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“I don’t think people felt that way with me because I’m from Hackney. I’ve experienced similar things that they have, I listen to the same music they do. It was more just like a sit down with a friend.”
For those of you unaware of who exactly Nathan Miller is, you’ve probably stumbled across his 46-minute documentary on YouTube entitled ‘LDN’.
The doc takes us deep into the depths of the booming London grime and rap scene, with a glittering cast of much-lauded heads like Youngs Teflon, 67 and J Hus, emerging stars like Belly Squad and Jevon and industry veterans like Morgan Keys and DJ Semtex. We’re exposed to plenty of raw footage from live shows, but also sit-downs with everyone involved – it’s all-encompassing and that’s why you should watch it.
For the director, the documentary became more than just a project, it was his own assertion of his place within the scene and the creation of a piece of London cultural history. Instead of focusing on its composition, we chatted about how exactly the idea caught fire, the London-ness of it all and how it couldn’t have ended up as such an accurate depiction had it been made by someone alien to the scene.
Once you had the initial idea, what was your original plan?
Initially, I knew it was going to be long but I didn’t think I’d get the people I did get, it was going to be a little more underground than what it is right now, it’s not super mainstream, but a lot of the artists are quite big right now. I was looking at people who were known but not as well known. It kind of grew and grew into what it is now.
Did you think the documentary would get as much hype behind it as it did in the end?
I thought it had the potential to, but I didn’t think it would, just because YouTube’s always kind of a funny one. It’s very easy to release things on other channels and get views and that’ll muffle your vision because you’ll think “Oh this is for me”, when really you’re almost guaranteed a certain amount of views. When you release something on your own channel, you’re not entitled to that. I thought I was going to get 20K views in a month, last time I checked it was on 285K.
The London scene has really developed through its own hype; no one came into London and showed it to the world, London showcased itself and that’s what the documentary is – the rollout, how DIY it was and how it was released so naturally really went along with the London vibe it already had. Was that intentional or did it just come about as it went on?
I tweeted ‘I quit my job to do this documentary’ and that was when everyone retweeted it on the basis of me leaving my job, and then when they watched it, I got comments like; ‘We thought this was going to be dead but it became one of the best films on UK music’.
It’s cool, I understand that there’s nothing like [the documentary] right now and I’ve had people like Semtex say to me, “this is going to be one of the films that people look back on in years to come” and that’s a cool thing. You kind of just roll with the punches, I never planned for it but now it’s here and I’m like ‘What am I going to do now?’
When did you make the decision to quit your job?
I was working part time and when I was getting calls saying ‘there’s a show happening in three of four hours can you come to film?’. I had a good relationship with the people I was working with and I didn’t want to step on their toes too much, so a couple of times I’d leave work and film, but there’s only so much of that you can do, especially since I was only there two days a week! I was usually working on the weekends and there are usually shows on the weekends.
Sometimes you need to be active, I thought it was time to go and work on ‘LDN’. I kept myself very busy though. I was still getting work coming through, I filmed for the Jazz Café and XOYO, that’s the stuff I would’ve turned down if I was at work but now they could call and say ‘come down and film for an hour and we’ll give you 100 pound’. I was getting those sort of jobs, so I wasn’t totally broke. I was only working two days a week anyway so it wasn’t the biggest thing to cut off!
Being such a young documentary-maker, did you learn much from the process of making ‘LDN’?
LDN was going to be picked up by a distribution company, that little segment in the documentary’s life taught me a lot because I learned that there are different things I need to know for films intended for cinema screens. Certain screens have different colour profiles and you have to edit towards that, really technical stuff like that.
The basis of it though is finding a good story and not messing it up. I’ve met a colourist, people who do sound, so I’m sure the next piece will be grander.
Once you realised you were getting artists that were on the border between underground and well-known, did you feel a pressure to represent them and the scene in a certain way, given that it’s so tight-knit?
Not at all, because I’m not working for a company, I was approaching these people off my own back or people were introducing me, so there was a mutual respect from the get-go. A recent example was the Channel 5 documentary that came out and there’s been a backlash because a lot of people were saying ‘that’s not what I said’ or ‘you’ve misrepresented us’. I don’t think people felt that way with me because I’m from Hackney. I’ve experienced similar things that they have, I listen to the same music they do. It was more just like a sit down with a friend. That was the biggest challenge with it, finding a sequence that I could use from everyone, a lot of the people’s interviews were about fifty minutes long, some people were only on screen for 15 seconds!
I didn’t feel pressure at all, there was a few people where I felt like I could’ve done more with them like Reeko Squeeze – he was on screen for a minute and he was talking about prison. We done a very long interview as well but we’re friends. He came onto the project late so there was no guarantee that he was even going to be in it. Everyone appreciated it for what it was, everyone who spoke to me knows what they said, everyone adds to the story.
The whole thing tied in well together, it wasn’t just a bundle of names thrown together for the sake of it. The inclusion of Vicky Grout was a cool one too, it showed a different side to the scene; how it has been so well documented, by the likes of yourself, GRM Daily, Morgan Keys and more.
Vicky was one of the first people I initially thought of when I thought of ‘LDN’, when I decided that I was going to this, and do it on a big scale, she might’ve been the first person I thought of when I decided I was going to tell the story. Someone like Vicky, she’s a powerhouse within the scene. If you’re going to shows consistently, you’re going to run into her.
That’s another thing about LDN, anyone that watches it that’s active within the scene, even just fans of it, no one’s going to turn around and say ‘this wasn’t done by someone from the scene’. There’s a lot of people in it where you’d actually have to know the scene well enough to get them to participate. Certain people would slip under the radar for a lot of people, but the streets recognise them.
I think a lot of people who watched it were like: ‘Oh look there’s so and so’. There a lots of people who didn’t get title cards, but some people will recognise themselves in the crowd. People probably watched it and wondered if they’d see themselves in it.
The scene is still well-rooted within London, despite its artists being recognised worldwide. We’re all still looking at London, other rap scenes are sort of all over the place, whereas this is a raw showcase of that one specific place that’s bubbling at the moment, coming from the viewpoint of someone within it.
Semtex summed it up to me: ‘I can’t even remember what happens in some of the documentaries that have been produced on the scene. They get things a little bit wrong or people might pronounce things the wrong way.’ People that’re really into their music won’t like that sort of stuff.
You’ll get the most accurate representation of what’s going on. I didn’t need to research who to get, I already knew, it becomes more of an organic story. You can always go to another place and document the scene there, but here, I guess it’s so home-grown that it’s going to be way more appreciated [coming from someone within the scene].
The rap/grime scene in London is surrounded by excellent media structures like GRM Daily, SBTV, LinkUp TV and more. That has really been key to the music’s development as a whole. People like yourself and Vicky have also had key roles and looking back on your journey while making LDN, how important is it for a niche genre’s development to be well-documented along the way?
It’s important for archival reasons, but also to give people a better understanding of the culture itself. You also have to thank things like Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, a prime example of creating things and it becoming a time capsule of time that otherwise mightn’t have been able to be relived. I have people hit me up and say ‘I’m going to show this to my kids, show them what we was listening to and how London was.’
We might not see it now but people in ten years’ time people are going to look at this stuff and say ‘Wow look how young J Hus was!’ You never know where people are going to be down the line so I think it’s important, it’s a part of British culture at this point.
Hattie Collins released a book called ‘This is Grime’ and it basically summarised the whole thing along with some pictures and other things, and I’d like to think I’ve done something similar with LDN, so again in a few years people can look back and say ‘This is where we were…’.
In a few years we could have someone on an Ed Sheeran or Drake level and I just think that the documentation of it all now will make for a great story to tell when the time’s right.