Level Up: Live Performance and Collective Creativity in Grime Music

de Lacey, Alex. 2020. Level Up: Live Performance and Collective Creativity in Grime Music. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Grime music has been central to British youth culture since the beginning of the 21st century. It is an Afrodiasporic form that developed on street corners, on pirate radio and at raves. An emergent body of academic and popular literature has concentrated on the music’s socio-political contexts. However, there has to date been no extended study of the form’s performance techniques and values.

This thesis intends to enrich musical understandings of grime, and approaches to the study of (popular) music more broadly. It makes an original contribution to knowledge in three ways: 1) by providing the first exploration of the ways MCs and DJs perform in the live domain, and theorising the creative workings of improvisation and interaction in demanding performance environments; 2) through offering the first musicological ethnography of the form, allowing for rich documentation of practitioner perspectives and performance data; 3) by demonstrating how its very performance environments, principally pirate radio, inflect upon and influence creative practice. These advances are facilitated by my long-standing role as a DJ within the London grime scene

Entitled Level Up, this thesis constructs a framework for the performance of grime music. The resultant model offers new ways to conceptualise emergent improvisatory practice within ensembles, across the spectrum of creative arts. It opens with a critique of incipient histories of the form, before outlining grime’s performance conventions. Three of the music’s most fundamental interactional processes are explored—the reload, the rally and the through ball—with respect to their multidirectionality and collaborative character. A study of its radio network from 2016–18 follows, demonstrating how its interrelatedness stimulates creativity and incubates group practice. It concludes with a study of collective social learning in two grime crews: Shellyvnne and Over The Edge.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):



Grime Music, Improvisation, Group Creativity, Radio, Popular Music, Multidirectionality, Live Performance, Hip-Hop, Level Up

Departments, Centres and Research Units:



30 April 2020

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

11 Jun 2021 11:38

Last Modified:

27 Apr 2024 01:26



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