Why I Do Dis: Nammy Wams on the return of Slackk’s Grime Tapes and the scene’s resistance to drill

With the release of his hyper-colourful 'Yellow Secret Technology' album, the South London producer is drawing on the new ground broken by drill...

09.05.19 Words by: Ian McQuaid

Nammy Wams has been flying the flag for forward-looking grime for the last half decade. Born in Elephant & Castle and raised in Croydon, he started producing on a crack of FL Studio in 2013, just as grime’s third wave was waiting to spill over into mainstream success.

“I made some beats,” he remembers, “and Slackk messaged me saying ‘Send them over’. Three of them got played on Rinse – I was like, ‘Wow, these are my first beats!’”

Heartened by his instant success, Nammy kept the relationship going, learning to DJ when he was invited to play at the seminal Boxed parties (“I didn’t really know how to beatmatch,” he laughs, “so I had all my tunes set to 140 bpm, ha!..”) From there he’s gone on to drop 100% production sets on Rinse FM, and hold down a regular show on South London staple Croydon FM, where he cuts between his own grime productions, wild bashment reloads, and – increasingly in the last couple of years – the new wave of UK drill.

Now Slackk has just released Nammy’s first album, ‘Yellow Secret Technology’ (the title a tongue-in-cheek reference to his Vietnamese heritage), a collection of warped grime instrumentals that have been populating both his own and others radio sets over the last five years.

Fusing the experimental sonic gloss of Boxed-style avant-grime with the kind of speaker-knocking beats custom built to blast from a blacked-out German whip, ‘Yellow Secret Technology’ is the ideal release to announce the relaunch of Slackk’s long dormant Grime Tapes brand. Grime Tapes was originally a much loved blog dedicated to archiving the chaotic radio sets and live shows that gave the genre its greatest asset; that sense of wild freedom born of unfettered, spontaneous creativity. Now Grime Tapes has returned to document the pace-setting producers of recent years, and Nammy is relishing the chance to get his left-of-centre cuts out there.

“It’s incredibly fortunate that someone like Slackk exists,” he tells me over the phone, “or the tracks wouldn’t be released, they’d just sit there. You have to venture into the fields of experimental music to hear this style otherwise, someone like Aphex Twin or some guy in Germany from Pan Records, the avant-garde field, they’re more supporting now than the straight-up grime scene.”

“Back in the day, 8-bar was probably the most a computer could manage. Now you can do so much more…”

Nammy is no hater – he’s a fan of grime in all its styles, but he’s still determined to maintain that urge to make something brand new that first animated the scene. “I try and experiment and use the latest techniques,” he enthuses, “a lot of people are into the original plug-in sounds, the Triton keyboards, all of that, and I think that’s great, but I think you can also engage with the new technology and structure your beats in a new way. Back in the day, 8-bar was probably the most a computer could manage. Now you can do so much more, more samples, more crazy effects, you can structure your tracks in crazy ways.”

“There’s a thing now where everybody wants to make old-skool-sounding grime, whereas Boxed was just ‘make anything you want, as long as you can DJ it, it’s fine’”

So as someone who graduated from Boxed, does he still feel there’s a core of producers driving the sound forward? “The original guys from Boxed have all graduated, if you know what I mean; they don’t make grime anymore, which has made the scene less creative I think. There’s a thing now where everybody wants to make old-skool-sounding grime, whereas Boxed was just ‘make anything you want, as long as you can DJ it, it’s fine’ – I don’t think there’s that many people out there that are doing it now.”

One of the big defining factors between first wave artists and those who follow in their footsteps, is that the first wave listen to everything around them, then create a genre, whereas those who follow tend to listen to this genre the first wave created, and nothing else. In the case of grime this has led to people feeling that they have to slavishly imitate the clanks and clicks of classic Wiley dubs – Nammy is determined to look beyond this, and has found himself looking to other genres for inspiration, increasingly drawing on the new ground broken by drill.

“Drill is a lot like grime 2.0,” he reflects. “Take the 17-year-olds who were listening to grime in 2003, the same kind of person who’s 17 years old now is listening to drill. I don’t think drill is as experimental as grime was in its early days, but there’s so much being made if you do look out you’ll find it. Look at Brigade, or Shell Foundation and you get a lot of original sounds.”

“I think if grime producers started listening [to drill] it’d bring some energy to the scene.”

I press him on what the difference is, and he brings it back to the idea of moving on from that traditional 8-bar format. “If you look at drill it’s not just 8-bar switches, it’s more 64-bar patterns – they bring things in and out and change up the bassline, bring in half drops, there’s a lot more energy in it. I think if grime producers started listening it’d bring some energy to the scene. A producer like Kid D, he’s a prime example. He produced for 67 on ‘The Glorious Twelfth’, you can tell his origins are in grime, but he’s doing new stuff.”

Inevitably there has been resistance to drill in the grime scene – something Nammy has had from his own elder brother, who put him onto grime in the first place – he puts this down in part to the negative stereotypes associated with the genre. “People think, ‘Oh the content’s gotta be all dark, you gotta have 50 man in balaclava in the video’,” he notes, “and obviously if someone wants to they’ll find something to support this view, but at the same time there’s so much that doesn’t fit that image.”

For the moment, he’s letting no such fears stop him, and with his shows and productions fusing the twitchy aesthetics of drill with grime’s synthetic innovation, he may well be pointing the way to grime’s future. “I’m not trying to change the game…” he laughs at this, “I just want to be happy I’ve got something out!”

‘Yellow Secret Technology’ is out now via Grime Tapes – purchase it on digital or cassette here.