In news that is set to delight ten-thumbed phone-droppers everywhere, Nokia announced that they’re going to modernise and re-release their legendary 3310 phone later this year.
For those not in the know, the 3310 became world-famous in the early 2000s because of its robust construction, ridiculous battery life and (at the time) cutting-edge features such as programmable ringtones, screensavers, switchable fascias, a calculator and - of course - a little game called Snake.
There’s no denying that the 3310 was an iconic piece of design - so much so in fact that the Finnish government adopted a cartoon 3310 as its national emoji and named it The Unbreakable - but its influence actually stretched much further than just telecommunications. The Nokia 3310 would go on to hold a very special place in the heart of the UK grime scene and is, to this day, probably one of its most beloved artefacts.
Grime lyrics have always referenced phones, video games and other technology, and when the grime scene was forming in the early 2000s, the Nokia 3310 was still in its pomp so it’s no surprise to hear Nokias being referenced in a number of early grime tunes. The most famous of these is probably Dizzee’s classic 'Stop Dat' bar, “he’s got a Nokia, take that, what?”, but there are a few other notable fans too.
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Skepta warned rival MCs against calling his 3310 with skeng talk on both 'I Spy' and his 'Spaceship' freestyle with JME, he also praised the length of Nokia charger wires in his track, er, 'Nokia Charger Wire'. In fact, Skepta is such a big fan that he got a 3310 for his birthday in 2012. He’s always one step ahead...
More recently, Wiley asserted his old school credentials on his 'Step 8' freestyle with the lyric “I'm wordy, ringtone was Hurdy Gurdy, 3310 from early”, a reference to one of the handset’s most famous preset ringtones. Even last year, up and coming MC GHSTLY XXVII dropped a tune named after Nokia’s most famous design, with the Mistakay-produced 3310 acting as an anthem for some of the mobile phone’s more nefarious uses. There’s even a rave in Holland named after the 3310, which brings grime MCs and DJs from the UK to Amsterdam.
But don’t get it twisted, the 3310’s place in the grime scene goes far beyond a few cheeky references here and there and actually occupies a fair amount of cultural importance. The affordable price of the handset, plus the ability to create your own ringtones saw a generation of kids with no access to instruments develop their musical ears and learn about programming music by attempting to copy famous songs and beats.
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In an old interview with Noisey, Jme claimed that programming ringtones was actually one of his first experiences of music production. “People at school used to come up to me and ask me to make them ringtones on their phone,” he claimed, “On Nokias it was second nature, I could make a song without even paying attention”.
Grime’s sound has always been digital, and has always been raw. In the same interview Jme claimed that “grime is a lot to do with that digital sound, if you hear a grime track played totally live it doesn’t even sound like grime. It sounds good still but it loses something”.
While live bands are becoming more commonplace at grime shows, they were pretty much nonexistent in the genre’s earliest days and lots of grime’s most talented producers never learnt to play instruments. “In school we were probably the first generation who had technology in music,” says Jme, “we had computers with Cubase on, so we were born into technology [...] our music was born into a digital age”.
Recently members of the grime scene has achieved success they would probably have only dreamt of in the early 2000s, and lots of it has involved paying homage to some of the early pioneers of the sound. Whether it’s Stormzy freestyling over an old Ruff Sqwad beat, a resurgence of pirate radio or anniversary shows for 'Boy in da Corner', 'Ghetto Gospel' and 'Home Sweet Home', we’ve seen that no matter how far you’ve come since, sometimes you just can’t beat a genuine, authentic classic.
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Words: Paul Gibbins