Red Bull Music Academy Day 2 - Book Slam
10.02.2010 / Shoreditch Town Hall, London
Book Slam and the Red Bull Music Academy headed East for a grime scene investigation of London's dark side. Will Gilgrass describes his Book Slam experience ...
You can also check out the report on the Spinebreakers website!
Red Bull Music Academy Day Two – written report
Poetry for me was in English lessons discussing the greater significance of a ladybird sat on a glistening rock on the edge of a electric blue lake – but after the second night of the Red Bull Music Academy I have realised a totally different take the medium.
Curated in partnership with Book Slam – a monthly event which takes place in London – writers, poets, lyricists, MCs and rappers gathered for the second night of the 2010 Red Bull Music Academy to celebrate the power of the spoken word at Shoreditch Town Hall.
My initial thoughts on the way to the event instantly took me back to school poetry recitals and urging the minute hand on the classroom wall to jump to 12, so the incessant pretentious nonsense of deeper significance could end – why can a rain drop never simply be some water falling from the sky?
Isn’t poetry, as Charlie Dark – the compère for the evening – suggested: “For every kid who got picked on at school and used to hide in the library.”
The event rocked my opinion and made me appreciate poets are not simply the Romantics of the 18th century as there is a modern equivalent which is a totally different animal.
Being a huge music fan, and open to listen to all genres and all styles from all over the world, I was never convinced songwriters or rappers should be considered as poets – even when current Poet Laureate Carol Ann-Duffy praised the Arctic Monkeys for their skills as wordsmiths.
“We thought it would be quite interesting to invite some MCs to come down and just open it up,” said Elliott Jack, the brainchild behind the night. “We wanted to get them to turn the music off, slow down their sets, slow down their speech and see what happens.”
P. Money, Rinse and Wariko from Nottingham were the three MCs, alongside poet Kate Tempest, author Dreda Say Mitchell, musician Sui Zhen and once rapper turned comedian Doc Brown – all representing a vibrant and flourishing underground literary scene which is commonly overlooked by Radio 4 or Guardian reviews.
It was staged in the stunning surroundings of Shoreditch Town Hall – sweeping stone stairs leading up to the hall and fantastically high decorated ceilings is perhaps a more common surrounding for book junkies rather than the dark, sweat dripping rooms where grime is normally hidden away.
It was a night where Dunks stood alongside black polished leather shoes as people from different walks of life came together to appreciate the strength of the spoken word.
Mitchell thought the night was fantastic and was keen to stress the importance of these sorts of events: “It’s so important and I think one of the reasons they did it is to get writers, artists and poets out there with a bigger range of people who we know love to hear those things but won’t necessarily find it.
“So to come here, is absolutely fabulous! I mean I had never heard Kate Tempest’s work before and she was great – and I’m eager to buy her book tonight.”
The Queen’s English was nowhere to be heard on stage but the themes were similar – everyday life and events, from living in the humming and often suffocating environment London can be to regretting break ups with ex-lovers.
Kate Tempest was a perfect example. On stage she was nervously confident and her poetry was eloquently accessible to everyone.
People can be put off by the tongue-curling language used in the poetry you learn at school, but her contemporary examples using words from the playgrounds and pubs of 21st century Britain absorbed the audience and made them listen to what she had to say.
Doc Brown – the rapper turned comedian who induced raucous laughter from everybody – and Rinse both mimicked grime stereotypes with which the genre has been associated.
Rinse, on stage with thick Russian hat, wide rimmed glasses and comic-book character Ironman T-shirt, opened with I Ain’t Road - a look at what it would be like if all MCs were geeks.
Two key themes came from the night: firstly respect. Wariko summed it up saying: “You may not agree with my ideas, and you may have different ones, but at least respect mine and I’ll respect yours.” Secondly was the realisation that poets of centuries gone by weren’t that different from the rappers, MCs and writers of today. Although their language may seem stiff now, it was just the tongue of the day.
Charlie Dark’s words were so right when he said: “London is like a sponge or a melting pot. It absorbs culture from all over the world.
“What Book Slam is doing is bringing literary people together with grime artists – the only real people who are keeping the English language alive.”
Will the suits start attending Wiley gigs – I expect not; and will the Dunks shuffle into book shops to grab Wordsworth – unlikely. But the point of the evening was to increase awareness and all left with a much elevated appreciation and understanding of the other.