uk hardcore: bob vylan’s potent punk grime rules!

March 1, 2019
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We first encountered Bob Vylan — yeah, pronounced “Villain,” and a piss take on the name of a geezer folk singer of some “importance” (or so we heard) — when the duo stormed the 2018 AFROPUNK London Battle of the Bands. It wasn’t simply the fact that Bobby and Bobb13 combined two of AFROPUNK’s sonic mainstays — hardcore punk and rap — and made that music fit together as well as anyone in recent memory this side of JPEGMAFIA. It was that their firece and focused point of view on songs like the anti-gentrification polemic, “We Don’t Care (It Ain’t Safe),” showed a passionate desire to throw bombs through all the right windows. So, of course Bob Vylan won.  

Now Bob Vylan has returned with an eight-song EP, Dread, which fulfills all the promise of their early tracks and live performances. Heavy-ass riffs, punk rap, grime tracks, thrashing hardcore, and un-clearable samples, mixed with the kind of political focus, mindless violence and Rasta asides that make for perfect revolutionary punk manifestoes.

“What does it all mean? It means nothing,” a voice intones at the beginning of “Grime Music Made Me Do It,” and it feels more like resistance than nihilism. Listen to Dread, it’s one of the best punk albums of the year thus far.

And since Bob Vylan is yet to make it off its London corner, AFROPUNK asked Bobby and Bob13 to give our audience an introduction to their worldview. Read, support and be on the lookout!       

How did you come to this idea of combining hardcore with rap/grime?

We just grew up listening to both, having roots in East London you had to go deaf to avoid grime music, and Ipswich was full of grime MCs and crews, but there was also a big indie scene there. Then having a general curiosity for music ,we both found punk and other rock music. So when it came time to create, instead of making one genre, we just kind of smashed them together and saw what happened. Punk and grime aren’t all that different when you really look at them. They’re both DIY, both started by the working class, and the middle class continues to fetishise both of them.

What does making music like this mean to you? Why do you do it?

We want to provide an alternative to what you’re used to, whether that’s the Top 40 or the sound you’ve come to expect from punk and grime. There’s so much shit out there that lacks any sort of substance or depth or real aggression. Like how are there so many songs about love and parties on major playlists, at a time where people are choosing between food and heating? People are doing whatever they can to keep a roof over their head and we’re supposed to care about your unrequited love? Parties and romance are cool but that’s not the average person’s life. The average person’s fed up and we’re fed up too, so that aggression just oozes out of everything we make.

People always want to put things in boxes and those people probably won’t like what we’re doing, not because the music’s no good, but because they don’t know where to place it and that makes some people feel uneasy, because they’re almost not sure if they’re allowed to like it. But if you’re the type of person that comes into things with an open mind, you’ll get what we’re doing and you’ll love it. Also, it’s not cool yet, there hasn’t been a mix of punk and grime like this before and we don’t ease you into it, we throw you in the deep end and see if you can swim. And while there are plenty bodies at the bottom of the pool, a lot of people fuck with us.

“It Ain’t Safe” sounds like a very personal critique of gentrification. What’s that like where you live?

It’s the same as it is everywhere I think, you live where you can afford, and sometimes where you can’t. And with people being pushed out of London, rents in Ipswich, Bristol, Brighton and those sorts of places are going up too. But that song came about by just seeing middle-class UAL [University of the Arts London] students with joggers tucked into their socks and buying “vintage” string vests from Urban Outfitters for £15 a pop. Their need to fetishise the working class is kind of disturbing and I noticed it in particular during that period where Skepta released “It Aint Safe” and people were calling XTC’s “Functions on the low” the “Stormzy beat” and grime kind of found a new mainstream audience for a minute, so it seemed like the perfect song to flip on yuppies eating Morleys with a silver spoon.

If there was one or two core thoughts or ideas that you want your music to convey, what are they?

That you don’t need to put yourself in a box to make other people feel comfortable, let them be uncomfortable. Be weird, be the outsider, be the black sheep. And be angry, in this day you should be angry, look at the state we live in. Whoever tells you to be peaceful and happy in these times is trying to keep you in a state of poverty, mentally, spiritually and monetarily. We don’t preach peace, pacifism and non-violence, we’re a violent band in a violent country, and when this country practices peace and pacifism we’ll practice it too. Until then our music and ideas will continue to be based off what we live and witness.

What are your musical dreams and aspirations? Not fame-wise, but creatively.

To continue pushing the boundaries of what “should” and “shouldn’t” mix musically, sonically and culturally. Making dope shit that you haven’t heard before because nobody knew it could be done and inspiring others to do the same. There’s so much dope music out there that isn’t being heard because it’s not pretty enough for the playlists but it’s not about that, its about creating something that has some weight behind it, something that reflects the times no matter how bleak they seem, something ugly on the surface but has a certain beauty underneath.