Cone artists: How Scroobius Pip and Dan Le Sac went from YouTube to Newsnight

Three years ago they uploaded a £200 video to YouTube. Now Scroobius Pip and Dan Le Sac are asked to discuss the state of the nation on 'Newsnight'. Not bad for a poet and a computer nerd from Essex, says Fiona Sturges

Three years ago, two young men from deepest Essex made a track called "Thou Shalt Always Kill" and, after cobbling a video together for £200, posted it on the web. A spoken-word parody of the Ten Commandments, it was a witty and impassioned tirade against contemporary culture played out over a sparse dance beat. It exhorted listeners not to watch Hollyoaks, read the NME or take Johnny Cash's name in vain while boldly slaying pop's most sacred cows ("The Beatles were just a band/ Led Zeppelin, just a band/ The Beach Boys, just a band"). It was striking enough to get three million hits on YouTube, earning them a record deal and a top 40 hit.

The men in question were Scroobius Pip, 29, a bearded street scribe and pop poet named after a creature in an Edward Lear poem, and his old school friend Dan Le Sac, a 31-year-old DJ, laptop musician and self-confessed computer nerd whose propulsive hip-hop and dance beats provide a framework for Pip's estuary patois.

Today, Dan Le Sac vs. Scroobius Pip are stalwarts of the UK hip-hop and spoken-word scene with two albums, a world tour, a book of poetry and guest slots on Radio 4 and Newsnight under their belts. Last month they were nominated in the Artist of the Year category for the BT Digital Music Awards alongside Kylie Minogue, Muse and Gorillaz. To their many followers, they have become spokespeople for political and social issues – their Facebook page and Twitter feed were hotbeds of discussion during the European and general elections – while their music tackles everything from knife crime and teen pregnancy to the education system.

If this makes them sound overly serious, well, in conversation they undoubtedly are. But their songs come with a distinct warmth and humour that are also evident in their live shows, where they frequently decorate the stage with sofas and a standard lamp, as though they are performing to fans live from their own living-room.

Critics have accused them of preachiness, though they say they are merely reflecting the issues faced by ordinary people. "Our job as we see it is to start a discussion, not tell people what to think," maintains Pip, a laid-back and self-deprecating individual in baseball cap and Cyndi Lauper T-shirt. "I think people do have this perception that I'm more opinionated or highbrow than I am and I do my best to show that I'm not like that. I don't think I've read more than 20 books in my life. There's this assumption if you do spoken word that you're somehow more educated and politically minded than the next person. But it's not the case. If you go to the gigs you see kids off the estates going up on stage and doing amazing stuff."

Certainly, in the past two years the spoken-word scene has undergone a renaissance. While poetry readings have been practised for centuries, its modern incarnation was ignited during the 1980s in American hip-hop and poetry slams. It was through the US hip-hop poets Saul Williams and Sage Francis that Pip realised spoken word and beats needn't exist in separate genres, and led him to search out pop-poetry events.

"The first I went to was in east London in a pub and it was full of old punks still talking about Thatcher," he recalls. "The next one I went to was at Rada. It was all soliloquies and actors reading poems from a book. I realise now that these were the two extremes of the scene. In the past few years it's become more diverse and people have opened their minds."

Pip was in and out of bands through his teens but was frustrated by the lack of commitment from his band mates. He began a degree in photography in Wolverhampton then dropped out and got a job in a record shop. After saving up some money, he took to the road in a camper van, busking and doing impromptu pavement performances to people queuing outside gigs.

Meanwhile, his old friend Dan, who until that point had vowed never to work with other people ("especially drummers"), was experimenting with drum machines and synths. He heard about Pip's spoken-word tour and asked him to send over some poems to see whether they could be set to music. The second one he worked on was "Thou Shalt Always Kill". Within a day of receiving it, the radio station Xfm played it on air, and offers of record deals quickly followed.

Both Pip and Le Sac grew up in Stanford-le-Hope, a small town along the Thames estuary in Essex, though Le Sac moved to Reading when he went to university. Pip stayed on in Essex, the small-town environment providing inspiration for his increasingly indignant rhymes.

"There are levels of prejudice and racism and unnecessary drug use there," Pip concedes. "And I get my fair share of abuse when I'm out and about. Little kids look at the beard and go 'Oi! Bin Laden!' or call me a terrorist. But it's still home to me. My family are there and I've just bought my first flat there. For those precious times when I'm not away or on tour, I can't see myself being anywhere else."

Earlier this year Le Sac and Pip released their second album, The Logic of Chance, to critical fanfare. Among the more memorable tracks is "Great Britain" in which they ponder their love/hate relationship with their country of birth, weighing up political corruption against a land that produces some of the best music in the world. I wonder if the balance has shifted since the general election.

"It's a difficult one," reflects Le Sac. "Having this coalition as our leadership is not necessarily a good thing. But what it has done is underline the fact that we are such a nation of individuals with a diverse set of views. It's quite exciting to be in a country that won't make a unanimous decision. It's these opposing ideas that moves society forwards."

For a band that was initially enabled by computer technology, it's no wonder that they are hugely excited by the internet and its possibilities. "We're now fully into this internet-based dissemination of ideas," observes Le Sac. "We're involved in politics every day, whether consciously or not. In the Thatcher era, if you didn't want to talk about politics, you didn't buy a newspaper, but now on Twitter and Facebook it's unavoidable. Any counterculture that comes up is going to emerge strong and fast."

"It also helps us communicate with our fans," adds Pip. "Of course we get inevitable posts telling us we're rubbish, but we also get messages from people who say they like what we are doing and it's as if we are talking specifically about their lives. For us, that is a beautiful thing to hear."

The single 'Cauliflower' (Sunday Best) is out tomorrow. Dan Le Sac vs Scroobius Pip begin their UK tour on Thursday at Hatfield Forum. For details, visit

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Filming to begin on two new series due to be aired on Dave from next year


Arts and Entertainment
Kit Harington plays MI5 agent Will Holloway in Spooks: The Greater Good

'You can't count on anyone making it out alive'film
Arts and Entertainment
War veteran and father of Peter and Laust Thoger Jensen played by Lars Mikkelson

TVBBC hopes latest Danish import will spell success

Arts and Entertainment
Carey Mulligan in Far From The Madding Crowd
FilmCarey Mulligan’s Bathsheba would fit in better in The Hunger Games
Arts and Entertainment
Pandas-on-heat: Mary Ramsden's contribution is intended to evoke the compound the beasts smear around their habitat
Iart'm Here But You've Gone exhibition has invited artists to produce perfumes
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
    Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

    The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

    A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    Welcome to the world of Megagames

    300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
    'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

    Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

    Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

    The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
    Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

    Vince Cable exclusive interview

    Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
    Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

    Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

    Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
    Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

    Everyone is talking about The Trews

    Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
    Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

    It's time for my close-up

    Meet the man who films great whites for a living
    Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

    Homeless people keep mobile phones

    A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
    'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

    'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

    British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
    Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

    Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

    Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
    14 best kids' hoodies

    14 best kids' hoodies

    Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
    Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

    The acceptable face of the Emirates

    Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk