LONDON, July 5 (Reuters) - Squeezed in to a small and sweaty East London nightclub at 3 a.m., the Slew Dem Crew spit bars to a raucous audience reveling in the fast growing popularity of Britain's new musical obsession.
Grime, developed from garage and rap, has been enjoying a breakout period since British artist Skepta scooped the prestigious Mercury Prize in September and fellow Londoner Stormzy gave the genre its first number one album in March.
In the small nightclubs, cafes and independent radio station studios of the capital, the accolades and recognition are drowning out the critics who say the music glamorizes violence.
"To those critics I would say you haven't listened to enough grime music because there's so many creative people in the scene for someone to belittle us with that statement," Rage, 32, a member of the Slew Dem Crew, told Reuters.
"Grime is now being accepted all over the world. We are seeing people of all races and genders actively listening to, buying and making grime music."
The grime artists do tackle drugs, money, respect, turf wars and other gritty topics, all set over a tempo of 140 beats per minute.
"A lot of us come from dark backgrounds and deeper struggles so the real lyrics we write may have violence in them but it's just a form of expression," said Clipson, another member of the Slew Dem Crew.
The energy onstage is infectious, wild celebrations from artists and listeners showcase camaraderie over competitiveness.
"I love the atmosphere of a set and performing with the guys... everyone pumping each other up. For me it's all about the unity," said 21-year-old Tiny K, a member of The Collective.
"People associate it with trouble ... but I think it has kept me out of trouble."
The fast-paced world of grime was dubbed "a commercial force" by The British Phonographic Industry in January and even broke into Britain's national election.
The leader of Britain's opposition Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, sat down to speak with grime artist JME before last month's vote to try and get his manifesto across to young voters.
The mainstream may be embracing it, but its artists aren't ready to be contained.
"(Grime) is a way for the underground to be creative and illustrate whatever they want," said 18-year-old MC Squintz.
(Writing by Patrick Johnston; Editing by Andrew Heavens)