A Place of Ill Purpose
A Very Dark Valentine

The Sounds of Northwest London

Text by Danny Vazquez
Playlist by Guy Gunaratne

Header inourmad

I was on an uptown-bound bus in Manhattan when I first heard Skepta’s 2016 Mercury Prize-winning album Konnichiwa. It’s an apt soundtrack for a bus ride through the city, an ode to urban life. I kind of understood the slang, I fully understood the attitude, and I was very much into that one song with A$AP Nast. Reading Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City for the first time gave me a similar feeling—the Northwest London housing estates felt, in those pages, like the housing projects in western Queens that I’d grown up in.

I immediately sank into the lives of Selvon, Ardan, Yusef, Caroline, and Nelson, and into the rhythms of their dialects, which evoked both the rap music I was reared on and the Caribbean patois of the many West Indian immigrants who claim New York City as their home. New York City is my home. It’s also a hard place in which to carve a space for yourself. And it’s why these characters’ struggles resonated with me so deeply: they’re all trying to make a place for themselves on the fringes of a bustling city.

I’ve never been to London, but I’ve listened to a lot of grime. And from what I’ve gathered, the sound of London is a lot like the sound of New York City—mostly din, a cacophony of lives lived too closely . . . and drums. I know that noise. And I know grime music. Mostly because one of my cousins played me Dizzee Rascal’s “Fix Up, Look Sharp” when it hit the U.S. in 2003 and I’ve been hooked ever since. But, also, because the city that birthed the genre just seems so damn familiar.

Yet, one of the plot threads in In Our Mad and Furious City sees the young grime devotee, Ardan, expressing a love for the music of his hometown specifically because of how distinct it is from the American hip-hop his peers so often seem to favor. In fact, while hip-hop and grime share a lot in common, adherents of the UK sound will argue that it’s a wholly distinct musical genre, with its own roots and influences, including reggae, bashment, dancehall, garage, and drum and bass—a unique cultural heritage that has come to represent an oft-unnoticed sector of London’s crowded landscape.

Iomafc quote Ardan's lament

All that to say that when I first read In Our Mad and Furious City, I had the voices of these five distinct characters playing over a soundtrack. My soundtrack was mostly composed of tracks off of Konnichiwa, but also songs from the likes of Kano, Novelist, Giggs, and Stormzy. When I asked Guy to compile a playlist to accompany the novel, I was hardly surprised that it very closely matched my own personal soundtrack for the book. But, of course, Guy took it a step further, including records from Thom Yorke, King Krule, Young Fathers, the Swet Shop Boys, and Billy Bragg’s rendition of “Blake’s Jerusalem,” which, in his words, is “probably the most English song ever. The unofficial national anthem . . . blared by many an English nationalist in the face of British multi-culture, and at England football matches.” This man knows his city; he knows its sounds. And in In Our Mad and Furious City, as in the accompanying playlist, he renders those sounds vividly.

So, here it is: Guy Gunaratne’s official playlist to his Man Booker-nominated debut In Our Mad and Furious City—the first proper grime novel:


1. “DIP,” Young Fathers

2. “Wings,” Little Simz

3. “Nov Wait Stop Wait,” Novelist

4. “Aaja,” Swet Shop Boys, Ali Sethi

5. “Easy Easy,” King Krule

6. “Follow the Leader,” George the Poet, Maverick Sabre, Jorja Smith

7. “Quitters Raga,” Gold Panda

8. “Money Spree,” 67

9. “Let it Out,” Roll Deep

10. “This is England,” Kano

11. “Bad Place for a Good Time,” Kate Tempest

12. “Sour Times, Riz MC

13. “When I’m ‘Ere,” Roll Deep

14. “It Ain’t Safe,” Skepta, Young Lord

15. “Man Don’t Care,” Jme, Giggs

16. “Roll Wid Us,” Akala

17. “Weak Become Heroes,” The Streets

18. “Black Swan,” Thom Yorke

19. “Man,” Skepta

20. “Romance,” Young Fathers

21. “Endz,” Kano

22. “Waps,” 67

23. “Pussyole (Old Skool),” Dizzee Rascal

24. “Ain’t Nothing Changed,” Loyle Carner

25. “Strings of Light,” Yussef Kamaal

26. “Shakespeare,” Akala

27. “Blue Train Lines,” Mount Kimble, King Krule

28. “Shut Up,” Stormzy

29. “The Falling,” Roots Manuka

30. “Turn the Page,” The Streets

31. “Bring Them All / Holy Grime,” Wiley, Devlin

32. “Homelands,” Nitin Sawhney

33. “1 Sec,” Novelist, Mumdance

34. “Creeping,” Obongjayar

35. “How We Livin’,” Kano

36. “Stronger Than Ever,” Raleigh Ritchie

37. “Distant Memory,” Silent Poets

38. “Question Time,” Dave

39. “Soon Come Soon,” Young Fathers

40. “Blake’s Jerusalem,” Billy Bragg

In Our Mad and Furious City book cover

In Our Mad and Furious City

MCD × FSGO, 2018

Long-listed for the 2018 Man Booker Prize
Short-listed for the 2018 Gordon Burn Prize

Short-listed for the 2018 Goldsmiths Prize

Inspired by the real-life murder of a British army soldier by religious fanatics, Guy Gunaratne’s In Our Mad and Furious City is a snapshot of the diverse, frenzied edges of modern-day London. A crackling debut from a vital new voice, it pulses with the frantic energy of the city’s homegrown grime music and is animated by the youthful rage of a dispossessed,...

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