by Alex Brent
"What Drumz of the South offers is a demonstration of the vitality of people to create and move culture, to form communities across distances both close and far."
“Come meditate on bass weight”. So goes the tagline of legendary dubstep night DMZ. Yet Drumz of the South, a new photo-book by preeminent scene documentarian and photographer Georgina Cook, offers much more than a meditation.
Dubstep emerged in early 2000s South London, as a dark and bass-heavy subversion of garage, jungle, dub reggae, and grime. Yet, despite its rather specific origins (geographic and musical), dubstep would become a global phenomenon.
In less than ten years, dubstep moved from dingy rooms in Croydon to arenas and festivals, incorporating everything from techno to heavy metal, and even influencing pop production - its now (and then) widely derided distorted drops find their way into songs by Britney Spears and Taylor Swift. But where did it all begin? And why, decades later, should anyone care?
Drumz of the South is a remarkable look at a community from its earliest origins. The book documents three crucial years in the development of dubstep, from 2004 to 2007. Drawing on Cook’s photographs of smoky dancefloors, messy bedrooms and pirate radio stations, South London - from its sunrises, parks and train journeys - becomes a character in this tale in its own right.
Cook’s images are at once intimate and vibrant, featuring everything from candid laughter between scene legends Mala and Coki, to an incredible series that shows, beat by beat, the reaction of grime stars JME and Wiley to Skream’s hit Midnight Request Line - as he himself nervously watches on.
One of the joys of the book is through its capture of these electric, unifying, and explosive moments. While it is fun to spot the (soon-to-be) big names, it is just as intriguing to look at the regular partygoers and imagine what they must be experiencing.
Cook’s photography is expressive of a love and passion that can only come from being a follower of the music and friend to its artists and promoters. Given the extraordinary (and now historic) shots she’s been able to take of moments small and serendipitous, it proves that she probably was also on these dancefloors herself.
Drumz of the South takes its name from the blog that Cook ran after getting into the scene and wanting to explore it further. Dubstep is significant for growing its audience through the internet, at a time before the web became the homogenised marketplace it is today. The early 2000s emergence of blogs, online pirate radio broadcasts, and message boards like dubstepforum helped cultivate a whole community and push the sound further into the public sphere.
Great documents of art and culture, particularly when they concern a moment in time and movements of people, cannot help but be nostalgic. However, it is tempting to view Drumz of the South with a touch of melancholy. Dubstep, and the conditions which made it possible, no longer exists. It is likely that it could not withstand the level of mainstream saturation and obnoxious bastardisation it was subjected to.
Drumz of the South is more than a reflection of the dubstep scene in the early 2000s. Reading the book, I was reminded of Emma Warren’s recounting of the hub for London’s now globally renowned jazz scene, Total Refreshment Centre. Warren (who appropriately provides a foreword to Drumz of the South), explores how culture is generated, not just by talented and creative individuals, but by spaces they create and inhabit - and all the difficulties and sacrifices that that entails.
Dubstep is and was the people that made it happen, including Cook herself. What Drumz of the South offers is a demonstration of the vitality of people to create and move culture, to form communities across distances both close and far. The result then, at least for this reader, is not just a bittersweet reminiscence, but the motivation to do just that.
Drumz of the South is available to purchase for £35.00 via georginacook.net.