Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Charly Humphreys (Charly Jeane)
Turning up at Mama Roux’s on yet another wet, rainy evening ahead of Episode 1, the >THEM. (more-than-them) collective’s first event, it’s clear the raw nature of >THEM. live sets isn’t an act, they’re all extremely close, joking at each other and for some reason shouting children’s drinks brands loudly into my mic.
“Fruit Shoot, what you saying?” calls Yonko Leck.
“Nah Bruv!? CaPRI Sun, CaPRI SUN!” yells Ishy.
“Man said CaPRI Sun,” laughs Leck.
Someone breaks a Magnum bottle, and I’m creased over as I realise Leck and Ishy are calling for sponsorship while other members run about looking for paper towels.
The >THEM. collective’s energy is infectious, while their individual beats and flows are also infectious, this interview is about who the >THEM. collective are and what they stand for – an alternative RnB, hip hop, and grime group who performed at the Birmingham 2022 Commonwealth Games less than a year after their inception.
All round musician Leck and founding member of >THEM. sets the record straight, explaining that each member is an individual artist in their own right, so all 12 (I’m sitting with the founding four) have got their own followings and projects.
>THEM. is a community whose members are driven to make lasting, positive change in the Birmingham music scene using collaboration and quality as their foundations.
“I wanted to make something that was culture shifting,” states Leck.
He goes on to explain that whilst being new to Brum, Leck had met DJ Ishy at a party and Louis D. Prince and Lord Andrew through mutual friends. In December 2021, the group made it official, laying down their signature track ‘Pull Up’ in a studio together.
Louis D. Prince says: “It’s a shared drive and ambition, everyone’s dedicated to making more of themselves than we currently have in our surroundings.
“Being aware that we’re capable of so much more, but the infrastructure isn’t what it needs to be in our areas. Knowing that the fan culture is there, but there isn’t the medium to channel that through.
“We’re all in the same place, we all believe in our own talent, we all believe in our own growth and potential, and we’ve just got to work.”
Reflecting on his own experiences being supported by the >THEM. community, Ishy says, “If one person has something going on all of us will be there to support.
“For myself as a DJ, which is a solitary job, anytime I say I’ve got a set these guys are always in the crowd, whether it’s to hype me, whether it’s to capture footage, whether it’s to bring awareness to it.
“So everything I do is essentially powered by >THEM..”
With Episode 1 being their first event, Lord Andrew explains that it’s a chance for all of the >THEM. creatives to collaborate and combine their skill sets.
“We wanted to have live music at the heart of it, but we also wanted to bring other elements to the event, so we don’t just have a space that’s catered to people who’ve come to dance.
“Having more of a community space – it’s a chance for everyone to express their ideas and put them in a melting pot, so what we’ve got is very personal.”
Leck makes a final comment that leads us on nicely to what I was hoping to talk about next:
“All the event places are doing great but it’s like, bring something that’s fresh, bring something that’s new. ”
It’s clear that while >THEM., especially Leck not coming from Birmingham, deeply appreciates the love and support of the city because it’s got them where they are today, they also have lots to say about what’s gone wrong and how things need to change if the music scene wants to grow sustainably.
“In certain pockets of the community,” says Prince, “there’s definitely a strong communal feeling of ‘we want to see everyone break through’, and a lot of talent.
“Certain things like the Neighbourhd events which give people a space to do what they want to do and develop while they do it.
“The biggest thing for me is just how much potential there is in Birmingham that’s just waiting to bubble over, but for me I’ve got a lot more criticisms of the Birmingham scene than I do praise.”
Lord Andrew offers up an insightful observation: “There’s this thing where London gets put on a pedestal, but there’s so many different kinds of creatives in Birmingham.
“If we all banded together, what’s the point in thinking I’m going to make my name in Birmingham and then move straight to London. We’re the second biggest city in the UK, and Manchester has more infrastructure than we do.
“It’s crazy to me; there’s little pockets of community but I feel like if all of these communities banded together, and we put the infrastructure in place, then there’s no way people wouldn’t listen to Birmingham.”
Prince comes back in, bringing up a point that gets everyone’s heads nodding: “I think the biggest thing with the Birmingham scene that is creating difficulties is how poorly it was run for so long. And I won’t go into details, but who it was run by.
“The scene was driven into the ground to a point where no one wanted to be involved or associated with it.
“It’s now struggling to rebuild itself because people are in an imaginary competition with each other.”
“Let’s work in a way to elevate and improve and get better together,” begins Ishy, then someone pokes their head round the door for a third time. It’s clear our time is up and the night very much needs its artists back.
“I feel like with more collectives like >THEM. bringing creatives into a space to work we’ll be able to change the scene a little bit,” Ishy finishes.
For me, >THEM. have a clear, collaborative vision of the music scene. And they’re taking accountability by aiming to be the start of some new creative infrastructure.
That being said, Episode 1 will show if it’s just chat or if the >THEM. collective can stand on its own and, in the words of Yonko Leck, “bring something fresh” to Birmingham.
For more from >THEM. collective go to: www.morethandem.com/party
For more from Yonko Leck go to: www.open.spotify.com/artist/
For more from Louis D. Prince go to: www.open.spotify.com/artist/
For more from Lord Andrew go to: www.instagram.com/lordandrew_/
For more from Ishy go to: www.instagram.com/bigfootishy/
For more from Mama Roux’s go to: www.mamarouxs.co.uk/