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Slim Set talks the influence of grime and high school rap battles

8 February 2018 | 5:54 pm | Holly O'Neill

We talk to Slim Set about the Australian music underground, the duo's musical influences and what's next for the project.

Schoolyard pals turned club-meets-gutter-rap duo SLIM SET are slowly but surely redefining Australian hip hop. In a scene that seems set in its ways, wordsmith DEV and producer ATRO draw their influences from both UK grime and the scrappy local rap scenes to carve out their unique sound.

Across their two EP's and a few stunning singles, the duo covers day to day millennial life in the outer city against metallic sound design and dense production. The boys rep their city as with pride, and have played many a night around Sydney as well as gracing the stages of BAD FESTIVAL and SECRET GARDEN and landed supports for big names like AJ TRACEY and FATHER.

They've just released their second EP Feed, a collection of tracks that range from infectiously energetic to atmospheric and introspective. The two's history together shows, with Dev's bitey verses acting as a perfect foil for Atro's slick production. Their new music videos have also caught our eye, as they pair their twisted new sound with cinematic visuals as hyper and unique as the duo themselves.

Between their recording sessions we got the chance to talk to Slim Set about the Australian music underground, the duo's musical influences and high school rap battles.

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When I’ve seen you guys perform live, you seem to be completely in sync with each other, how did you two find each other and then find Slim Set as a project?

Atro: Well we met in high school and became close because we were both traveling from the west to school, so we hung out heaps on the train.

Dev: I think after knowing each other for years, the trust and familiarity we have just shows on stage. We’re comfortable with each other, we can kinda talk without speaking up there which is really good.

How did you two get into production and rapping respectively?

Atro: Dev rapped before I started producing actually. When did you start again?

Dev: It started out as a joke in high school, I feel like a lot of people do that in Australia. It only got serious when Atro came to me like, “I’m going to make a beat and you could actually be good.”

Atro: And I started like four years ago now, it was just coz Dev kept battling people at parties and I thought, “Oh he’s actually pretty good,” so I tried to make him a beat. It was shit but we just kept trying.

So you won all the battles Dev?

Dev: I feel like I did.

Atro: That’s questionable.

Your new EP, Feed, is way more high energy than your first release, what made you want to change direction?

Atro: I feel like Teething, our first release, was really high energy too; maybe we just got a bit better so now it sounds more intense. We’ve always wanted to be high energy but now we know how to make it feel that way. In a way the change was kinda conscious, when we released Teething we hadn’t been playing out in clubs for as long. You learn a lot from playing a track and seeing how people react to it. For this EP, it was more wanting to try to make tracks that would actually knock when we play them out.

I mean you succeeded there, but the track ‘Gatorade’ on the EP feels a bit more atmospheric and measured compared to everything else on the release. What was the story behind that track?

Dev: I had actually written that for something else.

Atro: With a producer named Gutz.

Dev: He’s a good friend of mine. I wrote something straight away, sometimes with a song it just comes out. I was doing something that day and I went to Atro showed him the acapella and was like, “Make me something fucking GRAND!”

What’s the creative process usually like? Do you guys usually start with the verses then the instrumental, or the other way round?

Dev: Just everywhere, any way, all around. Sometimes I’ll write something and Atro will remix that or I’ll write specifically to the beat and record on top. But often it’ll be I record and then he tweaks on top of that with me.

You guys have two videos out now, and they’re both so, so good. How did you link up with your director?

Atro: We were super lucky actually he just emailed us, and basically just said I want to make a vid for you guys. He hadn’t even done a full music video before.

Dev: Yeah he showed us his reel and we were like, “Wow it looks clean as fuck!” And we just got on so well, it wouldn’t have been able to be something so good if we didn’t get on and have similar views, ideas, workflow, aesthetics. Big shout out to Sejon Im.

Where do a lot of your ideas for the music videos come from?

Atro & Dev: It was definitely a collaborative process with Siejon. A lot of was like Siej trying to help us realise our vision or brief. So the upside down scene in ‘Lazy’, or the bin and haircuts in ‘Cooked’ were our ideas and he helped us make it happen as well as adding his own touch. The pigeon scene in ‘Cooked’ was his idea. So yeah it was super collaborative, we just kinda explained the vibe to him. Then we'd storyboard it together, shoot it, he'd come with a first draft and then we sat down all together and started a monster editing sesh.

Do you have any big ideas for future videos? I did love that visual of Dev falling out of the bin in the ‘Cooked’ vid.

Dev: We got some yeah, but I don’t want to spoil it. They’re not as much one take jokes like the bin thing, more like weird scenarios and day in the life stuff for us.

What were your biggest influences while making this EP?

Atro: I listen to a lot of grime, obviously. But I listen to heaps of weirder more experimental club stuff like Arca, Sinjin Hawke and other high def producers like that. Murlo too, I love Murlo. I listen to a lot of trap, heaps of Migos, Young Thug. And new wavey rap like Ratking or Brockhampton and all that kind of stuff too.

Dev: I think MCing wise, I was listening to a lot more Aussie stuff actually which was why I was a bit more bored with the accent. But yeah, I listen to kids like Mez, YGG; a lot of the top younger MCs in grime right now are so exciting.

A lot of your visuals and references in your songs are from a clear western Sydney point of view, you do love to shout out your local suburbs. What do you think of the whole West vs the rest mentality?

Dev: It’s funny seeing people like try to frame it as that, and I guess I do as well. I talk a lot of shit [laughs].

Atro: You definitely talk a lot of shit.

Dev: But yeah I think it’s fine. It's just mine and a lot of people's reaction to growing up and constantly hearing from a lot of media, people talking, whatever, that you’re associated with bad shit coz of where you’re from. I’m lucky that I have a family that really emphasised education, so I can think differently about it and understand it but for so many young people, when you get stuck in that mentality it’s hard to get out of. You’re literally just told you’re a bad person. I think that’s why I really try to shred that idea and rep it more in the music.

It is very odd that Sydney is seen a lot of the time as Inner City and “everything else”

Dev: Yeah people just don’t acknowledge it, they talk about the Sydney scene or the music scene but they don’t go past fucking Burwood you know. When the majority of the population is actually on the city limits.

There is a kind of inherent classism between inner and outer Sydney, and that’s kinda how grime as a scene started out in the UK; as part of the underground, made by kids in the blocks and then slowly trickling into the mainstream. Do you feel there’s a change like that coming in Sydney as well?

Dev: That comparison is tough because like Parramatta isn’t South London you know. There are definitely areas in South Western Sydney that are rough though.

Atro: Sure, we’re from the west but we’re not comparing our experience at all to the way grime started in the UK.

Dev: Yeah and grime came from a culture of specific immigrants in the UK working on these kind of dancehall sets, MCing over that and developing the scene in their communities - which obviously we haven’t had access too, and we aren’t a part of so it does feel like a separate thing.

Do you guys like the comparisons to the UK Grime scene?

Dev: Actually we’re way more conscious of it these days.

Atro: It’s undeniably a major influence, it’s not like we’re ever going to not sound kinda grimey. I wouldn’t want to fully label ourselves as an Australian grime act.

Dev: Yeah I don’t think we are really, it just gives people like something to reference when they’re listening. Obviously it’s not straight aussie hip hop, and obviously it’s not trap so grime is the closest reference point. We’re just making our own stuff influenced by this kind of culture.

Yeah, like the grime scene is not even Australian to begin with so it’s not even ours to take as Aussies if you get what I mean.

Dev: But there are a lot of Australian grime artists, there’s a grime scene actually that is very different. Like just a bunch of dudes going in on these classic UK beats which is sick as well but they’re JUST doing grime, you know what I mean.

Atro: We’re super into it but [it's] just not what we want to do, we want to put our own twist on it.

You guys are outliers when it comes to your grime inspired sound. How do you feel about the current landscape of Aussie rap and hip hop?

Dev: I actually really love the Australian hip hop scene. I often get put down as talking shit, which I do, but I really do like it! Love the gutter rap movement and guys like Nter, Gravy Baby, Usta, TKO and all that new wave gutter stuff coming up as well. But for our kind of music, I just felt like there was no space in it. The scene on the whole didn’t really welcome variation or anything new. Everything was set in stone the way it is. With us and people we’re around like Kimchi Princi, Triple One and Miss Blanks, it’s like we’re trying to push it and stretch it a bit.

So what’s the future looking like for Slim Set? More releases? More videos hopefully?

Atro: This year we’re just trying to be faster, coz we churn things out pretty slow. We’re sitting on heaps of new tracks too.

Dev: We’ve just gotta be harder on ourselves to finish stuff, but yeah we got a lot of visual and sonic content lined up. We want to plan more shows as well, heaps of good stuff coming. Also we’re plotting something massive on the 29th of March so keep it clear.