- A forthright and reflective debut album that veers between grime and spoken word, inspired by the community spirit of South East London.
- The Southeast London Borough of Lewisham endured two violent incidents in the late '70s and early '80s: the Battle of Lewisham—a fight between the National Front and ALCARAF (All Lewisham Campaign Against Racism and Fascism)—and the New Cross Massacre, where 13 people were killed in a house fire widely believed to be a racially-motivated attack. Producer and vocalist Coby Sey, born and raised in Lewisham, told The Quietus how he was proud of the grit and unity that his borough has shown in the face of such hardships. On his debut album, Conduit, Sey explores how community—both past and present—can help us to find clarity and connection.
Although he's loath to define his work, Sey is OK with "post-grime" as a label since his music replaces grime's braggadocio bars and heady beats with experimental electronics and free-flowing verses. It's an insular, drizzly depiction of city life, specifically London, a place where opinions often simmer behind closed doors. "We curve biases behind curtains / Actions to me are more certain," he says through the crunch of "Mist Through The Bits," toying with the texture of the hard Cs.
"Post-grime" also fits Sey's character as an outlier. Rather than being in the limelight, passing the mic around the circle, he was doing work in the background for artists like Klein. It wasn't until 2016 and 2017 that Sey officially started his own musical community, CURL, with close friends Mica Levi and Brother May. More than just an excuse to brand their friendship group, CURL is all about using music to connect with others. Steph Kretowicz, for example, spoke on a podcast about how she was invited to play bass guitar in one of their sets, despite having never touched the instrument before in her life.
That freedom gives Conduit its clear destination, where his Transport for Lewisham EP was circular in contrast. The line "Living for the now / but I gotta put work in" on "Vestry" goes round and round, beside scaling keys that sound both jaunty and rushed, as if the song were chasing its tail. Conduit begins in that same confused state, with Sey's vocals at the end of spoken word opener "Etym" stuck in a loop and buried beneath a melee of mechanical distortion. By the time the album reaches the free jazz-leaning denouement, "Response"—a ten-minute track done in one take—Sey's voice has surfaced, loud, clear and growing ever more ardent with each cry of "get active."
Started back in 2018, Conduit is not explicitly about the pandemic, but if you contrast the history of Lewisham's fighting spirit with how easily society submitted to the demands of a "faceless body whose lacks of trust is ageless"—as Sey puts it on the trip-hoppy "Permeated Secrets"—you can see how it would be hard for someone like him to keep stush. The downtempo "Onus," made in 2021, situates the music in the lockdowns by juggling "been outside" and "been inside" ahead of the catchy refrain, "We need to support each other I notice / To make it through tough times it is our onus."
Although it might sound like he's sometimes spelling out common sense, it never comes across patronising or forced. Instead, it brings to mind the charm of other spoken word artists like Joshua Idehen, who make it feel like they're chatting to you over a pint down the pub.
And that's essentially what Conduit is: a conversation. It's an open gesture, a "here's what I think, now what do you think?" The pandemic was a confusing time, but there have been lots of confusing times throughout history. Sey suggests that the best way to deal is to listen and learn from one another. In being forthright and free of high-falutin language, Sey sets an example of how to approach this. With Conduit, he actually goes a step further, inviting us, the listeners, in, so we can all work through it together.
02. Mist Through the Bits
03. Permeated Secrets
04. Dial Sqaure (Confront)
05. Night Ride
08. Eve (Anwummerɛ)