Having earned his stripes juggling alongside top sound systems on east London’s notoriously competitive party circuit in the early 2000s, Joe Grime is one of the UK’s hardest working, most passionate and consistent DJs.
As he prepares to release his latest mix CD and step into the production arena with two fresh rhythms, Joe explains how to become a first-class DJ and why Britain is lagging behind Europe when it comes to reggae and dancehall.
What’s Your Earliest Memory of Reggae and Dancehall?
A compilation CD called Reggae 1993, which was one of the first CDs I bought. That was my first insight into dancehall and it had tracks like Junior Tucker’s Love of a Lifetime.
It was one of those CDs that are quite commercial in places, but then had some real proper tunes on there.
How did you get into dancehall and reggae?
It took a while to be honest. When I was in secondary school, I played garage music because that what was popular.
But there was a record shop in Walthamstow, east London, called Direct Impact and I popped in there one day to get something to break up my garage set.
I picked up a couple of seven inch vinyls and never stopped going back [laughs]. After that, I moved over to dancehall and reggae completely.
Name your top three DJs and sound systems…
I love Bass Odyssey; their selector Squingy (above) could have written a book on how to DJ, particularly in terms of the modern era of clashing and sound system culture.
I remember seeing him at a UK Cup Clash and because he would always get caught out swearing, he put the mic in his back pocket and controlled the crowd using only facial expressions.
Forget all the arguments about music and dubs, that alone makes him number one for me.
Second would be David Rodigan. A lot of people don’t like him, but I give credit where it’s due. He took dancehall and reggae somewhere completely different and he’s still relevant. You have to salute that.
Third, I’d say Mighty Crown, purely because of where they’ve taken the music. When you can pull 50,000 people in a stadium in Japan just to hear a sound system play, that’s something really special. And their juggling CDs are some of the best out there.
How did you get into the scene as a DJ?
By the time I started college, everybody wanted to hear dancehall and reggae. I loved the music and started playing at house parties.
I used to play a bit of everything and then one day I said to myself: ‘You don’t need to play everything; this is what I want to play.’
Every week, I was in the record shop religiously and would buy all the new tunes and get an education on what I needed to have from back in the day. Also, I got a lot of tips from the other DJs around me.
The next level up was getting regular bookings at [an east London venue called] Palace Pavillion, which was a ruthless learning curve. You either did alright or you really failed.
There was no ‘Oh, that’s OK, don’t worry about it.’ No, you were either good or you weren’t. I think that’s missing now because today everybody just picks up tunes form the internet and it’s all very lazy.
Name your top three singers…
Garnet Silk (above) is my number one. He is an artist we lost too soon and it hurts because without comparing him to Bob Marley, he was probably the next big singer who would have got international acclaim.
Beres Hammond would be next because as soon as he starts singing, you know who it is.
Jah Cure would be third. There was a period when he was completely dominant and if he was on a rhythm, it would be played.
He’s kind of fallen off a bit and I don’t know why. It seems that since his release from jail, the quality’s dropped, but he has a couple of albums that are great for a modern singer.
Do you think the reggae and dancehall scene is in a good state?
Yes and no. There are a lot of people around who are passionate and trying to push the scene, but I also think there is a lack of unity, particularly in the UK.
In Jamaica and Europe, there’s rivalry between DJs and sound systems, but it’s friendly and they all work together to build, push and grow the scene.
When you go to Europe, you hear reggae on commercial radio all the time, even though their scene is much smaller than ours. And that’s purely because they all push in one direction, which ensures that commercial stations have to listen.
In the UK, there are so many different factions and sides so although there’s a lot of passion and energy, it’s not focussed in one direction, and that’s our biggest problem.
Saying that, we have a lot going for us in the UK so hopefully, we will get it together.
Name your top three dancehall rappers…
Vybz Kartel has to be there because lyrically, he’s one of the best. There are times when I’d love to see him get commercial and be given the level of production his talent deserves.
Second is Ninjaman; it’s not necessarily about what he says, but how he says it.
And third would be Busy Signal (above) because he’s gifted and versatile. I’ve seen Kartel live struggling with an old rhythm, but Busy can do anything; remixes like Elephant Man; old skool beats; anything.
What’s the one thing you’d most like to change about the dancehall and reggae scene?
I think it needs to be a bit more professional. If we want our artists and music to have more international success, we need to create situations where our artists work for labels, just as artists from other genres do.
For example, when artists come to the UK, in addition to doing the shows they’re booked for; it would help if artists made the effort to do radio interviews with people that weren’t their bredrins.
And it’s the same with the way producers leak tunes. They all moan about how their tunes are all over the internet, but they had to come from somewhere originally.
Somewhere along the way, the scene has turned into this thing whereby you don’t need to buy the music, just Google it; and that hurts everybody.
Considering how small the scene is, it’s still fantastic how far it’s come, but a little bit more professionalism would go a long way.
What advice would you give a young person considering a career as a reggae and dancehall DJ?
If it’s something you’re really passionate about, do it, but don’t do it just because you think: ‘That would be something fun to do.’
In any genre, DJing is difficult, but in dancehall and reggae, the competition is fierce and there are a lot of people trying to do it from many different angles.
If you’re not passionate about the music, all the other stuff will get you down. Really try to learn and understand the music.
Don’t be one of those people who say: ‘I heard ‘X’ play this so it must be a big song.’ No. Go and learn and find good sources for the music.
Try to get an encyclopaedic knowledge of the music because it really does help. That’s my number one piece of advice; become the Bashment Shazam [laughs].
What does the future hold for Joe Grime?
I’ve jumped onto the production side of things so as soon as we finish this interview, I’m heading down to the studio to master two rhythms.
I’ve always done the refixes, which has been me finding older rhythms and dubbing them up a bit, but these are completely my own productions; it will be interesting to see how they come out.