Saturday, January 16, 2010
Skream on Keysound and Magnetic Man interview
LDN016 Skream "Sweetz (2005 Flex)"/"Angry World" [Keysound Recordings]
I'm excited to say Skream has a 12" forthcoming on Keysound Recordings, two lost dubs. "Sweetz (2005 Flex)" hails from the "eyes down" 3rd Base era of DMZ, one of the most amazing set of club experiences of my life. "Angry World" dates from after it but harks back to the Horsepower sound of 2002. This blog post is devoted to Croydon's finest and the gang.
When I go about finding art for Keysound 12"s I ask the producer, "tell me about a place that means something to you and these tracks." Scratcha DVA chose the Limehouse studio complex where "Bullet A 'Go Fly" was recorded and Goodz told me where in Leighton he used to get his hair cut as a yout. Obviously Skream said "Big Apple records," the shop in Croydon where he, Benga, Artwork, Hatcha and Hijak used to hang out and Chef, N Type, Kode9, Mala, Loefah, Walsh, Coki and more (even me!) used to buy dark garage records.
Thing is Big Apple got sold to grime producer J Sweet, so photos of it now weren't an option. I began digging. I rang Hatcha who said the only photographer he could remember was Cleveland Aaron, Chantelle Fiddy and my ole comrade in arms from Deuce mag (RIP). I ring Cleve but turns out all his photos from that era got lost in a iMac crash (inc the eski-era Wiley n Wonder ones, *gulp!*). There must be copies, so I email my old editor who sends me on to his designer: no luck. She sends me on to their previous designer: no luck.
Then online I find the shot you see above, taken by Greg Tuck: it's of the old Big Apple door in the state it now is. But covered in stickers from the Apple era, it's like reading fossil layers in rock. Click on the image on Flickr for annotated notes of what the stickers are.
So that was the a-side sorted. What about the b-side art? Phone goes: it's Hatcha. "I think John might have some." Turns out John, former owner of Big Apple Records is back in the country. He mails me to say he'll dig around in storage.
Result: Hatch gets in touch to say John's found some old never-before seen-archive photos of the Big Apple days. Here they are...
Skream and Benga in Big Apple records Croydon, circa 2001. Shot by former shop owner John Kennedy
Artwork, Goodfella and Skream in Big Apple records Croydon, circa 2001. Also shot by former shop owner John Kennedy.
I asked Artwork who that guy in the middle of this photo was and got this reply...
“That is Goodfella with one of the Apple stickers on his arm. 60% of people walking in the shop would get a friendly pat on the back. Only to find out when they got home they had been walking round Croydon with an Apple sticker on them all day!”
“This started an instant reaction when leaving the store called the “Apple Scratch” i.e. wildly feeling your own back for the stickers. No one was immune. But Hatcha would check himself every 30 seconds and could never be caught out. Hatcha personally wrote out his own stickers for his victims ranging from ‘divpot’ to ‘I rape kids.’”
Needless to say I used one of these photos on the 12" art and the YouTube video, alongside some "enthusiastic" MCing from Oneman and Abso on Christmas eve on Rinse, one of my favourite sets from the pair (and that's saying something). This is what they sound like...
Finally I interviewed Skream, Benga and Magnetic Man for the NME just before Christmas. Times must have changed, as the first time I interviewed Skream it was with Benga in the cafe next to Apple in Croydon. The second time was in Loefah's house in '05. Now we were in posh west London and they're signed to a major. Times really have changed, but I'm happy for them. If anyone should take on the festivals and the big arena's, it should be these three. Fair play to them.
Benga, Skream and Artwork interview, December 2009, a pub, west London.
Martin: So who’s stupid idea was magnetic man then?
Artwork: All of us were talking, for about six months. They were playing records out and we were making music and we thought about doing something that pushed it on a bit. And so that’s where it roughly started. Then the Arts Council said ‘yeah, we’re looking for something like this as well…’ So they gave us a load of money to make a live show. It was different because we could put all these tracks together and then change it all around… Change the tracks as you’re playing them.
B: There were times when we’d produce something and I’d think I could use that, it was such a heavy twistup.
M: Are any of the early sets recorded?
A: no, no-one recorded it, as it was just a bit hap-hazard.
Skream: There is actually a set recorded, from Matter.
M: Kode9 said to me that live sets with Ableton are really good for stumbling on ideas you later want to go build upon in your studio…
A: That’s right, it is. We do sometimes loop up on some bit or drop to some part and go…‘that sounds wicked.’
M: So who does what?
B: I’m not a bass player and he [pointing at Skream] is not a snare player.
A: It shifts around, it kinda split up, between drums on one, bass on another. Top line on another, but then it switches around. When the gigs are back to back you don’t have time to switch them around, but when you have more time you want to experiment more, so you think ‘I’ll tell you what, I’ll filter that, or I’ll knock that right out.
S: We try not to do the same thing every show because by the end of it you’ve mastered your part.
M: Does it evolve as it goes along?
A: It does.
S: Each show is a rehearsal.
M: Does it feel different to DJing?
S: It’s more stressful, much more stressful, because any slight move could blow people’s ears out. We have played stuff that is far too high so you have to sort of limit it. We had a problem before…
A: We linked up a machine and every single sound in the sampler played at once. It sounded like the earth was caving in.
S: Me and him [waves at Benga], nearly had heart attacks.
A: We’ve also begun to use some hardware in the show, a Native Instruments drum machine. We use it live to fire off a lot of the samples.
M: I suppose that adds a bit of visual interaction, but mostly how do you make it visually interesting?
A: Elliot from Novak does our light show and he’s worked out a system where he can pick certain sounds out so if he hears the bassline he gets a feed from that and make some visuals so that it’s completely different every single set.
M: You didn’t fancy getting 15 dancing girls, costumes and…
S: Nah we keep that for the DJ sets, haha… nah.
M: I know it sounds stupid but you’ve got to ask yourself these things: what are you going to do visually when you go from the studio to a live performance?
S: We keep it simple and all about the visuals. It’s a main part of the show for me, the visuals.
A: Seeing a sound come up and then see Elliot have a shape for that sound, it’s usually pretty spot on. He’s got it really fucking good now and he’s working on something for the next tour that’s insane. I don’t know what he’s doing, this nine projector thing, one projector for each sound.
M: It’s good though, as it leave you guys to make the music, which is kinda what you guys do, instead of trying to impose the visual side of things on you… so where did you tour in the first six months or so of Magnetic Man? Because it started with the Arts Council shows but then ended up with some pretty big festivals…
M: Damn, what was that like? ….err, all of them!?
S: Roskilde was amazing!
B: I think… I don’t want to be too much ‘this was the best, that was the best’ but I think Roskilde was the best.
S: It was the best. The place is run like clockwork, it’s one of the best festivals I’ve been to. Everything was perfect. The crowd was sick, just massive… and it’s not just even that: they listen.
B: You get such different listeners.
S: I hate it when we do the Magnetic Man thing at dubstep nights because the DJ before us… we’ve played after N-Type before and he’s a well energetic DJ, playing the big tunes one after another very quickly. Whereas with Magnetic Man the tune can be playing for up to three minutes…
B: …and change in style
S: … so the crowd could get bored. When you go to a festival they’re open, they listen to everything. Before you, you might have a band and after you, a DJ. It’s cool.
M: I think it’s great that you guys were the one to take it to that level, because there are a lot of guys who have come out of dubstep and got big who perhaps weren’t there at the original time, but no one can say anything to you three... does that mean a lot to you guys, that it’s you that have gone live at these massive festivals, not anyone else?
A: It’s good because we were there, at. The. Very. Start. It started from Big Apple records, and we were all there. And it’s just moved along and moved along until now, this is fantastic because it can take it to everyone now. It’s great to know it’s going to be fucking massive!
M: So this is the thing. I know we’re sitting here in West London with Sony records and I’ve heard the older Magnetic Man tunes but I don’t know what the next steps are… what is the plan to take it to that ridiculous level in 2010?
B: I think it’s more to do with our music now, coming out of dubstep. Don’t get me wrong, we’re still all about that, but this is another evolution. We’re on the stage where it doesn’t have to be exactly dubstep. I reckon we can get really creative. It’s going to come from the album.
S: With all three of us doing it it’s going to get ultra-no-holds barred.
B: Which is kinda the way dubstep was at a stage before. So we’ve just got back to that, but on a bigger scale. It’s going to be massive next year.
M: So do you envision it being a vocal thing or an instrumental thing?
A: We’ve got artists but at the moment it’s just about making the Magnetic Man sound. The stuff we’ve done before and where we’re going: it’s really exciting. We’re properly hyped about it. We’ve already got some collaborations lined up but obviously that’s “to be revealed,” so it’s more about the Magnetic sound.
M: I’m interested to see the transformation, when it’s no holds barred: all tempos, all styles.
S: It’s going to be a mashup. It almost sounds corny…
B: … but it’s not, I’ll tell you why: because people kinda expect from the things we’ve written before. Like he [Skream] wrote the La Roux record or “Burning Up” and things like that are fully over there [the overground] but he hasn’t fully gone. But we can do that with Magnetic Man, we don’t have to be scared that people expect this from us, or expect that.
A: The festivals now, the people who are listening to Magnetic Man, before it was like “I like drum & bass,” “I like dubstep…” now you get people who go to festivals who will go and find their dubstep artist, their drum & bass but then they’ll go and listen to a band.
M: Festivals are really open like that.
A: They are.
S: The clubs are going like that now as well. I love playing on a mixed lineup. It’s great because you can play… say, a house record but end up going into a mad breaks ravey thing.
A: I think that’s the exciting thing about Magnetic Man, it’s that we’re just making music that we like. It’s just music. That. We. like. If it sounds great, it doesn’t have to be pigeon holed.
Copyright Shaun Bloodworth/Ammunition and, taken at FWD>> + Rinse. FWD>>+Rinse return to Matter on the 29th of Jan. Boy Better Know, Geeneus, EZ and Kode9 y'know!
M: I appreciate you want to keep the vocalists under wraps until they’ve happened, but do you envision a Magnetic Man show that’s you expanded with some other musicians or are you going to keep it just you three in the live show?
A: For the moment, we want to keep it minimal.
S: It keeps it our thing. There’s so many people just going from dance to live…
A: … and you listen to the record and … imagine you went to see a live band and they replaced the live drummer with a drum machine and the bass player with a 303, you’d be like ‘what the fuck is this?’
M: I always think of Destiny’s Child live, where you get some fat drummer with a mullet on the ‘80s toms at the back, and I’m like ‘no no, I want Rodney Jerkins or Timbaland’s drums…’
B: That’s where every single electronic artist goes wrong. They try and get a drummer in: why? It sounded good with that crazy snare you had.
A: I can not see the point of that. It’s ridiculous: you like that music because of that sound.
S: Some live drum & bass sounds alright with live drums, probably because it’s all breaks.
M: And there’s only certain drummers that can do it…
B: For me I still listen to it and think: it’s not the same. It doesn’t have that Amen sound with that recycled feel to it, where it’s sampled, and sampled and sounds bad.
M: One of the things you guys remind me of is Roni Size: Reprazent who took a bunch of sick underground producers and made a live show and one of the things they did was to incorporate some of their solo classics into the show. Could you ever see this from you guys, doing say “Red” or “Burning Up?”
A: It can be open but at the moment we have so much good stuff…
S: We did that at the start but that was mainly because of lack of time to get Magnetic Man stuff done, so I was sort of remixing my own beats. But we probably play a lot of that stuff better in a DJ set. So now it’s the challenge of the three of us coming together. Now we can bring in riffs and completely mash it.
A: It’s going to remain fluid, which is good. It’s not going to be a standard set.
S: This stuff isn’t going to be heard in any DJ set: it’s Magnetic Man music.
M: Oh no, Hatcha won’t be happy!
A: He’s going to be pissed.
M: …and that is a formidable force!
S: But it needs to be done, especially for the first year until the single or album is released, so it’s all about having people there to see it, when it’s fully formed.
B: I want it to be a shock to people.
S: They can’t go get the record again tomorrow.
A: I think that’s the main thing about it, that it is an event. The thing about Magnetic Man is it is the show, and the lights and how everything’s going to work together.
M: And that is how things are going these days, with records not selling a lot, the focus is on live now…
A: We’re not really bothered about the money…
M: Yeah course, but with live shows there’s such scale now.
A: Just seeing what we’ve done so far off our own backs, and you know how good that show was… so going to the next step now and getting a major label behind you it’s just like…
S: The scale of the show is quite crazy. It’s going to be interesting to see because obviously we’re going to get bigger stages now. It’s gonna be hard but exciting.
A: It’s nice because before we’d say ‘do you think we can do this?’ and they’d be like ‘err, no way…’ . Now we ask and they say ‘yes.’
B: Dreams are made possible.
S: The days of festival staff being rude are over, that’s a great thing. The about of times I’d ask ‘sorry, do you have a spare lead?’ and they’d say ‘no!’ You get some real rude festivals staff and now they can’t do that, and it’s great.
M: Do you have set dates for next year?
A: Ahh… yeah a few festivals but…
S… we can’t say them until the lineups are released.
M: So, doesn’t this mean you’re going to spend a lot of time on tour together?
M: Is that not going to be chaos?
A: We’ve done three tours together now.
M: I’m trying to work out who’s going to be most trouble out of you three….
S: Everyone has their own night.
B: That’s how it’s been!
S: There’ll be one night where I’ll feel rough and Benga will take charge. Then I’ll be better again another night…
B: You always get dragged in anyway. It might be his night.
S: Someone will try and say ‘I’m going to have an early night, go home after the show…’
M: What is it about the Big Apple camp, because I know Hatcha’s the king of the windups…
A: That shop was one long windup. You learnt from the best.
S: There’s actually no windups on tour, because it gets to volatile situations where everyone’s feeling rough. Windups could lead to a full blown row.
[randomly, at this point, the posh West London pub we’ve been taken to around the corner from Sony in High Street Kensington blacks out, so it’s candle lit interview from here on in…]
Benga: Blackout! Blackout with Blackdown!
S: They keep saying the whole road blacks out, let’s get to the kitchen!
M: So, do you actually have to limit the windups on tour?
S: What it is that, generally seven or eight days in, nobody’s in the best of moods, though Arthur is generally alright, but me and Benga, we end up bickering with each other.
B: We do wind each other up to a point but we no each other’s limits. On the eighth day, everyone been out having it, because that’s what you do on tour, you play, go out, get smashed, wake up and then get driven somewhere else. You don’t have to try and get yourself anywhere else and it makes it even worse. You think to yourself, I could actually die tonight…
A: No, you do pretend to be dead. That’s Benga’s biggest trick: pretend to be dead to cleaners in hotels.
M: How funny is it?
A: It’s fucking funny - but they don’t think it is.
S: He laid on the floor between the door and the corridor…
[Maniacal cackling from Benga in the background…]
S:… the cleaner found him, tried to jog him, then burst into tears and then tried to call an ambulance. He jumped up laughing and ran off.
M: Croydon stitch up!
B: At the time, I was in tears.
M: How long did you have to lie there before someone found you?
S: About half an hour.
A: More like ‘how long did he have to hold his breath for?’
M: Right! That’s a complicated wind-up.
B: She shook me and went ‘I think he’s dead!’ She called someone else and I was like ‘ohshit’ [does face like he’s going to asphyxiate] and had to ride it out for a little while.
M: [To Artwork and Benga] So what’s Skream’s greatest windup?
S: Ah… you can’t talk about it on tape.
S: I don’t do windups…
A: He’s classic rock n roll: things go out the windows… but only in my room!
M: Your things?
S: Nah nah, the homeless story, that’s been my best windup.
A: He constantly tells people that they [Benga & Skream] were homeless and that he found them on the street.
S: I told it to this girl once in Brighton and I had to hold my face for 15 minutes… I almost thought I was going to cry. I told her that me and Benga were originally homeless and that Arthur was like our Fagin and found us. To this day that girl still believes us. Afterwards I’d have to put this sad face back on every time she appeared and she’d be like ‘ahhh…’. I felt like I was going to explode with laughter.
M: Like you want do die inside… Thinking about it you know, I’m not sure how I could maintain that level of windup for that long.
B: Now, this guy [Arthur] did this king one to Chef, we gotta expose him…
[Much shouting and laughing…]
Both A + S: Nah, nah, nah!!!
A: Leave it, leave it!
M: Hmm, did Chef not take it well?
S: Thing is, he got sucked in so far…
PPA: Now leave it there!!! It’s going. In. the. paper? [points to the dictaphone on the table…]… fucksake! So… yeah… move on!
M: Ahem, OK. So what is the longest period you’ve got to be on tour together for? Because I’m concerned about the level of wind-uppery…
S: There’s only so many dates you can do in the UK so…
A: This is different things now, you’ll have to ask Sony. And we can handle it.
S: DJing is practice for this sort of thing. The thing is we’ll never fight, none of us will ever fight each other which is good.
B: There’s always someone in the middle, the sane one. C’mon, let’s have a group hug!
M: I’m not sure how you do it, I’m not sure I could spend…
B: Why don’t you come along? Because then if we want to kill someone…
M: Dunno how you do it. Traveling, planes…
S: We haven’t done too many planes together, we’ve only done one. Denmark.
A: No, we’ve done loads. We done Ireland the other day… loads.
B: Ha, you’ve forgotten!
S: Yeah, err, Holland, Ireland, Sweden... Norway…
A: Yeah? It’s all coming back now. But I think it’s just the fact that we’ve known each other for that long now…
S: Skream, it’s been a long time now
A: Ten years, maybe a little bit more.
M: Arthur, do you remember the early days, when you were teaching them…?
A: You can’t teach them nothing! Nah, I remember them getting their first Playstation.
S: I used Fruity Loops before I knew Benny, but I knew Arthur before I used Fruity.
A: But as you know, as you’ve looked into it, just how many people in this scene came out of Big Apple. It’s freaky. It’s odd.
M: But “odd” makes it sound like it was a fluke. It wasn’t a fluke that so many guys in dubstep came out of the Big Apple shop, it was design: you were all on it.
B: It’s funny, because when you say things like that, doesn’t it make you think we was meant to do this? And so next year …
S: Completely! So many people come up to me and say they used to see me in the shop, and I would never have known. Like for example Breakage. He’s from Mitcham, ten minutes down the road.
B: So if you want to get all spiritual, spiritually we’re going to smash it next year . It just makes sense… spiritually.
A: It is weird though. Dubstep’s just thing that every step of the way it has gone onto another level, for the last ten years. And now it’s got to the point where yeah, we have signed a major record deal and it had to happen because it was going that way.
M: I don’t find it weird the fact that people from Big Apple records got big, because you were all on it, what I do find weird is there was a long time when it was this tiny community making really good music and then suddenly it went mental. I’m still shocked by that… like today and I get out of the tube in High Street Kensington for a dubstep interview. It was impossible before… it didn’t seem possible when buying Ghost 001 or Big Apple Records 001.
A: It is weird but to us it just seems like progression. It’s like when we signed the deal, someone came up to me and said, this is fucking mental, this is amazing, you’ve signed a major record deal now and we were like ‘oh yeah…’ It just seams normal to us because that’s where it’s got to go.
B: What I find amazing about your deal, in 2009, is that these days majors seem to sign ‘artists’ not producers, and then they plug the producers in. But you guys are the producers. The time in the mid ‘90s when drum & bass producers were getting big deals: that time seemed to go for a while, and in many cases still is: they want X-Factor puppets or female solo singers…
A: Yeah but this is Columbia Records and the team at Columbia are just unreal.
S: The great thing is we’ve got full control. They just said, we’ve seen what you’ve done, we’ll just help you to go smash it. To be able to do what you want to do and have the support of those people is unreal.
M: Otherwise you wouldn’t have signed the deal?
A: No way. Why would ya? But it’s amazing that they’re looking to us and saying, where is it going to go…
M: So how is the album looking?
A: We’ve been working already so we’ve got a lot of it done. In January we’re starting to properly get on it, 24-7. And then smash it.
M: So how does it affect your solo album Skream?
S: It’s coming out next year but it’s a solo thing, and this is Magnetic Man. It’s no longer three people: it’s a whole.
B: That’s the whole thing: instead of being Skream, Artwork and Benga, we’re a band now. We’re just Magnetic Man. When you see Alex Turner go off and do his side project and then come back to Artic Monkeys, they didn’t become “Alex Turner and Artic Monkeys”, they were just Artic Monkeys.
S: This is just a side project that has become a bit more major.
A: I think it’s just because we can see where this can go as a band, it’s so exciting.
M: It certainly opens doors into whole worlds you cant get to as a DJ, who don’t play on the biggest stages at Glastonbury or Roskilde.
S: The DJ’s an inbetweener.
M: So the live thing opens doors like nothing else, so it means you can keep going upwards. So how do you feel when you walk out on stage and see that many people?
S: It’s alright because you’ve got your friends behind you.
[Laugher from everyone at the Roquefort Factor from Skream…]
S: Me I’ve never really been one to get scared of big crowds.
A: Where was the one where they were waiting for an hour before?
A: We just did Pukkelpop. They have a band on and then they have an hour between where they clean the stage and y’know, mess around. And for every hour there was no one in the tent. But for us for the whole hour before, it was packed, waiting. And this was weird because we’re trying to set up and it’s packed full of people. 5,000 people waiting in there and then 2,000 outside stormed security and got in.
S: It was MENTAL. It was borderline rioting.
M: Did you play the ambient ones to slow it down a bit?
B: Nah we WENT IN, haha!
S: All three of us did a triple crowd surf and me and Arthur nearly killed Benga.
B: Hehe it’s actually quite true: they crowd surfed on top of me. But then I had a crazy one this weekend, I jumped from this stage that was like… how high was it?
S: It was quite a way, I wouldn’t risk it…
M: How do you know if the crowd will hold you up?
B: You don’t you just risk it.
S: You know… well you kinda know.
B: You hope they show some appreciation by catching you!
S: We’ve all hurt ourselves.
M: It only takes one bloke to move out of the way and then…
S: Nah nah, generally we do it at the point when they can’t move. When it’s sardines. So they either let you land on their heads or they put their hand up.
M: Now that makes more sense.
S: I’ve done it in a basement club but you don’t generally do it in half-filled clubs because you’re asking for trouble.
M: You’re asking for a broken skull!
S: The funniest one was when me and Beni asked the promoter ‘can we crowd surf here?’ and the promoter [does Scananavian accent] “yesh yesh, you can do this but the last DJ who done it is now paraplegic.” But what happened to the guy is he jumped diagonally and ended up in a ditch.
M: He wants to aim at the crowd, that’s where he’s going wrong there…
B: I’ve done some high ones.
M: So how do you get back from the crowd?
A: I’ve seen him disappear. Go right to the back… and then he didn’t come back. He had to walk round!
M: You must be doing something right if you’re crowd surfing.
B: Yeah we’re rock stars…
S: I’m pretty sure no one did it before us in dubstep… all three of us: we got Arthur to do it.
A: Yeah: fuck me I don’t think I’d do it again.
S: Once half the rider has gone, mid-set, anything can happen. That is one good thing about being in a group, you get your full rider now. You get all the extras like sandwiches and dips.
A: Dips are important to Skream.
S: Carrot sticks! We’re not actually demanding. There’s a standard rider and it’s our tour manager who gets everything he wants. The killer is a postcard, he wants one from every city we’re in. And he gets it. If he doesn’t he says ‘where are the postcards?’ Even in the UK.
M: Does he send them to his gran?
S: I’m telling you, if we’re in Leicester, he’ll want a postcard from Leicester!
A: We always turn up and there’s a really nice bottle of wine, even though we drink vodka, which strangely disappears at the end of the night.
B: We drink straight vodka because we are – one more time again – rockstars. We drink straight vodka and we dress all in black, haha [They’re not, by the way – M].
S: It’s the mix of adrenaline and a glass of ice which makes vodka go down so easy… but anyway enough about Benga’s alcoholism.
M: OK so I think that’s all I need for the interview, unless there’s anything else I should know about?
S: From next year can everyone call me Olivia because, erm, I’m undergoing some major surgery and I’d appreciate it if you didn’t point or stare. Like no, seriously, don’t stare.
B: Well, that’s it… I didn’t know he was going to tell anyone that.
S: I could be the female vocalist…
B: Oh yeah that’s something people didn’t know, I’m the lead singer.
S: What Benny doesn’t know is that’s now cut from next year.
M: He should have read the small print.
S: We’ll just throw him out live on stage with the mic.
B: [starts to pretend to MC badly] You sayin? What you sayin? What’s everyone sayin? Sayin the same thing over and over again…
S: So, err, do we know how to get back from here?
A: Yeah, it’s doable…
· LDN016 Skream "Sweetz (2005 Flex)"/"Angry World" [Keysound Recordings] is out on the 1st of March. "Sweetz" was first aired in our Keysound Radio mix of 2005. Several other dubs on that mix remain unreleased to this day.