[FEATURE] THE SCUM KIDS: HOW RATBOY AND GRIME CHANGED YOUTH CULTURE

It was mid 2014 when Rat Boy first came about, and the kids haven’t looked back since. For those of you who weren’t quite old enough to quite fit into the Jamie T era, here’s your answer. But enough of the patronising – what is it about Rat Boy fans that separate them from all the other groupies? Since when did identifying as ‘scum’ become cool? From their grunge attire to their boisterous attitudes, I investigate what it’s all about.

First off, it’s impossible to look and these kids and not make comparisons to past trends. Whether the Scum Kids are as ‘iconic’ as those, remains up for debate – but you can’t look at all those piercings, dyed hair and Pro Corbyn badges and not be reminded of the Punk years; a collective of angry teens from quiet towns who are pissed off for being ignored. The ‘Scum Kids’ want nothing more than to be on the nitty-gritty streets of London without actually recognising that they are completely defined by their suburbanism, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

Let’s take it back to the days of Punk: the ultimate era of “I don’t give a fuck” whilst proceeding to smash up a bass guitar. It was not only their safety-pinned nostrils and 5 foot mohawks that caught the eye of the country, but also their ability to take a political stance in a way the Hippies never could – through anger. There was nothing more in-your-face than a Punk on Politics, and it appears Rat Boy has been taking note. Though in comparison Rat Boy is pretty PG, his lyrics are nearly always making a comment on society. In his B-side track Wasteman he chants “Well oh well the government gambles, the tower’s in shambles, a bankrupt queen, or so it would seem”. It’s always difficult for a youth culture to emerge when it clearly takes so much influence from many era’s, but I think it’s fair to say the message is a pretty positive one. 

Being a teenager in 2016 is like watching sinking ship in slow motion. You recognise what’s happening around you – yep, that’s right old man, we do have brains – yet there is nothing you can do about it. Jamie T created it the provocative spoken-word, Indie, Hip-Hop mash-up, and now Rat Boy is continuing it: the genre has been named many things (Indie rock, Alternative rock, British hip hop, Alternative hip hop, Post-punk revival), but no matter what you call it, there’s nothing quite like hearing someone celebrate a lifestyle that you entirely identify with. Whether it’s getting pissed up in a Wetherspoons, getting caught with a Fake ID or having no money, it’s something that most British teenagers have experienced. I mean, if you’ve got nothing going for you, you can always give yourself a pat on the back for being a bum.

In all seriousness, there is no better time for a young person’s voice to be heard. With post-Brexit Britain and America’s monumental downfall (thanks Donald Trump), it’s up to the youth to keep fighting for what’s right; and lest we forget, the majority of Hillary’s votes were people under the age of 25. It’s no question that we as the youth want to be heard, it’s just in our current climate we have to be creative with how we achieve it. It seems fans of Rat Boy (who will most likely also relate to Jamie T) feel as if because of their backgrounds, will not have a chance at anything in life, but it is this exact reason why they succeed –they use their circumstances as an advantage, and in turn create a crowd of supporters who feel like they too have to put up with a lot of shit.

Bands like Rat Boy are not only celebrating being young, but also being of a lower class. By almost mocking the stereotype of being from a dead-end town and not having money, it brings like to the issues we face economically. It almost creates a sense of community, and makes us feel as if we are all fighting for the same cause. “It won’t be long before I sign on, is it right or is it wrong, I’ve got no money it’s all gone” sings Rat Boy – he gets it.

I spoke with some actual real life young people of London to hear what they thought about Rat Boy and what they believe his message to be. It was a wide variety of responses, some of which I’m not sure I could even write down, but here goes:

So to begin with I asked a couple of people I knew about the lead man himself: “Rat Boy? Yeah, I guess I can understand what he’s trying to do. It’s really hard these days for artists to not come across as posers, and more so for him I guess as he’s so similar to Jamie T.” Good point I thought, but later he re-addresses, and suggests that “you have to bear in mind that Jamie T was the first to come out with this kind of stuff. He’s so genuine and real, but I admire Rat Boy for trying to keep that going”.

I also managed to catch a glimpse of someone around Brick Lane wearing one of their T Shirts: It was striped, and said simply ‘Scum’ in a small print. I asked her what she thought it meant to be truly a ‘Scum’ kid, and though she seemed slightly offended at first, she eventually realised what I was getting at. “The whole Scum thing is trying to make us feel proud for not being perfect.” She then added that “There’s many fucking rich white kids trying to impose this idea of perfection when actually, a lot of us are trash, but that doesn’t mean we don’t know what we’re talking about”.

I was taken back by the honesty of these answers, despite the fact that I wasn’t sure if I, myself identified as ‘Scum’. It’s an interesting ideology; despite the culture being renowned for promoting underage drinking, drugs and profanity, there still seems to be this gleaming ‘message’ that shines through The Scum Kids. If we are going to assume that they are all similar, I can say they all have a lot to say, and don’t seem to care who they’re saying it to. Some may call that an issue with authority, but mainly it highlights an age-old issue between the young and the old, which is a lack of understanding. Sometimes it’s hard to categorise as the same species.

It’s not only the Indie Spoken-Word that’s giving youth its drive; the rise in UK Grime over the past 10 years has been colossal, and again gives young people from lower class backgrounds the chance to speak their minds and make people aware of the troubles and efforts they have faced not only as artists, but as young people who without the genre, would have no way out. Artists such as JME and Skepta have put grime on the map whilst also raising awareness for the youth in low-income, black communities. They have validated their field to such an extent that it is considered one of the most widely accomplished genres of 2016.

Skepta won the Mercury prize back in September and if anything, it was a huge recognition from the BBC to the astounding accomplishments of not only Skepta but Grime itself. It’s wins like this that give the power back to the people, and give people who wouldn’t usually be able to succeed the chance to do something big, despite all the odds.

Whilst in Camden I noticed a guy selling CD’s for 10p in Camden. Upon buying one, I noticed he was a Grime artist, so I took the opportunity to ask him a few questions on what Grime has done for young people, particularly in London. “Grime gives me the chance to express myself without feeling judged. It’s so hard around here, I’d have nothing if it wasn’t for my music.” “It’s not even about making money for me either, it’s like feeling a part of something”.

It’s no question as to whether Grime and the Scum Kids have integrity, but more so how much integrity is necessary to really make a difference. With all that is happening in the world, its acts like these who give the young people the opportunity to, as the Camden Grime artist stated, “be a part of something”.

Words by Eve Davis

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