Born on the airwaves of British pirate radio stations such as the now popular Rinse FM, Deja Vu and Freeze 92.7, Grime music is a product of UK garage, drum and bass, and dancehall. Defined by a signature 4x4 breakbeat, 140 bpm and a 2-step rhythm, Grime is multi-layered and complex. Spitfire lyrics are sharp and witty, political and catchy. Its progenitors include the likes of Dizzee Rascal and Wiley, but the scene has now evolved into collectives or "crews" such as Boy Better Know (hometown hero Drake is a recent signee), Roll Deep and Section Boys.
In any case, if you were at the Velvet Underground on Saturday, you completely understand the term 'lit.' It didn't matter if you heard one song or have followed the artist since his feature on "All Starz" with Wholagun and Don D, or his 168 mixtape. If you know how to party, or blend into any setting, you were jumping up and down, drenched with sweat and having a great time.
But the fun didn't really commence as per schedule. Warmup sets by Toronto natives Internet Daughter and TRP collective member Freeza Chin got the crowd going with seamless mixes of the city's favourite trap, hip-hop, rap, and r&b bangers.
Internet Daughter presented a curated set, with fluid transitions, feeling out the audience's mood, track-by-track. Although she didn't interact with the crowd verbally, a silent understanding was evident. Freeza Chin, a local well-known producer and DJ was next, and in it for the long haul. Spinning for nearly three hours due to a "technical difficulty" causing Stormzy's delayed appearance, Freeza communicated with the crowd more and threw in a bunch of classic grime and UK jungle pieces, which I really appreciated. Known for his work with TRP and regular sets at Kensington reggae bar Thymeless, lining up classic dub, drum & bass and dancehall, Freeza's set had some more unique pieces, until about 1:30 am, when Travis Scott's "Antidote" played for the upteenth time and the "BOOOOs" and Stormzy chants began. You gotta hand it to the guy for being a strong sport, as it was not his fault in the least. Overall, I'll be keeping my eye out for any shows featuring Internet Daughter and Freeza Chin in the near future.
At this point, we can't feel our feet, our eardrums are blasted, bladders are full and are in desperate need of water, or air. The crowd was feeling the tension and torture. A girl beside us fainted from exhaustion and dehydration. A guy was resting his head on the left stage monitor. Everyone had enough at this point. Doors were listed for 10 pm. Internet Daughter was already playing as people walked in. We had been at the front since the beginning, with our coats checked, washroom break completed and beers in hand. Where. Was. Stormzy?
At around 1:45 am, the lights changed and intro music started playing. Finally.
Things escalated quickly, if not immediately, as soon as the Grime artist hopped on stage. Going through his repertoire of rhyme and verse from "Shut Up," "Nigo Duppy," and "Hear Dis." Other classics like "Gold Thoughts" and "Know Me From" kept the crowd going. With rhythmic production and a variety of elements, Stormzy's vocal abilities are complimentary and incredibly strong. The dude is a tree; tall, built, with vocal chords to match. Although his demeanour is powerful, it's not intimidating, and you can sense a genuine love for his fans. His live vocal technique is precise, if not better than a studio recording. Stormzy's sharp wit is charming, and consistent praises to our city softened the blow of a late arrival.
To close out the set, which was roughly 45 minutes, fans jumped on stage (the risers are low and accessible) to vibe with Stormzy. Everyone was jumping up and down and shouting lyrics in unison.
As a longtime Grime fan, and someone that has been to the UK, experienced club nights in Manchester and London, yet never a grime show, I immediately thought, "THIS is what it must be like." To be in the centre of a high-energy set. With the speakers so loud the amps are emitting gusts of hot air, flashing house lights and the entire venue pushing and shoving like one big moshpit, THIS is pure zeal and the epitome of an authentic grime show.
I am happy to see Toronto promoters bringing in imported goods like Stormzy, and hope to see more grime shows in the future. Drake said "Better late than never, but never late is better," but fuck 'em. Let's just embrace the fun and stick with the former.
Words & photos by Ola Mazzuca