As you’ve doubtless heard, dubstep is dead in the water. Cursed with a lethal mix of commercial success, mass popularity, a huge internet presence, countless sold out raves, the scene is, as any fool can tell, totally knackered. Somebody needs to pause and tell Skream this quick, because from where he’s standing, the world has never looked better. Currently on a short solo tour of the States, the man who describes himself as having “dubstep as my blood group” has been gleefully pushing the boundaries of the sound, chopping up half speed snare smashes and bully boy basslines with taut explosions of house, disco and techno, knowing full well that rather than destroying the scene he loves, he’s blowing it wide open.
His latest EP, 'Skreamizm 7', is a case in point. Heavy loaded with tracks bursting with 140 bpm malevolence, it also finds time for a pulsating, skeletal collaboration with Kelis, the best R&B track Timbaland never made. Then, on 'Sticky', he throws up six minutes of gnarly, no-frills acid techno. On paper they read like sore thumbed curveballs, on the record they work as well as strobes through smoke, elevating the EP into one that Skream rightly calls his “favourite yet”.
No one’s better placed to give us the low down on how England’s biggest musical export is evolving, so we caught up with the ebullient Croydonite to see how the Americans were reacting to his adventures with tempo, why he’d never turn his back on dubstep, and his forthcoming full-scale disco release…
I feel like you’re probably tired of being asked about what’s happened to dubstep in England, but the scene’s definitely moved forward — on 'Skreamizm 7' you’ve got the R&B track with Kelis and the acid track, 'Sticky'. How have people reacted to the new material?
“Some people don’t get it. With [the Kelis track] 'Copycat' I always get asked where the drop is! But mostly the feedback has been great. The thing is, I really like the song. I’m trying to do things different. With an artist as big as Kelis there’s a pressure to make a record aiming to be in the charts, but I know that 'Copycat' isn’t an A List record, and it was never meant to be. The track has got so much space in it, and the way I made it was how I was making tracks seven years ago, letting it breathe rather than filling up every frequency. Aesthetically, it’s kind of a mood — it’s not a peak-time track.
“In fact, 'Skreamizm 7' is my favourite of all of them, because of the variety — the way music’s going now, ‘specially in the UK, you can be extremely versatile. I mean, I couldn’t have put out an acid track five years ago, it would have confused people.”
Before you were making the dubstep tracks with Magnetic Man, people didn’t think you could get that sound into the charts, but now it’s everywhere — is that something you’d like to do again, reshape pop music to suit your new sounds?
“I’d love to, and I’d like to think I could — with bands like The xx doing so ‘mainstream’ well, and 'Copycat' being dynamically like an xx track, yeah, I think it’d be great if it took off — there’s so much shit on the radio, it stands out. Like, in-between a David Guetta track and a fucking Pitbull track it’s gonna stand out, which is a good thing.”
Talking of Guetta, what do you think of his use of dubstep drops in his tracks?
“(Much laughter) It is what it is. It’s completely irrelevant, just completely irrelevant to me. I don’t really acknowledge it. I don’t listen to Guetta so I can’t really comment.
“The thing is, dubstep, it speaks to so many people and David Guetta is playing to fucking millions of people worldwide, so I can’t complain. It’s huge. Dubstep as a whole has got massive, and we worked for a fucking long time to get people to listen to it and to get into it. So when people ask me, 'Oh, what are your thoughts on Britney Spears having a dubstep track?' It’s great! Fucking amazing that that many people round the world finally — kinda — get it.”
And the majority of 'Skreamizm 7' is still made of bass-heavy half-steppers — it’s not like you’ve moved away from the sound...
“I’ll never be able to get away from dubstep. It’s… it’s me. It’s what I do. It’s what I’ve done since I was 15. It’s always gonna be in me. I’ve put so much into the actual scene itself; I was making that shit before it was even called dubstep. It’s like my blood group (laughs). So when I’m playing a lot of techno now and people are like, ‘Oh, you're leaving it’, I’m like, ‘I could never leave it’. If you put dubstep in on the internet, Skream comes up. I’m not trying to leave it; I’m just trying to explore other avenues right now.”
Is that what people are getting at the Skreamizm shows?
“Well, Skreamizm was a concept born of spending so much time at festivals and then not being able to separate a festival show from a club show, the lighting, the mood, the vibe — and I’m sick of going out and watching a fucking light show. It’s like people don’t get into it, they’re watching a show rather than going out and raving. I used to go out raving, I’d be in a dark corner all night dancing my arse off listening to tunes, and I feel a lot of the time it’s hard to find that vibe now. You don’t get small club shows.”
Is that not just because of how big you’ve got?
“No, not necessarily… I mean, I get what you’re saying, but on a whole, dance music’s just become very accepted now. Whereas before, no matter what genre, dance music was never in the same field as pop music — now pop music is dance music.”
To a certain extent you’ve been instrumental in making dance music pop music, do you feel comfortable being a pop star?
“(Laughs..) No, I’m not a pop star!”
C’mon, you’ve been A-listed four times on Radio 1! How is that not pop?
“Yeah OK, the term pop, it does mean popular and I’m totally down with being popular, but the term pop star, I mean Justin Bieber is a pop star. And I’m not Justin Bieber (cracks up).”
OK. We’ll accept you’re not Justin Bieber. So what’s coming up in 2013? We hear you’ve got a disco album on the cards…
“Yeah, I’ve gotta be a little bit tight-lipped with the details — there’s gonna be seven or eight tracks, so it’ll be a mini-album of straight-up disco stuff. There’s gonna be some guests that I don’t wanna mention, 'cos I haven’t got the demos back yet. But people are gonna be so surprised.”
Have you made it on old school kit or stayed digital?
“Both, but the main thing about it is that there are no samples. It’s so easy to try and make a record that sounds like Daft Punk, but you’ll never be as good as Daft Punk! The musical element is really important to me. I finally feel comfortable saying ‘I’m making disco’. Before, I was finding it so hard to get that vibe, to make it feel authentic, now I’ve played some of the tracks out between big disco records and they stand up with them, which is the thing I’ve been aiming to do for so long. It’s so hard!”
So what sort of records have been influencing you?
“Ahhh! Fucking hell, I don’t know… well… Five Special 'Why Leave Us Alone' is my favourite record ever, but I could come up with a thousand names… I tell you who have influenced me, people like Chromeo. There’s definitely a Chromeo vibe about it. It’s happy music, it's fun. It’s how I perceive dance music.”
Are you gonna release it as Skream?
“Yeah, Skream is my life. I can’t change my name. I’ve put so much into building it up, it’d be silly for me to change it, but I think that’s what the problem’s gonna be. People associate Skream with 140 bpm dubstep and I think that’s gonna be the battle for the next year. I’m gonna be doing a lot more of the Skreamizm nights where I’m gonna be covering a variety of styles.”
At the recent Skreamizm nights you’ve been playing a lot of the old school Plastic People type of tracks, are you going to stick with that dubstep base and expand on it?
“To be honest for the past few months all I’ve been writing is music at 120 bpm, so there might be nights where I don’t play anything at all 140 bpm. I’m really enjoying it. Studiowise, I’m the happiest I’ve been for a long time, whether I’m making things 110 bpm, 120 or 150 — I’m just doing what I want again.”
Do you think that’s because you’ve moved away from the Magnetic Man stuff, which, maybe because of its success, got to be a bit rigid?
“No, not at all. We’re working on the second Magnetic Man album right now, so I’m still making that sort of stuff, but Skream as a separate identity is going to move to other places.”
How has the reception been to the new sets in America? Do they get it?
“Well, I’ve only switched up my style for six shows, but from what I’ve seen from those few shows, the reaction is, they seem to get down. I mean, I still get a lot of dubstep fans coming to see me, so when I end on techno and house there’s a little bit of confusion, but on a whole it’s going pretty well.”
Have you been sharing bills with other artists pushing the genres?
“No, I’m going to do a Skreamizm tour like that ‘cross America sometime in the future, but I’m using these shows to get people used to me playing different shit. It can be a hard battle out here. It’s taken this long for club music to become as popular as it is, and they get used to one thing. People are afraid of change.”
Yeah, the narrow-mindedness must be frustrating, ‘specially when you consider dubstep and two-step’s roots in US house records...
“That’s what I’m saying — but it’s really hard to play UK garage out here. They never got it the first time round. I did a show in New York last week, and 4/4 bass stuff is alright, but when you start playing two-step rhythms, they get real confused.”
Maybe if you taught them some two-step moves they’d start dancing…
“The gun finger dance? Yeah, I might do a 'Gangnam Style' garage video with a full dance routine and get them right into it…!”
Massive… we’ll watch this space!