As the instrumental grime resurgence has grown in both popularity and contributing members over the course of the past two years, many pundits have questioned the aesthetic consistency of much of what is being dubbed grime. And it’s true, tempo, sound palette and geographic location have been altered dramatically. Grime is no longer solely a London ting and its most dominant motifs have been stretched to their logical limits by artists both within and outside the genre’s traditional East London core. Geography is the most easily recognizable change as producers can be found as far flung as Houston and Malaysia and while no one is questioning London’s supremacy, the diffusion of sounds and ideas on the internet has surely allowed for many to take a tangential approach to the work of Ruff Sqwad, Iron Soul, Dot Rotten, et al. A more important critique is more broad, but integral to the make up and continuing success of the genre: without a singular locational touchstone and equally monumental origin story, can grime retain its sonic quirks and aesthetic gruffness, its ability to confound and astound in equal measure? Essentially, can grime retain what makes it grimey?
Born in Ireland and now residing in London, Saga has been producing hip hop and grime for 10+ years now, but his two most recents EPs that have as much to say about the above questions as any released in recent memory. Tempo and sound palette-wise, Saga fits right into the world of grime, taking a muted and mutated eski palette into ever-bizarre places. His two releases to date, the Crescent EP on Lost Codes and the Flight Risk EP on Lit City Trax, can both nominally be defined as grime, but they’re also deeply indebted to industrial music, ambient found sounds and a host of other intermingling threads. The fact that his snares function as scythes and his square waves seem to dance and sputter around the track bring to mind classic grime, but the structures are all off, the placement of melodies discordant enough to unsettle the most experimental minded listener.
It’s Saga’s approach that makes his output so definitively grime, an approach defined by singular vision, antisocial personality traits and a rugged approach to sonics. There’s enough detriment left on a Saga track to round up and make a whole new track, maybe a result of listening to low bit rate versions of grime classics, but can also be attributed to a childhood full of death metal. In essence, its a trait and an approach that can’t necessarily be learnt. Rabit, one of the prime outside-of-London proponents of the genre grew up inundated in Texas screw rap, for example. It’s the quality that attracted Visionist and J-Cush who run Lost Codes and Lit City respectively, an inherent grimey-ness that pervades tracks like “Crescent” and “Grains”. It’s also what makes Saga’s Astral Plane mix one of our most thrilling yet, a down and dirty tail of detuned square waves floating through the void and all out sonic warfare. J-Cush called Saga’s work “modern grime”, which it certainly is, but its modernity doesn’t subvert its essential elements. And his 34 minute contribution is as essential as they come, a loose collection of industrial blasts on one hand and an intricately constructed modern grime centrifuge on the other. Essential listening either way whether you’re invested in grime’s living history or not.