Gold Artist 013: Skream - Features - Mixmag

Gold Artist 013: Skream

Skream stands tall in 2015 as a fully-fledged house and techno artist

  • Seb Wheeler
  • 16 February 2015

Skream rang in 2015 by signing to Crosstown Rebels. He'll release his first album for five years via Damian Lazarus' respected imprint and, in turn, complete his much talked about evolution from dubstep originator to fully-fledged house and techno artist.

Details about the LP are limited right now: it's untitled and still a work in progress, but we do know that there will be some vocalists on there and Skream is adamant that it won't contain any attempts at a crossover hit ("It's not a world for me," he says, having scaled the heights of the Top 40 back in the day). What's also clear is that lead single 'Still Lemonade' is a reflection of Skream's current interest in physical, evocative, journeying dance music and an indicator of his new album's direction and atmosphere.

It's released later this month and opens a new chapter in the 28-year-old's long-running career. As clichéd as that sounds, it's true. Skream began DJing aged 11 and started to produce tracks not long after. He became a key player in the dubstep movement as a teenager and the sound's explosion turned him into an internationally renowned star in his early twenties. But at the height of his fame he decided to rip it all up and start again, plunging head first into the worlds of house and techno. In 2013 he released a mix CD as part of Pete Tong's ongoing 'Miami' series, a carefully selected mission statement letting fans know where he was at and, more importantly, where he was headed. The switch has been relatively painless, bar delusional fans who still ask for 'Midnight Request Line' and a nasty misquote in the Daily Star. In '15 Skream stands tall, with everything to work (and play) for once again.

We've got the first official play of 'Still Lemonade' and here we talk to Skream about the Ibiza sessions that have inspired his new record, the graft that's gone into becoming a fixture of a different genre and his fruitful relationship with Damian Lazarus.

You kept 'Still Lemonade' a secret while testing it out at gigs. Was that a confidence thing?

Not at all. It was just to gauge people's reaction. Sometimes if they know it's your tune, they might not be honest about it.

Is that from your crowd or your peers?

From my crowd. But it was mainly to hear how the production sat among other tunes. And there's less pressure that way; I didn't want people knowing it was mine so I could just chill and ease back into [playing new productions again].

The reaction to it was crazy, especially from mixes and recorded sets, 'Still Lemonade' was always the one people were asking about. It made me feel like my production head was back on.

The tune is big and mesmerising; it gives off a contact high.

I spent three days on the breakdown in order to make you feel a certain way when you hear it. And I tested it on some friends in [mine and Jackmaster's] apartment in Ibiza and it worked – the people who were there will remain unnamed, but they know who they were!

It nods toward the Innervisions sound.

It does but I think the production is more club-ready. It's dark and that's the side of things I feel more comfortable on. It resonates with me, given my background and all that. But regardless of its darkness, 'Still Lemonade' for me is a peak-time track.

Everything I've been writing for this album will provoke emotions. I had a bit of a shit year in 2014, not to go into detail, but everything I've been making in the studio is all of that coming out. I've got a track called 'Letting Go', which is very epic and sad.

The emotional background of the album is interesting, given that you're known as a party boy.

I'm happy all the time around everyone, that's how I am. But some things you bottle up. I've got a pretty good life in terms of what I do, I don't feel like I want to moan about anything. I don't like being down or bringing other people down. I hold it in, which isn't completely healthy, but that's why the writing has been an outlet.

Was 'Still Lemonade' a result of the line-ups you've been on recently?

Not at all. I'm a producer and what makes me different to other people is how I define my sound – it's just taken a couple of years to get to a place where I'm comfortable. Like, I was trying to make Hot Creations-type stuff, stuff that'll get played at Paradise, it was all right but it wasn't me. I wasn't satisfied. I started experimenting, going through different styles, and then I was like, "Fuck it, I like dark music." That felt like the natural way to go.

The Innervisions stuff is a massive influence. I saw Dixon at DC10 closing two or three years ago and I was definitely in the zone. It was the first time I heard [Ten Walls'] 'Gotham' and I was under the speaker like, "This is the shit. It's dark, it's going off, it's dancefloor as fuck."

I'm also really into the Kompakt sound. Especially the melodic side of it, the thought-provoking stuff, big, emotional breakdowns. It makes you dance but it reflects something else.

You're in a unique position because you were a major part of dubstep and you had your sound and then you decided to switch things up completely, but you did so in the public eye.

When I did the switch I tried to leave behind the status that I had in dubstep. I wanted to start from the bottom. I played on any bill, at any time, and I hardly earned a fucking penny because I'd play gigs for free, I wasn't bothered by the money, I just wanted to play out. I did that for a year. I made sure I was at every party, made sure I was out talking to people. It's been blinding and I haven't taken any shortcuts. It's been about proving myself.

When did you get seriously into house music?

I'm from garage, you know what I mean? When I used to do mixes in my bedroom [back in the day] I used to play Grant Nelson, all the Nice 'N' Ripe stuff. Working in [legendary former Croydon record shop] Big Apple, that was an outlet for funky house and I was hearing it all the time, I was always buying records.

With techno, the stuff I was definitely into was the Grain [aka Artwork] stuff. When I was 17/18 I used to go out with my brother [Hijack] and also Hatcha and the Big Apple lot. I'd be the youngest in the club, it'd be all these 30-year-olds listening to proper deep house. I just thought it was older people's music.

I ended up in an unexpected position with dubstep. That was just us trying to make dubstep! My career became about one genre purely because of the way it panned out. We didn't expect to create something new.

Crosstown Rebels seems like a good fit for the album.

I met Damian [Lazarus, Crosstown boss] years ago. He was a fan of what I was doing before. Then I saw him at Hideout a few years ago, I was out with him and [Seth] Troxler; the sun was coming up and we just got battered basically! He's been really cool ever since, he's always wanted to hear the new stuff I've been doing. I sent 'Still Lemonade' to Damian and he was like, "I love it, can I have it." Then that turned into doing an album for Crosstown.

He's very much a tastemaker. And he's willing to do something different, like [recent single] 'Lover's Eyes (Mohe Pi Ki Najariya)'. Putting me on Crosstown is a massive risk because some people are still cynical about what I'm doing. They won't bother reading an interview with me, won't find out what my involvement is. I'm not sure what else I can do, but to be honest with you, I couldn't give a toss. I don't expect everyone to be supportive, but I'm content, I'm happy. I know who's playing my tracks and it's not just close friends. 'Still Lemonade' is the one I've had most confidence in and it's worked.

You've been gigging heavily for a while now, has that got in the way of writing tunes?

Definitely. But it's also been like homework. You're in the clubs, you're hearing what's going on. You're like, "This tune's sick!" So you come back with a head full of ideas. But I can't write on the road, which is a problem. It always feels very forced. I like being at home, in my space, with all my stuff.

I hate feeling limited in what I can use because it ends up sounding shit, I need my full army of sounds.

Did you ever sit down and make a career plan?

No, never. Something like Magnetic Man [former dubstep project with Benga and Artwork], we never planned that album. We just wanted to play one show! You never know how it'll pan out. I don't want to go all philosophical but there's no point in planning. I haven't got a time in my head when I'm going to stop. I have this conversation at afterparties: "When do you think it'll end?" I don't think it'll ever end.

'Still Lemonade' is out via Crosstown Rebels on February 23

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