My First Feature for The FADER

So I was lucky enough to do my first feature for The FADER this week, where I spoke to esteemed photographer Ewen Spencer to talk about his coverage of the emerging European ballroom scene. Was a pleasure learning about it, and I hope you enjoy!

Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New Photos

Ewen Spencer’s new zine shows how vogue is thriving in Estonia, Sweden, and Germany.

Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: A member of the House of Mugler, one of ballroom’s highly esteemed and decorated houses, reacts to a performance at a ball.   Ewen Spencer

Ballroom culture has vogued its way into Europe in recent years with ferocity. Originating among the black and Latinx LGBTQ communities of Harlem in the 1960s, vogueing has since found its way into the mainstream thanks to Madonna‘s hit “Vogue,” Rihanna‘s stage choreography, and FKA twigs‘s long association with the scene. In 1991, the documentary Paris Is Burning arguably did more than any other film or artist to propel the ballroom scene into the public imagination. But there’s no way to experience vogueing quite like an IRL ball: structured like competitions, balls are where houses go head-to-head in judged contests, incorporating musical theater and fashion showdowns for extra drama. Today, balls are springing up in cities like Tallinn and St. Petersburg, giving new life to the culture in a whole new continent.

British photographer Ewen Spencer, whose work has explored U.K. subcultures like garage and grime, visited his first ball in Rotterdam in 2014. In a phone conversation in May, he remembers it as “refreshing,” explaining: “No one was off their face, the hedonism was more in the energy and performance. That’s their form of escapism, and that was the hook for me.” As he gained an up-close and personal insight to multiple balls, Spencer was introduced to a world of mutual passion and togetherness not unlike the underground music scenes he’s covered in the past. “It’s creativity in the rave,” Spencer says. “That moment of self-expression, escapism, love, sex, power that showcases the passion of life. And sweat, lots of sweat.”

Balls are liberating expressions of self for dancers and audiences across the continent. “These are people who are taking advantage of the ability to move throughout Europe, mix, and celebrate,” Spencer says. “If you’re interested and you’ve got the nous, the passion, then you can get involved quite quickly. You can watch a video on YouTube for half an hour and then book a flight and cheap hotel and start making an outfit.”

In his new photo zine Come, Bring, Punish, Spencer documents a subculture that is “always diversifying, and changing, and becoming something bigger, and more widespread.” See some of the photos exclusively below.


Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: A member of the House of Ninja celebrates by banging on the catwalk after a dancer performed a particularly intense move. Spencer stood on the catwalk to take this photo. The spectator on the left is wearing a House of Ninja shirt.   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosBerlin, Germany: A ballroom reveller performs a death drop after a contest. Spencer describes their performance as “very elegant.”   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: A member of the House of Mugler on the catwalk, a very intimate setting with touching distance between dancers and the audience.   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosTallinn, Estonia: At a Disney-themed ball, a participant dressed as Snow White death drops on the catwalk.   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: A mother with her 10-year-old daughter, who both traveled from Bulgaria so the girl could compete. She danced New Way on the catwalk and, in Spencer’s words, “she knew her stuff.”   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosBerlin, Germany: One audience member reacts to two groups having a synchronized dance-off with each other.   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosStockholm, Sweden: Russian dancers at a Marie Antoinette and Louis VIV-themed ball. Spencer describes the Russian performers as “very competitive, strong and athletic. They turn up to win.”   Ewen Spencer
Look Inside The Spectacular World Of European Ballroom In These Vivid New PhotosRotterdam, Netherlands: On the left wearing denim shorts is Kendall Mugler, a well known Parisian dancer who Spencer describes a “ball of energy.” A poster of this photo comes with Come, Bring, Punish.   Ewen Spencer


So I’ve been interning at The FADER for a couple of weeks now, and can honestly say I wasn’t expecting to have done so much so far. Got to thank Owen Myers, Aimee Cliff and David Renshaw for the guidance each and every time.

My page is looking litty! Check it out here. There is still loads to come, too.

My First Piece For The FADER

So, I started interning at The FADER this week and, to my surprise, I was asked to write something immediately. So, here it is (also, a big shout out to Aimee Cliff for this one):

You Need To Cop The Latest Issue Of This Soccer Zine Made By And For Women

SEASON’s summer issue include sticker sheets and interviews with soccer moms.

You Need To Cop The Latest Issue Of This Soccer Zine Made By And For Women

Shedding light on the lives of women soccer fans and players, London-based publication SEASON has garnered a cult following in a short time. The fashion-led zine was devised by Central Saint Martins graduate Felicia Pennant, and born out of frustration that women’s perspectives were not being represented in the traditional soccer landscape. “In terms of the culture, there isn’t much that focuses on female fans,” Pennant told The FADER back in November. “When you see a beer advert it’s usually men sitting around [watching soccer]! It’s either sexist, or it ignores women completely.”

SEASON’s third issue, for summer 2017, was released on April 22. It chronicles soccer fandom among women with a range of illustrations of sticker sets, tattoos, and nail art. The issue is themed around “Love,” and explores how fans’ love of soccer relates to other parts of their identity, examining homophobia, self-love, and style. There’s also interviews with model and DJ Bip Ling, and WAH Nails founder Sharmadean Reid.

Order a copy on SEASON’s website here.

Playboi Carti – A Review

I’ve found it quite hard to reinvent myself as a rap fan. In a field where the likes of Kendrick Lamar, J.Cole, Big K.R.I.T. and other lyrical gods are providing that true essence, the frequent itch I need to scratch is this new wave of mumble rappers that aren’t going away. I was ignorant at first, quick to dismiss any and everything they had to offer.

The person who turned the tide happened to be a young man from Awful Records named Playboi Carti, and his viral smash ‘Broke Boi’. Suddenly I grasped the appeal; it wasn’t the substance of what he was saying, but the aesthetic to the record that made me vibe. He made it cool for me to favour the bars but also get down to what the new generation were doing. This is not to say that he is super lyrical spiritual spherical miracle, but more on that later.

Since then, my ear for – for want of a better word – commercial sounding rap was opened and my prejudices began to slip away. Carti was only dropping loosies but his debut project will be fire, I thought.

Well, fast forward a couple years and that young man has settled slowly into the game rather than blowing the door down, stalling on a full-length project until this point. His self-titled debut mixtape illuminates his highlights; namely, his ear for beats. Listening to this tape, my same prejudices threatened to resurface, however.

But I’ll get the good bits out of the way first. Beginning the project is the Harry Fraud-produced ‘Location’, which sounds like what happens when you ascend into heaven and Rick James is waiting for you at the pearly gates. Carti fits his lane perfectly here, with his trademark ‘YAH’ and ‘WHAT’ adlibs weaving between braggadocious diatribes.

The good vibes continue on another highlight, ‘Magnolia’, with Pierre Bourne behind the boards, and it becomes clear that Cash Carti is relaying on the producers to craft the mixtape. Which, for the most part, they do. Other exceptional beats appear elsewhere, such as the A$AP Rocky-assisted ‘New Choppa’, ‘Half and Half’ and ‘No. 9’, and they serve the purpose of keeping things exciting as the lyrics meander from one generic trap theme to another. Carti is vivid despite using little words (literally half of the album is adlibs), and his energy and confidence is reciprocated by the production.

The excitement gets old very quickly, though, and it gets to a point where I can’t rely on the beats anymore. But it began to make sense. Its more than fine to hear one or two tracks at any one time, but a whole 15-track project? The appeal will have lost its lustre after track six at least! Luckily, Playboi Carti managed to keep my attention until track 9, but the lack of sophistication in his songwriting became more grating. It gets to a point where hooks are not clearly discernible from verses, namely on ‘Wokeuplikethis’ with player partner Lil Uzi Vert, the kind of thoughtless methods apparent in no classic album/mixtape ever.

There’s only so much of the same thing I want to hear on a project, no matter how good it sounds. He is describing a lifestyle of carefree innocence, free of consequence, and that is all well and good, but with Lil Yachty, Uzi (who made two appearances on the mixtape) and others above him in the pecking order, Carti has to figure out a way to jettison himself to the top of the pile. Those artists arguably do it better, but there is space for Carti to shine. He has the aesthetic and sound already, so half of the work is already done.

This is a solid if not contrived first outing for an artist about whom we still don’t really know much (other than his extracurricular activities with the opposite sex), and there is potential if the vocals can match the beats, but the Atlanta rapper represents the best and worst of new age rap. With better lyrical output, he could become one of its focal points.

Dazed 100

I recently contributed to the Dazed 100, a list compiled by Dazed & Confused Magazine of the top 100 most influential figures across music, art, photography, film and culture overall.

Check out my profiles on Lil Yachty, Princess Nokia, Yung Beef and Bala Club.

Lil Yachty

Dazed 100 Lil Yachty 2

Atlanta has a new hero in the youthful, exuberant and charismatic rapper Lil Yachty. Not since Andre 3000 has an artist from the Dirty South capital transcended rap and pop culture so effortlessly, pinballing between both with such ease.

A true figurehead for the carefree, statement-making youth of today, Lil Boat’s self-described ‘jingle bell rap’ has garnered tens of millions of YouTube views and sold out shows. Packed with relentless, playful positivity, the red-braided rapper has earned the respect of his peers (despite early criticism of his easygoing style), stealing the show on tracks with the likes of Chance the Rapper, Charli XCX and D.R.A.M.

“I just want to be on every lane. Pop, EDM – I want to be genre-friendly,” Yachty told Dazed in 2016. “Do a song with Madonna, then do a song with Taylor Swift, then I’ll do a song with Lil Wayne – just cross (them) all over.” The wide scope of his artistry is evident in his work: his debut mixtape, Lil Boat, and follow-up Summer Songs 2 experimented with a multitude of genres, excelling in precisely the sort of areas where other rappers fear to tread. With plans to release his debut album in 2017, expect Yachty’s positive rhymes to trump the critical downpour.


Princess Nokia

Album cover

Princess Nokia, the barrier-breaking, Afro-Latina goddess from Spanish Harlem, is one of the fiercest rappers in the game today.

Demonstrating a desire to unite all women of colour, Nokia (real name Destiny Frasqueri) channelled the potency of New York and black women more generally with “Brujas” and “Kitana”, two of 2016’s most politically-charged music videos. At the heart of her brash, alluring lyrics is a spirituality that comes with being at one with herself and her Puerto Rican roots.

“How I’m seeing myself now is kind of starting a new era of alternagirl, this whole new, epic, brown girl rock, girls with skateboards, moshing topless, girls who do what they want thing,” she told Dazed, undeterred in her mission to empower women of all walks.

Nokia, who projects her identity with absolute grace, never graduated high school, turned down five record deals, and grew up without her mother moving between East Harlem and the Lower East Side. Yet she remains a soldier whose story serves as an inspiration for girls of all backgrounds.


Yung Beef

Yung Beef (No credit needed) Dazed 100

In just over two years, Granada native Yung Beef has fast become Spain’s pre-eminent rapper, picking up his musical tastes while working odd jobs in Marseille, London, and later Barcelona, where he is now based.

Beef’s geographically diverse sound is unapologetic, with piercing, incisive lyrics over trap beats fused with reggaetón, salsa and more besides, and characterised by its shout-outs to various fashion brands. That all makes sense, as Beef has become a poster boy for labels like Calvin Klein and Givenchy.

Few rappers have been bold enough to parade around in a skirt and high heels on a runway, but the ease with which Beef flits between men’s and womenswear is almost unrivalled, as is his flair for breaking down musical barriers. Standouts include “Givenchy Dons” with fellow PXXR GVNG member Kaydy Cain, “A.D.R.O.M.I.C.F.M.S.” and “Beef Boy”. With recent collabs with Metro Boomin, Lex Luger and 808 Mafia also in the bag, Beef’s mind is back firmly on the music.


Bala Club

Bala Club Dazed 100

Electronic music collective Bala Club have forged a lane for themselves in London’s underground through radio sets on NTS, infamous beer-soaked club nights and a slew of individual and group releases both via the internet and London label Hyperdub.

Comprised of Chilean-British brothers Kamixlo and Uli K and their friend Endgame, each member brings an unmistakable sound to the overall repertoire; Kamixlo’s blend of dancehall and reggaetón, Uli K’s low-key, melodic ballads and Endgame’s glacial tones means that many bases, and dancefloors, are covered.

In June 2016 the squad dropped their debut compilation, a collection of tracks from each cohort under the Bala name. It was an expertly constructed, super-condensed voyage into their collective psyche, and the inclusion of sad- rap poster boy Yung Lean shows that the Club’s waters run deep. Batting away the idea that you can’t do it all, the threesome are the shot in the arm London’s crumbling nightlife so desperately needs.

It’s Time For Grime To Move On From The Brit Awards


As featured in Complex UK

Last night’s Brit Awards was supposed to be a momentous night for the grime scene. After the controversy of #BritsSoWhite last year (where only one black British artist was up for nomination) and with grime acts up for the top prizes this year, this was meant to be the night the mainstream finally stood up and recognised the genre at large. The likes of Skepta, Kano and Stormzy were nominated for multiple awards and expectations were as high as they have ever been.

Well, The Brits had other plans. Despite show-stealing performances from Skepta (whose rendition of “Shutdown” was marred by constant muting) and Stormzy, who joined Ed Sheeran on stage, neither were able to scoop an award, beaten by Rag’N’Bone Man and the late David Bowie in the British Breakthrough Act, Best Male Artist and Best Album categories, respectively. Social media went crazy—how could The Brits disregard the scene for the second consecutive year?—but this failure speaks to a much bigger problem.

While it is understandable to be disappointed, there is no reason to be shocked by The Brits’ actions. After all, it was only under mounting pressure that the British Phonographic Industry switched up its process of selecting nominees to incorporate not only black artists, but grime artists, in the wake of the much-publicised #BritsSoWhite controversy. After last night, this decision can only be seen for what it was; an incredibly hollow one, not representative of a real desire to be more inclusive, but a half-hearted pandering to public and industry outrage. And, while the nomination of grime artists can be seen as a positive, it will have been doubly disappointing for all involved that they showed up at the awards only to be denied once more.

The writing is now firmly on the wall: The Brits have shown, yet again, that they don’t really care about the grime scene and its accomplishments, and that it cannot be trusted to be more representative of what is really going on in the country musically. Equally, now is the time for grime to move on from The Brits.

The scene has never needed this validation, and that’s what makes it so great—that Skepta, Stormzy, Kano, Wiley et al are at the centre of British pop culture, shutting down performances on the stages of award shows that don’t really acknowledge them, and making history, in spite of the mainstream’s portrayal of them. The mainstream has never understood the scene and last night was further proof.

Looking inwards, urban artists already have two ready-made awards ceremonies that are for us: The MOBOs and The Rated Awards. The MOBOs is a recognised institution, and The Rated Awards is still in its infancy and will only get bigger. While they may not be perfect, they are designed to celebrate urban music and its multiple facets, and it’s time to place our full support into these organiSations. The Brits could never really capture the pure vibrancy and diversity of the urban scene like our award shows can, and this needs to be greater emphasised following last night.

If we can build these shows to the same level of prestige as The Brits, that will be a win far greater than what The Brits could ever offer. This is one way to force the UK mainstream into really noticing us, because history tells us that when we show we can do it ourselves, the establishment takes notice, and it would make every achievement even more special. It may take a few years for these awards to reach that level but you need only look to America, where the Grammys continuously fail to recognise hip-hop, and with the black community placing more emphasis on the BET Awards, it is gaining more recognition every year.

More and more of the scene’s biggest names (both in music and within the industry) should attend The MOBOs and Rated Awards and big them up, to elevate them to a position that can eventually transcend both the urban scene and the mainstream. Another method would be for urban artists to boycott The Brits, and make their presence felt by not being there at all.

Arguably, the scene gave The Brits some cool factor last night that it otherwise doesn’t have—Skepta’s skanking during “Shutdown”, for example—and not showing up strips the ceremony of its edge, making it just as hollow as its selection process. With that, hopefully more eyes can turn toward the awards that showcase the most thrilling and dominating section of UK music today.

The fact that the most established and the exciting newcomers of the urban scene are all in one roof at these awards should be played up more also, as these are the only shows that can achieve such a union and capture urban music in the finest light. The black community in the UK is a resilient one, able to withstand the greatest of adversities on our own terms.

Grime will live on with or without The Brits, and with The MOBOs and Rated Awards, there are two vehicles through which we can express and rejoice in our greatness in music, in our own way. Last night’s events should serve only to turn heads towards these structures, and show that it’s not the end of the world if The Brits ain’t for us, because there’s always something that is.

What The Return Of Roadside G’s Means For Grime

As featured in Complex UK

January 6, 2017, was a special day for grime.

After the astronomic heights the scene reached in 2016, its purists came down with a severe case of nostalgia when Brixton crew Roadside G’s rolled through to Kenny Allstar’s Radar Radio show. It was a moment everyone dreamed of, but no one could have imagined—the triumphant return of the collective that put South LDN on the map during the heady Channel U days of the scene genesis. Speaking to Kenny on Radar, the present members—Alan B, Dan Diggerz, Smiley, Elmz and Den Den—seemed just as shocked as us at their reunion, explaining how this was the first time all five of them had been in the same room in seven or eight years. A truly unfathomable admission, considering the kinetic chemistry between all of them that was plain to hear (and see).

Transporting back in time even further, however, and the guys on the Roadside were shaping this exciting new thing called grime in its formative years, south of the river, with gritty accounts of life on the roads of Brixton. They proceeded to retell their story of shelling down radio sets and setting the levels high for their peers during the early days, spitting real street rhymes over the most frantic of grime beats—the “first crew” to really touch on such subjects and the difficulties of living the life their rhymes portrayed, completely engulfing them (fellow G’s R.A. and DRz remain in prison). The strides grime has taken has largely passed RSG’s by, but at Radar, they went on to absolutely body their set, sounding as relevant now as they did a decade ago.

Riding classic grime instrumentals and UK drill beats, they rapped vividly and with intensity in front of a giddy Kenny, with some of the best one-liners in recent memory. It was clear they hadn’t missed a step. “We were ten years ahead of our time,” said Diggerz, a statement which spoke volumes once the madness ensued. Immediately, listeners were taken on a journey back to the halcyon days of pirate radio; Radar’s lowkey, visceral environment suited them perfectly and, in Kenny Allstar, they were in the hands of a man who truly understood and was invested, and had taken their journey with them. Roadside G’s also hinted at new material, which could mean this is only the beginning of their return. And, although their lane might not be as niche as it once was, they always brought an originality, a level of conviction and skill, that set them apart from their more illustrious counterparts in East and North London.

Bringing those gully vibes to grime’s commercial stage, at a time when it is at its most popular yet, RSG’s can now reinstall some real legitimacy to the game as far as bars go, and entice a new generation of grime-listening kids who have come for the ride. At this point, though, it isn’t even about that. Listening back to their Radar set, you get a feeling that they felt they had something to prove after years in the wilderness. It silenced any doubts whether they could still go bar-for-bar with grime’s biggest names, and, needless to say, they blew all expectations out of the park. The set proved they could seamlessly blend back into the scene and be one of the best things about it.

In the grand scheme of things, Roadside’s recent shelling was a great trip down memory lane that shook scene nurturers to their core and, hopefully, will have amplified their visibility amongst grime heads old and new. Such an event can only benefit the scene and remind listeners not only of the crew’s greatness but also how, dare I say, grimey, the genre can still be.