Words: James Keith
Photography: Dexter Lander
Visuals: Tim & Barry

Few names are as synonymous with the UK underground as Tim & Barry. Their idiosyncratic, DIY style—with nods to Tom & Jerry and the Looney Toons—didn’t so much inject fun into the underground (it’s always been fun, that’s why it’s there), but instead it highlighted what was already there and gave an alternative perspective that didn’t involve making everyone look #moody. You won’t hear stories about shanks, and you’d certainly never see that in their videos; instead, you’ll hear stories about Crazy Titch playing table tennis, or throwing snowballs at Jme or Tempa T skanking in the Acropolis.

While many are happy to frame underground music and its key players as aggressive as their bars and flows, Tim & Barry have always approached their subjects with honesty and endearment. They don’t film the likes of Skengdo X AM or 67 because they think they have a dangerous edge, they do it because those people have a talent they want to show to the world. In short, as the world becomes more and more cynical—as tower-blocks are reduced to an aesthetic and kids are stopped in the streets for apparently ‘looking like’ they belong to a gang—Tim & Barry have made a career out of stripping all that nonsense away to showcase the realness.

Over the 15-plus years they’ve been documenting grime, UK garage, UK funky and the rest, Tim & Barry have worked with all the greats—Boy Better Know, Tempa T, Chipmunk, Giggs, Devilman and countless more—but, they admit, there have been a few moments they wish they’d done differently or been more involved in movements they’d missed out on. The new generation of grime that came up around 2013 is something they wish they had covered more.

“When we stopped filming freestyles as Tim & Barry TV, there wasn’t really that many people coming through,” Tim tells me over a beer in an East London pub. “It was all the guys we’d already worked with and shot a bunch of freestyles with, like Skepta or D Double E or Tempa T. In some cases, it was four or five so it seemed like we were done for the moment. Now, there’s a new generation of grime; from that scene we’ve got the likes of Big Zuu, PK, Lyrical Strally, Jammz, Mez, Novelist… There was a chance for us to shoot a new generation of grime, but at the time, when we were looking what to do next, they hadn’t quite come through yet.”

Despite a hiatus in that respect, they never actually went anywhere or did any less. That’s the thing with a multi-faceted empire like theirs: If you remove one aspect, the others just expand to fill it.

“We might start a record label next, who knows...”

When they weren’t filming freestyles, Tim & Barry were doing Just Jam or coming up with the idea for Beat This. “One of the other reasons when we finished up doing the early sort of freestyle series is because we really wanted to work with producers,” Barry tells me. “We came out with the idea of Beat This because we really felt that, working with a lot of MCs, you never really got to see a producer play or make their music when they perform live because they’re mixing or triggering shit off and it’s not really how they compose their music. Whereas, when we were growing up, it was very much like you’ll buy a record of a band and then you’ll go and see them play and perform, and so that was the idea behind Beat This.”

One theme that seems to run through everything Tim & Barry do is spontaneity. There’s the time they met Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, for example. Jean-Charles de Castelbajac, if you didn’t know, is a French designer who was creative director at Iceberg during the label’s golden age, between 1976 and 1987. Oh, and he invited them to photograph his clothes.

“We were showing a young producer our portfolio,” says Barry, “and it was mostly stuff from the grime scene. There was one picture of Wiley where he was wearing this Iceberg History top—one of the many uniforms that some of the guys wore and were really passionate about—and the producer’s like, ‘Oh, that’s really funny: I used to go to school with Jean-Charles de Castelbajac’s son. I’ll have to introduce you.’ So we contacted him through MySpace, we went down and met him and then he took us around his one of his exhibitions; he was with Vivienne Westwood and a few others. It was all a bit weird and then, afterwards, we went for a drink and we showed him our portfolio and he said he really wanted to work with us. Four months later, he hits us back up and said he’s doing his own retrospective in Paris and he wanted us to shoot his archive. Then he was like, ‘Don’t think of what I want in the images, just give me Tim & Barry pictures and whatever happens, I want the logo on the corner.’ So, for someone like him—who’s worked with the cream of photographers—to ask us to go out and photograph anyone we wanted in his clothes for his retrospective in Paris was just mind-blowing.”

In fact, some of Tim & Barry’s their most memorable projects or videos have been borne from little more than one of them saying “wouldn’t it be funny if…” Tim does, however, qualify that by reminding me that they are deeply serious about what they do, but that they “do and try to have a sense of humour about it as well. Quite a lot of the time, when we’re coming up with ideas, that ‘wouldn’t be funny if’ ends up being a big part of what we’re doing.” Was that the case with the Jme and Tempz snowball fight? “Me, Barry and Matt O’Shae were having a snowball fight, and we thought ‘wouldn’t it be funny if we shot a freestyle in the snow?’ Then we called Tempz and he told us to come up, and then we called Jme. And then, in the car, we thought ‘wouldn’t be funny if’ we just chucked snowballs at them whilst they’re trying to spit while Barry’s filming it?’”

“We didn’t tell them either, did we,” Barry laughs.

“Also,” Tim adds, “I’m chucking snowballs at Tempz and then his mic stops working. So there’s a bit in the freestyle where the snowball stops, and so does Tempz. And then, when you haven’t heard him for a while, he jumps in like ‘CLEARRR!’ That was just to access the mic and then I start chucking snowballs at him again. That one was so much fun. It just seems to resonate with people.”

That’s another running theme with these two: fun. It’s all well and good being edgy and cool, but if it’s not fun, who cares? And that’s something they live by on both sides of the camera. “In 2002, we used to have this big warehouse in Whitechapel,” says Tim. “It was like 3,500 square foot. It was fucking huge and we shared it with a bunch of skateboarders. Lev, who started Palace, he used to come there all the time and I used to teach him guitar when he was 14. Crazy Titch used to come by and we had a table tennis and he used to come by for photoshoots and just end up playing table tennis with Footsie and D Double.”

I ask if they’d ever considered starting a label. After all, it would be the perfect extension of what they’re already doing, cataloguing underground music. They already had the access, the relationships and the ear for it. So why not? The short answer, in Barry’s words, is that they “didn’t have time.” The long answer is, well, a little longer. But as Tim points out, it could so nearly have happened and would’ve been really quite special.

“It’s true,” Tim adds, “we were talking about it, actually. That would’ve been 2009. S-X was going to be on one side but I can’t remember what was on the other side. We wanted to put ‘Wooo Riddim’ out as a 12” but it just wasn’t something that I thought we could do. What do I know about putting records out? That would’ve been our first release and then, after that, we would’ve put out loads of bangers from all the different scenes we’ve worked in over the years. I do think of that every now and again. We probably could’ve absolutely smashed it, but we didn’t and there’s only a certain amount that you can do. A lot of people would try and start record labels while they’re doing stuff that we’re doing. It takes up so much time and dedication! I think we could’ve done it and it would have been quite interesting.”

Unfortunately, Barry adds, they were just too short on manpower. “Back then,” he explains, “we were still just surviving through the year. At that time, until 2009, we were also birthing the idea of Just Jam—we’d just done the series of Beat This, we were still doing photography, still doing live streams, creating video content, doing photos, and there was only two of us. We had a number of interns that were coming through, but at the end of the day, it was just me and Tim. If we could’ve cloned ourselves then we may have got that far—we just didn’t have the time or the resources to be able to do it.”

Could it be something they do in the future? Or has the time passed? Barry doesn’t think so. “I never look at any opportunities as passing,” he says. “Anything can come back round and I don’t think you can ever put a lid on anything. We might start a record label next year, who knows? It’s almost like a new series of Tim & Barry TV. If the time is right, the place was right, we were ready, the artists were ready, we had a creative vision and then we ran with it... To be honest, we know what sounds good and I think we could do a pretty good job with it as well but, yeah, I’ll never say never to it.”

I ask if there’s anything at all they wish they’d done differently. I don’t think I’m alone in hoping that the label idea does one day come into fruition, but there must be things they wish had gone differently. No one’s perfect and, besides, technology in their field progresses at such a rate they must look back on certain moments and wish they’d had a better means of recording or broadcasting or documenting something, right?

“From about 2004 to 2007, we’d literally just filmed little snippets of things here and there,” Tim explains, “just documenting the grime scene on video. We didn’t really have a sense of what we wanted to do with it, but at the time we thought we didn’t really have the equipment. There were other guys doing it, like Risky Roadz, Troy ‘A Plus’ Miller and Lord Of The Mics, but in hindsight, our approach to it would’ve been different so it would’ve been cool to have done that.”

“Look,” Barry interjects, “it’s easy to look back and think ‘we could’ve done that and done this here’ but I’m really proud of what we’ve done. Anyway, by the time we were getting paid properly for stuff, we were excited by the streaming side of things and we could do it. It felt like our fans could keep up with what we were doing. It was funny, though: we were all over the place! The industry and some people from the scene were like, ‘What the fuck are they doing!?’”

“Which has kind of been our USP,” Tim adds. “Tim & Barry: what the fuck are they doing?”

Posted on August 07, 2019