10 years on from ‘Midnight Request Line’, it’s safe to say that Skream has become a different artist entirely.
You already know salad days Skream – the spirited teenager who became one of the defining faces of the early ’00s Croydon sound, and, through his various productions, collaborations and remixes, brought dubstep into the charts and the public consciousness. Recent years, however, have seen him focus his energies on 4×4, ranging from disco to none-more-’14 house (his recent Essential Mix, featuring tracks from Hot Natured, Route 94, Jess Glynne and M.A.N.D.Y, says it all).
Once an industrious producer, cranking out his Skreamizm releases at a rate of knots in the ’00s, Skream’s output has slowed in recent years. Still, the last year has brought us a new label, Of Unsound Mind, the occasional single (including a release on 4×4 imprint Boysnoize) and a few choice WTFs for good measure (covering Smiths tunes with a Morrissey impersonator, crashing an episode of Newsnight)
Although not the first of the dubstep diaspora to have defected to house or techno, Skream’s got the most stick for it – and whether you have him pegged as a nomad or a dilettante, he’s certainly been willing to push out of his comfort zone. FACT caught up with Skream at Italy’s Movement festival last month, who talked about the scourge of EDM, returning to production, and how to make an album that isn’t an album.
You’re here in Italy at Movement – a well-known techno festival. How far along do you feel you are in your transition into this kind of style?
I finally feel like I know what I’m doing. So I guess I’m at the start, at the beginning of it all really. I’ve finally found the sound that I feel comfortable with, I’m producing again, and the stuff I’m producing has obviously fallen into what I’m playing. So – I’m ready. I’m at the point where I am fully ready now to play alongside anyone without feeling nervous. I’m at the start at the journey. After a couple of years of settling in, I’m at the bit where I know what I’m doing, I guess.
You took a few years out of releasing your own stuff – was that a conscious decision, or did it just kind of happen?
It wasn’t a conscious decision, I didn’t really have much choice! I class myself as a producer, although I DJ as well. When I stopped doing dubstep, it’s because I didn’t feel inspired by anything anymore. I couldn’t write music – that’s why I stopped what I was doing and started down another sort of path. Musically, I haven’t released anything in a while. The last proper thing was ‘Rollercoaster’. I had ‘Bang That’ out with Boysnoize records, which really I should have made a bit more of a song and dance about, but I still wasn’t comfortable, as I didn’t feel that ‘Bang That’ was my sound. It was more of a bridge record – it was 120BPM, but it had roots of the stuff when I was making dubstep, even though it was more of a techno tune.
You don’t decide to stop writing tunes, especially when that’s what you feel you do. Yeah, I didn’t know what I was doing – I’ve never not known what I’m doing [before]. It feels mad because, given how much music I used to write and how much I used to release, to actually look and think, “Fuck, I haven’t released anything in a couple of years…” I haven’t actually had a project or whatever. So yeah, it’s not a conscious decision – I was kind of forced into it, not writing. But, yeah, I’m fully back – back in the game, producing whatever, buying studio equipment, and just generally feeling like I know what I’m doing again.
You’re helping other artists on their albums at the moment. Do you think albums are becoming an outdated concept?
Do you know what, right? Henry – Riton – absolutely smashed it. I was with him in Paris and we played at the Ed Banger party, and he was like, “Yeah, I’m doing a mixtape,” and I said, “what do you mean you’re doing a fucking mixtape?”, and he was like, “well, it’s not an album – it’s a mixtape, and it’s not mixed together.” The way he described it, is that as soon as you take the word ‘album’ off, you’re cool, you’re sound. The word ‘album’ has so much pressure on it – he called it a snapshot of work over the course of the last couple of months. Whereas with an album, you put your bollocks on the table.
Albums are becoming outdated, but it’s more because of the pressures. We associate an album with ‘a band does an album’, whereas that thing Riton did was to say “this ain’t an album, it’s a mixtape.” It seemed like it took all the pressure off. I think albums are important. Look, there’s a million-and-one singles released every day through things like SoundCloud, where you can have a record out as soon as you put a new tune up. You end up with this entire fucking thing where it’s hard to release a single, because it’s so easy to hear music. I post something on SoundCloud; next day, it has a thousand-and-one reviews on it, but it’s like… you just put it up. It’s not necessarily a single, it’s just something you want everyone to hear.
Albums are important. It depends on what you’re doing, but I think they are important because it leaves some sort of structure , rather then people just putting out tunes. I think it makes people think they are working as well. Like you are doing something – it gives you a purpose. I think people get excited about albums. As long as people still get excited about buying albums – or downloading albums I guess – it gives it purpose. Whereas, I dunno, I suppose it depends which way you’re coming from – but I definitely think albums are still very relevant to music buyers – and the people making music too.
From a production stand-point, you’ve done the entire arc of the electronic music industry – do you think genres are even relevant anymore?
Do you know what? If you had asked me that a couple of years ago, I would have said no, not at all. You’d have sets where you’d hear drum’n’ bass, dubstep, moombahton trap, duh-duh-duh…But what with America and the whole EDM thing, everyone’s been put under a branch. Over the last couple of years, especially since the house boom, it seems like everyone’s gone very genre-specific again. But I think, in a sense, it does feel nice knowing what you’re going out to now. Whereas before, I’d go out, and I’d end up fucking sitting there and listening to fucking hardstyle/pop music. I sound like such a hypocritical cunt saying this, because a couple of years ago everything was just ‘bass music’…but, yeah, I think genre tags are still important, because…I dunno, I don’t know how to actually finish this question!
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You were talking about ‘bass music’ there. Over the course of your travels, especially your international tours, do you think the electronic music community has become more or less divided than they once were?
I think it’s definitely become more divided now. The whole booming bass music thing was ‘everyone become one’, but it defiantly feels like it’s becoming more divided. In a way it kinda makes sense. You see Seth [Troxler] battling against EDM at the moment, which is making it very divided in itself. I feel very much a part of everything, but it is becoming more divided, and I’m not sure if it’s just something I’m just noticing now. Maybe it’s happened the whole time and I wasn’t aware, but I’m becoming very conscious. There’s a massive overground/underground fight, where people hate to associate themselves with the overground – when I say overground, I mean the common denominator music. But then you’ve got people like Disclosure who are very much a part of the overground – not massively underground, but still relevant in a sense of playing good music.
It is weird – I definitely feel separation at the moment. Some people are like [affects cooler-than-thou voice] “I’ll play DC-10, I’m never playing Vegas…” The genre separation thing can become very overly important in itself. I like someone like Eats Everything, who likes everything, is happy with everything, who doesn’t give a fuck, and who doesn’t care what he’s labelled as. I just feel like, in the last year, dance music is so standard now – everyone’s into house – so I think some people are keen to point out their place, their role.
Do you think people like Seth – and the whole underground movement mentality – have antagonised the separation? Do you think you could have a few ambassadors that are more forward looking about the whole thing, or do you think it was inevitable anyway?
It was going to happen. I have been involved in EDM, like when I was playing EDC, the big big American festivals. I was a part of it. And, EDM, the whole style of music, I fucking can’t stand it anymore. I appreciate a good pop song, and most of it is pop stuff. But it’s carried itself to be so far away from everyone else, it’s almost like an unbelievable world. You see Calvin Harris earning $46m in a year – when you’re talking about money like that, that automatically segregates it from everything else. Meanwhile, people have been grafting their bollocks off for years, and barely getting paid to do shows. So I think it has become two different worlds. The question you just asked me there – it’s likely people are honing in on being even more bold about their craft, for it not to be associated with this faraway bollocks. EDM is alienating itself. I’m quite interested to see where it’s going to go next, because we’ve seen Ultra Music are now promoting deep house. Actually, I should be really careful, as I’ve got a remix coming out with them! But it has become two totally different worlds.
You play a lot in the US – you’ve got a big scene, you’ve obviously got EDM, you’ve got emerging “rappers” like Lee Foss…
You mentioned that you find it interesting at these events that you have these huge EDM stages, but then you also get these little stages with some serious ultra-underground music happening. Where do you see it going? Do you think the deep house thing will take over, or will there be a shift towards a different kind of music altogether?
In the States, things like Disclosure becoming really popular and being massive is great, especially off the back of fucking EDM – I call it the mushroom cloud. At the moment, it feels like people are realising that the music that is involved is shite. And now good music is starting to become popular. Especially in America: people like Kaytranada are fucking amazing, and he’s actually getting props, whereas in the past you’d have someone like that who would be really good, but it would be held really underground and not really appreciated.
I do think EDM’s coming to an end – well, not an end, Vegas will always be there, Vegas isn’t dying! Everyone seems to be embracing deep house – I do hear deep house around a lot more then before. If you think about six/seven years ago, deep house was like Naked Naked music, it was almost jazzy! In America, if you go to a good house party, it’s now just generally good music, nobody really knows what it is. There’s a lot more interest in it, people are interested in good music again, which is good. The sort of umbrella term for it seems to be ‘deep house’, although it’s not really deep house. You get SOHN – he’s doing some amazing stuff, and it all stems off the back of what everyone classes as ‘deep house’.
You mentioned before that you consider yourself a producer first, and a DJ second. With a renewed emphasis on production over the last ten years – DJs have to releases out – do you think that’s has affected how sets are put together?
No, not really. Producers are actually getting acknowledged properly again, because in the era of fucking superstar DJs…Look, Martin Garrix for example – has he ever actually made records? He’s a superstar DJ. But I think producers are being fully acknowledged as actually the people that made the music – well most of them make the music. Everything’s become very much artist-focused.
It has changed the way things are, but I think it’s changed it for the better. The last few years has just been a superstar DJ culture, and I think the people that it reflects on is the crowd – people seem to lose interest in where the music has actually come from. It’s like they think the record has been ‘magicked up’ out of the ground. I love the fact – not just because I cast myself as a producer – I love the fact that the producer is getting acknowledged. People like Kaytranada, again…I think especially out of the whole American thing, he’s fucking amazing, and he’s actually acknowledged as a producer, especially when all the stuff that comes of of America is all DJs, DJs, DJs, DJs, DJs, DJs. Yeah, I think it has changed for the better.
Tell me a bit about your own production and what you’ve got planned and coming up?
I know what I’m doing now [laughs] I actually know what the sound I want to make is now – I’m making really dark, almost progressive, trance. It’s not progressive trance – that will send people away from my gigs! I’m working on some important stuff I can’t talk about without getting in trouble. I’m working on a project that will be announced soon – I don’t know how soon. I’m actually writing music that I’m really proud of, I’m the happiest I’ve been in about four or five years, production-wise. Yeah, I’m just writing loads at the moment, aiming…I’m going somewhere with it all.
I’ve been searching production-wise – I’ve been a bit lost, not really knowing what I’m doing. Obviously what I’m playing’s changed. I haven’t been making music, and it feels really weird, because I’ve fallen into that world of just DJing. Yeah, I’ve got some stuff – I keep uploading stuff to my SoundCloud, which I love because every tune I put up seems to be baffling people, and it’s great because nobody knows what I’m doing. My production is what I’m focusing on, now and for the foreseeable future.
You’re playing out tonight. What’s can we expect from you set?
Well, I’m playing first, so I’ll probably just play some deep, really cool stuff…no I’m joking! It’s such an honour to be playing here, and the line-up I’m playing on tonight. Me being involved in house and techno…I’m still working at earning my stripes at being on the bill with people like Ellen Allien, Better Lost Than Stupid, Moodymann, Steffi – it’s wicked. So I’m just going try and play a good warm-up set. Just have fun and keep it nice, just play some really good tunes and hopefully stuff that nobody else has got!