Shivers Inside
Ny – Split Endz Volume 2 (mixtape)

Once upon a time I was accused of disappearing into my world of books and films where darkness came too soon.  Total nonsense of course.  There was music too.  But the suggestion was that I was missing out.  Total nonsense too.  Products have so much to teach us.  So many stories to tell …

No it’s alright.  Don’t worry.  I was quite happy just sitting here looking through the free papers.  I have a real soft spot for them.  There’s an argument to be had about the free London press containing the best music writing around these days, particularly the Metro and Claire Allfree.  I was just looking down the TV listings.  Don’t ask me why.  I never even watch it now that there’s no decent films or sitcoms on.  I would love to get into TV scripts.  I tell you I’ve got some great ideas that would make people sit up and have something to remember. 

I don’t know where I’ve been but I had no idea Neneh Cherry and Andrea Oliver had a cookery show.  That’s completely surreal isn’t it?  How did that happen?  It’s a mighty long way down rock’n’roll isn’t it?  From Rip Rig & Panic to TV prime time.  But I suppose thinking about it elements of that whole Bristol/West London Pop Group/Slits/Rough Trade axis have become part of the broadcasting/media establishment.  And I’m not meaning that in a derogatory sense.  It’s just an observation.  Miquita Oliver and all that.  The scene’s progeny.  The Lily Allen phenomenon.  Even John Waddington popped up on that record.  I keep meaning to mention that there’s a brilliant history on the web of Notting Hill and its musical and cultural tangents.  Tom Vague did it.

I know you’re not keen, but I do like Lily.  Well, parts of that first record have a deadly charm.  But I find the opposite end of the spectrum, the street and the underground, so much more interesting.  Away from wall to wall adverts and millions of pounds worth of promotion and corporate sponsorship.  I hate it.  Give me the submerged world of mixtapes, and whatever you want to pool from grime and r’n’g and r’n’b and d’n’b and dubstep and UKG and homegrown hip hop.  It’s totally fascinating how there’s a complete self-sufficient independent industry out there, which is maybe independent through necessity rather than intention, which in turn leads to innovation perhaps even by accident almost, where financial constraints keep things refreshingly raw.

And as us old duffers know this has happened so many times before, in different places, at different times, in different scenes.  Maybe the technology has changed, and has liberated.  Maybe not.  Maybe there’s not much difference between the enterprising big dreaming local soul imprints the Numero Group curates and the punk independents that flourished through our youth, and the London lovers rock operating out of South London basements.  And on and on to the CDs these kids are putting out there now capturing works in progress, ideas not fully formed.  Some times it shows.  But at other times it’s the rough edges that make magic, and the immediacy and immaturity and need to communicate works so wonderfully.

So, yeah, Lily singing Smile was suddenly the sound of last summer but this year it’s irresistibly the completely brilliant Ny that is dominating my summer soundtrack with her Split Endz Volume 2 mixtape.  I would love to know the difference in recording budgets.  I would love to compare and contrast the difference in backgrounds too, their different London towns.  But great pop is great pop wherever it comes from.  And this summer it’s about Ny singing Willow.  “Summer days drifting away …”.  That song is special.

I heard Ny first singing Who Is She?  And this is her signature tune right.  Her Strange Fruit.  Her Young, Gifted and Black.  Her No Scrubs.  So when I first heard Who Is She?  Well it was one of those old drink dropping moments.  And then a few weeks later I heard her performing an acoustic version of the same song.  Like Lauryn unplugged in your dreams.  That was just before the mixtape came out.  But it was enough to get me tracking down Split Endz Volume 1.  And that wasn’t easy.  But it was worth it.  For in and among all the intrusive MCs and their interminable interruptions and interventions were some real gems.  Like sweet Shystie used to say diamonds in the dirt.  So I was really kicking myself for missing out.  But all of a sudden Ny was all over 1Xtra, and this is one of those records you want to tell everyone about.  Though as it is at the moment if anyone takes the bait they’re going to have to do some digging. 

And the crazy thing has been that instead of enjoying it for the moment I got to worrying about what will happen to Ny.  Will she end up with her own TV show 25 years on?  Will she suffer the same fate as other voices from the underground?  Whither Shola, Shystie, Estelle, Gemma Fox?  What about Monie, Q-Tee, C-Mone, Wildflower, Baby Blue, No Lay?  Will Ny be signed up in a flurry and disappear slowly?  Two years to produce a follow up and then left on the shelf?  Would she go to America, be wooed by the hip hop plutocracy, and disappear into a crowd of r’n’b princesses that we love and look for such meaning in.  Who will be the next in line behind Ciara, Cassie, Amerie, Rihanna, Yummy, Keyshia, and Teairra?  Or could it be a more worthy real soul route like Jill Scott and Jaguar Wright with all the critical kudos and credibility and none of the sales?  It’s difficult to say.

The ludicrous thing is why worry?  There’s not much I can do about it all is there?  So why not just celebrate the fact that Split Endz contains pretty much the most perfect pop around.  Pop?  Yeah why not?  Pop.  Street soul.  Pop.  The best pop is either right up there in the charts.  Gwen Stefani.  Natasha Bedingfield.  The songs you hear on the radio and think yeah and then oh when you find out who it’s by.  But best of all is the street soul.  But these voices are so seldom heard.  A few tracks on The Voice of Grime here.  A few tracks on Aftershock’s Shock To The System there.  Shola and Sister Sadie.  The revenge of Gemma Fox.  It would be terrible if these voices went unheard or unheralded due to inverted snobbery. 

If I do have one hope for Ny, well it would be that she escapes from any sonic straitjacket.  The spindly broken beats beguile.  But the best moment for me on Ny’s mixtape is No One Ever Cared which has a bit of a reggae rockers lope to it which works wonderfully, reflecting her own family’s roots where she grew up listening to Beres Hammond and other sweet conscious sounds.  And I have this irresistible urge for Ny to stretch her sweet soul singing over the sounds of Skream for example.  I dismissed that set by Skream!  I thought it was lightweight and retro.  And then I got it when I realised it was a great pop sountrack which was all that mattered.  But just just imagine if it was Ny singing some of her wise words over one of Skream’s rhythms?  It seems so obviously something that should be done.  To a certain extent it’s worked with Burial’s remix of Jamie Woon’s Wayfaring Stranger.  But that was just a hint at what could happen.  I suppose we’d be straying back into Smith & Mighty territory but that works for me.  Or Neneh with the New Age Steppers.  Which is a dish worth waiting for.  Hmm back to cooking again.

© 2007 John Carney