WHP FEATURE 007

SIAN ANDERSON

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SIAN ANDERSON

16.09.16

“Well, being the angry black woman has got me to where I am now. People want to hear my opinion because they know it’s going to be an honest opinion.



“I’m always told, ‘you’re like the angry black woman, you need to tone it down" laughs Sian Anderson down the phone, half joking, half deadly serious. “Well, being the angry black woman has got me to where I am now. People want to hear my opinion because they know it’s going to be an honest opinion. They might not agree with it, but at least it’s honest and it’s coming from a place of love.”

In a sea of bland, brand aware DJs self-censoring every word, Anderson is a revelation. When we finish talking there’s no nervy message from a management team requesting copy approval –it turns out that Anderson is happy to stand by what she says- more importantly, what she says matters. Having moulded her 1Xtra show into a testing ground for the freshest grime in the country, launched a mixtape series with i-D magazine to platform breaking MCs, educated American’s on the intricacies of grime in a regular column for Fader mag, and just this month been pictured with the mayor of London to announce Eskimo Dance’s forthcoming takeover of Croydon Boxpark, Anderson has established herself as a voice with an authority that stretches way beyond her 25 years. And with that voice she’s been supporting fellow DJs, shutting down bandwagon jumpers, and advocating long and loud for artists from around the land.

You only need read her debut column for Fader to see the Anderson no-bullshit approach in action. Lamenting the way the grime and rap scenes were being misunderstood, appropriated and treated as interchangeable by an uncomprehending mainstream, she went so far as to name names, calling out the unwelcome piggy-backing of grime’s new found success by Myleene Klass (who for some unknown reason presented a grime show on Capital Radio) and Rita Ora, who decided to try and give her pop sound a little edge with a cameo from Section Boyz at the Brit awards. Apparently Ora was not pleased to be named.

‘no it’s not going to happen, sorry’. So I don’t think I’m up there with Ora family right now...”



“Oh God - It was such a weird one!” Anderson remembers of the fallout that followed.

“Rita’s sister started tweeting me, saying ‘look can we catch up on the phone about this?’, so we got on the phone, and whoever it was, was like, ‘yeah I’m Rita’s sister and I wanna tell you a little about her growing up, she went to school with Krept from Krept and Konan , she’s part of the culture, she knows the difference between grime and rap’ – but she kept switching from ‘Rita’ to ‘I’, so I asked, ‘am I speaking to Rita or am I speaking to her sister or are you two just switching the phone between you?’ It was really bizarre. I had a 52 minute conversation with one of the Ora’s about the piece. They were pretty peed off. They were asking if I could do a round table discussion about the piece, and then send it to Rita for her to retweet out to her followers. I was like, ‘if she sits on the panel with me, I’d definitely do that’, and they said, ‘no she’s not gonna do that but if you write another article or do a discussion we’ll promote that’, so I said, ‘no it’s not going to happen, sorry’. So I don’t think I’m up there with Ora family right now...”

While Sian doesn’t care one way or another what Rita Ora thinks, she is very passionate about the difference between rap and grime. With such nebulous, ever evolving scenes, it’s a difference that by its very nature can never be defined strictly in rigid terms, but Anderson, never shy, has her own strongly held opinion –

“I think the key factor of being a grime MC when it started was them going to rave or to radio and just spitting bars on a set, getting reloads. Right now the rappers don’t do that, they don’t go to radio and jump on sets. They don’t have reload bars, that’s not what they do or what they’re about. So for me that main difference is about being in a radio space and being able to stand up in your own right on a set. People are always like, ‘oh it’s about the bpm, it has to be 140 bpm’ – it’s not that at all, it’s just about the feel. The feel of grime was all about having your reload bars, and being on a set, and a lot of it was to do with clashing as well, being able to hold your own in a clash. You don’t see that in rap, you don’t see Section Boyz and Krept & Konan clashing each other, it’s not going to happen. And I think those are the key points of difference between the two.”

But what about artists who switch between genres? Skepta and Giggs, unofficial leaders of the grime and rap scenes respectively have been on beats that could qualify as either in the space of the last year. Is it useful to lock performers into one style?

“Yeah, I don’t want people to be boxed in.” she concedes. “But if you look at the new generation of people, for example you look at Mez or Big Zuu, or Mic Ty, there are so many artists right now who say, ‘I am an MC. I don’t make pop songs or rap songs, I don’t do anything other than MC and spit on grime’. Jammz is the same. They are like ‘we are grime’. Then you’ll have someone like, say, a Donae’o, who likes to vocal grime music, who listens to grime music, who likes grime music, but who as an artist is multi-genre. I don’t think it’s about boxing people in, I think it’s acknowledging that there are people at the moment who are only grime and only want to be grime.”

Despite this burgeoning scene, Anderson has long pointed out the lack of a grime category on iTunes and this is clearly still something that bothers her, although as she points out “there’s no punk category on iTunes and that’s been around for forty years. Grime’s not even twenty years in, so how long are we gonna have to wait? Eighty?”

However, whilst download technology may not have been helping the scene as much as she’d like, the rise of internet radio is another thing entirely.

“Radar Radio have come and provided one of the best spaces in the UK for up and coming MCs to come and get practice hours in. There’s so much grime on that station that if you’re an MC you can just go to Radar and spit bars, and that is your practice hours. By the time people come on my show, they’re amazing mic controllers. I’m like wow; the clarity, the level of expertise to what they’re doing is top notch.”

“a pain in the arse. At first I thought he was doing it on purpose to try and get promo, but now I’ve decided that he’s just a bit of an arsehole.” She laughs at her candidness, “I don’t mind you writing that either…”



She warms to her theme, and picks an example of how much positive impact internet radio has had on skill level.

“I did a set on my show where I was merging the older generation with new MCs, because I feel like that’s what I want people to see – there’s too much of ‘this is my crew and I’m only spitting with them’, so I was picking people who I think would sound really good together. I had a set with Footsie, SafOne, Big Zuu and Jack Dat, and it’s sooo good. Jack Dat was a new up and coming DJ, Big Zuu has got so much character, he’s just up in your face, SafOne comes from Birmingham and he’s always been able to do grime with a trap rap slur to it, he’s talking about what he’s doing on the streets and coming from a different angle, and you’ve got Footsie who is obviously a general in this thing, an undisputed champion. You had them all together, and it got to the point where Footsie was spitting between SafOne and Big Zuu, and he’s realised that, oh shit, this lot are wiping me out! so he just went in, spraying all these mad bars, his energy levels went way up, it was like he decided in that moment, I’m not Footsie right now, I’m any MC to these guys, and I need to level up because I’m Footsie from Newham Generals, and I’m not getting wiped out on this set! And then, because Footsie was going in that little bit harder, it made Big Zuu go in that little bit harder, and Saf go in that little bit harder. It was amazing to see everyone just drawn out of themselves. To me that’s what Radar’s been able to bring to the table, because people like Big Zuu have been putting in their practice hours. Without that he would have never been able to stand up to Footsie and make Footsie up his own game.”

This story of inter-generational MC bonding isn’t a given in the current scene. Rising MC Cadell (who’s opinion is probably given more credence because he’s Wiley’s kid brother) was recently quoted as saying that “literally every single MC” in the UK over the age of 18 was ‘washed up’, but Anderson’s got no time for this sort of young vs old beef, briskly dismissing Cadell as “a pain in the arse. At first I thought he was doing it on purpose to try and get promo, but now I’ve decided that he’s just a bit of an arsehole.” She laughs at her candidness, “I don’t mind you writing that either…”

But there are numerous MCs around the country, some fresh and some veteran, that she does rate. She rattles off a list of names she checks for, from other Brum names Sox and Jaykae to Mancunian crews Birth Gang and Levelz – but she insists that when she plays at Warehouse Project she won’t be drawing for tunes from Manchester artists as some craven attempt to woo locals – she’ll draw for them because that’s what she’d do anywhere she plays.

“I’m 25 now” she laughs as we finish “and I can’t be bothered sugar coating what I think any more. If you stand for nothing you’ll fall for everything…”



“I play a lot of Manny music in general on my radio show and when I go out anyway - all of these people have built themselves up to a point where London was hearing about them because of their own club scenes and their own radio scenes and what they were doing themselves – they were existing in their own space and making their own music, and I think that’s how grime began in the first place, when people are ignoring you, you’re like, cool, we’ll just do it ourselves, and you create what you’re doing in your own space until it’s so big everyone wants in. At that time when we started finding out all the Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol MCs, they already had their own things going on. Something like Warehouse Project, it’s such a big deal, I have to go there and impress people, it’s not the other way round. I’ve got to go and bring something new. The song I really can’t wait to drop though is Flowdan’s Horror Show Style. It. Is. Insane. I’ve played it in my last four sets – I don’t ever wanna mix it in cos it sounds so good, everyone just looks up, like what is this?”

Far more than defending the scene from chancers, this is the side of Sian Anderson that shines through; a complete enthusiasm for the culture she loves, along with a determination to share the music far and wide. Even if sharing it she has to piss off a few people along the way.

“I’m 25 now” she laughs as we finish “and I can’t be bothered sugar coating what I think any more. If you stand for nothing you’ll fall for everything…”

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