The music industry is an ever-changing sea of talent and sounds, with an almost limitless reach. This attribute can also be extended to a select few who operate behind the scenes, pulling the strings that can guide us to the music that really matters.
The interview subject for this issue is by no means new to the industry. She has had an extensive and impressive career throughout her years of music writing, and currently contributes to The Sunday Times, The Guardian, RWD, BEAT, ASOS and Grazia, and is a music editor at the prestigious music and fashion house i-D Magazine. Hattie Collins is definitely a force to be reckoned with and I spent a morning unravelling her opinions on all things musical.
In her early years, Hattie would never describe herself as a music connoisseur, but her passion for the daring and well produced began to shine through when she deviated from what everyone else was listening to and fell for the likes of Prince instead.
“I remember when I found Prince – I just thought ‘this is amazing’. Prince managed to have a little bit more of an edge, and if you looked at the back of his records it would always say ‘written, produced and arranged by Prince’ and I knew this guy was serious. He spoke out about the music industry very prominently and really pushed for people owning their own masters, which has now become quite a big thing, and that was definitely spearheaded by Prince. He completely opposed and rejected the idea of ‘the industry’ – he’s still only ever done a handful of interviews in 30 odd years, which is pretty impressive. He was just so much about the music.”
This was balanced by an upbringing in a multicultural environment in which the love of heavier beats was encouraged, offering a melodic component to her social circle.
“I went to a really mixed multi-cultural school so there was a lot of break-dancing going on and I heard Salt & Pepper. I remember thinking ‘what the fuck is this and where do I find more of it?’ So, almost concurrently, I listened to Prince on an emotional level and hip-hop on a more social level. That was how I figured out that you can connect with people through music.”
Hattie’s love of the music industry was inspired by the rebellious attitudes of the music she admired as a teenager, and it’s an attitude that has stayed with her throughout her career.
“There is always that attitude: do what you love and the money will follow. But I was searching for what I wanted to do for a long time. I didn’t start writing until I was 28. Prior to that I was always in the creative mind-set, I did drama at university and then had a theatre company for a little while. So it was never about making money, I was just trying to figure out what I could do – trying to marry my interests, which were music, and writing. I Dj’d at uni (badly) but I had a great record collection and that’s all you need. So that idea of Prince, doing something for the love of it rather than trying to make money, was quite key in me doing what I’m doing now. I almost stumbled upon it – I don’t know what I would be doing now if I wasn’t writing. It was very slow and hard for the first few years, but in this industry nothing is ever guaranteed – it’s a very precarious profession.”
We all know music is important, otherwise you would not be reading this interview. The question that is harder to answer is the why. I asked Hattie for her view on what makes music such an intrinsic need for the majority of the human race.
“I think it provides markers in our lives. Over the past year in interviews I’ve always asked artists ‘why do you make music?’ and it’s always interesting hearing the response you get – you can always kind of tell what kind of artist they are, some people say that they want to build a brand (meh). For me, music marks emotive moments in my life: happy times, sad times, and our in-between times. It provides us with an outlet for emotions and has a sociability aspect – going to clubs and raves, and when I was younger it provided me with a friendship circle as it allows us to connect with people.
I think music is everything, I just can’t imagine life without music, which I know sounds dramatic, but it’s such a big part of my life. I’m not one of those people who constantly have their earphones in. Sometimes I quite like being on the bus and having some quiet time, but music is a huge part of how we socialise and how we deal with things in life, for example music therapy. There is music for all parts of your life you know. Although I can’t stand The Script, people say they are amazing to workout to in the gym and I totally see that. There is a reason that the physics of music connects to certain parts of the brain for different emotions that you are feeling. I was talking to Skepta about how I listen to Black Listed in the gym and, although he said that was too slow, for me it works. I don’t understand how it works but I love that it does. You don’t always need to know the reasons for everything. It almost blows my mind that people can play such beautiful contemporary music – I love the cello, and the fact that musicians have the capacity to play those notes in the order and style they are playing them amazes me.”
“Music provides an outlet for people, no matter who they are or what they are listening to, that would otherwise not be available to them due to the economic or social backgrounds they come from.”
Grime is Back:
In the past few years, grime has moved from an underground scene into mainstream youth culture. With the likes of Stormzy and Little Sims heading the resurgence of grime, Hattie shares some of her insights on the genre she has watched grow from its roots in 2002 to the influential genre it is today.
Why is Grime such a prominent genre in your life?
“When I moved to East London around 2003/2004 was around the time grime got started. Growing up in the 80’s as a hip-hop head it was all about the Bronx, New York, LA and, as much as I loved hip-hop and as much as we tried to recreate it as kids in Birmingham, we knew we weren’t in the heart of the action. I always wished I was born in the Bronx in the 70’s, so when grime came around it served as the equivalent for me. I didn’t realise it at the time; it’s only upon reflection that I realised I’ve lived through the beginnings of this genre. I was going to all of the nights and putting on my own grime nights and writing about these artists, so it’s been quite an unplanned interest, but it’s allowed me to grow up with a scene and it’s been amazing.”
“One of my best friends introduced me to grime and I thought it was just noisy and terrible, but I was slowly seduced by it. I was just such a hip-hop head before and I think in the 90’s you had to choose your genre and stick to it – it was a tribal thing and you stuck to your tribe or your subculture – whereas now it feels to me that kids and young people are still invested in a culture, but they’re not stuck in one genre – they’ll explore other things too.”
“This generation are a lot less snobby than we were growing up, which is a great thing.”
Grime has had quite a big gap – it came about in the early 2000’s and then died down to a subculture, but it has really risen again in the past couple of years – what’re your thoughts on that?
“Between 2002/3 – 2008 it was so creative and there was such a huge output, but 2008-2013 it was dead. When I’ve written stuff online, people comment saying that I don’t know what you’re talking about – this person is doing this and this person is doing that, but it lacked any new talent. Yes, grime kept happening and shows kept happening, but it was the same old names like Wiley and Skepta and, to an extent, those weren’t particularly great periods for those guys either.
I feel like the people that were talented in the grime scene went off into other genres as the house and bass scene really rose during this time, or they just stayed too underground. For me, there weren’t any grime artists that were really interesting at that time. Stormzy and the like were really young at that point and so, by the time they got on people’s radars, it was 2013. Now grime is entering its second decade, I think it’s a really exciting time. I do feel that grime has now established itself better than jungle and garage did, and I think it will be a genre that continues to evolve over the next few decades.”
Young people especially love the grime scene at the moment; do you think it speaks to them given the current climate in the UK at the moment?
“It’s hard to say because if you look at the songs that have done well, like Meridian Dan’s German Whip, it is quite aspirational. In Skepta’s That’s Not Me he rejects all the labels that he’d previously been coveting. I guess kids thought ‘ah yeah I don’t have Louis Vuitton’, so I think the bigger artists people like just from an entertainment point of view.
I do think however that the smaller artists coming through from Manchester and Nottingham etc. are speaking more directly to young people today, and the disillusionment with government and politics, and how all the youth centres are closing down and youth employment rates are terrible. Part of it I guess is looking at it as ‘that’s something I could do and make a success of it’, as an entrepreneur or a manager. Also, it’s a way of expression; especially in 2002/3 it was a way of expressing how shit it can be when you’re living at the bottom of the ladder. So in that sense it speaks to a younger audience that is thinking: ‘I’m 16/17 – what am I going to do with my life?’”
Many of the older generation who listen to grime think it’s really aggressive – do you think that paradigm really exists between music and the idea that young people are violent?
“I’m probably an exception as grime is not for me. I’m not supposed to listen to grime but I do, because I love it and it’s a part of my work, but it shouldn’t be for people of my generation. People of my generation should find it aggressive and offensive, they shouldn’t understand it and it should seem harsh and abrasive, like my parents did when I listened to Snoop Dogg when I was 14/15 and thought it was the best thing ever. Parents shouldn’t understand youth cultures and subcultures and newspapers shouldn’t understand it either, and that is absolutely fine. What I love about grime is it’s still a very industrial sound, that it was known for in the beginning, so it isn’t easy on the ear – it’s angry, which is what all the best music is, like punk or early rock ‘n’ roll. It should be something that goes against the mainstream and offends people, because otherwise what’s the point?”
“It’s great to have music for entertainment purposes like Adele and Rihanna, but you also need music to rally with and to feel uplifted by. To feel a sense of hope which they can relate to, due to the social and economic backgrounds, and that does question the status quo.”
“It’s great that grime is so British as well, that is so important as really this is the first time since the protests in the 80’s that young Britain has had a voice.”
What are you looking forward to, given that the music industry is changing a lot, it isn’t just a case of big companies feeding music to the masses anymore, and the internet has revolutionised the way people discover music?
“I think it is really interesting now how big companies are going ‘hang on, how do we do this?’ as the old way isn’t working. I’m interested to see future releases from artists like Kanye West and Rihanna to see how they approach it, and that’s all well and good as I’m sure they’ll sell millions. On a lower level, I think the Internet has made a democracy for music. You don’t need big media companies; you can just film things using your phones, like how Stormzy and Skepta have done. Skepta won a MOBO for an £80 video last year. It’s much more democratic than it used to be, which is exciting. It means that there’s a whole load of shit that you have to plough through, but it also means that there are channels if you are a 15-year-old kid and you’ve got something to say. People can listen to it and it can be accessed through so many different platforms, like social media and Grime Daily and i-D. What’s great about i-D is that it is a big platform, similar to Noisey or Pitchfork, and it’s through the support of bigger platforms like these, and institutions like the Barbican, that help the genre (grime) evolve.”
“I’m hopeful and excited but I’m also nervous, as it’s harder and harder to make a living as a writer, so these are all challenges that we face – both music makers and the people that comment. Everyone’s still trying to figure things out I think, but, as long as we keep an open mind with these innovations and try to keep up with them, the future is hopefully quite bright.”
“I think the internet has saved everything and destroyed everything at the same time, even just in terms of how we socialise – I do hate it when I’m with my friends and everyone’s on their phones, but then where would we be without Google maps?
I just wonder sometimes whether the snake will eat it’s own tail –
I think the Internet is wonderful but I also think that we should be more cautious. I’m cautiously optimistic. I mean, without the Internet grime wouldn’t have grown like it did.”
“We live in an impatient society and an impatient world, always trying to make things easier and faster – but we don’t want to lose the human dynamic.”
Words: Rachael Evans