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Grime-punk artist Bob Vylan has never felt like he fit in. Growing up as a mixed-race man in the UK, he sometimes felt out of place. And after several incidents at school, he was expelled at a young age.

It wasn’t easy, but Bob Vylan rolled with the punches. He credits his early years as an “outsider” with making him resilient.

“I had to learn how to do a lot for myself at a fairly young age. I quickly realised nobody was going to hold my hand through life.”

“Tough is being who you wanna be. Doing what you wanna do. It’s not easy in this day and age.”

Told he’d never amount to anything, Bob Vylan gravitated towards music in search of a creative outlet. He didn’t care about genre. Style. Label. Or even sound. And grabbed whatever he could get his hands on.

“Nothing was off-limits. I’ve always had a love of anything uncompromising, aggressive and abrasive: Sidewinder cassette tapes and sets from pirate radio. Then I realised there’s a tonne of other music out there with the same uncompromising nature, but played on guitars.”

Despite dropping out of school, Bob Vylan made it into university to study music. He got a degree. Then a master’s. Picked up a guitar. And began “making noise”.

“Your challenges will always wait for you. It’s fine to sit and cry, but once the tears pass, you have to stand up and tackle your issues head-on. There is no other option.”

All of a sudden, not fitting in became an advantage. Not conforming to any one label allowed him to break boundaries and create something new. Bob Vylan was never afraid of standing out, and now it unlocked his creativity: “It meant making the music I want without limiting myself to what we’re ‘allowed’ to do.”

Taking cues from both the punk and grime movements, Bob Vylan prefers to jump between them, going rogue. He still feels like an outsider. But now it’s on his own terms. He mixes elements of different genres, without conforming to their rules. He’s influenced by others, but he’s 100% himself.


In six decades, the definition of tough has changed.
We asked Bob Vylan what it means to be tough in 2020.