Music and fashion intertwine continuously; the clothing choices and references to brands that musicians make often have a direct effect on fans, and we have come to see how powerful the right endorsements can be – simply look at how Polo Ralph Lauren and Tommy Hilfiger have become synonymous with ’90s hip-hop.
Grime now finds itself in a similar juncture. Its rebirth has launched many of the artists embedded in the genre to the upper echelons of the UK music scene, and the sound has now transcended international barriers. However, with this rejuvenated popularity and influence comes an increasing amount of attention from brands and corporations, many of whom weren’t always as supportive of the culture as they now seem to be.
While that influence has become more obvious in recent years (due to the success of artists like Skepta and his ties within the fashion hemisphere), brands like Avirex, New Era, and Burberry that were originally part of the uniform associated with early grime and garage from nearly two decades ago have also made a comeback with the new wave of fans.
Photographer Martyn Ewoma recognizes this new found corporate backing but is also adamant about the influence he believes grime has always held over British youth fashion trends. In a collaborative effort with Wavey Garms, he has enlisted an eclectic mix of current and old-school MCs to create a photo series which showcases some of the notable styles and brands that have been associated with grime culture through the years. The artists he chose to feature are half of Newham Generals duo Footsie, Roll Deep crew member Scratchy, the legendary trailblazer Flirta D, rising talent behind “Toothache” Jaykae, pirate radio maven Big Zuu, and I Am Grime label-captain Jammz.
We caught up with Martyn to discuss his motivation behind the project, counter culture, and the state of grime music today.
What inspired this series of photographs?
Over the past three to four years grime music has merged into the mainstream, and the fashion world’s been taking notice in an obvious way – such as Skepta walking for Nasir Mazhar, Krept & Konan collaborating with Astrid Andersen, and so on. In my experience, grime has always been a staple of UK music since its birth, and there’s always been trends derived from it – especially in my area. Grime culture just never got any of the recognition for that, so I wanted to showcase its influence through the photos.
Why do you think the culture wasn’t given the recognition it was due?
I think it’s taken a while for it to be recognized as a genre within itself rather than just a subsidiary of rap. In terms of the recognition of its influence on fashion specifically, although it’s always had an influence, before it was more through pirate radio or things like TimandBarry, SB.TV, Risky Roadz, Aim High and that sort of thing. People would see how MCs were dressing on those platforms way before we had MCs performing on Jools Holland, a more mainstream show which many people outside the culture would be more likely to watch and potentially draw fashion inspiration from.
How did you connect with Wavey Garms for this project?
They were actually suggested to me by another stylist. I’ve been aware of Wavey Garms as a Facebook group for a few years but I wasn’t aware of their styling beforehand. Upon looking into it more, it was obvious they were the perfect people to have on board. I feel they bring a lot of authenticity. As is often the case with urban culture, a lot of people only jump on board once there’s some sort of hype or commercial gain attached. We even encountered that with this project; in the sense that there are certain brands who have undoubtedly gained mass popularity because of MCs wearing their clothes and are happy for the consumers garnered from that, yet they didn’t carry the same enthusiasm when asked if they would help out with the shoot. However, with a group like Wavey Garms, their genuine love of UK music and fashion culture was evident very early on with this project; without them it would have been much harder to make the concept materialize.
In what ways do the artists you’ve chosen to shoot for this project reflect the theme you’re depicting?
I chose to use some original MCs (Footsie, Flirta D, Scratchy) styled in outfits that are representative of current grime trends and younger, new wave artists (Big Zuu, Jaykae, Jammz) wearing more old-school attire to showcase the lineage of the culture – the idea being to show the uniformity and continuity of the grime scene. It’s very much a case of the originators paving the way for the new stars rather than it being an “old-school versus new-school” sort of thing. So Jaykae, for example, really represents how burgeoning MCs are delivering super cohesive projects that can do well commercially while not sacrificing the authentic sound. His recent album Where Have You Been? is a great example of that.
Why do you think genres like grime and garage have been so influential within youth fashion culture?
Counter culture is always influential, and because grime and garage music has always been subdued by the police and government through shutting down raves and demonizing urban culture through media outlets, it represents rebellion, which always appeals to the youth. Plus, the clothes are just objectively nice! I think brands are also a metonym of wealth, and because a lot of MCs start out in impoverished areas, seeing them wearing certain brands represents social mobility. Seeing someone from your area who’s made it in music wearing a certain brand could make someone feel that by buying something from that brand, they’re buying into that success.
Why do you think these trends have reemerged and are now bigger than ever?
Generally, I think it’s because fashion itself is quite cyclical. Vintage clothes also objectively suit younger people in a practical sense, because you can express your style without paying as much. And with the popularity of grime, garage, and jungle with today’s youth, if you’re going to a rave or event that represents a specific style that’s synonymous with a given culture, you’re naturally going to want to align with that.
I also think that because of the social media age, people vie to create a sort of persona online, so just being a grime and jungle fan privately doesn’t cut it – people want the clothes to show other people who they are. It’s almost at a point where the music doesn’t directly inspire trends; in the sense that someone will see their favorite artists wearing something and think it looks cool and therefore want it, so much as the fact that seeing their favorite artist in something will make them think that wearing that item is the best way to let people know they’re part of that culture. Like Nike TN’s for example.
Your personal favorite photos from the series?
That’s really hard! Possibly the one with bossman and Jammz in front of the phone shop. He went to move out of the photo and I said he could be in it if he wanted. He said “Oh really?” while simultaneously throwing up some mad hand signs as though he’d been waiting his whole life for this moment, which you have to respect. That or the close up of Big Zuu, he’s someone I respect a lot.
For more like this, read our interview with accompanying editorial with the one and only Waka Flocka Flame.