Nostalgic photos of black British music scenes through the ages
A club night run by jungle label Metalheadz. All photos: Eddie Otchere
In the endless lyrics of Birdman, when you talk about Eddie Ochere you better put some respect on his name. The Brixton-born photographer has a catalog that spans the dawn of jungle music scene which was grown in 90s Britain and is embellished with portraits of some of hip hop’s most iconic MCs. He’s the man behind the lenses who captured the likes of the Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, Jay Z and Biggie Smalls. On British soil, he photographed pioneers like So Solid Crew, Tricky and Goldie.
He talks about his work and culture with passion and determination, unwavering in his vision to capture life’s sweetest moments as they are. “I knew why I was here. I knew I had to document my life, my scene, my people. And that’s it. Nobody else was going to do it for me,” he said. “Behind everything I do there is negativity, but I’m only trying to show you the opposite.”
For Black History Month, he worked alongside Holly Marie Catopassing on his know-how to novice photographers during an analog street and darkroom photography workshop in Leica Gallery London. He spoke to VICE about a career spent documenting the history of black music.
VICE: You were very active in the days of jungle music, but what about the genres that followed in black British music?
Eddie Ochere: I need to shout out to the grime kids because they’ve grown up now, they’re real men now. They do the right thing, and respect that. I really like what they do and I like the way they do it. I’m a junglist kid so the grime kids always felt like the younger ones coming to our raves but they were even younger. When they found their own thing, it was like garage grime. Their sound evolved into their own thing, they created their own subculture. So when I saw D Double E and this group going crazy in a hotel i was in, respect for these kids man, they fucking hold it back. I was there to document the jungle scene but I wasn’t there to document the grime scene. I had then started having children, I was just busy. So that was the only time I was raving about these grime kids who are much older now – these photos were taken this year.
Can you tell us about some of the work you’ve done with Such a strong crew?
It was like a turn of the century. I was there for So Solid, I was there for the Battersea crowd and I was there to create their first iconography. And yes again, I’m proud of them. Proud of these guys, proud of what they’ve done, proud of how they’ve crossed the mainstream in their own way.
I remember very well that they had a number one with “21 Seconds” and they invited me to top pops come join them. And when I walked into the BBC, all I could smell was weed, and I was so proud of them because they were smoking the fucking place. It was a first, certainly for this generation. It was good to feel that the Battersea boys were doing well.
What is the difference between photographing rappers versus DJs or producers?
Rappers are quite interesting because they come as ready-made, explosive creatures that are ready to jump on you. They have nothing but pure energy. But when I photographed junglist producers, they just didn’t want to be seen. As Shy FX is literally Shy FX – he is shy. He’s important but he just didn’t want to be seen so it’s very difficult. drum and bass the producers never wanted to do anything because they were really withdrawn people, which is great, actually, for me. It just meant that I had to approach it very differently. I also knew I had to document who they were because they are pioneers and leaders in the field.
Goldie was very supportive of me allowing me to come and shoot in his clubs and that meant I could meet them in the clubs, in context, so when we hooked up to do shoots it wasn’t like we we were strangers. It meant I had to put them at ease because they never wanted the limelight like a rapper wants the limelight.
How important is Notting Hill Carnival to British culture and the work you do?
It made us [photographers] what we are. Come on, it’s not been a year since we went to the Carnival. It’s not been a year since we’ve gone there to take a picture. Even if it’s about you and your mother.
No city on Earth has two million delirious people on its streets and nothing is wrong. This year’s carnival was lit up, that’s undeniable. That’s what we’re here for. Like we brought this to you, you racist assholes. And we only did this because you were racist assholes. Because you came and tried to screw up our community. So we came back and fucked you and said you know what, we weren’t going to respond to your racism with violence. We will respond to your racism with love. And we go build something better than you. And that’s the carnival. It’s a group of not just Caribbeans, but also Africans – everyone coming together to make Notting Hill work.
PA systems are an integral part of the carnival. What importance do you think they had for black British culture?
What’s good about black history and the future is that we’ve brought PA systems to this country. Sound systems then created jungle, club culture, bass culture, drum and bass, dubstep, hip hop. You can’t have hip hop without a PA system, so I really wanted to highlight PA systems as the best in Black history and the best in Black’s future. Because our history is oral. Our history is not written. Our history is spoken and we discuss. Public address systems are an extension of our history and therefore an extension of our future.