‘He’s got the best sense of rhythm of anyone I’ve ever worked with. He’d lay down vocals with no drums or click track and stay in time the whole way through. I guess he’s been doing it for 13 years which helps’ – Airhead.
In 2014, London-based producer, and James Blake’s guitarist, Airhead, aka Rob McAndrews posted a clip on Facebook entitled ‘Trim Freestyle‘ with the status ‘keep coming back to this’. In the video, East London MC, Trim, trades bars with his long-term collaborator, Obese, to an instrumental on a car stereo. Though the footage first uploaded in 2010 is fairly lo-fi, it demonstrates just how easily Trim can toy with rhythm, his speedy punch lines falling on and off beat as he smirks down the lens (see 1:52). The rapid-fire lines he delivers are also magnified ten-fold by the instrumental beneath, produced by Jonny Skeng, which is so alien yet hard hitting you are left shaking your head rather than nodding it.
On the Airhead produced ‘Man Like Me’, arguably the weightiest track from Trim’s collaborative full-length debut, 1-800 Dinosaur Presents: Trim, the same combination of hefty production and razor sharp flow is present. Chatting to Airhead, aka Rob McAndrews, over the phone, I mention the post and he explains that the lo-fi video holds quite some significance to him and the rest of the 1-800 collective:
“That video has been a big influence on a few of us in 1-800 Dinosaur. It’s what I had in mind when I produced ‘Man Like Me’, James Blake sampled the video on his Hemlock release, and Klaus sampled it on his track ‘Seeker’. I was also chatting to Mark Pritchard recently and he said it’s what he shows people when they ask him what grime is.”
Given that Trim is an artist with a reputation for going against the grain, it is perhaps unsurprising that he demurs when I ask him about the clip in another phone conversation: “Well it was first uploaded by Grime Daily in 2009 and got taken down. I don’t think it’s as good as, say, my Crisis freestyle on my Soundcloud. I have gotten better since then.”
It is easy to get into a debate with what counts as Trim’s best (even with Trim himself) because there is so much to choose from. He has consistently churned out album length mixtapes over the last 10 years that experiment with different production styles. This is why he is quick to distance himself from the term ‘grime’, despite being frequently being labelled as such. “I am grime about 10% of the time at best,” he says. “I’ve said it before but you can’t eat pie and mash everyday and not get bored, and it’s the same with music, you can’t listen to the same thing over and over again.”
Trim’s hunger for alternative production styles have led to some labelling him as ‘Avant-grime’, but he disagrees that the genre is doing anything new: “grime is not experimental. It is 140bpm. Tell me one grime artist that is experimental?” When I suggest producers like Mumdance he counters further: “Mumdance is not grime. He is his own genre. Mumdance is sick”.
“Grime is not experimental. It is 140bpm. Tell me one grime artist that is experimental?”
This disregard for suffocating genre boundaries is an outlook that seems to be shared by Airhead and the 1-800 Dinosaur collective. The group of producers consisting of core members Dan Foat, Mr. Assister, James Blake, Klaus and Airhead, begun in 2010 as a club night and has since then released a string of singles all of which traverse typical categorization. This is why their July release, 1-800 Dinosaur presents: Trim was such an enticing prospect: a full length album consisting of Trim spitting over various productions by 1-800 Dinosaur and their affiliates is guaranteed to tread new ground, if not anything else.
One example of a track that treads new ground on the 1-800 album is ‘Waco’. Produced by Airhead, the dub-influenced instrumental combines menacing bass with Airhead’s signature melodic percussion to create something that is both graceful and aggressive. Trim seems to summarize his own delivery on the track when he states ‘watch as a I sit up on the rhythm like the rhythm isn’t working’ with off-kilter swiftness. This track summarizes why Airhead and Trim make such a great pairing: they both toy with rhythms to make metre seem at their command rather than the other way around. Trim recalls his reaction on first hearing the instrumental: “he showed me the track and I looked at him and thought, ‘you’re a little yardman on the inside!’ It sounded like John Halt or Dub Yard. All of his tunes were really sick.”
Airhead’s impressions of his recording sessions with Trim are equally positive, and something of a dream come true. “If my 15 year old self knew I’d be working with Trim 12 years later, I probably wouldn’t have slept,” he laughs. The recording process itself was a first for Trim and Airhead as, although Trim had guested at 1-800 sets since James Blake remixed his track ‘Confidence Boost’ in 2011, the collective and the MC had never worked together in the studio. Being a long-term fan of Trim’s, Airhead was able to construct his instrumentals around Trim’s vocals. “it was more about keeping things simple,” he explains. “Trim has quite a low vocal so I added in high pitched synths that wouldn’t cloud the stereo field too much.”
Vocals were often one of the first things to be added to the track when recording with 1-800, as Trim explains: “I write lyrics all the time. I have loads of them. I came into the studio and spat a lot of them and James and the others turned them into fully developed tunes’.
Interestingly, this meant that Trim heard a lot of the tracks for the first time once they had been completed, which often took him by surprise. “It made me hear my lyrics in ways I hadn’t heard them before,” he explains. “The album was made over two years and some of the lyrics I had laid down I’d forgotten I’d written, so it was like hearing them for the first time.”
Trim’s reaction to the album and collaboration as a whole is tremendously humble: “they have captured a moment for me. They have created an album that I possibly would not have been able to do by myself.” The key to this collaboration Trim emphasizes was the rapport he had with the producers on the album, “Take away their names and everything else and I’d hangout with them anyway. They’re good people”, he says, adding as a final thought jokingly, “I’d like to thank Airhead for putting up with me in the studio.”
Though Trim’s career as an MC has stretched across 13 years, he is still yet to release his long awaited debut album, Crisis, but he insists it is nearly ready to go. “I could release it tomorrow if I wanted to. I am just waiting for the right features to come through”. Until then, can we expect to see a 1-800 Dinosaur presents: Trim 2 at any point? Ever the contrarian, Trim laughs and replies “how about Trim presents: 1-800 Dinosaur? Coming very soon…”