Drifting Down Rye Lane: FYI Chris, and Why Locality Still Matters
What happens when the spotlight of popular culture moves on from a location or scene? The district of Peckham in South London is finding out. Starting in the mid- to late-2000s, the twin prongs of regeneration and gentrification started transforming the area into what Shoreditch in the East End had been a decade previously. Starting with art students, illegal ravers and a couple of makeshift bars, Peckham rapidly changed character and became one of the UK capital’s clubbing destinations—aided by a second wave of cool as it became known as a nexus for the resurgent London jazz scene too.
Nowadays, you won’t see many breathless scene profiles or “South is the New East!” headlines. But what remains is a real flesh-and-blood community, with real bricks-and-mortar infrastructure. And that community is embodied in a new album of electronic grooves, Earth Scum by the duo FYI Chris, which will be released next week. Chris Watson and Chris Coupe were both founding staff of the basement record store-cum-bar-cum-club venue Rye Wax, right on Peckham’s main strip, Rye Lane. Earth Scum does connect to other communities—to like-minded musical collectives in Berlin, and to both of their roots in the North of England. Most of all, from its track titles on down, the album represents precisely where they come from.
“Green Paraquet” (an archaic spelling of parakeet) refers to the tropical birds who have taken residence in Peckham’s Rye Park; “Morley’s Preference” is a nod to the Morley’s chain of fried chicken shops which can only be found in South London, one of which is two minutes’ walk from Rye Wax. The sense of community in the album’s collaborations is palpable: for example, Simeon Jones, who co-produced two tracks, “used to live with an ex of mine, and another friend in Peckham,” says Watson. “[Chris] Coupe and I would both see him a lot in the record shop, usually when he was after buying garage records.” Likewise, DJ Morris, who appears on the Kraftwerk-gone-grimey song “Outie”, was a flatmate of Watson’s, a bar manager at Rye Wax, and now runs a local Taco outlet.
Other vital friends and collaborators include the rapper Pinty, who worked at a pub three blocks away from Rye Wax. The Balamii radio station and former YAM record shop (still a record label), both strong supporters of FYI Chris, are in an arcade a few doors down. Prominent producer Medlar shared a flat with Coupe and a university course with Watson. Watson and Coupe run the West Friends label with Tom Unlikely, a former Rye Wax staffer. Other “past and paused” staff like producer JAY and Whip+Lash label founder Claire Voyant, and Rye Wax DJ residents like India Jordan and Al Wootton of the New Atlantis “new age social” are cited by Watson as key influences. The Rhythm Section International label which nurtured FYI Chris is founded and run by star DJ Bradley Zero who still lives just off Rye Lane. And on it goes.
Many of these figures have serious musical careers—as film composers, curators, or like FYI Chris or Bradley Zero, DJs on the international circuit. But there is something about Peckham and the wider South London scene that keeps things intimate and un-starry. The fact that FYI Chris’s album namechecks Morley’s, and how Watson describes “munchies and other studio snacks” as part of its makeup says it all. This is a scene in the truest, most old-school sense: people who stumble across each other, who eat the same snacks and walk the same pavements. And the sound of South London reflects that, as you can hear from our epic playlist of FYI Chris’s friends, collaborators and Rye Wax customers.
The music of these producers takes liberally from UK garage, old rave, acid house and many other dance genres past, as well as grime, hip hop and the London jazz scene: there’s no set tempo or rhythm here. But as you’ll hear, what unites it, and makes it distinctive, is a warmth, haziness and quirky wit that constantly reminds you that, as much as it’s club music, this is just as much the sound of house parties, conversations over the shop counter and impromptu studio jams. It’s the absolute antidote to impersonal and over-ambitious EDM. Peckham may not be the hippest place on Earth these days, it may have its continuing stresses from both gentrification and deprivation. But the people who found each other there through music are clinging on, keeping unorthodox spaces vital, and—as Earth Scum and many hundreds of other strange, wonderful records document—making something very much their own.
Cover Image: Brynley Davies
Writer | Joe Muggs
Joe Muggs is a writer, DJ and curator of many years standing, covering both mainstream and underground. His book 'Bass, Mids, Tops', covering decades of UK bass music, is out now via Strange Attractor / MIT Press, and you can subscribe to his newsletter at tinyletter.com/joemuggs