Madders and Shan Brown
Too Many Man
Too Many Man is known to many as the title of a classic grime tune, and photographer Ellie Ramsden is also cleverly using it in her book about the women on the UK grime scene. Grime has for a couple of decades now been part of London’s musical soul, but what was previously an underground genre, has now hit the mainstream in both the UK and abroad. Even if you’re not familiar with the genre, it is definitely influencing your favourite urban artists (here’s looking at you, Drake) and reaching far beyond its East London home. Although still very male dominated, things are changing on this scene as well, and the strong community between the women who love grime has contributed to the rise of a lot of new talent, as well given new shine to the veterans on the scene. The Doyennes have previously talked to Shakira Walters of Girls of Grime, who has been a true powerhouse when it comes to creating community between the women in grime, from the MCs and the producers to the fans and those who work behind the scenes. This time, we’re continuing the conversation with photographer Ellie Ramsden, who in her book gives us a look into the history of grime as a genre and an updated view on the place of women on the scene - along with honest pictures of MCs, DJs, radio presenters and more in their own neighbourhoods.
It’s a cold spring day when The Doyennes meet Ellie at the Hoxton Hotel in Shoreditch, East London, just a couple of tube stops from the areas the genre originated from. Ellie had a release party for her new book a couple of weeks ago, so as we sit down, I buy a copy and ask how it has been received thus far:
- Really, really positively! I’ve just posted copies to Berlin and Glasgow, it’s exciting that it’s not just people based in London, or even in the UK, that are interested in the project. The book launch went very well too, we had a panel discussion with five MCs talking about their experience in music, their stories, what their hopes are for the future…Then we had a Q&A, live performances and DJs – it was such positive vibes and everyone had a great time! It went so much better than I could ever have imagined.
Too Many Man is rooted in Ellie’s personal interest in grime, and I ask her about how she developed her love for music into a job:
- I started taking photography seriously around the age of 17, just taking photos of friends and in house parties, before I decided to study photography at university. At uni, they always said to us “photograph what you’re really passionate about, what you enjoy,” and that if we didn’t, it would show in our pictures. I sat down to think about that – I loved music, especially hip-hop and the US hip-hop scene, but that felt too far away. I also loved grime, and had been listening to it since I was a child. That felt closer to home, and I was already going to a lot of live music shows, and decided I was going to photograph people on the grime scene and see what happened. I did, and absolutely fell in love with it!
C Cane, MC
- Why did you decide to showcase women as part of the scene?
- Grime has always been very male dominated, it still is, although it’s getting better. Around three years ago, I found myself listening to female grime artists and I thought to myself, “why aren’t there more women on the scene?” What they do is so amazing - they’re just as good as the guys, if not better. So I set out to look for the women on the scene, and the more I looked, the more I found. They were definitely underrepresented in the media, so I thought I would showcase them for the work they’re doing and the talents they have!
Ellie and I start chatting about how both her book and The Doyennes came about from seeing how underrepresented women in different industries were in the media, and how we wanted to do something about it. In addition to her book, Ellie has also published a zine called Time For Change, about sexism in the music industry:
- I do call myself a feminist, although it sadly has many negative connotations as well; I hope that changes. For the Time for Change project, I chose eight girls from eight completely different genres; soul, soca, rap, unaccompanied folk music… I spoke to all of them about being women in music and their hopes and dreams for the future – it was super interesting!
Lady Shocker, MC
Bamz, Producer and DJ
As her book project is a couple of years in the making now, I ask her if she has noticed any changes from she first started?
- Definitely. When I first began working on Too Many Man, there wasn’t much community between the women on the grime scene, they weren’t really working together. But since then, it has completely changed. At my book launch a couple weeks ago, I was working with one of the women in the book, Shakira Walters, who runs Girls of Grime. I think that because of her work – and of course many other factors as well, but a lot of it is definitely because of her - so many of the women on the scene have come together and realized that the more they collaborate, the better it’s going to be. So yeah, amazing things has started to happen!
- How did you get in touch with the women in your book?
- On Instagram actually! The Grime Violinist was the first female artist I photographed; she followed me on Instagram, and I thought “this girl looks sick!” and asked if I could do a shoot with her. It went very well, and I thought I’d just start contacting more and more people that way. I knew some grime artists already, but they were all guys, so Instagram was really helpful in reaching out to people.
Too Many Man features both Shakira Walters, the Grime Violinist and many more, and Ellie and I discuss what role models, including those featured in her book, mean for getting a new generation to follow their passion for music:
- That’s the thing, I think a lot of the women who are coming onto the scene now are doing it because they’ve seen other women do it. Everyone’s being inspired by each other – it’s super, super nice!
And that’s doesn’t just go for MCs and rappers - Too Many Man features all kinds of women involved in the different parts of a music scene:
- The reason I wanted the book to be about more than MCs, and also include DJs, producers, radio presenters, journalists and everyone else who are working to make the music scene into what it is, is that I think that although the MCs get the most shine, the women behind the scenes do just as much work, and therefore it’s important to showcase them and their talents as well.
With such a diverse group of women featured, I ask her if she has a favourite shoot from the book project:
- A couple of the shoots do stand out to me. When I met Roxxxan for example, just because of how open and positive she was. Same with Lady Fury - they were both just super nice and made me feel really comfortable. Also, when I first met Madders and Shan, who are on the front cover: they came out the gate to get me, while music was blasting out of the flats they came from – I mean really blasting, like it was a party. I was thinking that it was strange that they didn’t find it annoying, because it was in the middle of the day, but then we went up to their flat I realized that they were the ones playing it, with all their windows open! They were just enjoying it, and Madders was like “do you want a cup of tea?” So I just sat there with tea, a cat and loud music blasting out around me. It felt weird, but also kind of right.
- Where do you go from here - what are you plans for the future?
- I want to start a new photography project in the next month or so. It’s been sitting in my head for a while, I’ve been waiting to get this book out first. The project is going to be about loneliness in London. It’s something I’ve experienced myself – when I came back to London from uni and started working freelance for a few months, I got very, very lonely, and I think it’s a bit ridiculous how people get lonely in London – there’s so many people here! It’s a bit sad, so I just want to document that mood I think, and at the end of the project, I’d love to bring everyone together, bring a community of people together and just show that it’s okay that we get lonely, that it’s not an uncommon feeling.
Seeing what the work of Ellie, Shakira and many others have done to create newfound unity between women on the grime scene the past few years, I have no doubt that Ellie’s loneliness project can have the same positive influence on a community. But right now, we both have to leave, and I ask her one final question: what grime artists do The Doyennes readers’ have to check out?
- Lioness, definitely, and I think Cassie Rytz and Keedz are ones to watch - they’re doing incredible things already and in a few years, their music is gonna be even greater!