GRIME: Edmonton By Ear podcast

Axe FM took off with teens due to its availability on the internet, streaming grime in video and audio as early as 2003

GRIME: Edmonton By Ear podcast
I'm very pleased to present the pilot episode of my brand new podcast. It's been in the works since January. Join us to launch the podcast at Fore Street Library on Friday 3rd November! Info here.

It's probably the British underground musical genre that has achieved the most mainstream recognition over the years. Grime - it was made originally in bedrooms, swapped on cassette tapes, nodded to at raves, and cultivated at pirate radio stations. In Edmonton, North London, one radio station named Axe FM took off with teens due to its availability on the internet, streaming grime in video and audio as early as 2003 and eventually going off-air in the 2010s.

Key individuals involved with Axe FM shaped grime as well as genres like garage and UK Funky. The first episode of my new podcast, Edmonton By Ear, explores my home neighbourhood's impact on grime, and in turn, Britain's musical culture, in the 2000s.

This episode was made possible by funding from the Lottery Heritage Fund administered by Enfield Council.

You can listen on Spotify:

Or I'm also on Apple Podcasts at this link if that's more your vibe.

Some themes the show explores:

  • Why grime is important to understanding local culture in North London
  • How radio is a compassionate social project
  • How North Londoners were innovating with the internet in the 2000s (and why the history of the internet is Black history)
  • How these technical innovations expanded young people's sense of community across distances

Interviewees include Lisa Tomeo, Steve Smith, Rebecca Elliott, N:Fostell (DJ Naughty), Rhymestein, and Adem Holness.


Intro and End Music: Mind Games, Jill, Eternal - Lemzly Dale (, Kill Sound - Manga Saint Hilare (

Art by Camrhon Mitchell @camrhonmitchell


I would really advise that you listen to the podcast rather than read this since there are likely a few typos and I spent a lot of time picking the podcast music but nevertheless here's what we say in the script:

Rhymestein clip: "I think the video aspect and the interaction aspect, people could like, Interact with the artists similar to Pirate Radio, but you could see the people, it's like watching them, it was like watching a grime DVD in in live time sometimes."

Steve Smith clip: "when he is looking around and he is seeing all these young guys on the street and they don't have any mentors, they don't have any coaches, they don't have any training, they don't have anybody, but they actually still trying to do it. He was like, we have to support them as an older."

How do you remember the music of your youth? Who were your support figures and who were your creative mentors? What mediums did you use to share musical discoveries with your friends and loved ones, what formats enabled you or your friends around you to create your own art?

I’m Jade Chao, a local historian and journalist from Edmonton, North London. I love my neighbourhood, I love music, and I'm on a quest to share the cultural heritage of the area. This podcast tells the story of Axe FM.

An internet radio station in Edmonton's Bounces Road, it was groundbreaking for its innovations to radio and the online world, by being the first internet radio station to play grime music, and amongst the first to stream video before Youtube and Twitch. It gained a following amongst young people and musicians in 2004-2006. Run almost single-handedly by Paul Stewart aka Pablo aka Pabz, it nurtured local creativity through grime music - which was a musical genre, but more than that, it represented youth culture in London.

This podcast is funded by the the national lottery heritage fund. This funding has been administered by Enfield Council.

Clip: Prez T, links all over the globe flow

That was Prez T, doing a set with Bloodline Crew, at Axe FM in December 2006.

Grime music is a genre of music that came from London. It's a form of electronic music which developed from UK garage. It's defined loosely by its instrumentals at a tempo of 140 beats per minute and its MCs who deliver vocals over the top of these. While grime beats and grime MCs have been integral to one another's existence and development, the two can exist independently of one another, as seen in singers and US rappers who perform over a grime beat, or a grime artist who performs over pop or another genre. Grime is framed by and creatively founded in its instrumentals and infinitely opened up in its interpretation by MCs.

I’m recording this in 2023, and I’m 27. When Axe FM was in Edmonton I was in primary school. I didn't know about it at the time. I do remember grime had a hold on people particularly my schoolmates creating their own versions of Lethal Bizzle's ‘Pow’ in English class. When I got older I didn’t go to secondary near where I lived but witnessed artists like Boy Better Know blowing up who came from near my area but it wasn't something I interacted with beyond the odd Youtube video, Tempz Next Hype.

Later I engaged in the more popular consumption of grime, though more in the club-based side. I listened to old productions, I streamed Just Jam, I went to a few grime raves in Dalston. I got into electronic music and saw how intertwined grime was with other dance genres. Today we're going to very near the start. Grime has a pretty wide spectrum and I think a lover of any genre can benefit from looking at its history.

I wasn't gunna add this bit into the podcast but I saw this tweet by the grime producer Elijah the other day. He was saying people should tell their stories about a music genre in their own way and not repeat known narratives: our favourite music has hit us all at different points and we need to celebrate the differences more in that. Basically the reason I love grime is because in my immigrant London experience I haven't had a lot of culture come directly from my family and I'm trying to course correct it. Not only am I someone whose parents have uprooted themselves from China to the UK, but their parents before them got uprooted internally within China, meaning that I don't have much to hang onto in the way of a local Chinese culture. I always felt annoyed I couldn't cuss someone out in a Chinese dialect, for example, because my parents didn't know one. There's something very gratifying about people who see the subversive potential of words and the art in that. Grime and London music has been shaped by Carribeans who intricately know what it is to transform culture when you've been moving from place to place. I can't equate a Chinese migrant's experience to a Caribbean's but I do wonder what kind of productive thoughts can be had when you come together as diaspora.

I've been working in museums and archives in my career and learning how to preserve mainstream versions of history. This confrontation with mainsteam history has made me think that the versions of history with the most life and power are working class histories. And people have been fighting for them on my doorstep.

Above all I want to say if you want to talk about local history then you need to talk about grime. I'm also trying to talk about the internet today. For me it's always been a place of great possibility, and a place where people can share their art with enthusiastic peers. People of colour, specifically Black people, have been essential to the shaping of online culture and I wanna add a piece to that timeline. The story of Axe FM shows you the history of technology is Black history and working class history.

I spoke to various people involved in the project to find out what happened. From the radio's tech consultants to its young mentees, they explained to me how caring friendship and semi-familial ties were the most important part of a creative process. Let's go!

Clip: Scorcher, jermaine and ross flow

Ask a grime artist what influenced their craft most and they’ll say pirate radio. Axe FM was memorable for its clashes, which are one on one competitions where MCs slag each other off to try and be crowned winner by listeners. But all radio sets were a chance for rhymers to use their wordplay and flow to impress.

The clip you just heard is from a Youtube video of Axe. There's a pixellated image there and it shows a small booth with grey walls. The back of the four bopping heads are Scorcher, whose verse you heard first, Skepta, who had the second verse, Scope, who was on decks who was a resident Axe DJ.

Grime MCs used wordplay to build up an inflated self-image and assert themselves. This was a big part of the craft, like how when you play sports, you present the most competitive side of yourself because it makes for a better game. And with all games, humour and not taking yourself too seriously was a big part of it. It showed in the cameraderie people had on air. For some it was their lyrics.

I love Terminator who is from Edmonton. His bars would be about destruction and theft, physically incapacitating guys in imaginative ways, kissing their mums.

Here's a clip from him at Axe.

Clip: Terminator, make you take annual leave flow

So good.

I wanted to hear the story of the station. So I've mentioned Pabs. I started reaching out to DJs at the station and family members that I mostly found through social media. They started fleshing out the story of the station.

Essentially Pabs got the idea after bouncing ideas off two younger people in his life: one was his foster brother, and another one a young rapper who called himself Rhymestein. This is around 2004, Pabs is in his mid 20s and Rhymes is in his late teens.

Pabz met Rhymestein at Rhymes' home studio in Enfield. Rhymestein had various difficulties with his family life. Pabz and became alternate family to him. That first time, Rhymes showed Pabs his music and they immediately clicked.

"I remember when he was leaving he was like Yo, I know how Dr Dre felt when he found Eminem. Yeah that gassed me up."

Rhymestein is from Tottenham originally. His father was a musician and organised a sound system. Rhymes wrote lyrics from the age of 7.

"So like, music was just always around me from a young age, but I never really had no inter interest in it. I wanted to be like, wanted to be the black bill gates, but the hood said no."

The two of them decided to set up a grime station that you could tune in to online, where you could watch a video broadcast of the sets.

"Axe kinda. Came up in the broadband era and internet radio stations prior to that was was in the dial up where the audio was kind of bad and barely streamable. Video was even worse.

"A lot of the times un streamable. It wouldn't be worth trying to stream video on your dial ops.

"So like, we came at a good time where BroadB brand was pretty new. Everybody was getting their, they was getting their little tele west internet boxes at the time. And um, yeah, people had like faster speed connections and then we asked, it was like, it was almost like, um, I think the video aspect and the interaction aspect, people could like, Interact with the artists similar to Pirate Radio, but you could see the people, it's like watching them, it was like watching a grime DVD in live time sometimes.

"So I feel like all those elements, especially to like grand audience was kind of young. Like it was, it was like kids and people got into adulthood. So it was like, yeah, this, it was lit. It was like, it was cool. It was very, and it was kind of new. "

Rhymes was really into coding and had a vision for the technical execution of the station. He and Pabs had been discussing it for a while and he tells me what he said that time he convinced Pabs to finally start the project.

"I know you don't wanna do no radio until your thing's set up in your garden. We don't have decks and stuff. But let me just, I need to build this website. So then built the website, re renamed it, called it ax FM. At the time I was in like a little, I was in like a crew that was m ade up of a couple little crews and all of us had X in the name of our crew. So then the crew that we formed was called Affiliation X. So X originally stood for affiliation, affiliation X entertainment. So much people don't know this, you know how much. Well that was the real, the real birth acts friggin hell."

Then they had to launch it.

"Then we used to go everywhere, go into all the popular chat rooms, spam the link, get kicked out. Oh my god. Yeah, it was crazy back then."

You can see a version of the site on the internet archive now. It’s black and red with bullet holes, slashes and graffiti font. It takes you back to another era, when the internet was a less polished, more personal place.

Rhymes is kind of what you think of when you describe someone as gifted. The music he made during the Axe era went on to influence many. This included the late SBtv founder Jamal Edwards, whose spitter pseudonym was Younger Rhymestein. Not only was Rhymes skilled at writing, he also had a hobby of programming and got kicked out of school for hacking the computers. He says he wishes he had done computer science, but faced barriers.

A lot of the enthusiasm for Axe's online aesthetic came from him, but others were involved in putting it together as well.

" it was technical. It was like knowing how to configure the player, configure the streaming server, you know, how to, um, do load balancing between two servers to make sure that you can cope with if there's demand or that kind of stuff."
This is Steve Smith, who joined the project as a tech consultant, originally on a commission for £200. I say that fee just to give you an idea of the scale of what we're talking here. Steve became good friends with Pabz. He developed the Flash player for the video stream.

"it was like pirate station, but being done on the level of what any big station could have done at that point in time"

Axe was the first internet grime station. It was also a highly ambitious project. If you think of doing video stream in 2004, that is way before Twitch and just on the cusp of Youtube hitting the mainstream. I would think something like that would take a team of developers or lots of investment to test and run if you made it from scratch. If you like grime, you would be right to be surprised if you haven't heard about it before. And why haven't you?

Obviously, underground projects like radio aren't something that get a lot of attention in general. They don't make much money, they're a lot of blood, sweat, tears, and pure passion to run, and artists go off to bigger and better places when they get big: places that are not radio.

Another theory I'd give is because there are so many numerous and diffuse ways that the authorities and the market suppresses radical cultural products of black people, some of which are less explicitly about music, and some directly written into law, like Form 696, which led to the cancellation of grime events. The form got scrapped in 2017. But other things are taking its place, like licencing and planning laws. Do you see more smaller scale, experimental, events for people of colour now compared to before? I don't.

I want to explain a bit now about how Axe used technology to play with geography a bit. Grime gets really specific about places, which is something I really like about it. It's so important to have an art form that establishes a connection to the place you live.

There's so many reasons it's important. For example with gentrification, developers and other powers that be are constantly vying for ownership over places. And with the hostile environment, anyone who doesn't have an official documentation to live in the country has a difficult time living in safety. And with policing, the Met wants to be able to control the movements of people they see as criminals, to make them watch their steps, hurry them out of public spaces, to imprison them. If you can speak back to that, if you can say these are my ends, I think that's so important.

Radio offered spaces for local artists to develop themselves. I posted on Reddit asking about how people shared grime in the early 2000s. Manga St Hilare said it was radio for him, and highlighted how there were pockets in each locality where grime was really popular and the artists felt the radio stations belonged to them. He is a grime artist from the crew Roll Deep. He had this to say to me (and I'm reading here):

Everyone had their own pirate stations and tapes would circulate locally. [...] Grime was more than a genre it was literally youth culture at one point. So you couldn't really escape it [...] I'm from North West London so we had Freeze FM, West London had Laylow FM, East had Rinse and Deja Vu and South had Ontop FM.

So that's FM. These days, internet radio is quite successful. Fans of electronic music or people who want to expand their music horizons will tune in to NTS, which has stations in several cities internationally. New small stations pop up all the time. Off the top of my head in London I could think of Threads, Voices, Foundation FM as new internet stations. In the 2000s, internet stations catered to niche audiences. Major stations did not focus on setting up internet streams because mainstream audiences used FM radio and DAB. So if you were on internet you probably had a really small dedicated audeince.

With internet, you can change all that because you can connect to your broadband and go anywhere in the world. Axe realised that using the internet meant it could cast its net widely to its young audience from the outset in 2004. Its technological novelty, its sense of grassroots, meant it attracted a large and dispersed listenership of teens and young adults. At its height of listeners, Axe had 2,000 people tuning in at one time, which was essentially the same as going viral. At the same time, the music, audience and content was absolutely local.

Adem Holness is from Edmonton originally. He works as a music curator and he’s currently the Contemporary Programme director at the Southbank, and he told me how he experienced this.

"when I was a teenager, my parents got divorced and I moved out of London for a few years. I went to secondary school in Hertfordshire with my mom when she moved to and. I, when that happened, I felt very disconnected from, the music and the culture that I, that had felt like such a big part of my life. And so I spent a lot of my time trying to connect to it as best as I could. Like I had, I had like, On my bedroom window foil around the window frame, connected to my radio player so that I could still pick up Choice FM from Hartford Chair. And it just about worked. so for me, like logging into online radio and I listening to music that felt like it was by my peers, by my, like, could have been by my friends where I was from. Was really important to me. It felt like a way to connect to who I am, who I was at the time. just remember that like, I remember that energy, like I remember the energy of it. It felt like at the time, like, what's the uncharted water? Like, we like air, just figuring it out and just. You know, grime, it didn't feel like anything had ha like it had come, nothing had come before like that. And, and it felt like it was ours."

I think it's amazing the idea all these young people could be tuned in to something and it resonate deeply in these different places.

On broadcast radio, listeners would phone or text in with their comments or ring to request rewinds of a song that they enjoyed. On Axe, listeners shared their thoughts via the online chatroom as well as MSN messenger.

Rebecca was regularly involved with the station. She moderated the chatrooms and hosted shows until the age of 17. Her musical alias was Hunni G. She started listening to Axe when she was 13.

"And for me, like Peterborough, was quite a challenging place to me growing up, and I felt that although I had to travel 2 and a half hours to Edmonton. I felt that that was my safe space, and I thoroughly enjoyed being there, and perhaps with such an amazing teacher, such an amazing someone that you know could really guide you, and and actually taught me a lot about life as well as outside of Peterborough, and things that could be going on during your life there, that there are other opportunities out there. You just have to find them. And the passion that I had that radio station, obviously kind of i'd say, reflected in the 2 h of travel every day.

"I genuinely think I just stumbled on upon it on. It might have been on Facebook. I'm not too sure. But as soon as I found that website I was.Rebecca: I was actually on it every day if I couldn't make it down. There were. There were a lot of things that perhaps would post on Youtube as well. He'd always be on the cancorder recording things, and I think I might have just some would upon it on there, really."

Accessing the internet was different in that time.

"I'd watch it in the evening mostly. But unless I was there then, obviously, i'd be there from the whole day pretty much. The laptop I have was no way of a lie was probably about. I don't know, 3 inches thick. and it was a toshiba my brother was given me when I was at 11, so you can imagine how old that laptop was, and how have you know the laptop was? And when it didn't work for me, and I couldn't. This is, it was just kind of a bit of a nightmare. But yeah, just some old school laptop just sitting down in my dining table.

"To be honest, my mom couldn't really get a word out of me, because i'm literally got my headphones in, and i'm glued to to access them to the chat room or Msn. When it used to be our Msn. Messenger. yeah it was.

"It was just something that, although whatever I had going on in the background. That was my kind of escape. And I I yeah, I loved it. I loved it so. Yeah."

Axe provided specific support to people locally but provided an open environment to anyone experiencing youth oppression. I think this is true for grime in a wider sense and you can see this in the way that the genre found a mainstream audience in the 2010s across the UK, as well as internationally, when artists began popping up at music festivals as headliners.

There's one thing I haven't mentioned til now. Pabz died in 2016 of cancer, in his forties. It's why I don't have an interview with him. He has a widow, Lisa, and two daughters. Lisa runs a hair salon in Old Street and it’s here she tells me about how the two of them met, at a car garage off Lordship Lane in Tottenham. And listen to this story, cos I love it.

"Actually, somebody hit my car or I hit somebody. My bumper fell off, so I had the bumper in the boots. I just drove into a garage in to. You know where Shire plane is? There used to be a garage there and I went in and he was working there. He was working like for free, just when he came out anyway, so it was in an apprenticeship basically.

"I drove into the garage to get my bumper fixed to ask how much it was, and he was there working there, kept staring at me. So, um, he came up to me, he says, oh, I couldn't do it for you privately if you want. He was trying to gimme his number, but his boss saw, he said, don't let him give you a number cause he's gonna get a sack.

"So anyway, I took his numbers secretly and, um, me, I was just thinking about getting my bumper fixed. What I thought was, you know, or cheap. So anyway, we just, that's how we car. And then we, he did fix my bumper in the end, and that's the, that's the story we car. Oh yeah. So , that was, it finished with friends for like three months before we started anything, and that's it."

Lisa and tech consultant Steve Smith were old school friends from Tottenham by pure coincidence. I wanted to talk to them to get an insight into the type of person Pabs was and his goal with the station. Lisa said Pabz' main ambition with Axe was a social one.

"He was dealing with lots of people and promoting them

"He just wanted really and truly it was to get the children off the streets. Yes. To do something like DJ mc, you know? Yeah. The music business, because the kids used to love it. Mm-hmm. , so get him to stop like, you know, robbing or stealing. Yeah. Yeah. That's what, that was his goal. And it worked. "

The impact of the death reached widely, with artists like Big Narstie, Logan Sama, Spooky Bizzle paying tribute in messages online as well as performing at a remembrance event. Skepta tweeted “R.I.P Axe FM Pabz. Took the mandem off the streets and made them see the bigger picture, respect.”

"A lot of the amount of lives that he turned around is quite. So many, you know, it's literally crazy whether this, um, so-and-so who was at risk of getting stabbed up or shot, whether it's, you know, people at risking their own homes with their parents, abuse and stuff like that. He would intervene and he wasn't scared of nothing."

"I remember when he first saw me."

This is DJ Naughty talking about Pabs, also known as Nathan, or under his present day stagename N Fostel. He was amongst the first producers to make another genre of music that defined the 2000s — UK Funky. This was a genre popular throughout the mid to late 2000s that had a resurgence in the late 2010s, which has influenced artists like Drake.

Naughty is from Tottenham and went to school at St Ignatius College in Enfield. He played at Axe when he was teenager. He started off playing mostly garage, but took on a taste for dance tracks with an afro influence and more syncopated beats in 2004, around the age of 18. For a couple of years, alongside peers like Apple, NG, and Geeneus, Naughty DJed and made music that had a slightly different sound, and it didn't have a name until others began to describe it as Funky House and UK Funky around 2008.

Now, he predominately produces house and he’s signed to the actor and musician Idris Elba’s music label. He was telling me about the time he first met Pabs.

"Nate: He was very polite. It was cool. You haven't seen me play yet, as soon as I touch the deck. I think I was like 2-3 tunes in. He had an event a week after, so he was in Scotland, nightclub in Kings Cross, with a promoter called [...] and the event it's called exposure. So that's a really popular garage event at that time, for years actually, even previously. For that it has made its name, so that to play on that line up was a big deal for someone who was pretty unknown."

Nathan says he's grateful for how much belief Pabz had in him. For a set at Scala Pabs put Naughty on the lineup straight after Tuff Nuff from Tuff Jam.

"Pablo, he knew how to identify a talent but also capitalize on it as well. Nate: So when he saw what I was doing, he was like, yeah, I want to for you in the deepen. You're gonna pay prime time after this veteran. One thing about Pablo. Yeah. Faith in the art is he? He is a good visionary. He could identify When an art is is just really. or if they're not just how they they have a future as well. So he identified the likes of Scorcher, um, black, the rip Black, the Ripper Wretch three two as well. and you know he was that person who would mention your name in a room where it needs to be had. So like he. You made sure those people got her"

Rebecca AKA Hunni G agrees.

"Paul would, sorry, PABs or Paul, um, he would see talent and, um, appreciate the talent as well. It's something that you know. Sometimes you don't know if you have it in you as much as you have, someone kind of actually says, look
Rebecca: like. Do you not think. Do you know, I mean sometimes you need someone to just be like wow, that you're really good like You've got talent, you know, and he was such a reassuring support person that
Rebecca: if if it came out of his mouth, and he, you know. He would make sure that if someone has talent, people will know about it. Um, just, you know, like he was so passionate about, about people that had passion, you know?"

"he was just, he was just the best."

That's Rhymestein again.

"I'm quite gassed on myself and I like to think I'm quite special and like he was as well. He was like, he was like an older, upgraded special. So I was, he was just the best mentor, the best. Everything. The best big bro."

Okay. You've heard a wide variety of testimonies here. There are so many people that this one project touched, and many more uninterviewed, a number of whom have sadly passed on. In the orbit of Axe you can find so many people who improved their craft because they were challenged by communities: from DJs who needed to build their audience to spitters who improved themselves for their peers by clashing.

But I don't want you to forget the dynamics. Musical movements have always been borne from imbalances of power in culture. Not able to participate in the mainstream music business Black music has been borne from the ingenuity of creators who persisted in the margins. Music writer Lloyd Bradley calls it a “savvy outlaw mentality”. The story of grime is merely the most successful trajectory of a story that's been going on in London for many eras. Grime on the internet, its dances and radio are an inheritance of sound system culture for example.

Hopefully I've shown you that history of music in London is inseparably intertwined with black history. The story of Axe FM is talks about entrepreneurialism, community care, and connection through the digital world. This project in this North London suburb allowed creativity to blossom for a short and beautiful time. If I can leave the listeners with a prompt, it would be to ask you to remember and think about your community, what relationships are most important to you, and what innovation you need to champion through questioning the dynamics shaping London's musical landscape.