Unsurprisingly, when we catch up with Skream in Scotland he tells us that he’s once again getting in gear to bring the noise. He’s in the middle of preparing for another set for Ballantine’s x Boiler Room: Stay True Scotland and we’re assured it’s going to be a raucous, techno orientated affair. He doesn’t disappoint. Following his performance we ask the genre defying selector if he’s ever been tempted to compartmentalise his varying output into neat boxes via the use of different monikers. “Listen, I grew up in the era of aliases.” Skream responds. “It made sense during the garage era as you could make fortunes under other aliases without jeopardising what you were doing but it’s different now. I believe, that no matter what sound comes out of me, that it doesn’t define me. People know me as Skream, but in reality I’m Oliver and despite the fact that a lot of people can’t differentiate between the two, I just make music. It doesn’t matter to me whether it’s a grime or techno record. Labels and genre titles aren’t important to me. Music is.”
A quick look at timeline of Skream’s career serves only to emphasise his point. In the relatively short time dubstep has been with us there have been few bigger names within its bass-centric scene than his as one of the genre’s pioneering originators, yet it wasn’t long before we saw the man born Oliver Jones turn his hand to a myriad of different stylings. Refusing to be pigeonholed by the critics, the producer many credited with helping break dubstep into the public consciousness quickly forged a reputation as one of electronic music’s great sonic chameleons, showcasing a number of different sides to his musical personality. Having seriously impressed us at the Warehouse Project with his now infamous 130 BPM set back in 2012, our next question was why are we only seeing more techno output from him now?
“That was banging techno I played up in Manchester.” Skream recalls. “I think I was more accepted in disco circles early on because my love of disco was common knowledge. Which, looking back was fucking strange when you think of the sound I was associated with then. I’d go on Rinse FM and play a Disco set and people must have been like ‘What the Fuck?’ but that’s just me.”
The mention of Rinse FM causes us both to smile as we reminisce about the golden era of London’s vibrant pirate radio scene. The illegal broadcasts played a hugely pivotal role in showcasing the breadth of DJing talent that has passed, and continues to pass, through the UK and its importance to the heritage of dance music certainly isn’t lost on Skream. “As a 17 year old kid I used to get a £150 pound cab on my own to go from my house to the Tate & Lyle factory so I could do guest slots with Kode9 on Rinse. It was that important to me play on there. I wouldn’t tell my mum where I was going. I mean, I could hardly say I was pulling up to some factory in East London walking through death traps to play a pirate radio show could I?”
Having also played sets at now legendary stations such as Delight and Flight FM whilst still only a teenager, it wasn’t only in the studio that pirate radio played an important role in his artistic development. He was also an avid listener, regularly having to lay his head on his sound system as it would bizarrely pick up a stronger signal when he did. “Honestly, I’d have to lay there at a funny angle with my head on my system to listen to my favourite shows properly.” he laughs. “Pirate radio was such an important part of my life growing up. Up Front FM was what I grew up on.”
So does he see a future for the broadcasts in 2015? The answer would be yes but not in the format he was so familiar with in his youth. “Look at Rinse. That’s now an established and legitimate part of the musical landscape.” He enthuses. “But it’s a different time. With the internet people don’t have to go as breakneck as they used to to get people to hear new music. Look at NTS. Look at how many artists are taking out their time to contribute to it. That shows just how important it is in 2015. It’s as key as it has ever been but it has moved with the time. This is a new era and the likes of NTS reflect that.
Now a global phenomenon rather a collection of localised scenes, we agree that the internet has indeed changed everything. Electronic music has never been bigger or more prevalent. Which also means electronic music might be in crisis. Talk turns to London wherein the like the mid-noughties global economy, the 19th century Goldrush and our editor’s blood pressure every time he gets pitched a totally irrelevant pop star for feature, there’s a definite sense that at some point, something’s going to burst. “It’s not just London.” Skream warns. “It’s everywhere. We focus on the big closures on the big cities but it’s the smaller scenes across the world that get hit the hardest. If you look at drum and bass in Toronto in the 2000’s you’ll see they had something really interesting going on and when that got shut down it must have hit them hard. In my opinion that’s a lot more significant. That’s all they had and it was taken away from them. The London’s and Berlin’s of the world are so big and have so much going on that they can take hits and survive. It’s the smaller places I worry for.”
The mood lightens as we enquire about the release date of his much anticipated album for Crosstown Rebels and just how it came about. “That won’t be released until next year” he chirps. “I met Damien (Lazarus) at Hideout a few years back and he said he was a fan of my stuff and that he was interested in where I was going to take my sound in the future. It was only two or three years later that I felt some of the stuff I’d been making that would suit his label had matured into what I wanted it to be and after spending some time testing the waters I wanted to push it out. I actually sent ‘Still Lemonade’ to Tale Of Us first because that is who I felt had influenced me most when making the record and whilst talking to them I then sent it to Damien who said “This track’s absolute fire” so set about releasing it on his label. It’d been in my sets for a while and getting good reactions but it was nice to also get that feedback from my peers too as some people will always come at my tunes with an idea in their head already because of my history. There are always eyes on what I’m doing.”
For Oliver though, the joys of constant musical activity far outweigh any negativity he may encounter. He thrives on enthusiasm and openness to new ideas; zeal can be a trait that many can lose after such a storied decade in the game but seems an asset the ‘Midnight Request Line’ producer will always have in abundance. As long term supporters and people who have seen him DJ more times than we care to remember it’s evident that as soon as he steps up behind the decks and pulls out that first blend, that he’ll enjoy doing it just as much as we the crowd will enjoy watching it. “People sometimes ask me ‘How are you still so into it?’ Why wouldn’t I be? is always my answer, this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I love playing tunes.”
Long may he continue to do so.