South London in Ten Songs

Written by: Natalie Davies

Ah, South London. Those words just roll off the tongue don’t they? South. London. It’s like some ethereal creature whispering the sweetest of nothings in your ear. South London with it’s spacious tree lined streets and glorious views, it’s ballrooms and bowling greens, chicken shops and clubs. Sure, a cynic might say that you get all those things north of the river too, but you know what? It’s not the same.

As well as being geographically supreme, the area has made massive contributions to the UK’s musical map. From serious grime to jokes grime, and dubstep to ragga jungle – here’s a very small selection of South East London’s musical might.

1. Chaos In The CBD - Midnight in Peckham

Has the midnight hour in Peckham ever sounded so sublime? Quite possibly, if you’re sat on the back of the 78 with extra-powerful, sound eliminating headphones playing this track.

The original roots of ‘Midnight In Peckham’ fall quite short of South London, with Auckland brothers Ben and Louis Helliker-Hales being the production brains behind the track. After releases on ClekClekBoom, Hot Haus, and more – they found a home-sweet-home making lounge-ready, informed house on Bradley Zero’s South East based label Rhythm Section.

With one brother working in Holdron’s Arcade record store YAM, and regular DJ sets in the area these guys are part of the Peckham furniture.

2. Skream - Midnight Request Line

Croydon knows no cultural bounty as great as the music genre it spawned: dubstep. Skream and close collaborator Benga cut their teeth in now defunct local record store and musical institution Big Apple, where they were casually mentored by the likes of counter guy Artwork, Hatcha, and more big names from the scene.

‘Midnight Request Line’ is the one that, for most, really kicked things off in dubstep, and acted as the genre discovery track for many. A haunting and stuttering instrumental complete with warped dial tones and gunshots, there was nothing else quite like when the release dropped on Tempa in 2005.

3. Digital Mystikz - Anti-War Dub

Formed of Norwood dubstep heavyweights Mala and Coki, bass-heavy greats Digital Mystikz lay claim to some of dubstep’s deepest cuts. Originally making garage under the Malibu & Coke moniker, the early ‘00s saw them progress into deeper territory with a slew of genre-defining tracks that were the jewel in any vinyl collectors crown, including inflammatory, burn-some-to-this anthem ‘Anti-War Dub’.

Not stopping at production, the duo continued to establish the DMZ club night and label alongside Loefah and Sgt. Pokes, which spent a good few years shaking the foundations of Brixton at Mass.

4. Bok Bok - Silo Pass

Night Slugs, quite possibly, changed the face of club music as we know it. After meeting on MySpace in 2008, Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990 established the Night Slugs club night at Redstar in Camberwell. A mutant cocktail of grime, R&B, hip hop, techno, and ghetto house music – many of the DJs and producers involved were unsigned, which soon led to the inception of a Night Slugs label.

An alumni of Camberwell College Of Art, Bok Bok took charge of the label’s distinct aesthetic, which became equally as iconic as the music the label spurned. One listen of Bok Bok’s track ‘Silo Pass’ – taken from his Southside EP released in 2011 – and you’ll quickly get a grip on why the label has such an esteemed reputation.

5. Artwork - Red

Way before Artwork teamed up with fellow Croydonians Skream and Benga to form live dubstep act Magnetic Man, the multifaceted producer had spent the early ‘00s working in one of the movement’s key haunts, Big Apple Records.

Producing techno under his Grain alias in the ‘90s, a new millennia saw Artwork jump ship to a more rolling, 2-step garage driven sound, which was similarly aligned to other early dubstep productions from the likes of Horsepower Productions and El-B. His first effort was the snaking bass sounds of 12” single ‘Red’, which was the debut release on the shop’s subsequent imprint and was packaged up as, you guessed it, red vinyl.

6. Remarc - Sound Murderer (Loafin In Brockley mix)

There’s no denying that – although it’s enjoyed far and wide – jungle and drum and bass will always lay its hat in London. With producers of the sound scattered in all corners of the city, nobody screams South London more than Remarc. A Brockley native, he’s commonly cited as a “pioneer of ragga” jungle. Perfecting his craft since the age of 13, Remarc and spent his formative years trailing a bag full of reggae, rare groove, and electro house playing house parties around his hometown, before getting his big break on pirate station Weekend Rush.

Remarc continued to become a steadfast favourite of the jungle era, with releases on hardcore labels such as Suburban Base and White House. Notably for this track, Planet Mu boss Mike Paradinas was a big fan and re-released the hard-to-find ’Loafin In Brockley mix’ digitally on the label in 2003.

7. Burial - South London Boroughs

Burial debuted in 2005 with his ‘South London Boroughs’ EP on Hyperdub and, in a quiet, understated and strangely sad way, he redefined the sound of South London. Thankfully we’ve all stopped describing his murky blend of ambient and gored-out, hollow UK Garage as “nightbus” but his material still evokes the oddly pleasant disorientation that comes with sitting on the top deck careering through Penge, Thornton Heath, and Annerley. It’s a blur of lights, encased in post-club euphoria and solitude. It’s the sound of something you’ve already lost, something that’s sliding into memory, before your very eyes and ears.

8. Apiento - Orange Place (World Unknow/Andy Blake)

A few years back now, South London legends Andy Blake and Joe Hart started throwing parties in railway arches, and World Unknown—one of the city’s most invigorating, exciting, and independent club nights—was born. The pair relocated to the Flying Dutchman down in Camberwell, and things got even more raucous. This seminal balearic-house banger, released on WU’s own imprint, is the work of Apiento, one of the major forces behind Test Pressing. It’s a churning, clanking affair, that sounds like the sweatiest, heaviest, best night out you’ve ever had south of the river.

9. The Square - Lewisham McDeez

More than just discarded Happy Meal boxes, limp fries, and cardboard cut-outs of Ronald – Lewisham McDonald’s has been immortalised in the underground music scene by The Square’s 2015 anthem on No Hats No Hoods, ‘Lewisham McDeez’.

Initially formed of MCs Novelist, DeeJillz, Elf Kid, and Lolingo – The Square’s founding squadron may have dwindled slightly, with a departure from Novelist to focus on his burgeoning solo career, but their status as locals definitely hasn’t. Listen into anything from The Square’s members and you’re sure to hear countless references of South, alongside regular super-charged appearances on Peckham broadcasting station Balamii.

10. Southside Allstars - Southside Riddim

If you’ve ever lived in South London you’ll know this one off by heart. It’s essentially a musical A-Z of the area and nowhere escapes getting a shout out. Zipping us from Burgess to Brockwell Park, Surrey Quays to Sydenham, it’s like being on the best rollercoaster that the Lambeth Country Fair’s ever seen.

Whilst most of the Southside Allstars MCs have sadly dipped into the depths of obscurity, the video does play host to So Solid’s Asher D, who sits outside Peckham Library and calls himself out as a “street sibling representing South Peck’nam”.

Live there. Even if it's just for a night.