On Grime Forum, metal, night buses, smoking areas, downloading radio sets from DC++, passion and the importance of online communities.
“It was enjoyable, but not as enjoyable as I hoped it would be”, says Tom Higham — better known as Hij, co-founder of Grime Forum — as he reflects on watching his beloved Liverpool team win the Premier League title. “I don’t get to every game but I had four weekends booked at crazy Airbnbs with bunkbeds that’d fit eight of us in there. They were about £8 per person per night, cheap as shit. Unfortunately I didn’t get to go up at all which was a shame but other than that, things aren’t too bad.”
Now working in marketing for a small recruitment firm, Hij has spent the last four months either furloughed or split-furloughed; working in the mornings, not working in the afternoons. It’s allowed him to spend time at home with his children — “this whole period has made me appreciate family so much more” — and also finesse his online poker skills, which he’s found beneficial not only in terms of mental sharpness but also in terms of socialising and staying in touch with friends. “I actually discovered that people were using Twitch to play poker online, loads of guys do it” he explains, “and that was via Plastician’s grime quizzes funnily enough. I did a couple of the early ones which were great … I think I came in the top 5 on the first one. Joe Walker (Beats 1 / Reprezent Radio) won it in the end, he was miles in front of everyone else.”
“We’d have eight people set up on Zoom all chatting”, he continues, “with the actual game set up on another stream, it was great. Poker’s such an interesting game to play as well, you can learn so much from other people playing it. With each choice you make, there’s so many different options so it’s really interesting to watch how professional players go about it. They show the cards, so you can see how they make each move, how they strategise. I find that sort of stuff fascinating.”
From speaking for a little over five minutes, it’s already clear what makes Hij tick; community, relationships, lived experiences — either online or out in the world. His relationship with grime started back when he was a teenager, growing up just outside the M25 in St Albans, where he found it difficult to pick up any of London’s pirate radio stations. In fact, he was into metal and heavy guitar music before first discovering Wiley’s ‘Eskimo’ back in 2002. “I wasn’t a goth but I think I was more like a greebo or whatever they call it, I liked my heavy metal”, Hij recounts, “and I’d actually spend a lot of time on my computer playing online games, I wasn’t really that sociable to be honest. It was actually a couple of friends who lived down the road from me who were like ‘check this shit out, it’s amazing’ and they started to play me tracks. Channel U was around as well although that might have come a little bit later on. There was a program called DC++, which they’d download all these rap and grime songs from and yeah, it was interesting thinking about it. They were more into it than me at the time, but 10 years later, I was more way into it obviously.”
“Do you know what?”, he continues, “I was massively into old school hip-hop, I loved all the stuff from the 90s and the late-90s, I thought it was amazing. I kinda felt that the later stuff in the early 2000s didn’t really sound as authentic, I wasn’t really getting the same feeling from it. The stuff from the 90s was aggressive and real, it was quality and I guess that’s what I found when I listened to grime. Not only was it just as good, but it was down the road. I’d watch these guys on Channel U or whatever and they’re not over the pond, they were so close. Not only did I enjoy it, but I could relate to it more, I could bump into these guys on the street or at a rave in London, where as the chances of me meeting someone like Dr Dre were pretty remote. Grime just felt accessible.”
As well as locality, Hij also found the clash mentality — grime’s competitive edge — particularly compelling too. “I couldn’t get enough of it mate”, he says passionately. “I remember Fire Camp were having beef with Wiley once … ah I can’t remember the name of it … it was a 9-minute long track, it wasn’t even all bars, some of it was just gun shots and loads of Fire Camp guys just sending over and over again, it was amazing. We found it on DC++ but it’s not on YouTube or anything anymore. It’ll be on someone’s hard drive somewhere or potentially lost from the internet forever. I remember we’d have house parties when were like 16 and we’d put it on and everyone would be like ‘what the fuck is this?’, but we loved it. I think a lot of people enjoy it when people go at each other in grime, when they compete to see who’s the best. Even now, I’m 33 and I’m still all over it!”
As he became more and more interested in grime music, Hij found himself heading to RWD Forum — a hugely influential virtual meeting point for UK underground music fans in the early 00s — for the latest news on grime releases, raves and opinion. Being from St Albans, he found keeping tabs on new music almost impossible without it — it was a vital resource for any fan living outside the geographical touch points where the music lived and breathed. The forum’s grime thread soon became its most popular too, but that didn’t stop RWD shutting down the forum in early 2007 after managerial changes saw the entire RWD operation, including the website and the print magazine, shift its focus. It was a huge blow for grime fans like Hij who over time, had also built genuine friendships with other users; forum culture had become tangible and important.
“That was the only way for me to discover music or sets to anything to do with grime”, he explains bluntly. “While you might have had two radio stations in South, I didn’t have any. I think RWD Forum had quite a lot of server issues thinking back. We’d actually started Grimepedia about six months before RWD shut down, which we lost to server issues as well. Wikipedia weren’t interested in grime MCs and they’d actually open sourced the software back then, so myself and Rob (known as Lemon) downloaded it and created that. The forum side itself came about off the back of RWD Forum’s server issues, which I don’t think they cared about too much because they did so many other things. It got to a point where we couldn’t even access it, so me and Rob were just like, ‘fuck it, shall we create our own?’. I did a lot of what I did purely as a fan. I wanted a forum to exist so I could find out what was going on and access things. That way, taking it into my own hands, it was on me to make sure it was working. We got a lot of user sign-up straight from RWD Forum after it shut down because a lot of people felt the same, which I didn’t realise at the time. We probably had 300-400 sign-ups in the first week.”
While Hij had established Grimepedia to help cut through the forum noise and profile active MCs, DJs, producers and even bloggers — “if you wanted to be involved in grime and bring skills to the table, you could, it was always so accessible” — Grime Forum would leave behind a lasting legacy that even he couldn’t foresee. It became it’s own living, breathing entity; MCs would shout out the forum in their bars, DJs would record mixes, fans would debate who or what was the best via threads and comments that ran into their thousands and Hij even recorded regular podcasts, pre-dating modern trends today. In Hij’s words it became “social media for grime before social media existed’. But it did come with a cost.
“I was quite fortunate that Lemon was able to do a lot of the coding and design stuff because he was really good at it”, explains Hij, reflecting on how much went into running Grime Forum. “We worked quite well as a team because I’d be able to back his ideas with money and it’d be on me to try and moderate the forum itself. I think we’d earn about £160 a month in ad revenue, which as we got more popular, helped pay for the server and a couple of beers for me if I was lucky. But it was hard work, I didn’t make a lot from it and then of course, the atmosphere on the forum … it got a reputation for being quite negative.”
Aided by Elijah, now co-head of pioneering grime label Butterz, who came on board from the jump to help him moderate and look after the day-to-day running of the forum, Hij found it difficult to strike a balance between letting users speak their minds and making sure the content and conversations coming out of the forum were positive or useful. “It was hard. It put me in a position of having to think about censoring things that weren’t put out there in a positive light or letting it become a place full of brave people talking nonsense. I couldn’t spend my time moderating it as a forum to that extent but I understood it was annoying and difficult for people, especially MCs who would get gunned on there sometimes. Other people did come on board in admin roles but they weren’t paid, so they’d just do what they could while they were browsing. I ended up just not having the time, I had a life to get on with away from the forum itself and couldn’t spend 24/7 moderating. But when it first started, it was a really positive place, there were no real bad vibes and everyone there was about supporting the artists and their music. Over time though and this isn’t just a Grime Forum problem, this is an online problem … I don’t know what it is about the Internet … but people get a username and just reduce themselves to being dickheads. While a lot of the negative comments people would leave were unnecessary and frustrating, I got involved to try and be a positive influence and always tried to stay true to that.”
“Over time though and this isn’t just a Grime Forum problem, this is an online problem … I don’t know what it is about the Internet … but people get a username and just reduce themselves to being dickheads.”
As well as being a discussion hub, Hij also used the front page of the website to host interviews, mixes and even competitions too. He’s particularly proud of a Grime Forum producer competition that he ran back in 2008, which saw Royal-T and Z-Dot — both now hugely successful producers in their own rights — share the spoils. “I mean I wasn’t involved in what they created but the fact that they were part of the community at the time and the fact that they’ve gone on to do so well does make me feel really proud. There were really positive sides to it. I mean, podcasts are all the rage now but I was doing them 15 years ago with the forum. I love podcasts personally and obviously I support Liverpool, so I pay a fiver a month to listen to one at the moment. It’s run by guys who actually go to the games so it’s a way of feeling connected in some way, especially when I can’t make it to a match. It’s a shame podcasts weren’t as popular when we did ours, but I still enjoyed doing them, we got some okay numbers. Thinking about it, we were probably bigger than most radio stations in terms of reach. Back then, you’d have to tune in at a certain time or miss it, where as the benefit we had was being able to archive the audio we put out so people could listen to it two weeks later or whatever.”
“As a fan, I loved making content happen as well because I’d get it first”, Hij continues, suddenly energised. “It was amazing honestly. One of my favourite things of all time … I’ll have to send it to you … but we had Swindle, Realist and Purple together. It’s an entire set on Swindle’s beats. I’d pay £15 for that now, you might not get anything like that ever again. I mean Swindle’s sound isn’t a cliché grime sound, so you’ve got all these beats going off with Purple and Realist, two people you wouldn’t really think would sound good together, on set and it was just amazing. It’s one of my favourite sets of all time. I think that’s what I love about grime sets as well … depending on who is in the room, who is on deck, you just get a completely different vibe with each one.”
Hij also recalls another set with OG grime crew, Cold Blooded, which he uploaded via Grime Forum too. “Why you’d send it to me to put on Grime Forum now I don’t know, because you might as well just post stuff on your Twitter or your Instagram”, Hij explains, “but back then there wasn’t Twitter, there wasn’t a way to effectively reach a lot of people to promote sets, so we helped with that sometimes. I was good friends with Revolver and I remember one day he just messaged me like, ‘look, we’re doing a set, do you want the audio?’. I remember going down, recording the set and then forgetting to actually do anything with the footage until about five years later, partly because it was before YouTube was really a thing. Back then, I remember Terminator was playing for QPR, so at the end of the set he got into a sports car he’d parked out the front and sped off like it was nothing.”
“One of my favourite sets we did was actually with Ghetts and Devlin, who I didn’t know personally at the time”, he continues. “I was with Dogzilla from OT crew, we’d been going out to a lot of raves together and one day, he just said ‘look mate, I’ll get you in to a studio session’. He had this idea of creating like a new Fuck Radio set, so he brought me down to Lewi White’s studio in Stoke Newington to film it. I know it sounds a bit keen but after the set, there’s Lewi White, Al Blaze, Ghetts, Devlin, Deeperman … there was a big crew of people there. Anyway, they gave me this disc at the end … maybe uploading it was long, I dunno, but they gave me the actual CD of the recording … and I remember heading home on the underground from King’s Cross and just looking at it in my hand and being like ‘fucking hell, this is amazing, people are gonna love this and it’s in my hands’. That was great.”
“..they gave me the actual CD of the recording … and I remember heading home on the underground from King’s Cross and just looking at it in my hand and being like ‘fucking hell, this is amazing, people are gonna love this and it’s in my hands’”
Hij’s work online soon started to bleed into is real life too. His contributions rarely went overlooked by MCs and DJs and raves soon became a life blood for him; they were the places he’d be able to grab five minutes with a favourite MC or meet others from the emergent grime community that had sprung up around the forum. “I felt like I could go to raves … not that this is that important … but I could go out to the smoking area and have a chat with an artist”, says Hij, a little sheepishly. “Not on their level, I was nowhere near as talented as they were, but you’re in the room so to speak. It felt nice just to be involved and to know that whatever contribution I’d made had helped in some way. I was acknowledged.”
“This is a crazy story but I remember my dad was driving us up north and I’m sat in the back of the car”, continues Hij, “and I got a phone call from Wiley. I’d never spoken to him before, had no idea how he’d got my number but it was definitely him on the end of the line, I knew what he sounded like. With no real introduction, he was like ‘I wanna start a grime gameshow, like a quiz show and I want you to run it’. I was like ‘I don’t know the first thing about TV mate, I genuinely appreciate the phone call so much, the fact that you’ve called me … I’d always hoped it’d happen one day … but I don’t think I can help progress this idea much further’. I have no idea what he imagined a grime game show to be like either but he was so on it. He must have been pacing around and just thought, ‘we need a grime game show, let’s get Hij from Grime Forum on it, he’ll know what to do’. It was mad.”
In terms of raves themselves, Hij found himself a regular at some now iconic grime club nights in London back in the mid 00s. “I really enjoyed going to JP’s (Joseph Patterson) ChockABlock raves, which I don’t think were specifically grime … they’d play other styles of music as well … but you’d always get a grime set at the end”, he recalls. “It was really easy to get to as well because EGG (the club where ChockABlock events were held) was only a 10 minute walk from Kings Cross, where I’d pull into coming from St Albans. When it comes to grime raves, I mean I’m keen but I’m not that keen, so I remember the further away from Kings Cross I got, the harder it was to get home. I’d have to get a night bus back to Kings Cross and then get a train but the last train on a Saturday night was always 2am. If you’re out at an event until 3 or 4, that’s it, you were out until the first train at 6am. I remember going to an Eskimo Dance at The O2 once with a guy I met from the forum … his username was ‘Grime Is Open Source’ … and I remember we had to sleep in a bus stop outside The O2, waiting for the first bus to run because for some reason, there were no night buses running that night.”
“I remember going to an Eskimo Dance at The O2 once with a guy I met from the forum … his username was ‘Grime Is Open Source’ … and I remember we had to sleep in a bus stop outside The O2”
“I went to a few Tim & Barry events as well, I used to watch a lot online but I made it down to a couple”, Hij continues, “and it was mad because I remember introducing myself and saying who I was and what I did, and they knew of me … like they knew Grime Forum. Most of the enjoyment I got out of going to events was just meeting people. It was nice to connect with people who were involved in the same stuff and were as passionate as you were.”
In hindsight, Hij concedes that these were golden times, but while the forum may have faded out over the last five years — “it died a slow death” Hij admits — he remains just as passionate about grime music as he always was. “I’ve reverted to being a fan again. I mean, I always was a fan but now it’s nice to be able to still engage with it. Maybe there are some small regrets that I didn’t do more, especially if you look at how well people like Jamal Edwards have done. We had a really good base and I suppose I could have looked at ways of utilising that more but like I say, I was just happy to be involved. I probably reached a glass ceiling with that approach because I wasn’t really thinking about expanding or looking at film and video. I just loved grime music.”
Now preserved as one of grime’s URL artefacts, Grime Forum’s popularity also serves as a reminder that many of the scene’s building blocks were laid by fans themselves; without it, things could look very different today. “It’s what I mean when I say grime is open source”, says Hij, “it’s what attracted me to it in the first place. Even now … I mean now and again artists get plucked and taken away out of sight … but grime websites and channels are still important. There’s clearly a niche because otherwise platforms like SBTV, JDZmedia, Grime Daily or GRM Daily as they’re known now wouldn’t have done so well, even if they don’t just cover grime anymore. Clearly people still want to watch and engage with grime music and grime culture.”
“It’s what I mean when I say grime is open source”, says Hij, “it’s what attracted me to it in the first place. Even now … I mean now and again artists get plucked and taken away out of sight … but grime websites and channels are still important.”
As he looks ahead, Hij continues to draw on his experiences with Grime Forum in his every day life. As he alludes to many times during our conversation, his intentions were always pure; he wanted to help, he wanted to get the most out of being a fan and he wanted to meet people who shared the same passion for the music as he did. It’s an outlook he’s now transferred to his love and support of Liverpool FC, who he now travels the length and breadth of the country and beyond to watch regularly, despite still living 200 miles away in the St Albans area. Interestingly, he found a lot of friends he attends Liverpool matches with through a Liverpool fan forum too.
“Football is a lived experience for me”, Hij explains passionately. “I actually had an argument with a guy who is now a good mate on an online forum … he’s a proper scouser from Liverpool … and I was probably about 17. He used to wind me up for being and out-of-towner, not a proper fan and whatever. In the end, he messaged me like ‘fuck this shit, let’s meet for a beer’ and so I did. I spent the next few years crashing at his after Champions League games and getting the train back home to London just after rush hour in the morning. I was working at Sainsbury’s at the time so it helped me save a lot of money on train fare. Since then, I’ve managed to cultivate a WhatsApp group of Liverpool fans from the area close to me, which I feel is as good as Grime Forum. What happens is, I sort out the tickets for everyone and we all go up to watch matches together.’
“The same can be said for grime”, he continues. “I met so many people through running the forum whether they were artists or just users and fans like me, and that whole period gave me so many lived experiences. That’s always been the priority for me. Going to those grime sets that were handed to me to upload or going to grime raves and chatting to the artists afterwards … just to feel like in a certain segment of time that I was kinda on the pitch and in the game, even only a little bit, was really nice.”
“Going to those grime sets that were handed to me to upload or going to grime raves and chatting to the artists afterwards … just to feel like in a certain segment of time that I was kinda on the pitch and in the game, even only a little bit, was really nice.”
Winding down our conversation after a little over an hour, Hij seems more than content with his lot. His Grime Forum legacy is not only immortalised online, but in radio sets and in the bars of some of his favourite MCs. He speaks warmly of his experiences, his friendships and the communities he helped build. But does he miss it? “I do miss it, I do miss it”, he admits with a glint in his eye. “I think I could probably fulfil what I’m missing by attending shows and raves again, I do think honestly think that’d fill the void. I guess I’ve just realised that I don’t need to be moderating a forum all the time to still love grime music.”
You can still sign-up to Grime Forum and sift through over 52,000 original threads, from 2007 to the present day, here: https://www.grimeforum.com/