Skream Didn't Punch Me When I Mentioned Dubstep
"Before, I knew all the records to play. Now it’s a challenge," says the 27-year-old elder statesman.
The year was 2003. Skream's Ollie Jones was barely out of his pre-teens, and already a central figure in South London's tiny, millenial dubstep scene. His track "Midnight Request Line" is largely credited with breaking the genre to the world when it played on BBC Radio in 2005. Since then, the lanky livewire has ridden the crest of the bass wave, traveling the world as the most recognizable ambassador of that deep Souf Landahn wobble.
Skream has hinted at moving away from dubstep for a couple of years now, most notably with his 2011 single "Anticipate," which reached Daft Punk-levels of pop chart cheese, but bassheads world round were shocked when, earlier this year, he announced that he would only be spinning disco for the foreseeable future. Some fans sent hate-mail, others prepared their dubstep eulogies, and others still piped up with the obvious fact that Skream's new sound is only... marginally disco? But people change, shit happens. And Jones has been blazing trails for so long that he knows a little heat is just a sign that you're making moves.
Nobody knows what Skream will be spinning in two years, but I'll hazard a guess that he'll still be causing a ruckus during his sets and taking on every wanker on Twitter one-by-one. For a guy so dead set against being defined, perpetual motion is a necessity. I caught up with him prior to his set at HARD's Day of the Dead in Los Angeles.
THUMP: Are you going to punch me if I mention dubstep?
Skream: No! People seem to think that I don't listen to dubstep anymore or something. It's in my bones. It will never leave me. I have the broadest taste in music. I'm not a music snob at all.
For a genre to ascend to the mainstream, does it have to lose some of it's soul?
No! Look at Disclosure. I think the only people losing soul are the sheep—people who want to make something that sounds like Sonny [Skrillex] or Calvin [Harris]. I don't feel it has to lose soul. A good song causes emotion. If it makes you feel something, then it has soul. I mean, of course, sometimes you hear huge tracks and you're like "What the fuck is this?!" and it just hits you on a different level. I grew up in front of sub speakers, so I get that. I respect people who are doing something that they really wanna do. The average punter probably doesn't care about sincerity. Maybe it's just a musician thing. Making music is never easy, but sometimes It's just very formulaic and it becomes boring to hear the same sounds.
What's it like being an elder statesman when you're 27?
I feel like I've been around forever. I don't really know any other way to feel. It's crazy when I get referenced as a Godfather of anything. I'm extremely aware of what's happened over the past ten years. I'm proud of it. I don't like to dwell in the past, though. I believe in hard work. I don't rest. I've been on two holidays in the past ten years, but I still don't look at it as work.
You and Sam Frank seem to fancy working together.
The man is a genius. Sam Frank is an actual musical genius. The first time we worked together was the first moment that I had goosebumps listening to one of my own records. That's when I first realized the power of songs. "Anticipate" was a defining moment in my life—that song is a letter to my son. Sam was having a child at the same time with his wife. The thing is, it got a great reaction, but my original fans at the time hated it. It sounded kind of—I hate saying the term—but EDM, and it didn't sound like any of my old records. But it wasn't going to be a dark song, was it? It's about the euphoria of having a child! Now we've just released "Rollercoaster" and Sam's smashed it again.
Why is the UK always a step ahead of the US?
It always has been. I don't know why. Boredom? There's not a lot to do in England. Shit weather, maybe. It requires a very compettive edge to be original in the UK. People don't want to sound the same as each other. The people that blow up have their own sound. The copycat producer doesn't blow up. And even when you blow up in England, people don't necessarily know who you are. I love it. I love being from England. Not even just in a musical sense. Every day I'm getting sent the best in UK bass and I haven't heard anything shit in ages.
If you had to pick: New York or Los Angeles?
I like LA for chilling but I prefer New York for nightlife. There's a rugged side to New York which is approachable, like London. You can find a sick party in Downtown Brooklyn and show up in a hoodie and not worry about it. You show up to an after party in LA and it's like, y'know...
What is the most annoying thing about Benga?
He's fucking late all the time! All the fucking time! I lie on his behalf all the time. It's a natural thing now. I have to let him know when he gets there, on the sly, "Listen mate, I've told them your car has got clamped." I've used so many excuses now that i've repeated some. And then I start to feel like I'm under pressure!
What are the differences between the crowds now that you've changed styles?
There's tons of girls! Now, I'd much rather play for three hours than an hour. It's actually about what you play and the order in which you play them instead of banger after banger. I've had one of the best summers of my life this year playing after this change. It sounds so fucking cheesy but it's a feeling. I've always connected with the crowd but now I feel a special sense of appreciation when I smash it. It's not easy to smash it. Before, I knew all the records to play. Now it's a challenge.
Why is there such a preoccupation with genre-specific sets anyway?
It's an identity thing. I used to hate it when it was strictly genre-based. My most enjoyable DJ sets to watch are when they throw in curveballs. That's working the crowd, the timing. I think there's become such a lack of identity because it went from people changing the tempo occasionally in sets to, like, total ADD. It was a bit much. There's a time for everything. All night of the same thing will drive you mad.
I'm just waiting for my studio to finish being built and then I'm gonna go underground again, literally, just disappear and work, get back into writing again. It feels like I haven't been in the studio properly since I changed styles. I've had to focus so much on how the new sound is delivered. I've had so much on my mind outside of production. I need to get back into it properly.