skream by steven dobbie
Originally uploaded by Blackdown.
all tracks original Skream productions unless stated
Sunship "Almighty Father (Skream remix)"
Lightning Dub (Elektronica)
Digital Mystikz "Ancient Memories (Skream remix)"
Loefah "Indian Dub (Skream remix)"
Where Am I?
Untitled (a little taster)
Blackdown: to start at the beginning, when did you begin making music?
Skream: At about 15, I started with Benga. I met him through his brother. I was working in a record shop, at Big Apple, and he said his brother was making beats, I said I was making beats. We used to ring each other up and play beats down the phone – we didn’t even know each other. I met Hatcha through my brother, because my brother was working in Apple on the jungle floor and Hatcha was working downstairs. He started playing all the El-B and Horsepower stuff, and that’s what got me into it all. That was around 2000. I’ve been making tracks since Forward>> was at Velvet Rooms.
I used to work at Apple on the weekends. At school I was like ‘yeah I want to work in a record shop’ but when you get there it’s just boring man. Standing there all day or taking the post out. All these kids go down shops asking for a job, and I’m like ‘you don’t know shit!’ Plus it used to be lively but record shops are dead now.
B: Can you explain to people how important Big Apple records was to Croydon? Because without it, there may not have been dubstep.
S: Yeah because Jon from Big Apple was pushing the sound so people picked up on that dark vibe early - from people like El-B. He wanted to sign the El-B “album” – that legendary album. That shop was important, the centre point where everybody used to go. Benny Ill (Horsepower) was there, El-B , Artwork/Menta worked upstairs…
B: Do you mean the “lost” El-B album he never released?
Yeah. Fucking hell, I never got a copy of it. It was sick: the El-B and Juiceman track Buck & Bury, that’s an all time favourite and the original never came out.
S: If you look back, you and Benga, through Hatcha sets, built the link between the dark 2step days and the modern dubstep sound. Do you agree?
It was the time when it all went a bit quiet, around the time of Musical Mob’s [proto-grime] ‘Pulse X’ people weren’t buying so much garage. But we developed a style, with the 404 basslines. I dunno it was just what we were feeling. We wanted to do darker, but our own sort of darker – round the El-B style but it never ended up sounding like them . It ended up something with a twist. I look back to those days. I’ve got a pukka tape of Hatcha at Forward [at the Velvet Rooms].
B: Your early minimal, modern, techy style – how did it come about?
S: That was just us. We just loved those b-lines. We just wanted to get darker and darker, and make movie-sounding shit, deep sounding. It was different at the time.
B: It was, because those 2002-3 Hatcha sets were just another level.
S: Hatcha had a lot to do with the sound. He used to suggest trying things. I did tracks with him too.
B: How did it come about that he had you and Benga 100% exclusive?
S: Those were the early years, when the Big Apple label was starting. It got right political, because I couldn’t give a CD out to anyone else … and it was around then it started going quiet.
B: Looking back though, it was crazy that at one point Hatcha had you, Benga, Skream, Digital Mystikz and Loefah on exclusive. That’s a lot of control.
S: He broke us all really, so it was fair. He just wanted to be on top. He used to be the only one with loads of dubplates – it was looked upon as kind of ridiculous.
B: If you look at that clipped, dark minimal style of you and Benga around 2002-2003 and compare it to now, there’s so much more colour in dubstep...
S: Yeah I want to get onto the musical stuff, because you can only go so far with just beats and bass. I’ve been getting more melodic. You can work easier ... I’m on the computer all day long, I can’t leave it.
My computer wouldn’t turn on, something went wrong for a couple of days and I was pacing the house: I couldn’t sit down. Three days: it was horrible. Torture.
B: Do you feel like you’re addicted?
S: Yeah, I am. I can’t leave it. I’d eat my dinner there… it was like my home. Work and just roll into my bed. But then I’ve got so much material indoors.
B: When I interviewed you for Deuce three years ago, you said you had hundreds of tracks. And that was three years ago...
S: On that old drive I had 600 files. On my new one I’ve got 800. it gets ridiculous, I can’t remember them all.
B: So why don’t you use email?
S: I don’t want internet on there. That’s how I nearly lost all the old stuff I’d made. It had 11,000 viruses. I always used to fall into the trap of opening them emails up, then my hard drive started fucking up, the computer wouldn’t turn on and then I was in bits. It was like someone was in hospital, I kept ringing up the computer engineer fixing it going ‘how’s it going?’
B: Is Big Apple records the label coming back?
S: There’s rumours, but no, it isn’t. I’d love it to though.
B: Did your Skunkstep EP ever come out on Big Apple?
S: There was TPs, ten TPs. Did you get one?
B: Yeah ...but they’re not your best tracks.
S: Someone offered me £70 for one.
B: So what is the best Skream track that never came out?
S: “Cape Fear remix.” I dunno, I just loved it. it used to go off. Kode 9 loved it. I remember it going off [ upstairs at the True Playaz night] at Fabric. Juiceman and Sarah Ammunition were like “that’s heavy.” I must have been 16 or 17.
B: How old were you when you started making music?
S: 15. My last year at school, or was it year 10? Because I remember first listening to Wiley when they were blowing up with Pay As U Go. It started getting more MC-orientated and I went off it. but I don’t mind doing the grime-ier stuff now because people are feeling that style.
B: It’s strange because when we first spoke for Deuce in about 2002/3, in terms of innovation and sound dubstep was miles ahead, and grime was behind. But out of that early grime came the most incredible music. Has the progress of grime had much of an influence on you?
S: Yeah that’s why I started to get more melodic. You can kinda get away with more stuff. Dubstep is going to be looked as an offshoot of grime now, for people who want instrumental stuff.
B: Yeah except that dubstep pre-dates grime by a couple of years, at least. The first dark garage tune I ever heard was Groove Chronicle’s Masterplan or 1999, and there was no grime then. Was there a point where you began to enjoy grime more then?
S: Terror Danjah’s stuff. Geeneus’ What remix. Jammer’s good. I’ve got a couple of grime releases coming out, on Southside as Mr Keys. Then there’s “Midnight Request Line” on Tempa.
B: Is that your biggest tune to date?
S: Definitely. I started it as a grime tune. I didn’t get that tune at first. There’s a formula to it. I’ve been trying to study it. But I can’t get it.
B: Do you wanna know my 1pence worth? It’s big because it’s got chords and a key change in it. And key changes move people.
S: It’s hypnotic. It’s minor. I learnt all my chords and scales when me and Plasticman went to music college . I still use Fruity, FL5, with loads of VSTs and synths.
B: I guess the time you started making beats was the first time you didn’t have to pay £2000 to start to make studio music. You could download Fruity Loops for free – technology was in the hands of the people.
S: It sounded a bit cheap at the beginning but it sounded different, that’s why we got away with it.
B: Lots of people think because you’ve got your tunes played out you’re rich and famous, but it’s not like that. Do you struggle between money and music?
S: I’ve got my mum and dad on my back. I’ve been making music for four years but they say ‘where’s it going?’ Fair enough you do magazine photoshoots but where’s the money? I say I’ve got this and that coming out, but it’s not enough to live on. It’s a struggle. I’ve hardly earned anything in the years I’ve been doing it.
B: Which is frustrating considering how many tunes you’ve made and how much you’ve changed the sound.
S: I would have loved to get on them Rephlex compilations. They brought more people into the scene, which is good because it is technical music, you can listen to it.
B: It’s funny because a lot of the Rephlex audience hate the word garage but like dubstep, but we’ve seen the sound come out of garage.
S: It was an outcast for a bit. “Garage” - you can’t say that word wherever you go.
B: So where did you go to school?
S: West Wickham, near Bromley. Not that far from Croydon. It was a catholic school. One of the teachers robbed all the money – she was in The Sun . We had no heating in the winter, substitute teachers – it was fucked man. I got suspended about eleven times. Anything that would happen, if they didn’t find someone, it would be on me. First time I got suspended it was for not picking up rubbish in the rain. That’s ridiculous, you’re not going to do it are ya? Because it was the headmistress she wanted to abuse her rights.
S: Me and my mate Tel got chased once, when bunking, because they thought we were burglars. They had the police helicopters out – we were terrified. They chased us for hours. They became the laughing stock of the police force, because we were just bunking. But I finished school, I didn’t want to get chucked out, because it looks bad on paper. I have no idea what I would be doing if I didn’t do music. I just want it to become a job. It’s not like work for me.
B: Croydon is part of greater south London but it has it’s own vibe...
S: It’s looked on as really bad now. It never used to be. It’s cast as a bad place. When we go out to Rochester or places like that, if they see “Croydon” on your ID you can’t come in. Or Brighton – you have to go into clubs in ones or twos. Then they start clocking and say “nah there’s too many people from Croydon.” I swear.
B: Do you remember being in Black Sheep Bar in Croydon at Digital Mystikz’ “Dubsessions” night when there was nobody there? Do you remember Mala DMZ playing “Forgive?”
S: I love that tune.
B: Did that kind of big, melodic DMZ sound influence you?
S: Big time. It gave me a kick up the arse, that’s what it did. I was slacking, badly. Last summer I was slacking. But since then I’ve been doing stuff I’ve been happy with again. The Mystikz have brought the whole music side in, it’s more than just bass and beats. It’s heavy. Loefah, Coki and Mala – they all have their own styles.
B: What do you make of halfstep v traditional dubstep beats?
S: I try and do halfstep with energy. It’s still dance music. A night of all that half stuff does get a bit much. A bit dead. But that’s what I like about dubstep. You can do something really abstract and get away with it. You could even do a big vocal dubstep tune and get it in the charts. Except then you’d get people jumping on it – for now people are only in it for the music.
B: What was it like for you going to the early Forward>> at Velvet Room days?
S: Mad. Mental. Hearing my tune getting played in a club and people liking it: it was the maddest buzz in the world. It was a lot older back then. Bit more of a Champagne garage crowd too, but it was good.
B: Is the rumour about the Croydon limo true? That you lot all used to go to Forward>> in a limo?
S: Yeah. Everyone used to get mashed and go up in a limo. It weren’t looked at as weird.
B: So albums, what’s the plan?
S: I don’t wanna rush it. I could have had thirty albums by now but I want it to be good. But I’m trying to make eleven tracks I’ve really put a lot into. But I don’t have an album deal. I’d also like to start a label too though.
B: Is there a difference between Ollie and Skream?
S: There used to be. Skream used to be the chilled out one, I didn’t use to say anything, back when I smoked lots. I used to smoke lots when I was younger 14-16. It’s horrible though, you just waste years. It’s like ‘what have I don’t this year? Smoke.’
B: So can you name the best mashup times by Skream?
S: Ah haha. There’s a top 10! Were you there when I was sick in a speaker at Forward>>? That was humiliating.
B: You being arrested at Plastic Man’s Filthy Dub must be in the top 10…
S: Nah but that wasn’t my fault. I swear to god. My mate gave me a tenner in the toilets for a pint. The bouncers have gone ‘come here. Go upstairs!’ They pushed me out the door going ‘you’re a dealer mate.’ They didn’t find anything obviously but they still wouldn’t let me back in. Someone twisted my arm, I said ‘get off’ and it was a policeman. He threw me up against a window. I told him to ‘fuck off’ so he threw me on the floor. All people like Mark One are like ‘you alright, what’s happened?’ and I’m like ‘what does it look like’s happened? I’m being arrested.’ It was humiliating. It had looked like I’d done something really bad.
B: Shame because Filthy Dub was good...
S: Did you come to the first one when me and Chef played? Do you remember how busy it was? That was a proper one-off one. You wont ever get that again in Croydon. Dubstep don’t appeal to promoters here, all they think about is money. It’s all commercial music in there.
B: Do you feel like Forward>> is a family? Like you’ve grown up through it?
S: Yeah. I’ve met a lot of people through it, trust a lot of people too. It’s good, everyone gets on and when you go out there’s loads of you having a good time.
B: Have you got a big family?
S: Nah I’ve got one brother, he plays house. He’s Hijack: he used to be in [legendary south London raving crew] Internatty with Bailey, Grooverider and all that. That’s how I met Loefah, he came up to me and said ‘was your brother was in Internatty?’ My brother was on Energy FM and Kiss before Kiss was big, doing jungle sets. I’ve got a wall of ’89 to ’96 dubplates that have never been played, just clean and that.
B: Were you into jungle at the time?
S: Nah it’s when I got older. I love dark music, not just bass but deep stuff. I think it’s because I make beats I appreciate how well they’re made. When I listen to Photek now I freak. But I only started listening to all my brothers jungle later, though I don’t majorly listen to it.
B: Most of the darkness in garage can be traced back to El-B having been to Metalheadz and going ‘I’m gonna make garage, but dark’ with Groove Chronicles and the Ghost.
S: I was always on the El-B stuff from day. They were different, music with style. They were classy tracks, man.
B: Did Benga do the Hatcha VIP dub?
S: The one that’s just beats and bass? Yeah that’s Benga, a tune called “Star Wars.”
B: What’s Benga doing these days?
S: He’s doing production work with Artwork and working with some of the grime boys. He’s done two tracks with Crazy Titch, one of them I reckon could be quite big. And he’s done about four new dubstep tunes.
He’s cool though is Benga, hilarious. He laughs like a bird. And he’s got a slick afro. You see him walking through Croydon with a hairdryer – he’s had to go borrow one cos his hairdryer’s broken. It’s nutty. It was blazing heat the other day but he had to put his hood up because he was embarrassed of his hair. He was so hot. He looked like he was wearing a scuba diving outfit.