The Nottingham Music Scene Deserves Our Attention

Words: Jack Garofalo
Image: Mez by Tim & Barry

British music has long held a close relationship with the UK’s major cities—London, Birmingham, Manchester, Liverpool and Bristol—cities that have bore original, inventive music that has come to define certain eras. Nottingham doesn’t naturally spring to mind when focusing on iconic British music, but rather seen as a city of idyllic monotony wherein its secludedness and lethargic tempo are arguably its more appealing assets. It has essentially evolved into a student city, thriving with independent businesses, venues and a whole host of bars and clubs, yet it seems to quietly revel in its gifted underbelly of innovation.  

This ideology is reflected from a nationally recognised perspective, particularly in modern times. The likes of Jake Bugg, Sleaford Mods, Scorzayzee, Liam Bailey, Lone and Natalie Duncan have achieved considerable success, but that regional focus has never developed into anything other than flashes in the pan for a city brimming with creativity and diversity. Within the cultural vortex—essentially a row of three streets situated in the artistic quarter of Hockley, which boasts an array of record shops, spaces and studios—the community ethos radiates wholesomely and tells a story on the brink of blossoming.  

Artists such as Mez, Young T, Bugsey and Snowy are established acts on the grime circuit and regularly drop hard-hitters that generate real exposure and acclaim (check out Mez’s latest EP, Tyrone, for a taste of unorthodox vibey delight). The grime movement predominantly captures the national limelight more than any other genre respectively, however, in reflection of the UK jazz explosion, artists such as the incomparable Yazmin Lacey, Harleighblu, Ronika, Three Body Trio, Broadstrokes and the soulful seduction of Ady Suleiman are bringing real approbation from all corners of Britain. Juga-Naut along with these is one of the most respected and diligent wordsmiths in the city, as a solo artist, producer and one-third of the hip-hop supergroup VVV (containing Vandal Savage and the very underrated Cappo). The general togetherness and camaraderie, he believes, “pushes people to make consistent, quality art that shows and proves true worth. It does help if everyone embraces together, supports other artists and just keep mentioning where we’re from. Sooner or later, we’ll get heard; the city is bubbling, and the Dutch pot that is Notts is ready to serve that good, good food.”

All these guys constantly drive their own creative abilities forward and redefine their music, but also never shy away from their unrivalled respect for the true pioneers of the city, particularly the tastemakers that have given Notts its true authentic flavours. Since the late ‘80s, Nottingham has had hip-hop, soul and reggae running coarsely through its veins. The legendary Rock City Afternoon Jams and then the UK Takeover nights attracted people from all over Britain, and abroad, to Notts to witness the finest rappers, beatmakers, singers, DJs and dancers strut their stuff at the peak of their capacities.

Behind the UK Takeover and more recently the eclectic Can’t Stop Won’t Stop (a showcase of international hip-hop royalty), is the godfather Joe Buhdha—a producer born and raised in the city, who has chopped beats for the likes of Rodney P, Jurassic 5, Klashnekoff, Estelle and Terri Walker. Buhdha has championed local talent for as far back as the mind stretches, mentoring none other than MistaJam—now one of the biggest radio DJs in the game. Buhdha believes that the foundations weren’t necessarily built just by musicians and artists but also by promoters and managers alike. “People like Valerie Robinson, a pioneer of the reggae and sound system culture; Graeme Park, an indispensible cog in the whole house/acid scene filtering through to the UK in the late ‘80s; Jonathan Woodliffe, who founded the iconic Rock City Crew; Monsta Boy, Mr 45, Lady V Rocket and the Detonate nights also resonated in bringing the scenes I was aware of into big events and celebrations,” he tells me.

These pockets of cultural revelations gained influence and came to define specific cities across the UK, with Nottingham being credited for fuelling the fire (so to speak) without ultimately laying claim. It explains as to why Notts isn’t seen in the same light culturally as other major cities, despite its affection for diverse, visionary music as Buhdha goes on to state: “Being trapped in the middle of the country has benefitted and hindered Nottingham in equal measure; our influences have come from the North and the South, which is probably why a certain identity doesn’t necessarily spring to mind to the onlooker.”

Joe Buhdha’s son, Nadeem, has taken on the mantle of his father both as a producer and a promoter, co-founding the influential house event Set One Twenty up in Leeds, whilst creating fastidious, low-key contemporary music under the monikers of Nads Buhdha, Corsair and Makyo. Due to the thriving pool of talent across a wide variety of genres in Nottingham, he feels it almost forces musicians to be in the same vicinity as each other and therefore, inevitably network. “More often than not,” he says, “you can go to Jam Cafe, South Bank, Bar 11 or Rough Trade and bump into different artists, promoters, DJs that in turn produces a rich creative environment. People like the VVV boys, Lone, Lia White, Scorzayzee, The P Brothers and Congi have all gained a surge in national traction along the years. Also, a lot of the scene are friends and grew up together outside of music, which helps create genuine and long-lasting relationships.”

Whether that national boom will ever suffice remains to be seen, but what is important is the willingness to create and innovate regardless of the outcome. Notts will forever revel in its undisputed history of raw talent and exemplifying music, standing out as a true understated hotbed of British culture.

Posted on May 08, 2018