Leytonstone Loves Film: Grime Waltham Forest

Published 11 September by Callum

In the lead up to Leytonstone Loves Film taking place from September 27 - 29, we spoke to the team behind Grime Waltham Forest, one of the many films being screened at the festival, about how the project came about, why it’s important and how it’s affected the lives of the young people who were involved. 

Did you know that a basement in Leytonstone served as a key location in the birth of Grime?

In the early half of the 2000s, Grime pioneer, MC and producer, Jammer, invited other young artists to descend the steps of ‘the dungeon’ to hang out and make music together. This eventually led to the creation of the legendary ‘Lord of the Mics’ battles, with the first clash between Wiley and Kano going down in the history books as the start of something truly special. Nowadays, Grime is one of the biggest musical exports to come out of the UK.

In 2018, Emma Betts, Director of social enterprise Beatroots Creative, felt that the magic and history of Grime deserved to be documented. This led to the creation of Grime Waltham Forest. Funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and London Borough of Waltham Forest, this adventurous project included a two-week programme of events featuring panel discussions, film-screenings, lyric-writing and beat-making workshops, gigs and talks at local colleges. A 21-minute documentary was also created, in which the young people involved perfectly encapsulate Grime’s journey, through the stories of those who were there from the beginning.

Grime Waltham Forest came about because I was really conscious, having lived in Walthamstow for a long time, that there was this rich Grime history and I didn’t know much about it and I didn’t know how to find out more. There didn’t seem to be much acknowledgement and celebration of the role that Waltham Forest in particular played in the emergence of Grime,” said Emma when asked about the origins of the project. 

From this starting point, Emma began contacting people within the Grime scene about her idea and received a warm reception. “I started to explore the idea with a couple of people, for example Chantelle Fiddy. Chantelle used to live in the borough and was hugely influential in the emergence of Grime. She was one of the first journalists to cover and promote the scene. In fact, some people say that she came up with the term ‘Grime’. When I contacted her, she was really open and encouraging of a project like this. Chad Stennett, one half of Lord of the Mics [along with Jammer] and [Déjà Vu FM founder] D Power were also very supportive. Through them I was able to reach out to some more of the Grime artists and producers within the area and start to put together the programme of events.”

These events featured a ‘who’s who’ of the Waltham Forest Grime scene, from those who were around during its formative years, to younger artists who have been influenced by Grime. Artists including Jammer, Chad Stennett, D Power, Bruza, Lady Fury, Mizz Beats, Sharky Major, Lemzi, Rory Sky and more all gave their time and support to the project. “I think it’s good to have had Grime Waltham Forest happen at this stage, because most of the original artists still live in the area and are very interested in being positive and supportive role models within the community,” said Emma. “I think that was another aspect of the project that I hadn’t fully appreciated or didn’t really know would happen. Hearing them speak was inspirational on lots of different levels. A lot of them have stepped back from performing and they are focused on bringing the new generation through and nurturing them.”

Emma commissioned MVP Workshops to work on the filmmaking side of project. Jo Vasanth, Director of Partnerships and Recruitment for MVP Workshops brought together a group of 15 young people to help preserve this important part of our local cultural heritage. MVP Workshops then trained the group in a number of media related skills. Looking back, Jo is incredibly proud of what the young people achieved. “The whole project has been really fun. It just grew from strength to strength. These kinds of projects are massively important for young people, but you have to approach it right. The way Emma put it together was young people led and it gave them responsibility. Now, off the back of Grime Waltham Forest, they’re working on so many other things. We’ve got this Whatsapp group where all the young people are discussing different opportunities and offering them to each other. Their networks have grown because of this project.”

Jo added, “It was a passion project for all of us, which really made a difference. Everybody understood it. It was really lovely to see the young people so empowered. We hope that everybody who watches the documentary gets a sense of pride of where they come from and can find something for themselves in it too.”

Ayana Grant, one of the young producers involved with Grime Waltham Forest took the lead on the sound engineering aspects of the project. She explained to us the benefits of being involved in something as creatively engaging as documentary making. “The project gave me a real insight into how filming for a documentary works and also into the Grime scene itself. It was really cool to speak to the artists and become friends with them. Grime Waltham Forest was the first ever proper film project that I’ve done and I’m so excited to see how far it will go.”

Speaking of the upcoming screening, Emma said: “Leytonstone Loves Film will be the first public screening of the documentary, so we’re really excited about it. After this, we plan to make it available on the website, free of charge. We want the website to be a learning resource for people who want to find out more.”

At Chingfest 2019, Jammer was presented with a Waltham Forest Heritage Blue Plaque to celebrate his contribution to UK music. The movement he and his peers started is now known the world over and Grime Waltham Forest arrived at an ideal time to document this important part of Waltham Forest’s history and inspire a new generation of young people to take control of their future.

Grime Waltham Forest will be screened at midday on Saturday 28 September at The Birds, Leytonstone as part of Leytonstone Loves Film.

Watch an exclusive interview with Jammer