Bugzy Malone interview: The game done change

Martin Guttridge-Hewitt spoke to the Manchester grime scene's main man Bugzy Malone about regional MCs, not listening to grime, and this weekend’s Blackpool Pier Jam.

Amelia Ward

Date published: 25th Jul 2017

Image: The Bugzy Malone Show (credit)

As any native, resident or recent visitor to Manchester may have picked up on, the city is currently experiencing a boom the likes of which hasn’t been seen in the area since the Industrial Revolution first put a once-small town on the global map.

Fittingly coinciding with a new wave of grime exploding across the UK right now, Bugzy Malone, AKA Aaron Davis, epitomises the attitude of the North West’s biggest urban sprawl. Confident, individual, and inspired rather than demotivated by the need to switch up the country’s London-centric music industry.

Since his debut mixtape, SwaggaMan, first appeared back in 2010 the trajectory has been nothing but upwards, with this year’s fittingly-tiled King of the North EP riding very high in the charts right now, during a summer in which he can apparently do no wrong.

This Saturday he joins Gorgon City, Mistajam, Redlight, Shadow Child, Josh Butler, Son Of 8, and Charlo for Pier Jam Part Two, an eclectic outdoor session which, as the name suggests, will take place on Blackpool’s North Pier.

Ahead of the show, we used the numbers he’s best known for, 0161, and called to talk influences, selling up without selling out, and his favourite seaside rollercoasters. Best listen up then.

How are you doing today? 

Good, man, just chilling out in Manchester.

Good summer so far? 

Brilliant, bruv, can’t complain. Everything is going great at the moment.

You’ve been at a lot of festivals this year, any stand outs? 

Wireless. On the main stage. It was epic.

Is that the biggest crowd you’ve played to? 

Err, it’s hard to say. But status-wise it’s definitely one of the big ones.

And how do you feel getting onto that sort of level now? 

It feels… right. It’s something I’ve worked for over a long period of time, my professionalism, my stage presence, it’s all working to get to this point and the next, so it feels like I’m on the right track.

Grime is in the middle of another major explosion. Over the years, though, the regions have been left out in the cold in terms of attention compared to crews and artists from London. How has it been for you remaining Manchester-based? 

I think, I don’t know, I think for some artists motivation might be a struggle knowing the industry is so London-centric. But for me, personally, this is what I do. It’s very natural for me to be doing this. I’ve always felt I have to work harder to prove my point, that I am one of the best in what I do, being up here. But I think with the internet now it is much easier to reach the target audience, from Point A to B. 

So there’s no excuse for anyone. I think the only thing is, not a language barrier, but different accents and phrasing. But as long as you’re speaking clearly, then it becomes a unique thing that you’re not in London. So right now we are in the process of changing the game and kind of changing that idea that it has to be harder when you’re outside London. Hopefully, what I’ve done in my career has kind of broken that.

In terms of new artists coming through, what’s the most important platform for them to get noticed? 

There’s a number of important platforms. Radio is obviously one - BBC Radio 1, 1Xtra, Spotify, that’s so big now. YouTube, Instagram. 

For me, personally, I’d say YouTube. That’s where I get most of my exposure. When I’m getting played on Spotify or 1Xtra a lot of people are still discovering me. But on YouTube, I’ve built a core fanbase there.

What’s the best way of maintaining that presence then? 

You’ve just got to be consistent, man. When I was a kid I used to watch Pokemon. Every week there was a new character. New ideas. I’d go to the shops and there would be fresh merchandise, new cards, new figurines. Same with Nike - new footy boots, new trainers - Shocks, Air Force Ones, or Tns. Keeping it fresh and consistent.

It’s the same with me. I just make sure I always have fresh content, and not what I did last time. So one week I might bring out a video, the next week a track, then a big show. Always different, you know what I’m saying?

Grime is obviously very grass roots, does it worry you that the scene is becoming so big it risks losing that vitality? 

I think it works like this. Let’s say there are these three grime artists, they come from the streets. That's what they talk about in the beginning. It’s raw, it’s cutting edge, it’s controversial. But then they become mainstream and become multi-millionaires. Obviously, they won’t come across in the same way. It might still be cutting edge but it’s mainstream, more professional, more branded, or whatever.

I think that gives the new artists more motivation to be their best. The more successful the big artists get, the better the up and comers will be. So I don’t think it’s an artist’s job to act like something they might have been six years ago when they’ve come into money and have access to things like nice cars, nice houses. There’s no chance you’re going to be in that same situation.

Then it depends on the artist’s style. If they have a diverse style you’ll probably get good music out of them still. If they are very one-dimensional you might go off them. But so long as they are successful others within that genre will think ‘if they’ve got it then I can go get it’. So the fresh music will have a lot of energy behind it.

Who inspired you originally then? 

It’s hard to say really. Music for me was a hobby in the first few years. I was just documenting my life, and focussing on getting better at what I was doing. I think in the first wave of grime it was everybody, the Tinie Tempahs, the Dizzee Rascals, the Lethal Bizzles and Wretch 32s, all the high-level success stories. 

But then also the more underground artists that struggled to break through. So I’d seen it and knew there was a potential career path for me. But I decided not to focus on that, but instead concentrate on working at being their standard, if not better, in my own way. 

In terms of new artists at the moment, is there anyone that has caught your attention? 

I’ve worked with this guy called Tom Grennan on a track called 'Memory Lane'. He’s a new up and coming artist, a singer, and has this very unique style. He’s outside the grime genre, but he’s just talent.

How important do you think it is to look and listen outside the style of music you make? 

Ah, that is imperative. That’s what I would say. It’s one of the most important things. If I’m going for food I can’t just go into a Chinese restaurant every day, because I’m just going to end up with the same dish. I need to be looking at different melodies, word formations, rhyming styles, and characters. That’s my outlook on music.

I try to listen to my own genre as little as I possibly can, so I’m not picking up other people’s approach. I try to listen to other styles to keep mine fresh.

You’re playing Blackpool’s Pier Jam this weekend. We assume you have been to the seaside town before? 

Yeah, loads, for the Pleasure Beach and stuff. I think Blackpool is an amazing place, so I’m looking forward to getting down there and seeing the fans. There has been a lot on social media about this one so I’m really excited for the event.

Do you have a favourite ride at the Pleasure Beach then? 

Err… I think… I think… I think… I love the Pepsi Max. It’s the main ride, innit. But then what’s the one where it goes through water and a tunnel and your legs are hanging down? I can’t remember, it’s another rollercoaster though. I like the Irn-Bru one that goes backwards and I like the one where you walk through and it’s like a haunted place. That’s decent too.

So will you have much time to hit the rides this weekend? 

Hopefully, hopefully. I’m going to do the show and then want to wake up the next day and go down the Pleasure Beach, man, and have some fun.

The last few Pier Jam tickets are available from the box below. 

Tickets are no longer available for this event