Wiley WileyAvalanche Music 1: Wiley Instrumentals
Richard Cowie never rests, and you could even say that it’s easier to keep up with the pace of Sasha Grey—an actress in over 200 X-rated films from 2006 until now, and the number is still growing—than it is to keep up with this founding father of grime. Although somewhat erratic, Wiley’s career has never been interrupted or threatened by other winds of fashion, and his accumulated volume of work is practically endless: solo albums, production for rappers of all kinds, vinyl maxis for DJs ironclad in their defence of skeletal, brutish grime, featuring on other people’s records, collaborating in groups like Roll Deep and, so as not to forget, even an attempt to scale the heights of world pop (with the aid of Calvin Harris et al) that almost sent him tumbling down. Continual recording, an untiring assembly line, Wiley, from the moment he burst onto the underground garage scene, a moment we can pinpoint with reference 15 on his label Wiley Kat Records, the instrumental version of “Ice Rink,” which would be followed by two more EPs with vocal collaborations from the first MCs with tradition arising from grime: Kano, Dizzee Rascal, Tinchy Stryder . That’s where the genre we know today was forged, in part; Wiley has systematically placed himself at the head of the pack of most solicited producers, in his case because he’s fast, flexible, and guarantees results. He is better with machines than with the mic, and that doesn’t mean that we are dissing his “flow”—on the contrary, Wiley is something like the RZA of the London sewers: his slip-ups are few and the percentage of success rate is very high.
“Avalanche Music 1: Wiley Instrumentals” is an album that could have arrived much earlier, but which is coming out now just because—out of context, so unexpected and far from a favourable situation, that it could even be a good idea to ask why. Because one thing is hype-grime, the revitalising of the scene thanks to the breath of fresh air provided by new ghetto players like DJ Magic or Elijah & Skilliam, but the raw background is quite another thing, the moving document of a formational stage in which grime had yet to be given its official name, and alternatives like 8bar, sub-low or eskibeat were being played with –I came up with the last label myself, as I have always been into ice and Lapps. All we knew about it was that it came from East London, metallic and insistent, and that it was a new episode in the fascinating evolution of the hardcore continuum. And there was Wiley, still with acne, and with an arsenal of repetitive beats like a hammer pounding on an anvil, sending splinters of rusty electronic flying that sounded like cheap synthesisers and a souped-up beat box. The 22 cuts included here remind us that the early Wiley leaned much more towards dancehall than towards the 2step of those years. Its bases, and we could take “Igloo” or “Jam Pie” as examples, are like rigid riddims on which passing MCs can improvise their rhymes; they were obviously thought of as raw material to DJ and to work as a support for lyrics in the club. But at the same time, they still had a certain glowing ember of funk that lessened the feeling of alienation that you could see in other names at the time: Musical Mob, the first Dizzee Rascal –when he didn’t do pop and did do that “I Luv U” that marked the most radical future for urban music, etc.
So this is an exercise in memory and memorabilia, an archaeological recovery of a moment that we experienced with passion in its day-- now we can fully understand why: because of its simultaneous abstraction and fierceness, simplicity and inward projection. When we turn a sock inside out, the dirty, discoloured, worn part of the object is revealed, and the brighter colour, softer feel, or more laborious seams are hidden. Grime, in comparison with the tradition from which it came –drum’n’bass, breakstep, UK garage– was this reduction of hardcore to the subatomic. “Fire Hydrant” is an anorexic base, “April Fools” is a riddim with twists of humour, but it’s also more bare than the inside of Madoff’s pockets. Every cut, every demonstration of Wiley’s power of synthesis and brevity as a producer, is an amazing exhibition of kick&snare, occasionally with a harmony that completes the drawing with a single line of colour. If that “Gremlinz (The Instrumentals 2003-2009) by Terror Danjah brought out last year by Planet Mu is to grime as Picasso is to painting, then this compilation must be something like Kandinsky, give or take a brushstroke. Now let’s see what he’ll come up with in “Electric Boogaloo,” his new album coming out in a few weeks. Claude T. Hill