It’s the year of the festival it seems in 2016, with grime and rap artists being booked at them across the world this year. Outlook has got some serious sets lined up. Bestival is bringing Eskimo Dance. It’s looking like a good year for the city to go to the sticks.
But what about more traditionally rock oriented festivals? Even they seem to be keeping up this year, with Glasto booking Skep and Stormz, and Reading & Leeds hosting a whole bunch of sick artists. Our guy Griff spoke with Jon Mac, head booker of R&L festival, to talk about the emergence of more grime and rap acts getting booked, grime’s comparison to punk and some more.
Read the interview below and get your ticket for Reading and Leeds right here.
What is the selection process for acts to get booked at Reading and Leeds?
It’s really difficult to say. It helps (for urban acts) if an act is getting support from channels like GRM Daily, Radio 1. If they’re actually selling tickets, especially outside of London, that’s really important. Musically it has to be something that we’re really into here, so we have to respect the artist and what they’re doing creatively. It’s a whole bunch of things really.
Is that the process across the board, not just for grime and rap artists?
Yeah, for everyone. It has to make sense and has to have an element of edge. It has to feel original, that this is an artist who is trying to do something new. I’d never book an act that played covers, we don’t want to book acts that are just playing music they released 10 years ago. It has to feel like it’s current and relevant and cool.
There feels like there’s been a bigger influx of UK urban music at R&L this year, and festivals across the board. Was it a conscious decision?
I think we as a festival at Reading and Leeds, were the first major festival to really embrace and push the latest UK hip-hop and grime artists. In 2013 we built an entirely new stage that’s main focus was hip-hop. That year we had Wiley and Giggs, Wretch 32, as well as Action Bronson and Chance The Rapper. Mic Righteous. A whole bunch of people, back in 2013. A long time ago now. Since then, we’ve pushed a lot of acts, like Krept and Konan were a big one for us. Fekky is a future superstar, we had a massive show from Stormzy. I think we had Tempa T’s only official show last year and the tent just went off for that. We’re passionate about it, we think it’s an important movement and we wanted to get behind it, pretty much before anyone else. It’s so positive now to see, not just Skepta, but a lot of the new artists coming through starting to play some more events and make some proper money, and building their careers.
Speaking of new artists, there’s plenty on your line up this year. Section Boyz, Yungen, Lady Leshurr, who to a lot of people are new artists. What did they do to get on the bill?
Section Boyz have sold a lot of tickets, selling out KOKO well in advance. We had them booked before Drake got on stage with them and they’re a collective that people are really excited about. Again, they’re selling tickets outside of London, which is a really big look. Yungen, it’s still quite early, but he’s an artist that I think could travel nationally and really, really build an audience. We’re going to be announcing more grime and hip-hop acts in the next few weeks, there’s more to come. It’s a really healthy scene this year.
Can you tell us who…?
No, I’ll get in trouble for that! But we will be announcing 21st April and we will make sure you have all of that information as soon as possible.
What are your thoughts on grime music beginning to be embraced by the mainstream on a massive scale? Why do you think it’s taken this long for the genre to have the kind of breakthroughs it’s had recently?
I think that when grime first tried to break through, the artists weren’t ready. There wasn’t enough people out there with enough strong material to push it into the mainstream. You need a lot of strong acts and a lot of strong songs. But also, I think that a lot of the people that are behind these artists, the managers and the labels, back when Dizzee was putting out ‘Boy In Da Corner’ and Kano was starting to do things, there wasn’t enough going on on a ground level. What’s good is, the media’s spotlight and the general public looked away. Then over a period of years, these people fine tuned their craft. The producers got better, the writers got better, the managers and the labels got better. So when the spotlight moved back on to them again, not only did you have Skepta and Jme, you had a whole bunch of people ready to go. You have Stormzy, everybody ready, putting out amazing music, putting on great club nights. Managers that know what they’re doing now, because they’ve been doing it for years on a ground level. It just needed that time, the world to look away for a bit, and now the spotlight’s back on the music and the people are ready. It feels like now is the time.
For you personally, where do you get to hear that music?
It could be anything. It could be a chat with a mate who’s into it, it could be going to a gig, it could be through an artist or DJ. A lot of it is online, and we listen as well to our audience. We ask what they want to hear and we get a lot of information back from that as well. It’s so many different sources. GRM Daily, anything. A shout out from Semtex or Charlie Sloth, or Charlsey on Capital, just talking somebody up and we discover it that way. If we hear about something and it sounds interesting, we check it out.
What has the core audience, regulars to the festival- what has their reception been to the rising grime acts being booked over the years?
It’s been so positive, that for Boy Better Know last year we had to redesign the security around the arena that they played in. I knew two weeks beforehand that it was going to go crazy, and it went absolutely insane. The audience is very open minded. Our core audience is 16-24 and if you’re 16-24 now, you don’t see yourself as a dance head or a hip-hop head or a rocker, you just see yourself as ‘you like the music you like’. I think with someone like Skepta, it will appeal to rock kids and people into dance music.
People have been comparing grime to punk music. Can you see that as well?
I think what’s interesting is that it feels like a social movement as well. Grime in particular doesn’t get embraced at radio in the conventional way, or the TV support or shout out that you think it would, given how important it is. Plus it’s sort of anti-establishment. So yeah, it’s probably the closest movement we’ve had to punk ever. It feels like it’s more from the streets. Back in the day, a lot of the punks were art students or were from all sorts of different worlds. It was an important movement, but grime is a lot more from the streets than punk. But, it’s the closest we’ve had.
To wrap it up, what would your advice be to upcoming artists and MC’s to get booked?
Focus first of all on your art, on your music. Because if you get that right other things can fall into place. I think it’s really important to be aware of what’s happening right now, but not to copy the people that are big now. Focus on your own sound and be confident in your own identity. You’ll get noticed if you’re different to everyone, not if you’re the same.
Words & interview: Alex Griffin