Grammy award-winner Flowdan headlines Bongo for Uplands Roast

20 May 2024 -

Flowdan headlines Bongo for Uplands Roast this Thursday night, the first time a Grammy award-winner will have played the club in more than a few years and it’s set to be a road-block.

If you’re not familiar with the former grime MC and founder-member of east London’s legendary Roll Deep crew, this recent interview he did with Ammar Kalia for The Guardian is not a bad place to start at all…

He helped create grime and his baritone growl causes frenzies on the dancefloor. Now that the MC is finally getting his dues, what are his plans? To conquer America – and create more mayhem.

It has been two days since Marc Veira, AKA Flowdan, woke up to a flurry of messages and missed calls congratulating him on becoming the first British MC to win a Grammy. “I wasn’t expecting to win so I wasn’t waiting for the news,” he says by video-call from his east London home. “I still haven’t even celebrated. I guess it means I’m a newcomer in the US, even though I’ve been doing this for 20 years.”

At 43, Veira has spent the past two decades applying his baritone growl to tracks guaranteed to cause a frenzy on British dancefloors. As a founding member of the UK rap collective Roll Deep, Veira played a key role in the birth of grime, alongside fellow members Wiley and Dizzee Rascal, while a long-running collaboration with producer the Bug created classics like the bass-heavy dubstep staple Skeng. Towering over 6ft, his beard peppered with grey hairs and his gold tooth glinting when he delivers his patois-inflected bars, Veira is an experienced marshal of unruly crowds, finally experiencing mainstream recognition.

His best dance/electronic recording Grammy award, for the track Rumble, caps a momentous year. It takes EDM pioneer Skrillex’s knack for gut-churning bass frequencies and UK co-producer Fred Again’s skill with a sample, and adds a skittering drum beat that interweaves with Veira’s high-tempo yet somehow languorous flow. Teased in DJ sets throughout 2022, the menacing track soon became a staple of arena shows, reaching its greatest power when dropped to a crowd of more than 100,000 people at Skrillex and Fred Again’s Coachella headline set in 2023.

Ever since, Veira has noticed a different energy among the crowds he performs to. “In the UK and Europe,” he says, “people know who I am but now they are responding to me with more intensity. It feels as if I’m getting more respect, like I’m the people’s champ.”

It is a response, no doubt, helped by another dancefloor smash Flowdan has had a guiding hand in over the past 12 months: Chase & Status’s Baddadan. Moving away from the crawling dubstep influences of Rumble into thundering drum’n’bass, Baddadan has become an emblem of the genre’s recent revival and reached No 5 in the UK charts. A Boiler Room recording of Veira performing the track in October captures the crowd erupting through four wheel-ups. It has since been viewed more than 6m times. “It was instinctive to put that one down,” Veira says. “Saul [one half of Chase & Status] sent it through and I just followed, since it’s music I’ve known my whole life.”

Indeed, Veira’s entry into MCing came through the 90s birth of drum’n’bass. After discovering a knack for rhyming and storytelling at 13, thanks to a homework assignment to write a poem, Veira began picking up on the style of formative drum’n’bass MCs such as Skibadee and MC Det. He realised that they were giving the sound system culture of his heritage a new form of bass-weight. “Listening to them on the radio awoke something in me,” he says. “They were English and Caribbean like me, so I began to emulate their lyrics. I was too young to go to the raves but I kept hearing how sick they were. It was a world I wanted to be a part of.”

It wasn’t until he met Wiley at college as a 16-year-old that Veira started finding his own voice. By 2001, the pair had formed Roll Deep and planted the seeds of grime. Now he was old enough to go to raves, Veira was the one on stage performing and creating the chaos. “There would be times,” he says with a smile, “when you’d get to a performance and the promoter would say, ‘Try not to get them too rowdy’ – which is not down to us. I remember some clubs had a ban on Pow! (Forward) [a 2004 grime release that Veira features on] because of how mad people would get when the song came on.”

While members of Roll Deep went on to achieve solo success, Veira kept seeking out unusual collaborations that were focused on keeping that sense of dancefloor madness alive. Producer Kevin Martin, AKA the Bug, was drawn to Veira’s vocal tone and their work has produced some of the loudest, most aggressively vibrational music you can hear at a club. “Sound system culture isn’t something I got to experience because of my age,” Veira says, “but when I started working with Kevin, he showed me what it’s like to create a sound so big it moves people. When you are the front guy, it’s a powerful machine to control. I’m proud to command the bass, vibrations and people.”

Their most lauded track is 2008’s Skeng, which emerged from only their third recording session together. “I was just about to leave the studio when Kevin convinced me to stay and work on the track,” Veira says. “I didn’t really want to be there, so I was being a spoiled brat and only using a minimal style, trying to get away with one word a line.” Ironically, that laid-back feel is what gives Skeng its raw, menacing power. “Kevin basically gave me an opportunity to be myself,” he says. “His audience might be from a different world to what I was used to, but we were all trying to channel the same energy.”

Ultimately, it’s this flair for crowd mayhem that has given Veira longevity in a young person’s game. He no longer sees himself as a grime artist, a rapper or a drum’n’bass MC. “I am the ultimate UK vocalist,” he says, with only a hint of mischievousness. Now the US is calling, with tour plans in motion, Veira will be taking his distinctly British brand of vocals global. “The UK scene has always been exciting, whether we’re winning awards or not,” he says. “I’ll keep doing what I’ve always done – and I’m celebrating every time I’m on stage.”

You can still grab a ticket for the event here but don’t sleep, as these will definitely sell out.

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