Scroll to discover more about Britain’s influence on American music and insights into the people and places from the video.

GET TO KNOWGilles PetersonRead →

KEEPING THE RHYTHM Moses Boyd Read →

“I was definitely looking more towards America when I was learning to play, and study this music, from the masters that really set down the foundations.”– MOSES BOYD

GILLES PETERSON’S Artists to WatchRead →

BRITISH GRIMETaking Cues from AmbiguityRead →

WHERE THE EXPERTS GOThe Best Jazz SpotsRead →

WHERE WE WENTThis Must Be the PlaceRead →

“These days, I think jazz is influenced by so many different styles of music. I think that's very clear in the UK as well as in America. You know, soul, hip-hop, country even.”– ZARA MCFARLANE

JAZZ 101The Newcomer’s Guide to JazzRead →

“In London, we’ve grown up with garage and grime—so imagine having that approach to jazz. It’s a slightly more aggressive take, maybe, or slightly more up-tempo take on it.”– HENRY WU

ORIGINAL ARTCovering “Rye Lane Shuffle”View →

DIY ARTISTSWith A Little Help From Their FriendsRead →

MOSES BOYD EXPLAINSA Walk Down Rye LaneWatch →

MOSES BOYD DEBUTS“Rye Lane Shuffle”Listen →

“American producers would come to the UK, be inspired by what we were doing and then they sort of took it back to America and they spun it their way.”– GILLES PETERSON

MUSIC FESTIVALSHow Technology Could Rewire the Future of Live MusicRead →

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Gilles Peterson is a world-renowned DJ, record collector, radio host, and record-label owner based in London.
Peterson has been DJing, hosting, and collecting since he was a teenager snagging DJ gigs in some of London’s most historic jazz venues.
One of his goals is to expose a wide audience to innovative jazz records, both old and new, that would otherwise go under the radar.
His Saturday shows on BBC Radio 6 and the tracks he discovers and premieres on his SoundCloud channel are followed by millions of people worldwide.
Peterson has joked that London’s bleak weather has cultivated intense creativity from a population that tends to stay indoors.
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“Gilles Peterson on Jazz”

GET TO KNOW

Gilles Peterson

Gilles Peterson is known all over the globe for introducing audiences to records, old and new, that are either fundamental to a genre or bound to influence its future.

When rumors about a public figure circulate, they usually tend toward hyperbole. In Gilles Peterson’s case, when a reporter asked if it was true that he had an entire townhouse filled with records, the rumor was an understatement.

“Well, yeah, I’ve got a couple of buildings with records in them,” he told The Guardian. “The collection keeps growing. I’d say it must be between 40,000 and 60,000 [records].”

Gilles’ studio is more than a workplace or a broadcast site: It’s also where he keeps the vast collection of records that encapsulate much of his life’s work.

He has built that collection over three decades, while DJing, producing, hosting radio shows, and running record labels. He has taken his place as one of London’s foremost music experts, particularly when it comes to the role jazz has played in everything from contemporary American hip-hop to recent British electronic music.

Peterson has been immersed in new generations of non-traditional jazz since he began DJing as a teenager, specializing in what came to be known as “acid jazz,” which fused jazz with funk, Latin influences, hip-hop, and soul. He went on to present programs for Radio Invicta, a pirate radio station that played soul, where he caught the attention of BBC Radio London…despite being only 18 years old.

“This old-fashioned jazz lot, they kind of saw me as somebody who was going to give jazz a nice little boost,” Peterson told the Red Bull Music Academy. His time there was a crash course on the depth and history of jazz, before he left to carry out residencies at legendary dance and jazz venues throughout London. According to Peterson, this is where he had the chance to become a formative player in an emerging scene. “From an artistic point of view, residencies are really important,” Peterson told the Academy. “That’s how you develop a scene, that’s how you create a movement. That’s part of your responsibility, I think, if you’re going to be pushing the music out there.” Peterson continued to build his reputation as he introduced jazz, old and new, to a broader audience at jazz-dedicated radio stations and then, in 1998, to BBC Radio 1. And BBC’s global reputation and audience gave Peterson a springboard for his Worldwide platform, which now includes a radio show on BBC Radio 6, a SoundCloud channel with more than 3.6 million followers, and an annual awards event, where Peterson names his favorite records of the year.

In his 18 years at the BBC, he has witnessed changes in radio culture, genres, tastes, and the music business itself, but he has never wandered far from the eclectic jazz scene that he has been studying and defining since his first forays into London’s club scene. “I feel very privileged to be on the BBC at this time,” he told the Academy. “I feel very fortunate that I was around during this whole transition with the digital age, and being part of an establishment that had the global reputation to be taken seriously.”

Gilles’ favorite streaming radio stations.

After that transition to the digital age, music of every genre, by every kind of artist, from every corner of the world, became readily available to anyone who wanted to listen. But with that in mind, the role of curator—someone who can help guide a listener through a specific genre, or culture, or history—becomes even more important. That’s why Peterson showcases both rare and little-known jazz records and the work of emerging, innovative artists. Brownswood Recordings, one of Peterson’s independent labels, was founded precisely “to release music we loved completely unrestrained by genre or style, and free from [commercial pressures].”

Peterson, who once joked that London’s famously bad weather supported its artists’ creativity by keeping them indoors, calls London part of his DNA. He has a deep, outspoken loyalty to the city that helped foster the genre and styles on which he has built his career. And with his platforms and audience continuing to multiply, he continues to make London’s voice in an increasingly international music scene louder, more energetic, and more radical with every broadcast.


Photography by Tim Cole

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Moses Boyd is an award-winning drummer, composer, producer, and performer, and he's ready for the spotlight.
Boyd in the circle of musicians performing the new “Rye Lane Shuffle” masterfully in half-light.
Boyd stops off at London’s Bussey Building to introduce Peterson to another musical friend.
Boyd is a Steve Reid InNOVAtion award artist, receiving recognition and funding that helped him debut “Rye Lane Shuffle.”
Much of Boyd’s music has geographical roots: Catford, his home ground in South London, includes a vibrant West African community.
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KEEPING THE RHYTHM

Moses Boyd

Moses Boyd, who is recognized as one of London's most exciting emerging musicians—by Gilles Peterson and others—is collaborating with some of today’s most innovative electronic and jazz artists. And he's only getting started.

Moses Boyd can do it all. He’s an expert jazz drummer, a composer, an experienced producer, compelling performer—oh, and he also recently founded his own record label, Exodus Records. It’s no small wonder that Boyd has won the “Play More Jazz” award from Gilles Peterson, the Steve Reid InNOVAtion award, and recognition from other national British arts and music institutions.

Atlantic Re:think: What’s the story of Moses Boyd?

Moses Boyd: I was born in Greenwich, South London, the fourth of six children. I come from a West Indian background, my dad’s side is from Dominica, and my mother’s side from Jamaica. I grew up with a lot of gospel music in the house, as well as soul, classical, and other styles too. I didn’t get into playing an instrument ’til I was 13 or 14 years old.

Boyd started drumming in secondary school, and the passion “stuck,” he says.

I was lucky to benefit from drum lessons at my secondary school and my teacher at the time, Bobby Dodsworth, who was a great jazz drummer in London. There was just something about his playing that was so different from any other drummer I had seen before—the way he held the sticks, the touch and sensitivity and musical language was so new to me. I continued studying with him until I was 16, and around that time I started to venture around London and try to play as many jam sessions or open-mic nights as I could. There were a lot of musicians my age trying to learn and understand jazz music, so I was fortunate enough to have this group of friends to play and hang out with regularly. I still work with many of them in my band, and these guys are doing great things now too in the scene here in the U.K.. I was exposed to the wider community of jazz musicians, and it wasn’t long before I was doing professional gigs with many other U.K. musicians like Kevin Haynes and Zara McFarlane, and more.

AR: You mention that Peckham, where you were raised, also has a place in your music. What about the neighborhood specifically is an influence, or leads you toward certain sounds?

MB: I’m from Catford, which isn’t far from Peckham. I think growing up in South London has had a big influence on my music. The diversity of cultures that I grew up around was something I maybe took for granted. It wasn’t until I started touring that I realized how beautifully integrated and culturally rich my neighborhood was. There’s this odd thing in London—it’s tongue-in-cheek but there’s a degree of truth in it—where South Londoners don’t often venture to North London and North Londoners don’t venture south. Growing up, it gave your area a tribe-like nature, and musically it had an interesting effect. I felt certain scenes developed very organically without much of an outside influence.

When I was getting into writing my own music at around 14 or 15 years old, pirate radio was still around, garage music, loads of my friends were involved in grime—there was so much homegrown local music around me. Peckham in particular has a very large West African and Caribbean population, so I was constantly around the music and atmosphere of the diaspora.

“I feel that although we’re very much influenced by the American jazz culture, we also have our own unique story and background here in the UK that feeds our music.”

AR: Unlike more traditional jazz artists, you use technology quite a bit in your music. What led you in that direction? What do you think that tech aspect adds?

MB: One of the best things I did for myself was study music technology at 16. My teacher at the time was a great engineer and also a great musician and producer himself. I was fascinated with the process of recording music, sampling, programming, and how all these great albums I love were made. It wasn’t until years later when I decided to work on my own EP that I realized I had all this information the average jazz musician around me wasn't dealing with. So when it came to recording my own stuff, I was really open to trying different ideas—things like mixing a sample-based beat with acoustic jazz, or lots of post-production effects over jazz.

To me, it was a logical progression, as these were all of interest to me as a musician, producer, and composer. I’m able to look at music from all angles, from the eyes of a composer to engineer to producer to mixer to re-mixer, and it has opened me up to so many styles and concepts I feel I otherwise may not have been exposed to. I think initially when I was coming up, venues, promoters, and musicians kind of shunned electronics within the jazz world. But I've seen this change so much, and now the scene is embracing it.

AR: Do you feel there’s a difference between jazz made in the U.K. and the U.S.? Do you see any crossover?

MB: Early on, all I was consuming was American jazz. Like any culture, jazz has its own language. I feel if you want to be authentic you have to fully immerse yourself in the culture. To me, American jazz is obviously as close to the source as you can get. Some of the greats are still performing and reachable, and because of this I feel more of the music and musicians in the U.S. have a certain weight and purity.

Gilles Peterson and Boyd swap thoughts on the air about where jazz is headed.

Being in the U.K., we don’t have as easy of a connection. But I feel this has made U.K. musicians draw upon influences closer to us. You hear the influence of music like garage, reggae, grime, dub, dubstep, rock, folk, and electronica a lot more in British bands. Many musicians I know in the U.K. are first-generation children of African and West Indian parentage. So to me, infusing the sounds I consider a part of my DNA like reggae, soca, calypso or nybabinghi isn’t such a hard concept. I feel although we’re very much influenced by the American jazz culture, we also have our own unique story and background here in the U.K. that feeds our music. And I think with social media and the internet, the exchange and influence of ideas is a lot more prevalent in terms of crossover.

AR: How would you respond to younger listeners who might feel jazz is an outdated genre? What’s exciting or innovative in the jazz world right now?

MB: I’d say at the very least, go online and see for yourself if people like Christian Scott or Kamasi Washington sound outdated. I feel there’s overwhelming evidence and access to change people’s perceptions of jazz being outdated.

Fortunately I’m seeing more and more openness from the younger generation in terms of listeners and concertgoers. I would say to anyone new to jazz to come with an open mind and do some research. Jazz musicians have always been in the background of countless amazing albums. Chances are, if you like contemporary hip-hop, you'd like some Miles Davis too.

AR: Is there something you haven’t done in your music that you’d like to try—within the scope of jazz, or outside it?

MB: I wouldn’t say there’s anything I haven’t done in my music yet. I tend to follow my heart and interests, wherever that may take me musically. Really, I’d just like the freedom and access to do whatever I’m feeling musically. I’ve come up through the jazz world, but I don’t ever want to be pigeon-holed.


Photography by Tim Cole

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By debuting “Rye Lane Shuffle” on his Premieres series on SoundCloud, Gilles Peterson endorsed jazz artist Moses Boyd as one of Britain’s most talented, exciting musicians.
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MOSES BOYD’S DEBUT

“Rye Lane Shuffle”

Gilles has always believed that jazz is vital, refreshed, and innovative. “Rye Lane Shuffle” is going to convince the rest of the world.

Listen to Gilles’ perspective on “Rye Lane Shuffle” above, and read Moses’ take below.

Moses Boyd: I feel we’re a lot closer to the sound system, dance, and the club culture. The cultural heritage here in South London in particular, which is majority West Indian and West African, has this club culture, remix culture, and DJ culture. I think that is definitely reflected in the music. I think here the musical DNA is interwoven with different cultures and different styles from all over the world. You go out on Rye Lane on a Sunday and you’ll see every culture here, so I think that’s reflected in the music.


Photography by Tim Cole

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MOSES BOYD EXPLAINS

A Walk Down Rye Lane

Peckham’s busiest street is a central character in Moses Boyd’s debut release, “Rye Lane Shuffle.”

Composer, producer, and drummer Moses Boyd makes his debut with his original “Rye Lane Shuffle,” a jazzy, energetic single that’s both polished and unpredictable.
Boyd (right) has launched his own label, Exodus Records.
Born and raised in Catford, South London, Boyd has won the “Play More Jazz” award from Gilles Peterson, the Steve Reid InNOVAtion award, and other honors from national arts institutions and foundations.

Gilles Peterson: Tell us about Rye Lane because you’ve called a song “Rye Lane Shuffle.”

Moses Boyd: I’m from Catford, and there’s a bus that runs through Rye Lane. And when I was going to workshops to learn jazz and play, I’d always pass through Rye Lane. Particularly on a Sunday, there’s the most hustle and bustle because you’ve got all the churches happening and there’s just an energy and a feeling. I think it’s the most Nigerian outside of Nigeria, here in Peckham, and it’s like this cultural melting pot. You’ve got that and then you’ve got the grime thing and the garage thing happening. You’ve got clubs and it’s just all of that melting pot in one place. So when I was sort of trying to think of a song and title to encapsulate that, I was thinking “Rye Lane Shuffle,” because people have this shuffle in their walk and it’s cool. That’s what it represents to me, so that’s why the song’s called that.


Photography by Tim Cole

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LONDON’S FRESH FACES

“Rye Lane Shuffle” Reimagined

London’s emerging jazz artists helped create a brand-new version of Moses Boyd’s “Rye Lane Shuffle.”

Theon Cross on the tuba.
Full group performs “Rye Lane Shuffle” as Gilles Peterson (center) looks on.
Zara McFarlane (front) performing vocals and Henry Wu on keyboard.
Sheila Maurice-Grey (front) on the trumpet and Nathaniel Cross on the trombone.
Moses Boyd on the drums.

Moses Boyd, drums; Henry Wu, keyboard; Zara McFarlane, vocals; Theon Cross, tuba; Nathaniel Cross, trombone; Sheila Maurice-Grey, trumpet


Photography by Tim Cole

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If you’re looking for new jazz artists to listen to, or somewhere to start, there’s no one better to ask than Gilles Peterson, who has been collecting and curating jazz music for decades.
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GILLES PETERSON’S

Artists to Watch

The new generation of jazz artists is only growing: These are the ones Gilles is most excited to watch in the months and years to come.

Allan Harris

Music critics have a hard time agreeing on the best word to describe jazz vocalist and guitarist Allan Harris—“smooth,” “versatile,” “dynamic,” “protean” are just a few samples—but they are in fervent agreement that he is one of today’s most talented jazz performers. His awards include the New York Nightlife Award for Outstanding Jazz Vocalist (not once, but three times) and a range of local and national jazz-related awards. A native of Harlem, New York, and raised by a concert pianist mother, Harris grew up around soul, citing Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole. Equally dedicated to music education, he is known for using his deeply intellectual original music, like Cross That River, an album that explores Western American expansion through the perspective of a black cowboy, as a teaching tool in schools across the country.

Cory Henry

Cory Henry’s talent was clear even before he began performing on his church’s organ at the tender age of two—believe it or not, his family says he was banging on pots and pans in his kitchen even before then. His status as child prodigy was cemented when he performed at the Apollo Theatre at just six years old. Since then, his pace hasn’t slowed—he’s collaborated and performed with some of the biggest acts in jazz, hip-hop and R&B, and also performs with an instrumental jazz group. Equally talented as a pianist, organist, and producer, Henry has most recently released a solo album, The Revival, a live-recording album that fuses gospel with jazz and pop.

Jaimeo Brown

Jaimeo Brown seems to operate on a plane above the many labels that could be used for him—drummer, musician, composer, activist, teacher—which is why it’s fitting that his act is called “Jaimeo Brown Transcendence.” His most recent release, Work Songs, is a fascinating marriage of jazz, blues, hip-hop, and history that reimagines archival and historical popular music for the modern age. As sources of inspiration, Brown cites everything from afro-futurism to quilting, and history clearly informs Work Songs as well, with sampled audio from a Mississippi prison in 1959. In all his work, Brown reflects on culture, identity, the intersection of the two, and the global community where that intersection plays out.

Cécile McLorin Salvant

Jazz singer Cécile McLorin Salvant has made a name for herself both across the United States and in France, where she simultaneously studied law and classical voice and where she began her singing career. Born to a Haitian father and a French mother, Salvant sings in both French and English, combining jazz, folk, blues, and even musical-theater style in both original compositions and reinvented jazz standards. After releasing her first album, Cécile, in 2010, she began receiving mainstream recognition and awards in both the jazz world and the wider music industry. Her 2015 album, For One to Love, includes both original and classic works addressing themes of independence, liberation, and the power of strong women.


Photography by Tim Cole

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The rich, complex history of jazz music has the tendency to intimidate newcomers or those unfamiliar with the genre, but it doesn’t have to be a barrier to entry.
Jazz is always changing, and has already evolved dramatically over the past century, influencing and being influenced by everything from country and R&B to rock, hip-hop and beyond.
Fundamental to jazz is the relationship between the different players in an act: how they listen to and riff off each other, inspiring each other to step up their game in the middle of a performance.
The best way to listen to jazz is live, where the full scope of emotion, humor, and improvisation is on display for the audience.
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JAZZ 101

The Newcomer’s Guide to Jazz

A brief guide for listeners new to the art form but looking to dive in.

Jazz isn’t a single “thing”

First, know that jazz, which was born in New Orleans at the turn of the 20th century, has evolved dramatically over the years—but has always, from the beginning, been an amalgam of genres, sensibilities, styles, and languages, all rooted in the African-American experience. Jazz’s founding milieu featured a creative collision of, among other elements, African rhythms, spirituals born out of slavery, local bar music, and European instruments and harmonies. Precisely because jazz has such multidimensional roots, it can be hard to define. Maybe the most consistent feature of jazz is its focus on improvisation—on spontaneous composition, where the musician, usually over a specific chord progression, makes up melodies and harmonies on the spot.

Jazz is more than “standards”

Many people associate “jazz” with “jazz standards”—typically, songs that are included in what’s called The Real Book, a 464-page, hand-written, and, until 2004, illegal (because its original producers never secured licensing rights) compilation of lead sheets. Many standards employ classic chord progressions, from composers like Cole Porter, Rogers and Hammertsein, and the Gershwin brothers, along with a recognizable improvisatory language, usually out of the bebop tradition. Every professional jazz musician has learned the standards, of course. But listen to the work of some of the artists featured in this series—Kris Bowers’s “Wake the Neighbors” and “Forget-Er”; Keyon Harrold’s “Her Beauty (through my eyes)”; Robert Glasper’s “All Matter”; Zara McFarlane’s “Open Heart”; Moses Boyd’s “Rye Lane Shuffle”—and you’ll hear a profoundly flexible, not-at-all-conventional mix of sounds, at once nodding to history, even if only fleetingly, and exploring the frothy edges.

Listen for the interplay

When you listen to jazz, listen to how the musicians, well, listen to one another. Note that, after the opening section, which usually has a relatively defined melody and chord progression—called “the head”—different musicians will often take turns soloing. The rest of the band falls into the background, but continues to support and inspire the soloist. At this point, everything you hear is probably extemporaneous: They’re making it up as they go. There may be pre-written lines the band plays to create repetition or build emotion—especially in big-band settings—but, chances are that what you’re hearing is being “written” in the moment, even when the interplay sounds like it had to have been premeditated. When you hear a saxophonist echo what the pianist plays, for example, you may be hearing a pattern from the “call-and-response” tradition, and if you hear two or more musicians playing off one another, they’re said to be “trading bars.”

See it live

Don’t worry if jazz feels inaccessible at first. Over time, you’ll start to pick up on particular patterns and consistencies. There’s no better way to do that than hearing jazz live. When you do, let yourself be immersed. Listen for themes, for motifs. Try to hear the interplay between musicians: the spontaneous build-ups during solos, the call-and-response, the humor (often, musicians will “quote” lines from pop music or go off on playful tangents), the emotion. As you train your ear and become more comfortable with the art form, you might end up finding jazz to be one of the most satisfying, nuanced, and addictive types of music on the market.


Photography by Tim Cole

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ORIGINAL ART

Covering “Rye Lane Shuffle”

The original album art created for our version of “Rye Lane Shuffle” was made in the style of classical jazz albums.

Atlantic Re:think: What are your thoughts on the role that cover artwork plays in jazz?

Gilles Peterson: So important—whether it’s the classic look of labels like Atlantic, Prestige, or Blue Note or the hand-made sleeves in the style of Sun Ra. Brainfeeder has been getting it right, as have Now-Again and Stone’s Throw. An important record needs to have a concept running through it all the way to the sleeve.

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The Total Refreshment Centre, where our featured artists performed the new version of “Rye Lane Shuffle,” is an iconic independent arts and music venue in Northeast London.
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WHERE THE EXPERTS GO

Best Jazz Spots

For venue recommendations, there’s no one better to ask than the people who live it every day.

Gilles PetersonNew York City

  • Nublu
  • “Good programming and a good DJ sound too.”

Header photo by Tim Cole

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Where jazz used to make a home in London’s Soho and West End neighborhoods, Peterson notes that energy is now moving into the city’s edgier suburbs.
Foulden Road in Hackney, northeast London, is home to the arts venue and performance space Total Refreshment Centre.
The Total Refreshment Centre is a local staple of the northeastern neighborhood of Hackney, which has recently become one of London’s most hip, desirable neighborhoods.
Jazz’s “decentralization” away from downtown London may open the genre up to more diverse cultural notes, Peterson suggests—like Boyd’s Nigerian influences.
London’s Total Refreshment Centre offers rehearsal and recording spaces to the city’s musicians. Boyd considers it a personal haven.
At the Bussey Building, a lofty grunge-hip space that hosts arts events, Peterson and Boyd debated the evolving place of electronic elements in jazz.
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WHERE WE WENT

This Must Be the Place

Making this video brought us to neighborhoods and spaces in London where artists are reinventing genres and building new sounds.

Northeast London

Experts and artists have been pointing to Northeast London as the next music incubator space for years, and they’ll soon be proven right. Though the neighborhood has traditionally been overlooked for its western counterpart and the Soho area, which does have a more established music scene, venues like the Total Refreshment Centre are lending space, production equipment, and a community to such emerging artists as Moses Boyd. The TRC’s unassuming exterior gives way to a spacious, welcoming, multifunctional assortment of rooms, where artists can record, produce, and perform.

South London

The Bussey Building, also called the Bussey Warehouse and the CLF Art Cafe, is iconic to South London’s music scene. Originally a 19th-century industrial warehouse, the 5,000-square-foot space now hosts sprawling parties, film events, community meetings, and more. It’s likely best known for its electronic music events—many of which take place on the building’s fully panoramic rooftop with sprawling views of London. The property summarizes quite neatly the trends playing out in South and East London, neighborhoods which used to be industrial and working-class but are increasingly playing host to artists and creatives.

Soho and the West End

The arts and music scene in Soho and the West End is, at the very least, established—it’s certainly older than those in the surrounding suburbs, and the two neighborhoods have been traditionally regarded as the cultural centers of London. But according to Gilles Peterson, as well as many of the emerging artists we spoke to about the future of British music, London’s eastern and southern suburbs are fostering distinctive, innovative acts and spaces that take influence from a vast array of global cultures and genres.

A Diverse London

The music scene in London, particularly when it comes to jazz, is becoming more scattered than it once was, as scenes unique to their individual neighborhoods appear across the map. This has always been a characteristic of British music: a regional sensibility that results in a meaningful association between the music and where it was made. Take “Rye Lane Shuffle,” for example, Moses Boyd’s debut single, which was inspired by a central road in Peckham and informed by a huge range of genres—pirate radio, West Indian music, grime, Afrojazz, garage—that he encountered growing up in South London.


Photography by Tim Cole

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Grime’s sound, feel, and sensibility is so distinctive because it is built from a smattering of influences and styles, including everything from reggae to dubstep.
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BRITISH GRIME

Taking Cues From Ambiguity

How is British grime influencing a new generation of hip-hop artists?

A Google search for “grime 2016” makes clear what the world of music criticism thinks: Headlines herald this year as the comeback of grime, debating which artists to keep an eye on, which tracks went the hardest, how production has been evolving, and whether or not the definitively British genre is on the verge of invading American airwaves.

Critics and experts have always found grime to be a fertile subject for discussion, partly because the identity of grime is hard to nail down in concrete terms. It’s not just hip-hop, and it’s not just electronica, or dancehall, or dub, or trap, or garage: It’s all these things, and it’s none of them, and it’s quintessentially British at heart. Artists draw inspiration from their own region of the UK—be it Manchester, London, or any of London’s neighborhoods—at the same time that African or Caribbean influences creep into the rhythm and British slang peppers the lyrics.

But grime’s unique combination of specificity and fluidity is catching American ears. American hip-hop artists are collaborating with grime artists, bringing them out on stage during their shows. Grime artists are a notable presence at the biggest music festivals in America, as well as on U.S. billboard charts.

American hip-hop, unlike grime, is known for setting its boundaries firmly, with people within and without the genre quick to identify what is and isn’t “real” hip-hop. But many of its emerging artists are upending those perceptions, incorporating production techniques that are more melodic, more antagonistic, more synthesized than ever before—the same techniques that are characteristic of grime. “A lot of [American] hip-hop artists are drawn naturally to places like London and Paris nowadays,” says music journalist Kathy Iandoli. “I think it's one of those things where there's this exchange.” In other words, Americans are listening, and there’s evidence that hip-hop artists are growing less wary of the diverse production and technical elements that have always defined grime music.

Whether it’s wunderkind artist/producer Metro Boomin working with the same two-step tempos that populate grime tracks U.K.-U.S. group collaborations, or alternative rappers and R&B artists focusing on flow over comprehensibility, grime is playing a role in the evolution of American hip-hop. According to Iandoli, grime’s vocal cadence and flow might not be replicable by American artists. Production is another story: “I feel that grime is making its way through the hip-hop channels without a doubt,” Iandoli says. “Grime production is definitely making its presence known here.”

It’s hard to predict the final product of that evolution and presence. “We might create something totally new,” says Iandoli. “Call it ‘grimehouse,’ maybe.” Whatever it will be, grime has made it clear that ambiguity isn’t the enemy of creativity.

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Sofar Sounds brings together independent artists, adventurous audiences, and intimate, home-based spaces to create stripped-down live performances.
Volunteers in cities ranging from New York to London can offer to host performances in their homes or spaces, earning a free seat at the show in return.
Performers don’t need to be in any particular genre - they can even be spoken word - to earn a performance slot with Sofar.
Sofar allows artists to stay independent while still growing their audience and local reputation, provided they put on a good show.
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Watch Part One,
“Gilles Peterson on Jazz”

DIY ARTISTS

With A Little Help From Their Friends

Who’s the authority in the music industry when DIY artists are self-reliant?

How can new artists—young artists, broke artists, local artists—break into the music industry?

The answer might be: Don’t. Independent production and releases (made without the involvement of outside labels or promoters) have existed for about as long as music has. The do-it-yourself movement exploded into its own culture and community in the UK roughly in conjunction with the punk movement in the ‘70s, with flourishing zines and pamphlets and venues for “mini-scenes” that comprised essentially every genre imaginable.

The movement hasn’t stopped, but it has evolved. With new, alternative (and free) methods of production, distribution, and promotion appearing every day, the dominance of the major record label is waning, and independent, do-it-yourself artists and approaches are proliferating again. The independent philosophy gives artists creative control, but does present a new set of challenges. “Today’s musicians and composers face new challenges in a landscape with diminishing structural resources and ever-increasing competition,” wrote Kristin Thomson, co-director of Future of Music Coalition’s Artist Revenue Streams project, in the Music Business Journal. As a result, “Choosing the appropriate teammates—and designing partnerships that provide a net benefit—is part of this new calculation.”

That’s not to say that DIY-minded artists need to hire or be hired by anyone. The influence of what was once an underground movement is still present in what Tom Lovett calls “the modern music industry,” in which “artist services are outsourced from major corporations to a dynamic marketplace of individuals.” Lovett is the global commercial director of Sofar Sounds, an international platform founded in London that helps organize live shows for local and independent artists hosted by volunteers. Sofar is a facilitator, connecting artists with listeners, but ultimately leaving creative control in their hands. And in the U.S., where the sheer number of potential listeners far outstrips that of the U.K., creating audiences online or through local, independent communities and venues isn’t just important: It’s necessary.

An emphasis on local venues—though those spaces are increasingly under threat both in the U.K. and closer to home—means American artists are relying on smaller, independent performances for publicity and audience-building. The independent music venues in Brooklyn alone are numerous enough to merit their own map, and the local outcry that emerges every time one of them is threatened or can’t keep up with the exploding cost of rent—as was the case with 285 Kent, Death By Audio, and more—is clear evidence that the value of these venues is in the depth of their relationships with their listeners. As independent venues continue to be forced into closure by gentrifying neighborhoods or diminishing public funds, platforms like Sofar Sounds could help keep small spaces and local music communities alive. “What matters is the communal experience,” Lovett says. “That will never change, and people will always want to gather in rooms to share experiences.”


First photo by Cheyenne Cohen. Others by Sean McGlynn for Sofar Sounds.

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Technological innovation is likely to change the way artists engage and interact with their audiences at live performances.
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Watch Part One,
“Gilles Peterson on Jazz”

MUSIC FESTIVALS

How Technology Could Rewire The Future Of Live Music

How is Britain changing what it means to see a live show around the world?

Britain has a history of live, public entertainment that recalls the prototypical street scene of 18th-century London, where a different raucous song wafted out of the door of every tavern and pub. Obviously, the scene has evolved quite a bit since then, and it has become an economic force as well as a cultural one: Britain’s live music tourism industry grew by seven percent in 2015 alone.

Its history helps explain why it’s now common for more than 500 festivals to enliven every British summer. Even as it becomes easier to find music for free online, fans clearly swarm to the experience of seeing an artist perform live, and that impulse is now worldwide. In the U.S. alone, the ten most successful music events of 2015 made $195 million.

Cantora, a Brooklyn-based independent record label and creative studio, wants to reinvent that experience with the help of technology. “In a world where content has become so ubiquitous, there are great, interesting advancements in entertainment that can make something that is one-time-only and in-the-flesh that much more powerful,” says Nick Panama, one of Cantora’s founders.

British artists have done everything from allowing fans to audition virtually for an on-stage performance with them to producing smart gloves that allow the recording and manipulation of loops and sounds using only hand motions. There’s also the silent-event approach, where all the music is in attendees’ headphones: a London innovation that wireless technology promises to take global. “We saw those trends starting to take hold in New York,” Panama says. “We saw that there were a lot of technology entrepreneurs and developers starting to focus on solving problems in the entertainment space.”

Cantora is exploring how technology can make a live show something personal and distinctive for every attendee. “What does it look like when technology is built into the DNA of a big, live entertainment event where every single performance is completely unique?” We’ll get the answer to that question over time, as American artists and groups like Cantora combine audio, wireless, streaming, artificial-intelligence, and other technologies to bring audiences into the performance and change what it means to buy a concert ticket.

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