feel like that energy translates so well to any culture in the world. If someone is passionate about something so hyped – and a lot of the best grime is – I can imagine I’d still like it even if I didn’t really understand what Ghetts was trying to put out there. I would feel it. It’s a feeling. You know what? I reckon we’re still in the end of Act One of grime. I really believe that. I feel like Phase Two is about to start now.”
If you were to reboot the programme now, what would your dream cast be and why?
“I’d wanna have a collection of people that represent where the scene has been and where it’s going next. Maybe it’s more about the stories that need to get told rather than who specifically.”
On the subject of re-makes, should fans of the show expect a re-boot in the future?
“When the time is right, I can definitely see Phase Two beginning.”