On the surface it would be easy for one to think there wasn’t a huge Hip-Hop scene in Brighton nowadays. Though it is home to so many big British artists (Dirty Dike, Evil Ed, and Slam the Poet to name a few) – for the newcomer genre specific nights can be hard to come across. For a town with such a deep connection to the history of UK Hip-Hop, dating back to the genre’s more fiery and belligerent Britcore days, this is slightly worrying. The Brighton scene is very typical of people being pure to the original essence of Hip-Hop. There is a great balance and respect for the roots and all parts of Hip-Hop, for instance Churchill Square was a notorious spot for breakdancing. Similarly, the South Coast’s realest Hip-Hop proceeding, SlipJam, still charges absolutely nothing and is open to anyone who wants to take to the stage. There is a real happy-go-lucky, stoners sensibility to the scene which greatly emulates Brighton as a place itself. After every competition there is a high level of cordiality and mutual appreciation, in fitting with this peaceful and liberal town.
From its explosion in the late 80s Brighton gravitated towards Hip-Hop. Dating as far back as the days when Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) was going under DJ Quentox; playing straight Hip-Hop sets at community youth clubs. More famously, south coast acts such as Deliverance, First Down, and Killa Instinct lead the way for Britcore/UK Hip-Hop across Europe in the early 90s. DJ Audio Jay, Remark, and MC Meditate went from filming in your face, anti-establishment videos in Brighton station, to recording remixes of their classics in Hamburg. Hip-Hops influence can also be seen in Brighton’s historically close relationship with street art; originally inspired by the thriving US scene. In 2005 the seaside town held the biggest street art exhibition in Britain, with over 100 artists congregating to create a collective piece stretching over ½ km long.
Many youths moving to the area aren’t graced with the bona fide side of the scene; one of the most advertised and renowned nights is Donuts at Green Door Store. Over-commercialised, over-played, and overrated spring to mind; with more R & B than Hip-Hop, Donuts hardly pushes the boundaries far outside a Pryzm cheese room. The events designed to cater to a wider audience, which exhibit more authentic talent, just haven’t seemed to have taken off. In the last year or so new promoters such as Voodoo Sessions (who managed to bill Chimpo, Leaf Dog, and Pete Cannon in their first couple of gigs), and World Famous Records (pushing local talent like El. Train and Normanton Street) showed promise, but both appear to have disappeared into obscurity. More notably vinylists Rarekind Records, one of the region’s biggest caterers of Hip-Hop, were running showcase parties a few years back with acts as big as Rodney P and Skinnyman, but ran for barely more than four gigs.
There was even an annual two week festival dedicated to Hip-Hop culture in the not too distant past, but this also was discontinued after its third run. Kentaké Chinyelu Hope, founder of the celebrated London Hip-Hop Festival, acutely stated in that the South Coast’s festival had been: “created to unleash the untapped talent in this city. Brighton has first class energy, and it’s time for this Hip-Hop contingent to stand up and be seen. It’s an introduction to a scene that has been bubbling away for a long time and a chance to witness the skills of artists that make it happen.”
However, many of those who have an involvement in the local scene may disagree with this. There is a strong argument to say that if these nights were to be pushed more, then they may lose their agency and identity. If we look at the longevity of SlipJam, one of the longest running Hip-Hop nights in the UK (operating for over 15 years now), it’s surprising how many more popular nights it’s outlived. Interestingly, SlipJam has never seemed to take place in particularly huge venues and has preferred to stick to the same comfortable haunts, like the Prince Albert and The Hope. Moreover, a lot of other recurrent events like Community Skratch, Cypher Night, and Fly South all take place at small pub venues. Community Skratch hosts some of the best turntable grazers from the UK and Ireland, utilising the Gladstone’s garden to provide prime cutting as well as meat on ‘Super Scratch Sundays’. Cypher Night is as beautifully humble as it gets – an open mic night where anyone with a USB, mp3 player, or even phone can come and spit over their chosen beat.
These nights commandingly cater for the hyperlocal, this could be explained by the nature of Brighton as a small, densely populated town. As a result the scene is extremely tight-knit, creating a near family-like ethos. Arguably this culture has in turn led to the production of some of the UKs most talented artists like Jehst, Dr Syntax, and young luminary Ocean Wisdom. These affairs provide the breeding ground for new artists, and also double as an arena for more proven names to let loose. If these under the radar events were to expand too much they may not only risk tarnishing their reputation, but also taking away the chance for many budding, nameless artists to develop (something that this Brighton sphere has always prided itself on.) Furthermore, small venues such as The Gladstone very much pertain to Hip-Hops jazzy/jive roots. The locations of these nights facilitate an intimate and personal vibe which helps the audience connect and inspires much more interaction, like that of a cushy jazz bar.
Whilst there is something to be said for protecting the identity of these hyperlocal events, people deserve to see more from this insular sphere. Raise The Bar is encouraging for the scene, a regular widely-advertised night that reaches out to local talent, especially with the monopoly Patterns currently has across the town. Equally promising are the Yogocop Records run nights at Dead Wax Social bar, who usually host a resident Monday night slot but are expanding with nights like Subway. Bodies are bored of the same recycled nights, there is a yearning for pure, grassroots events that aren’t concerned with anything more than a couple of turntables and a mic. Likewise, people deserve to see more from the bigger names residing around the area – there needs to be more of a platform provided for them to wax lyrical like Voodoo Sessions appeared to be offering. There’s certainly scope in the market for something new to come in and shake things up.
The wider argument is that this is a common problem for the genre up and down the country – UK Hip-Hop still hasn’t properly blown up to the levels many believe it deserves. As a result there arguably isn’t a wide enough interest behind it and not enough money to support it as a genre and as a culture. In this way, at a local level it would appear many future electronic and techno based events such as Mute and First Floor have superseded it, which could be a factor explaining the seeming disappearance of more well-known UK Hip-Hop nights. Devoid of pretence, if nothing else let this serve as an advertisement for those seeking nights organic and unpretentious. For those new to Brighton with a taste for Hip-Hop, scratch beneath the surface a little and you’ll be rewarded – don’t spend your Tuesdays queuing up an hour to pose for a photo with a donut at Green Door Store.