It’s Grime Up North review – snide doc reduces regional rap to a punchline

Going against the flow, this new series treats lauded amateur MCs not as struggling artists but as fodder for shameless sneering and mockery

Three years ago, Vice made a documentary called Blackpool: The Controversial Rise of Blackpool Grime, followed a year later by a sequel. Both looked at the enormous popularity of grime music among the young, mostly poor kids in Blackpool who had adopted it, and gave participants in this unlikely scene a human face. What a shame It’s Grime Up North (Channel 4, 2 stars) could not locate the same level of empathy.

This new three-part series follows some of the same people who found fame on the YouTube channel Blackpool Grime Media, and then in the Vice films, but it adds in a few others, too. The first episode homes in on Little T, the best-known face of Blackpool grime, who was a curly-haired, baby-faced, foul-mouthed 11-year-old when he started out. Now, he has millions of views for his tracks, but no obvious way of turning this into a sustainable career. It also looks at a local squad, LOE – LoyaltyOverEverythin – as well as a Midlands MC called KrazyOne Savage who has moved to the Lancashire seaside town to try his luck there.

With the help of his brother Colonel Fatz, KrazyOne Savage, AKA TommyKray, is trying to launch his first commercial track, Light Biscuit Ting. He paces the seafront, playing it to strangers, handing a CD to policemen. But as he and his brother build up to the live launch show, you get the impression they are being set up for a fall. Wearing what appears to be a plastic crown, he does the show for just a handful of people in a bowling club. It doesn’t seem pleasant for anyone.

LOE have decided on a different approach. They took a couple of years off when various members had children, or did time, and now they are considering a comeback. One member, CallyManSam, is 24 and his tracks are racking up views on YouTube, but, we are told, he still works as an industrial cleaner. (The idea that these things are somehow incompatible is just one of the show’s wilful misunderstandings of the internet.) We see him going up and down his mum’s stairlift, and get a tour of his bedroom, which used to be his niece’s room, and is painted pink, with her name draped across the wall in bunting. It is hard not to feel as if he, too, is being mocked by the cameras.

In order to showcase the local grime scene, LOE have decided to put on a Seaside Shutdown – funny that they settled on this series-arc-friendly conceit while filming a documentary – and scope out some venues where they might host it. “It looks grimey, doesn’t it,” says CallyManSam, while the camera cuts to an incongruous statue of Charlie Chaplin. It’s all so side-eye-to-camera and snide.

There were parts, however, that briefly melted my stony face. LOE warm up for the Seaside Shutdown at an engagement party for squad member Shelton’s mum, spitting bars in the garden under a nice gazebo. “Even a tramp wouldn’t touch your mother,” they rap, and that’s one of the nicer bits. Shelton’s mum is thrilled with the entertainment. “Loved it,” she beams, full of parental pride at her son and his friends “grime-ing at her engagement do”. One can only hope she misses most of the words when she watches it.

It reserves some warmth, too, for Josh Tate, AKA Little T, who is now 15, and trying to figure out what to do with his life. His mother, Donna, works four jobs, partly to support his grime career, and she appears constantly worried about him, particularly given that he has ADHD and autism. This relatively new, fickle world of instant exposure is curious and the consequences are yet to be fully worked out. If he does not make a go of grime, she wonders, what will happen next?

It should have been obvious from the title pun, but at its worst, this does not so much offer a sympathetic look at its subjects as make them the punchline. It takes the narrative viewpoint of a befuddled grandparent, treating grime as a baffling new phenomenon and the language of grime as innately hilarious. It flashes up dictionary definitions for words like “gassed” and even “bare” – a strange paradox that pitches it at an audience who have no interest in the subject matter. I cannot imagine they will be won over by a patronising, nannying disclaimer that the “extreme lyrics” we are hearing are “purely about causing maximum offence” rather than inciting violence. Despite the faux-naivety, particularly when it comes to the internet, shows like this are cynical, and made only for the hashtag.


Rebecca Nicholson

The GuardianTramp

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