Thursday, 6 November 2008
Since Burial’s Mercury Prize nomination and identity exposure, and the chart threat of Benga & Coki’s ubiquitous Night, it seems that dubstep is now poised on the fringes of the mainstream. And with increased popularity comes more fans, and a glut of imitators and predators alike. Yet Skream, one of the original pioneers, remains firmly at the top of the game and keeping it very real. The 22 year-old Croydonite has been producing for a staggering eight years already and is now living the dream. Albeit, half drunk and out of a bag; because with success comes demand, and now he is entertaining crowds 3-4 nights a week and on nearly every continent in the world. “I go away and party hard all weekend. So when I get home, by the time I get my head together, it’s time to go again,” muses Skream. “I think I need to teach myself to take it easier.” Plenty of time to for the DJ, Producer, radio host and Disfigured Dubz label owner to rest when he’s old, I for one, hope.
We meet over a plate of lamb shish kebab and a glass of gassy continental lager before the launch party of his new mix compilation Watch The Ride. This would rate as one of the more sensible scenarios I’ve been in with the 6-foot plus production maverick. There has been many a blurry, blazed out night in the bowels of Plastic People, skankin furiously to his distinct brand of highly pressurized dubstep music. And then there was the Big Chill 2007, which will go down on my list of classic nights, if not Ollie’s “I had to be carried to the decks. That’s was your fault and Uncle Nephews – Wray & Nephews. That got very messy.“ Luckily, his partying hasn’t been affecting his music. A prolific and special talent, he has that extra ingredient, first brought to mass attention with his classic Midnight Request Line in 2005, and now it seems everyone wants a piece of him. “I’m Diplo’s favourite DJ right now, apparently. I played in Nottingham and he was there. I was sitting in Loefah’s house and Belinda phoned and said can you tell Skream that he’s Diplo’s favourite DJ in the world at the moment.” I could think of worse fans.
For the Harmless Watch The Ride compilation, Skream pulled together a 28-track mix of blistering, sub atomic bass-weight. Featuring a selfless number of his own beats (only seven in total), the mix takes us through a bunch of fresher than vacuum packed producers, the likes of Kulture, Seven, Kutz, Noah D, and Breakage staring alongside the usual dubstep brethren Benga, Rusko and Mala. “Watch The Ride is based around what I’m playing at the moment, says Skream. “It’s just tracks that are in my box when I’m playing in clubs right now.”
The Skream tracks that do feature reflect the producer’s current mindset. A bursting DJ diary with bigger and more diverse crowds to please have catalysed a caustic rawness to his sound roaring out of tracks like Fick, Simple City, Filth and Meta-Lick. This unfettered, malignant energy has developed over the past year or so with the need to deliver the next biggest and heaviest drop. A charge Skream is not afraid to admit, “Of course, Fick is a festival tear out tune. Different tunes sound filth in clubs, I don’t know why. They just do,” says Skream. “I ain’t being funny, but people can call themselves whatever they like and play a deep set all night. But guaranteed, those people would rather play a DJ set and see the whole club go fucking mental.”
If you you've yet to see the man DJ, or indeed play with his super group Magnetic Man (alongside Benga and Artwork), the dexterity and ferocity of his sound is primal and powerful. However if you haven’t worry not, you can neatly capture Skream’s musical development through his Skreamizm series on Tempa, now up to Skreamizm 5, the latest track listing is a holistic blend of peak time grot and subbed-out rollers - Rimz, One For The Heads Who Remember, If You Know, plus the tracks mentioned on Watch The Ride (excluding Meta Lick). But it’s been two years since his debut long player, so why no album follow up? “The Skreamizm always turn out better, “Skream insists. “They’re more up front and what’s happening now. The point of doing them is so I can sit down and write an album. I’ve got three whole albums worth indoors, but you don’t want to use old tunes for an album, you wanna sit there and write a whole new album.”
Dubstep is quite unique in its all encompassing, democratic sound, never afraid to welcome the influences of sister genres – techno, grime, hip hop, electro and soul – which have all helped hybridise the musical palette. And because of this some people suggest the dubstep genre is fragmenting into sub categories, which is a topic Skream is particular vocal about, “It’s not us who’s doing it, its not the people making the music doing it. It’s the people who are writing about dubstep that are doing it,” he fumes. “I’m getting the hump now.” And understandable so, a frustrating aspect of any music scene is the constant criticism and discussion that goes with it. And the dubstep scene has been admirably clinging onto its unified image of one sound, one scene.
Thankfully, this doesn’t stop him pushing things forward in his own music. “I’ve done some work with Jamie T. I engineered one of his tracks. He wanted a dancefloor engineer.” Admits Skream, adding weight to a new trend of dubstep producers working outside the genre. But there isn’t an obvious link to the indie singer-songwriter Jamie T, “He heard my drum programming on Check It, and really liked it, and then found out I bootlegged his track, Salvador. And I got a phone call saying would you like to work with me. And I’d been bigging him up everywhere, so I was like “fuck yeah,” recounts Skream. “You gotta think about yourself outside of when dubstep ends, and doing stuff like that is gonna keep me going.”
And it doesn’t stop there, having recently completed an exclusive 30 minute track for foot and sportswear giant, Nike, no doubt for one of their running soundtracks, he sees his music being used on a much bigger canvas alongside the usual glut of remixes. “I’d love to get into films and stuff like that. And producing for other people, like totally different, odd music, just to test yourself. Mika, he’d be a challenge,” quips Skream. “I got asked to remix Duffy, no fucking way mate! It was before her album came out. You couldn’t have asked for a harder task.”
Following the likes of Mala and Kode9, who are key figures in championing new artists and talent through their respective labels, Skream created Disfigured Dubz, to promote the abundance of talent he was hearing. “Kulture is out next, then two tracks from Late. Then a new girl I’ve signed called Keito, who’s fire mate! Amazing. Her production is better than me. I wish I had the tune when I did the Watch The Ride compilation. It’s going on Disfigured Dubz 5,” Skream informs. “I didn’t start the label to put out tracks by myself. I did it to push new talent. And I think I’ve done alright.” Indeed he has, no doubt an important figure also in landing Kulture the enviable gig at legendary dubstep shindig, DMZ in September, putting him on one of the finest, if not most important stages in the scene.
Spending time with the man behind Skream aka Ollie Jones, a pretty typical cheeky, out going south London lad with a questionable taste in loud, multi coloured jackets, you get the sense his life is a bit of a blur, a constant merry go round of music, DJing and hangovers. Which he seems completely comfortable and rather happy with. Although you feel if music wasn’t around, he’d be putting his abundant energies into less auspicious activity, which he readily admits himself, and he’s genuinely thankful to music for, as he puts it, “opening my head up and keeping me out of trouble.” If you add in the almost brotherly bond with fellow dubstep pioneer, Benga, there is little doubt they have kept each other on the straight and narrow. “It’s like friendly competition innit. In fact I don’t look at him as competition at all,” Skream says with a smirk, “it just interesting to hear what someone you’ve grown up with and being doing the same thing as comes up with. It’s cool, but sometimes it’s horrible when you do a tune and you think it sounds like Benga. We sound like each other. We’re good mates. But we can’t work together. The only thing I can say is “nice mixdown”, that’s it.”
So, from boy wonder to super producer, Skream is developing into a serious talent with some serious goals - Rick Rubin is watching his back i’m sure. And when your motivation is as simple as “My Life. The future. I wanna be remembered.” You know this guy has the focus, imagination and sheer determination to go the distance.