This October, grime veteran Skepta snatched a Mobo award with his That’s Not Me video, directed by the scene’s go-to creatives, Tim & Barry. Looking like it was shot on a shonky smartphone, the clip was the most exciting thing about the lacklustre ceremony, a visceral blast of lo-fi art puncturing all the pasty, polished mundanity (biggest Mobo winner 2014: Sam Smith). A triumphant Skepta announced that the video had cost £80 to make, while, in possibly the least lavish acceptance speech of all time, Tim & Barry tweeted a picture of the pint and packet of crisps they’d bought to celebrate.
Like the grime artists they film, Tim & Barry – “We’re like Tom & Jerry; we never use our surnames” – have turned being skint into a virtue. Their work eschews the glossy imagery of their hip-hop-inspired peers, in favour of something grittier, funnier and more British. Two bespectacled and vaguely dishevelled photographers, they run their empire from a Dalston studio. The place resembles a pirate radio station from a dystopian sci-fi flick. The walls are a peeling blue, in the corner a network of hard drives whirr haphazardly, and in the middle of it all there’s DJ equipment set up on a rugged-looking table. Once a week, this ramshackle space is turned into a mini venue. The last five years have seen the cream of underground electronic musicians passing through to perform in front of Tim & Barry’s cameras, with the whole event streaming on YouTube as the world looks in. This is the Just Jam show, and one of the main reasons why the duo have become cult property.
As opposed to the slickly run, big brand-courting Boiler Room, Just Jam is a serrated, punkish alternative. The acts are selected entirely based on Tim & Barry’s taste rather than what’s cool, covering everything from malicious inner-city grime, Four Tet’s glistening, cerebral electronica, to the wild future dance of Chicago’s footwork scene. What’s more, the stream can get glitchy, they plaster graphics all over the visuals (such as a garish mix of Looney Tunes intros and blocky 90s rave effects) and equipment has been known to bust. But that only adds to the excitement.
In the beginning they had no DJ gear of their own, so Tim & Barry used the kit at a local club to get the Just Jam show running. They made it a free event, open to all, where they filmed east London’s grime MCs causing joyous mayhem in front of raucous audiences. After doing this for half a year, and “nearly killing ourselves lugging the cameras down the club every week”, they blagged a DJ setup and shifted the show to their studio. The artists have taken a shine to their make-do approach. “We always get DJs saying that playing on Just Jam reminds them of their pirate days,” Barry says. “One DJ actually moaned when we got some better equipment in.”
Alongside running Just Jam, the duo have directed a run of low-to-no-budget music videos that have swiftly become iconic. Their video of grime rapper/lunatic Tempa T smashing up a flat – think Busta Rhymes appearing on The Young Ones – has racked up over 6m views. “The only location we had to shoot that in was my place”, Tim notes, drily. “We got the TV he kicks over off Freecycle, but the fridge he batters was mine…”
The pair’s chaotic, energetic aesthetic is picking up attention beyond the loyal fanbase. There’s a Mobo on the mantelpiece, a renewed media interest in grime, and a live Just Jam commissioned by the Barbican set to take place next week.
“The important thing is, we love what we do – we don’t want to make ‘product’ or ‘content’, we want to make art,” Barry concludes, “and we’ve had so much fun with all the performers we’ve filmed, we’re just happy to get some of that across. It’s not us and them, it’s us with them”.
This piece originally appeared in The Guardian Guide, and up online here
Just Jam, Barbican Hall, EC1, 13 Dec (dontwatchthattv.com)