“I grew up listening to American hip-hop artists,” Leigh O’Neill tells TNT as he reflects on the journey that’s led to him starting ‘Mic Check’ – Manchester’s newest Grime and hip-hop night.
The event, scheduled to be the first of many, will take place this month at Sandbar on Grosvenor Street, and is set to include a slew of burgeoning local talent – a focus which, for O’Neill, seemed from the beginning an obvious and important choice.
Over the last 15 years, Grime has been characterised by its fiercely provincial slant. Its brooding basslines and staccato vocals, with the bullishly spat riffs like Bugzy Malone’s “0161” and Lowkey’s “LDN”, have become catchphrases for a genre whose unapologetic Britishness is more than just a passing motif. These accents and elements are central to the music’s meaning and appeal.
“It was around 2000 when I first heard this music,” he explains, “I instantly fell in love with it. I was hearing guys that sounded like me, grew up in areas similar to mine, speaking with raw energy. It opened my eyes”.
Since its humbler beginnings, with MCs recording tracks and music videos on their phones to share online, Grime has evolved into an industry whose biggest stars are able to compete with the likes of Beyoncé and Drake for record sales in the UK charts.
With an underground scene able to broadcast battles and shows via YouTube, and with views for channels featuring the genre’s artists routinely numbering into the tens of thousands, it’s clear how important the music has become for a generation of inner-city millennials ready to hear songs on issues and experiences familiar to them. It’s precisely this kind of underground immediacy that O’Neill hopes to create a platform for.
“I was part of a grime collective myself,” he says. “Nowhere near as talented as the acts who’ll be on my night, but it was just something that I loved to do, writing bars every second I got. I bought myself decks and a microphone just so we could do sets in my bedroom. So I guess the heart behind my night is the love I have for the music and also knowing how hard it is for the artists to get exposure”.
It appears that ensuring exposure for local talent, alongside entertainment for the crowd, will be Mic Check’s focus.
“The night is going to be different in the sense it’s a smaller venue,” O’Neill says. “The crowd will get to hear the artists’ lyrics, which is also why I’ve chosen the artists I have. It will still have that party element to it as we’ll have a DJ break, but it is a lyrical event”.
Judging by the line-up O’Neill has chosen for the night – a selection of Mancunian artists that will include Persia, SBD, Bish, Sic Made Showers, Fiasco, Prima, Viollet, GRIM and Kay Rico – that aim will be achieved.
“There will be an open mic session too,” O’Neill adds, “it’s a chance for the artists who performed on the night to perform together, but also a chance for artists in the crowd to promote themselves. And it’s also a scouting mission for myself to see future acts for Mic Check, but mainly it will be a bit of fun to hopefully wind down at the end of a successful night”.
Mic Check will take place on Thursday 16 June at Sandbar. Entry is free.
TNT Entertainment Micah Yongo