Once upon a time in Canterbury…

Lots of regional music scenes have come and gone. Some we’ve heard of. We know that there were interesting things happening in electronic dance music in 1980s Detroit, because techno is now one of the most pervasive elements of global music; we know the same about Washington D.C. and emo, the Bronx and hip-hop, Canterbury and the Canterbury Scene in progressive rock. We don’t know so much about Canterbury hip-hop in the noughties, but unlike earlier, transient local scenes, it was documented in digital media which won’t fade into noise and static like the cassette demos and hand-copied flyers of 1980s Cambridge punk.

This is important not for its impact on music in other times and places, which was negligible, because no major labels picked up on this scene, and none of its members became viral sensations through social media—it’s important just because it documents a piece of social history, an intersection of lives and enthusiasms, ways of making music, ways of speaking, that would otherwise dissipate in a few decades into the epistemological void beyond the edge of living memory. It’s important because it records that people—real, particular people—needed to do something more constructive than punching the clock and going to the pub. It’s important because they were good at it, and they did it even though none of them got rich or famous.

Mr. Loop, that scene’s resident beat-maker, has removed all the recordings that used to be on his Bandcamp page, although the empty page remains as a mute reminder of what he and his friends once did. Other participants still have their music online, and I downloaded all of Mr. Loop’s some years ago, so his legacy isn’t entirely effaced. I have no idea why he did this, and I haven’t reached out to him or any members of that scene to find out. Perhaps it has something to do with the not-very-woke character of the bars—or something else altogether. His album The Bury All has been my earholes’ companion for some months now, and I’ve been enjoying it not as a document of social history, but as a bouncy, entertaining slab of hip-hop.

There’s nothing groundbreaking about it. The beats are nicely crafted, full of the cut-and-paste erudition that makes hip-hop what it is. The flows are intense, driving, cleaving hard to the beat like it was still the 90s, the lyrics funny and playful, their rough-and-ready wit wringing all the juice out of the materials to hand. Listening from the other side of #MeToo it’s hard not to notice that women feature only as images and desirable objects, and that the laddish behaviour celebrated in a cut like ‘Out on the Razz’ might not seem like such innocent fun nowadays. But this was the time that it was, and although its easy to identify the flaws in these young men’s attitudes, I don’t think it benefits anyone to erase this music from history. It’s a bit recent to be comfortable, but give it time and it will seem as quaint as the sexism in an old blues or a disco tune.

In the meantime, well, you can’t hear it, because it’s not available to stream or download, but I’ve enjoyed my time with The Bury All. It has a down-to-earth, self-deprecating character, that is very different from most of the music that directly inspired it—its lyrical themes revolve around a bunch of ordinary creative people trying to find their way through the vagaries of everyday life in a small English city, having a few too many in the pub, making a mess of their rooms, or getting held up in the queue for a kebab behind someone who can’t make up their mind what to eat. Along the way they find a lot of humour, and some infectious beats, and for all that nobody’s ever heard of this stuff, it’s every bit as good as some records that made their creators rich.

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