This interview took place online on 14 August 2020 between City’s Head of the Department of Music, Dr Ian Pace, and BMus graduate Alex de Lacey.
Ian Pace: I’d like to welcome Alex de Lacey for the second interview today. Alex graduated from the City BMus in 2014, and from the MA in 2015. He is now a Lecturer in Popular Music at Goldsmiths, University of London. Alex’s research examines Afrodiasporic music practice in the United Kingdom, with a particular focus on grime. He completed his PhD, entitled Level Up: Live Performance and Collective Creativity in Grime Music, under the supervision of Professor Tom Perchard and Professor Keith Negus earlier this year, has published with Global Hip-Hop Studies and has chapters forthcoming in Popular Music History, and Critical Digital Pedagogy. Alex is a journalist, and writes for Complex, Red Bull, and Songlines. He is the DJ for grime crew Over The Edge, with a monthly show on Mode FM.
Alex, welcome! You are very active in musicological fields relating to popular musics today. Does this have any roots in your study at City?
Alex de Lacey: Hi Ian – yes, it definitely does. I spent a lot of time at City studying jazz and popular forms, and my undergraduate dissertation examined grime music, which has since led onto my Masters and PhD research. The grounding in popular practice with Miguel Mera worked well alongside practical application in a variety of ensembles. The UG degree also offered broad horizons, with modules on music from the Middle East, Japan, Korea and China, and this helped me hone in on the ethnographic aspects of my later research.
IP: I’d be really interested to know more about the latter, and the relationship between your current work and study of Asian musics?
AdL: While my research now doesn’t directly overlap in terms of the music itself, a dedicated and considered approach to (what was at the time for me) unfamiliar practice has helped strengthen the way I conduct ethnography.
Nonetheless, there is, though, an interesting relationship between grime music and music from East Asia. Grime artists often employ exoticized compositional tropes that supposedly infer a “Far Eastern” sensibility. This often boils down to pentatonic scales, shakhuachi flutes, and the use of vocal samples from Manga and Karate films (which is quite reductive and problematic in many ways). The subcategory of “Sinogrime”, for example, is often contested regarding this and I wrote briefly about this in my PhD. There is definitely scope for further research here.
IP: What drew you to City in particular when you were looking at places to study?
AdL: I was really in two minds before joining City. I couldn’t decide between it and another institution. But on the open day I had a really warm, frank and enlivening discussion with Professor Steve Stanton. His passion for the course, and for students, was so encouraging, and I feel that was also reflected in the department as a whole when I joined that September.
Outside of that conversation, it was definitely the opportunity to have Guildhall tuition alongside my academic study, and the range of ensembles on offer. I worked with Maria Camahort for a year on classical guitar, and studied musicianship with Laurie Blundell and Barak Schmool. These experiences provided me with a strong ear and skills in musicianship that have proven invaluable in my creative practice.
IP: What might you say to an 18-year old today thinking about studying music in higher education?
AdL: While it’s an uncertain time, I’d still highly recommend studying music. The varying skillsets developed within a music degree, through performing, composing, and musicological work, are vast. This means that you’ll be learning new things every day in a rich and exciting environment, and it’s also very attractive for employers. Music teaches you to work as a team, helps enliven the creative mind, and also encourages critical thinking on a range of issues (be they sociocultural, with respect to music theory, or otherwise).
I was initially studying an UG Degree in Mathematics at Durham, but moved to City to study music after the first year, because I was studying something I felt I should be studying, rather than what I actually wanted to do. It was the best decision I’ve ever made.
IP: Alex, many thanks for your time. Do you have any links to your work, or other things in which you are interested, which you would like to share?
AdL: I have recently published a paper with Global Hip Hop Studies on Australian grime practice. It’s open access, and available here: https://www.ingentaconnect.com/…/0000…/00000001/art00007
My twitter handle is @delaceymusic.