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Exploring Grime Stories through east London heritage with Roony 'RiskyRoadz’ Keefe

Roony standing with grey jacket in front of brick wall
  • Written byJ Tilley
  • Published date 29 November 2022
Roony standing with grey jacket in front of brick wall
(c) Museum of London. 'Grime Stories' 2021. Photography by John Chase.
"The diversity and culture in east London and its rich and vibrant history means there are no limits to what can be achieved."

— Roony 'Riskyroadz' Keefe

In September 2023, LCF will be moving to a new home in Stratford, east London. We will be joined by our new neighbours on East Bank; BBC, Sadlers Wells, UCL, and V&A and together we will encompass an exciting, new, creative, and cultural neighbourhood for east London. East Bank will be a unique place of fashion, technology, culture and innovation with endless collaboration opportunities. In preparation for our move, we're delving deep into the roots of east London, finding out more about its rich legacy that lives on today through various mediums such as fashion, music, food, manufacturing and more.

Who best to give us an insight into the rich history of east London music and culture than Roony Keefe, aka RiskyRoadz. DJ, videographer and curator, east London's very own Roony Keefe has recently co-curated a display, Grime Stories: from the corner to the mainstream at Museum of London. The exhibition is open to the public until 04 December 2022 but if you can't make it, Roony tells us about the foundations of Grime and how integral fashion is to the culture and urban generation within east London.

Welcome! Tell us a little about yourself and your incredible career story...

I'm Roony Keefe, better known now as 'RiskyRoadz', and I'm essentially one of the original camera persons of Grime. I started a DVD series called 'RiskyRoadz' with Sparkie, a friend of mine, after my Nan (Grime Gran) bought me my first camera. I have since gone on to direct award winning music videos such as Skepta’s 'Man' plus many more. I've built up my production company which has had huge success with my series 'Grime Gran' but also 'RiskyRoadz 0121, a Royal Television Society nominated documentary, as well as feature in Rolling Stone’s top 10 essential British music documentaries and NME’s top 50 music documentaries of all time. I’m now onto curating museum exhibitions, so it's been a crazy journey!  As well as all of this, I'm also a dad, taxi driver and writer.

So, tell us about the art of Grime. Where did it begin and how will people recognise it today?

Grime started in the early 2000s and essentially evolved from Garage music. It was a voice for the unheard and a chance for us (east Londoner's) to be a part of something to better ourselves. It started off with being identified as a 140bpm (beats per minute), but now it's way more than that. It's a way of life. It's culture. It's the UK. It's recognised in everything today, from music to the way we dress, to the vocabulary we use and the way we carry ourselves.

Tell us what people can expect from ‘Grime Stories’ and how exactly it explores the relationship between sound and place?

Grime Stories gives you a look into the roots of east London and the aesthetics, but also a look into gentrification and its impacts plus how new generations have had to adapt. We take a look at iconic places, people and heritage. It's a little portal into the essence.

Outside of sound, how does Grime represent itself visually?

Outside of music, Grime lives in culture. It's how you carry yourself. It's the 'not taking no for an answer' and doing what you believe in. It's wearing what you want to wear and what represents you and who you are, it's humble roots with no ceiling. It's chasing a dream and making it happen to better yourself, as well as being a voice for those who aren’t always heard.

It's not giving a f*** and believing in yourself, even if deep down you feel like you haven’t got the best of everything. That's the Grime mentality. Visually this comes across in the original aesthetic of Grime, which was low-fi and raw through filming like I produced in the beginning. We made use of what we had and that branched into photography and now we have generations of artists and fashion designers that have grown up with the sound. These mentalities have transferred into these mediums too, be that through inspiration of the times or purely the creativity bred from the era and the path it has paved. There's a little bit of Grime in everything nowadays, if people like to admit it or not.

Music and fashion are intrinsically linked. How integral is fashion to the Grime culture and urban generation within east London?

Fashion has always been important, be it designer labels that you like to 'show off' when you were younger, or the subcultures and groups with specific items that identified them. In Grime, the Adidas trackies, the New Era hats, or the Nike Air Max trainers culturally helped mould the attitudes and the culture that Grime has become today. It was almost like the uniform back then. An extra expression of self and the art created.

An industrial looking workspace for recording music
(c) Museum of London. 'Grime Stories' 2021. Photography by John Chase.
Our students are inspired by the stories of London and Londoners. What are some of your favourite untold stories from within east London?

Thats a hard one! There are so many but the story of my nan, Margie Keefe (aka Grime Gran), always fascinates me. She was born in 1938 with 07 brothers and sisters. She was born in an era where there wasn't even a TV in the home, alongside a world war, to now being an influencer on Instagram with over 100k followers. She has friends like Giggs, Ghetts, Ashley Walters, Big Narstie, Skepta, Mo the comedian, Kate Beckinsale and Jools Holland, to name a few.

Her story is one with way more twists and turns than I could even put into words here. I mean, one of her brothers also freed prisoners of war from Auschwitz and her uncle was at the infamous Kray's wedding. My nan and her family's story leaves me amazed at every new tale; and without her and my mum's support I wouldn’t be doing this interview today. A few of your favourite artists of today may have even given up before now but she always had words of encouragement for them to continue on as she still does me to this day.

Where do you think the opportunities are to collaborate with London College of Fashion when we move to our new home in Stratford, east London in 2023?

The opportunities are endless. There is inspiration and ideas at every avenue. The diversity and culture in east London and its rich and vibrant history means there are no limits to what can be achieved, be it through generic routes and shows in the physical form now, or modern and digital mediums such as non-fungible tokens and Metaverse creations. The pairing of music, fashion and art will forever live on and now is the perfect time to push even more boundaries. I would love to continue supporting LCF in any way I can, to help create more greatness for when you finally make the move to join us in east London.