After-dark inquiry: Skream
South London dubstep pioneer, Ollie “Skream” Jones, preps for his U.S. shows.
Mon Mar 19 2012
So what am I interrupting?
I’m in the studio. I’ve been here for the last two days trying to get stuff done before the States.
So we’re getting some fresh material?
Yeah, there’s gonna be four or hopefully five new tracks. One I’m working on is actually for Kelis; that’s coming out in a couple of months.
Are you doing any new stuff with the Magnetic Man project?
We’re working on a new album at the moment. I’m just hoping it gets the same reaction as the first one. Magnetic Man originally started out as an experiment, and then we scored a top five record in the U.K.. We’d been touring for two years before we even decided to make an album, so that was beyond any of our intentions.
You’re going to be playing with Benga. I hear you guys like to prank a lot.
Well there’s a famous one of Benga pretending to be dead in a hotel. He was laying in a corridor and holding his breath, and the cleaner got really scared. And then he jumped up and screamed “Ahaaa!” and ran off. And there’s another one where I had a bet with Benga to streak while another band, Temper Trap, were performing in front of about 13,000 people. And he done it. He ran across the stage so fast I don’t even think the band realized.
What did you bet him?
It was money. I can’t remember the sum, but it was a healthy bet.
Who else is playing at the New York show that we should be excited about?
Well you’ve got my brother Hijack, you’ve got my favorite DJ in the world Jackmaster, you’ve also got another pioneer of the sound, Plastician. I think it’s the first time New York’s going to have a full-on, U.K., bass-heavy line up like that in one night.
What’s it like going on tour with your brother?
It’s great, it’s like going on tour with Benga.
How do you find the U.S. scene?
I’ve been playing in the States since I was 18; the first place I played in America was actually the old Avalon in New York. I was too young to even buy a drink. But the scene in America’s changed drastically since then. I suppose the obvious influence is that it’s a lot noisier and the crowd’s a lot younger.
Are you sure you’re not getting older?
I knew you were going to say that. But the first time I played in America the crowd was a bit older than me. And obviously I've got a lot older, I haven’t got no secret there, but...the crowd has a lot more testosterone now.
Are you familiar with the term “brostep”?
I am. I always considered [the term] a joke that kind of stuck. But that sound has become a lot more dominant in America than the original, sub heavy sound. But, to be fair, the American crowd at the moment are probably the most energetic and the most up for it anywhere in the world. Which is a pro, you know?
Does performing for an audience like that influence what you play?
Me and Benga, we’ve always played very energetic, very bass-heavy, very aggressive [music] anyway. So it’s kind of our flavor.
Do you think the genre is inherently aggressive and dark?
The original sound was dark. It wasn’t always so aggressive. Like six years ago there weren’t moshpits at dubstep nights. To be honest, it always used to be in dubstep halls that the place would stink of weed. The reggae influence came out and the other sound became more predominant. Maybe that had something to do with it.
How do you feel about the other direction dubstep has gone in, like James Blake?
I love it. It’s added a more songwriter-based aspect to the sound which I think is really good. When me and Benga were doing a live show over here, James Blake came up to us and said the first time he heard dubstep was Benga playing, and that’s what got him into production. That’s cool, you know what I mean.
What do you think about music bloggers?
To be honest, music blogging was a massive help to the dubstep sound reaching a lot of people. Bloggers like Martin Clark—and there used to be a blog called Gutterbreakz—they spread the sound. The only thing I don’t like is when they put a link up to download the track in high quality for free. It’s completely supporting the music in one way, and then it’s completely going against it at the same time.
How do you deal with negative comments?
I end up in arguments all the time, and I have to turn my computer off when that happens. It’s like being in a room when you can hear people talking about you in the next room, that’s how I see it. Then I’m going to go in and say “Why the fuck are you talking about me?”. But I suppose that’s just the internet, isn’t it? A platform for anybody to air their thoughts, whether it be positive or negative.
You’ve been producing since you were a teenager. What’s changed?
Well now I know it’s possible to get a giant record, so sometimes I’ll write a more melodic, catchier hook on a track that people will remember.
So you’re writing for the audience you know you already have?
The problem is, it feels like I have two separate audiences. I have an audience which was a big fan of my music from say, 2002 to 2006 or 2007; and then I have a crowd which has been following me since the term “dubstep” got popular, who appreciates my stuff from then till now. So there’s always a conflict of those styles.
What’s the difference between them?
The first one would have been a lot more sub heavy and reggae-influenced. Whereas now I’m playing to big arenas and bigger crowds so it’s a lot more anthemic and more hands-in-the-air. But to be honest, to anybody who says I can’t play both of them styles in one set, I always say “Come and watch me play, and you can hear it all.”
So you produce with a club setting in mind?
Totally. One of these tracks I’ve been working on today is definitely for a big, open space. But then I’ve also been working on two tracks that are more album-orientated—really spacious, deep, low-end instrumentals with lots of reverb. They’re more for home listening.
What do you envision people doing while they’re listening to those tracks?
Not washing up the dishes.
Maybe something a little more emotional than washing up the dishes.
That could be emotional.
It could be [laughs], I suppose it’s what you associate washing the dishes with. I suppose we won’t go there.
Skream and Benga headline at Best Buy Theater on Wed 28.