Grime’s rise over the past few years has been exponential, with the crossover figureheads paving the way for domination of festival headline slots alongside chart-topping albums. But, as with most genres, there’s an underground consistently bubbling with producers and DJs who are devising and showcasing quality music for the more earnest of music heads. Liverpool-raised SLACKK (real name Paul Lynch) is one such underground Titan: the co-founder of the beloved Boxed club night is considered a leading figure in instrumental grime, and is behind some of the standout releases from cult underground labels Local Action, R&S Records and Unknown To The Unknown.
Lynch’s beginnings in the world of grime music started with his Grimetapes blog, a well-respected resource for old radio recordings, something which stemmed from his interest in the pirate radio scene. He then went onto make his own tunes when UK funky got big, exploring that avenue of dance before getting picked up by Glasgow’s Numbers label in 2010, where he released his debut EP, Theme From Slackk. It was when funky died off that Lynch turned his hand to grime, following a long-standing love affair with the genre. “I was always into grime in the first place,” says Lynch in a thick Scouse accent, as he speaks to us on the line from the capital. “I’ve always had a focus on London-based music despite being from Liverpool.”
It was the journeys to London which really whetted Lynch’s appetite for that flavour of music, but he had his foot in the door when it came to dance long before, engaging with what his hometown had to offer in terms of dance music. “I was always into club music,” Paul tells us, “my dad was a DJ in the acid house era in the early 90s so I always grew up with that sort of music in the house. When I was in Liverpool from 16/17 I was taking pills and going raving in shit clubs, and then eventually it was the likes of Voodoo or Bugged Out.”
But it was his move to London back in 2008 which exposed him fully to a whole strain of music which hadn’t quite made it up north yet. “It was a revelation of all this London-based music that I wasn’t that aware of I suppose, being up north you get bits of it but not properly,” he explains, before pinpointing the moment his talents were recognised, “I’ve always dabbled with the production thing but I didn’t think that I was any good until 2009/2010.”
With the airwaves now filled with a more accessible flavour of grime headed up by instantly recognisable vocals, a lot would consider the genre to be MC-focused, but Slackk’s productions prove that there’s a lot to be said for instrumental. “I have done tunes with MCs before but it just seemed a lot easier to start doing this sort of stuff as a producer because it’s easier to put on a rave in London – or certainly was at the time – without having an MC attached because you had the implications on clubs themselves. They were wary of that sort of sound.” It was this music policy decision which led to a brand which the name Slackk is now synonymous with: Boxed.
The instrumental grime-focused night, founded by Lynch, Mr. Mitch, Logos and Oli Gang, is now considered the scene’s key stomping ground. “When we first started it, it was more the viewpoint that it was the instrumental avenue that we wanted to push,” he recalls, “and it was a lot easier to get into the clubs as a result, you know, me saying I’ve just got DJs coming down is more appealing than saying there’s MCs – there would automatically be implications.”
Boxed is a party well and truly for the music heads; no frills, no drama, just a core crowd of invested ravers and the DJs who are equally as passionate about their niche. It’s the commitment to the initial idea which has led to the party marking its fourth year this March, quite a feat when clubland is as competitive as it is. “You’ve just got to be doing what you want to do,” explains Lynch with sincerity, “we just stuck with our idea for what we wanted to create and it just naturally grew, but I think you have to be genuinely dedicated and believe in the stuff you’re pushing. I don’t think there’s a magic formula as such, you’ve just got to crack on. I suppose you’ve got to keep to your focus, that’s the only thing we’ve done, I don’t know if there’s any merit in saying that but sticking to it for us has worked.”
The first ever Boxed event brought in 150 people, hardly filling the 600-capacity venue, but the crowd was dedicated and word soon spread. Now Boxed has taken place at Plan B in Brixton, Dalston’s Birthdays, and Room 3 of Fabric, with Four Tet requesting the club night to host the space as part of his curation of Fabriclive. “Our venues have got bigger and our crowds have got bigger but we’ve just kept on with the same thing as we’ve always done,” tells Lynch, “it’s just that the audience has gone with it. I don’t understand how we’ve done it, it’s just happened I guess.”
These days, it’s not just in London where grime is rearing its head. This wider appreciation, both in the UK and further afield is something which Lynch thinks has stemmed from the accessibility of music on the internet. “I think a lot of it comes from the YouTube thing. When I was first getting into it all it was more of a radio-based thing and there were mixtapes, but the core element was instrumental on radio and then people spitting on there too, and now everything is available just by searching online.”
But with mainstream grime hitting new levels of popularity, what effect does this thoughtful and humble Scouser think it has on the genre as a whole? “When I first started going to these kinds of clubs it was very much a niche audience and it was a select group of people who would go to it, like your music nerds,” says Lynch. “I don’t view the surge in popularity as a negative thing by any stretch but I suppose if you want to try and capitalise on the success of it at the moment than you do have to have a particular sort of outlook on it. I do see it opening up for a lot of MCs and producers now more than there ever has been, so you can’t view it as a negative.”
What’s exceedingly obvious when speaking to Lynch is that he doesn’t overthink his musical efforts, and a laidback approach to production has resulted in some remarkable pieces of work over the years. “With the first album I did, Palm Tree Fire, that was kind of an accident, I probably wrote that in a period of around two months,” says Lynch. “It was more I didn’t have much money at the time, we’d just moved into a new flat and I was just trying to knuckle down because I wasn’t going out much. I sent it to Tom Lee who runs the label [Local Action] and he was like, ‘You’ve got an album here so we should put it out’.”
Now Lynch has recently released his second album as Slackk, titled A Little Light, on the revered R&S Records. Touching on influences from his background in UK funky, early-00s house and downtempo R&B, all the while keeping in line with his dystopian sound, again pushing forward and taking the genre in a new direction. But, in regards to his next move, he’s currently taking time to appreciate the work he’s put in. “I think it’s important after you’ve released something to just let it sit there and for people to take it in before you decide to take your next step – and I suppose I’ve got to take it in too.”
A Little Light is out now on R&S Records