The Guardian DECEMBER 30, 2011 - by Kieran Yates


In early 2011, poets began setting their words to the sound of dubstep and electronica. Almost twelve months on, the signs are that poetronica is here to stay.

It's hardly surprising the year is ending with news that dubstep heavyweight Skream is set for a musical collaboration with poet Jodi Ann Bickley. After all, 2011 was the year when spoken word and electronica joined forces, and will surely be remembered for poets putting down their notebooks and turning to the MPC.

The trend began back in February, with the late, great Gil Scott Heron and Jamie xx's We're New Here. The two forms have since made sweet, electro-infused music together, with poets embracing the jerky and sometimes downright jarring beats of dubstep and electronica.

Drums Between The Bells, Rick Holland's collaboration with Brian Eno, released on Warp Records back in July, was dubbed "poetronica" by critics and bloggers.

One of the most successful collaborations of the year came courtesy of Josh Idehen and electronica outfit LV, whose album Routes received rave reviews, an album of the month in Mixmag, and bookings at both poetry events and club nights. Idehen's lyrics were cut and chopped by LV, a fresh and somewhat backwards approach to production. The result is a fun and fast-paced album that Idehen describes as a "true collaboration": "Spoken word works with electronica. It can be a lot more accessible; there are less of the conventions found in hip-hop."

Poet Raymond Antrobus, part of post-dubstep outfit Speed Camera Shy - who this year cemented UK dubstep's crossover to the US by signing to the independent Californian label Gradient Audio - also thinks a poetic narrative works better with electronica. He argues that dubstep beats are preferred as they don't drown out the poet's voice: "Dubstep beats are something you can own, something that makes your words flow organically as they're not trapped within a 4/4 pattern."

Jodi Ann Bickley describes her Skream collaboration as incorporating a "classic minimal dubstep beat" to aid her narrative. "A beat has to do whatever suits the poet. I aim towards proper storytelling with a beginning, middle and end, so it has to be minimal. Dubstep beats give me a blank canvas; they aren't too overpowering and can be calm if I need them to be. Dubstep can create a sense of place just like poetry can."

So is poetronica here to stay? Musa Okwonga, of the spoken word and electronic project The King's Will, is an ardent supporter of the term and is keen to look forward. "It's been an amazing year in terms of productivity and quality," he says. "There's definitely been a tipping point, and I'm really excited for the year ahead."