Strangelove is a psychedelic rap unit hailing from London, comprised of Josh Grey Jung, Jack Miguel and Dan Harrison. The trio of musicians grew up together in North London, later deciding to join arms and make alternative hip-hop under their band name. They debuted their outwardly abstract and underground music back in 2013 with their EP ‘Purple’, marking their style as adventurous, experimental and unapologetic. A few years later, EP1 was released and was a massive success for the group. EP2, which came out earlier this year, was said to incorporate more soundscape and ambient influences than their previous work. Wavey Garms sat down with the underground, experimental jazz hip-hop trio to talk about the digital era’s impact on music, taking drugs and lyrical personal growth. Only MC Chango and MC Jakaboski were about at the time: “our brother Dan a.k.a MC Freedom is currently in Taiwan busy learning the mystical art of Qigong.”
Jack and Josh are presently working on their musical and non-musical projects in the big city. But before they had half a decade of experience under their belt, they started out “freestyling at the back of the sports hall and making awful beats on a Casio keyboard.” Their interest in music was integrated, manifesting amongst their love for graffiti art and skateboarding. “The music wasn’t something we took particularly seriously but we respected the art form of rap a lot. The school we went to bred a lot of north London MCs,” Josh explains, “underground alliance… Ms Dynamite…”
At this point Jack dives into an anecdote from the past. “I have early memories of sitting with the girls at the back of class sharing an earphone and singing along to Ms Dynamite’s first album. I can’t describe the feeling of listening to an album by someone who went to your school.” Acland Burghley school in Camden bred a lot of talent back in those days. Akala, English rapper and poet as well as Ms Dynamite’s sibling, also went to Strangelove’s school. “Our school was a special place”, Jack recollected, “actually, I’d like to take this opportunity to shout out all the amazing artists that came through my school and 6th form who are currently doing incredible things, people like Polly Nor, Jack Tyson Charles, Juno Calypso, Chelou, Buster Grey Jung, Corin Kennington, Theo and Harry Christelis, Catching Flies, DJ Moody with Reggae Roast, Elmore Judd, the list goes on.”
Fast forward into the present and the current UK hip-hop scene is vastly different from what the boys knew back then. With the number of emerging styles in hip-hop, as well as underground genres of music, the group has been able to indulge in their experimental and eccentric tastes. Josh spoke about the benefits of this age of technology that we’re living in, explaining that “the younger generation, growing up with platforms like YouTube, Bandcamp and Soundcloud, have been exposed to a much larger pool of underground music compared to generations before where this was more localised.” The bar has been set a lot higher due to the amount of competition in the music industry, and “the result is that the quality of music has risen exponentially.” This does mar the scene in other ways though, bringing about “a lot of cheap imitations” and making the concept of a ‘good idea’ a “rare commodity.” “I feel like boundaries have broken down and there’s some serious cross-pollination going on that’s exciting to see and hear,’ Jack elaborated, “some of the younger people coming through are so creative. They’ve been exposed to so much good shit.”
Strangelove has cultivated a distinctive sound and many of their fans find their music easily recognisable among the masses of hip-hop music out on the market. “I owe a lot of who I am to hip-hop,” said Jack, “I am obsessed with language and I care about being able to articulate myself well. I think I have hip-hop to thank for all of that.” We probed the guys a bit more on their take on contemporary hip-hop, and why they think it’s so universally accepted that two linfords from London can do it just as well as anyone from New York. Jack and Josh both agreed that the internet plays a massive role in this; “everything’s available a finger click away, and that’s a mad thing. It’s cool but also a head trip,” said Josh, “you can be sitting in your bedroom and be tapping into the latest hip-hop from anywhere in the world, draw influence from it and have your own platform to broadcast back out to everyone else. The lines have blurred, there aren’t any rules anymore.” Jack thinks that the internet has helped make hip-hop more accessible for artists: it’s “helped in terms of a wider acceptance of who can ‘do’ hip-hop but also I see it as part of a natural progression. Hip-hop is a relatively young genre in comparison to other big genres and it’s through the work of people like Tricky, Rodney P and Roots Manuva that opened the doors for other British rappers to be accepted as legitimate.”
When asked what artists were formative to the groups education, and who is breaking and evolving the meaning of being ‘hip-hop’, the guys listed artists like Beth Gibbons, Leonard Cohen, Velvet Underground, David Burne, MF Doom, Andre 3000, Slum Village, Outkast, Task Force, Massive Attack, Kendrick, Ted Hughes, and Deniz Smith. “I feel like my artistic education is constant, it never stops. Right now I am astonished at how rich the London musical landscape is. Every week I go see something that fucks me up (in a good way).”
The MCs rhymes are very symmetrical, especially in their earlier work. Their approach to writing has been chaotic over the years: “it’s not always the healthiest” Josh pointed out. He sometimes spends “too long beating [himself] up over a verse”, having existential crisis jams and scraping the barrel for ideas. Both are them are trying to make their writing more spontaneous. “I used to think the most important aspect of rap was having the best rhymes, whereas these days I’m more concerned with how and why I say things,” said Josh. Jack reflects on his “nuts” relationship with writing, explaining that he doesn’t have a set way of doing anything. “Writing feels very instinctive now but it’s definitely something I need to give time and energy to, otherwise it just doesn’t happen. You have to protect your creativity aggressively in this town otherwise.”
The process of making music has taught the group a lot about collaboration, being open to the idea of others or following your own instinct, and being determined and finishing a project or realising that “stuff isn’t working and that it’s time to destroy your baby in search of something greater.” Jack adds to this, saying “creativity and art have been the one constant in my life since I was 13. After a while, I thought why am I fighting this so much? This is the one thing that has stayed with me, maybe it’s time I committed to it.” The MC explained that the moment he had this conversation with himself was the moment his life improved massively. Although pointing out that being in London is incredibly difficult because you’re relentlessly poor and paranoid about when the next job’s coming, he claimed that he “wouldn’t trade it for shit. It’s torturous a lot of the time but the further I got the more I realise I really couldn’t be doing anything else.”
And with regards to these hardships and potholes throughout their career, their lyrical content has also changed enormously. For Josh, personal growth has made him more confident talking about personal issues in his music: “I recognise the impact and power that music can have, and the importance of artists that use that power for positive social change.” And for Jack, the further he delves into his musical pursuits, the more weight and importance he gives art and music: “I believe in the power of art and music in a serious, serious way. For me, it’s the highest form of human expression.” His lyrical content has grown as he’s grown, and is a reflection of where he’s at and is a response to what’s around him.
Strangelove’s music has often been described as ‘psychedelic’. Josh laughs at this when we mention it to them. “I guess ours is a bit?” Josh laughs, “but no-ones gonna be having out of body experiences, we aren’t playing shamanic drums at 220bpm… yet.” Jack adds that “I like our music being described like that, I just hope no acid freaks pick it up and then feel lied to…”
Either way, there is a sense that Strangelove’s music is related and references to drugs. The guys let us in on their relationship with it, both agreeing that their memory has really gone downhill due to them taking drugs. “We smoked way, way too much skunk as teenagers, right when our brains were in development… who knows what the damage is really,’ said Jack. In terms of sound and their music, Jack thinks that “drugs have affected the way I listen to the world and how I interpret sounds. My view on drugs in relation to my art is that they have probably hindered my creativity.”
When it’s Josh’s turn to pitch in he laughs and asks “what was the rest of the question?”. For him, psychedelics have played a positive part on his life and relationship with music, opening him up to more spiritual understandings of the world. “I know that certain drugs have made me more open as a person and helped me know my sub-conscious better”, while others “have had damaging effects.”
The duo collaborated on an art installation ‘The Turning of The Leaves’ when they were commissioned by the Union Chapel in Islington to make work in response to WW1 and contemporary masculinity. “It was an amazing project,” said Jack, “I interviewed loads of men, went to men’s groups, checked out some archives etc.” Jack ended up creating a large-scale audiovisual installation in collaboration with Josh, who produced “a beautiful, mind-blowing score”, and video wizard Taz Tron Delix (who also did the video for Lonely Souls). “Being part of the men’s groups was an eye-opener”, said Josh, “I feel that experience brought us closer together as friends and has definitely had a positive effect on our working relationship.” Inspired by the work of Carl Jung and Ted Hughes, the finished piece dealt with issues of masculinity and intergenerational trauma, and was “an important piece of work”, both for the cause and for the band. The MCs agreed that the project has informed a lot of the newer music that they’re writing. We can’t wait to see what’s in store for this underground hip-hop trio.