Harshly pumped up vocals, curved percussions, and brilliantly jarring horns—of all things—often define the sound of grime to a T. The trademarks of Britain are as noticeable in this music moreso than many other modern musical trends, which tend to sound samey over time. Maybe this is due to the global internet-isation and availability of music. What makes grime unique though, whether it’s the obvious influence of black London and the difficulty of day-to-day life in that city, is something that might not necessarily clean up with the musical landscape of down under. Replicating the waves of overseas scenes often leads to embarrassment. With that in mind, the hype around Sydney’s Slim Set—MC Dev and Atro—seems all the more surprising.
A hyper-aware millennial duo with their finger on the pulse, they lack noticeable Australian peers and stake their claim as the enthusiastic bedroom fanboys that ended up becoming the music makers. Their success in rowdy clubs in and around the CBD signals a shift in audience interest and their investment in Australian hip-hop, which has thus far remained largely white. This is a generation fed up with Hilltop Hoods and Urthboy, although the question of whether any of these MC’s present a more “authentic” claim to the genre is under dispute in many conversations I’ve been a part of. This is the problem area that slim set occupies and moves within, and maybe it’s that tension which encourages great music. Instead of appealing to the roughage of London, Dev throws shout-outs to Sydney suburbs—the Parramatta highways and Lidcombe cornerstones—as much as he nods toward the cute girls and boys of Strathfield. The MC met Atro on daily commutes to and from school, travelling out of the inner-west on those familiar double decker trains and scanning the views of the newly built high rises.
I wanted to ask how it was you met, and when did you start making music together? Did you ever have a breakthrough moment when you knew you were onto something and pursued it or was it more organic?
D: We got close in high school because Atro lived in Auburn and I lived in Parra—every arvo we’d catch the train back west together. We started making music together like three years ago?
A: That summer we were chilling heaps and started mucking around on Fruity Loops. Then I got into dance music and grime in early 2014 and told Dev to learn to spit at 140bpm, that was probably the breakthrough really.
What is the Sydney community like to you? Are there any other people in Aus you have a musical dialogue with, sonically or lyrically?
D: Yeah we work and chill with Kimchi Princi heaps and play with the Triple One boys. I think we all get on because we’re all in Sydney trying to make something that’s not just boom bap or knock-off trap.
A: We don’t really have a local sound in Australia—that’s the common thread between everyone here. It’s funny being so far from the rest of the world.
Were there any producers or musical trends that opened you up to the possibility of doing similar things? Or do you feel like you’re standing on your own and engaging more widely with a global online community? Is there a difference?
A: For sure, there’s so many producers all over Australia who have been super inspiring to me. People like Collarbones, Corin, and Strict Face, they’re not just trying to rehash something that’s already been done.
I definitely wouldn’t say I stand alone, but I think where it differs for me is that I’m almost always producing with an MC in mind. There’s not that many nights in Sydney to test out new tunes on a big system, so I’ll test them out with Dev’s bars instead.
What are your thoughts on skill sharing? Are your friends quite open with teaching and supporting each other in a practical way?
A: We’re lucky cos there’s so many sick producers and DJs all around us. But I think it’s something we could all do more of, particularly across scenes/communities. I feel like everyone’s keen to project this super confident and polished image on the socials which can make it hard to ask for help.
D: There’s no where near enough, it’s obviously important. We got our friends sure but past the circle jerk—I wanna work with people from fuckin’ Newcastle to the Gong.
How do you reconcile being a clear grime act in Australia, which doesn’t necessarily have a scene?
D: I don’t know if we are a grime act because there isn’t much of a scene. I think the grime tag suited us because of the accent and because of being around dance music.
But I mean let’s be real, I wake up in the morning, punch a cone and listen to two hours of grime mixes so maybe we do make grime…
A: We owe a lot to grime but yeah, we’re always trying to make our own thing.
You’ve said that your on stage persona stems from an inner defensiveness that was picked up from living in precarious or dangerous situations, being scared of being jumped, so to speak, when you were younger, so you took on this tough exterior as protection. Do you want to elaborate?
D: Yeah I guess, I think it’s natural to put on different faces for whatever the sitch calls for. Trekking 20kms west of the CBD at stupid times of the night just means that you act in a certain way. Maybe it’s not like a persona or a character but a different energy from being on the bottom of the food chain out west haha.
Do you think middle class people from the inner west, for example, have interpreted that in a way that is decoupled from lived class realities and misunderstand your background?
D: Haha I was thinking about how when lockouts happened all the inner city microbrew dudes were complaining about “gronks from The West” ruining Newtown. But you’re all happy to wear TNs down Surry Hills without any of the stigma. I think lots of people just don’t really understand the scale of things in Sydney.
A: It was funny moving to the Inner West. I mainly grew up out west, and there’s a particular bubble these inner city people live in where they won’t go past like Strathfield. We’re actually such a divided and segregated city and people don’t acknowledge it.
How do you think that suburban segregation affects the way people connect and synchronise with each other? I’ve noticed that’s quite obvious in Sydney that isn’t in other cities, where you would otherwise bump into your friends walking down a city main strip every other day. Do styles and trends become quite anomalous?
D: Here it’s like: there are North Shore heads who don’t cross Spit Bridge, inner city kids who only leave their area to go to “a sick Pho joint in Cabra” their one Viet mate told them about. I feel like it just makes us all a bit slower and lazy hey. We’re listening to the same shit being played in the same venues you know. There’s nowhere near enough competition.
What’s your next release sound like at the moment, and have any new influences crept into the act of creation?
D: Haha hyper as. I feel like I’m four again—where’s mum with the leash?
A: I reckon it’s a bit more club-ready, maybe a bit more cinematic than the last one. More sub. I think the UK influence is clearer too.
What are your plans for the future?
A: We’re about to put out our next EP in October. Working on a new live set after this release so want to debut that sometime in the summer. And I’m working on my own release and stuff for Kimchi Princi’s mixtape.
D: Write some bars.
Slim Set’s new EP ‘Feed’ is due early November.