Friday, 18 November 2011


Skream & Benga Interview
Rounding the corner into the new millennium, in a historically smoggy industrial town outside London, two 14-year-olds met at a record shop. Stocking and selling UK garage, 2-step, and drum & bass would have been a very agreeable way to make some cash for any kid at the time, but sometimes fate works in ways stranger than fiction: the musically-inclined duo worked at Big Apple Records in Croydon, which turned out to be the epicenter of a nascent dubstep scene.

At the shop, Oliver Jones (Skream) and Beni Adejumo (Benga) met vinyl-hunting DJs and Producers like DJ Hatcha, Digital Mystiks (Mala and Coki), and Arthur “Artwork” Smith and fell into a crew of like-minded people who mixed wobbly bass lines and syncopated rhythms to create music for themselves. DJ Hatcha played Skream’s first dubplates at the club night FWD>>. And, just like that, a new genre was born.

Fast forward 10 plus years. Dubstep’s sub-audible frequencies have radiated past those early pockets of skinny, solemn, hoodie-wearing young men and now ensnare gleeful, glow-stick brandishing audiences in the tens of thousands. Filthy facemelting is all the rage.

And Skream and Benga are still in the thick of it — since dropping iconic tracks like Skream’s 2005 “Midnight Request Line” and Benga’s boundary-pushing 2008 album Diary of An Afro Warrior, in 2010 they formed the supergroup Magnetic Man with old pal Artwork. At the ripe old age of 25, Skream and Benga are the pioneers of a sound that’s broken through to mainstream success.

A few days after a sold-out show at one of NYC’s biggest venues, the old friends met this harried, traffic-delayed interviewer at an Euro-swank hotel in the area formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen. Ensconced in a booth at the hotel bar and joined by fellow-legend Sgt Pokes, MC and co-founder of DMZ Records (with Mala, Coki, and Loefah), who toasts for them on tour, Skream and Benga quickly displayed why they’re the most beloved figures in the scene.

In between the shouts of laughter, non-stop teasing, and overlapping responses, they discussed crazy dubstep fan arguments, certain rumors concerning Prince Harry, the hunger to create, paparazzi attention, parenthood both literal (Skream) and figurative (Artwork), mother love in the form of ham sandwiches and jollof rice, and why everyone picks on Skrillex.

You couldn’t get this kind of rapport if you scripted it.

How was the Terminal 5 show in NY?
Skream: Amazing.
Benga: Sick.

You have a crazy show coming up with Skrillex, FatBoy Slim, Rusko, a long list of very different styles.
Skream: We’ve been planning hard for a while. They’re always amazing shows. They’re like mini festivals.
Benga: Mixed lineups seems to be the way for it. That’s the way to keep people’s attentions wrapped.

So what are you planning to do to keep people’s attention?
Pokes: We’re mental.
Benga: We crowd surfed on Friday-
Skream: Saturday, Thursday.

Benga, is it true that you pushed Oliver into the crowd once and he ended up breaking three ribs?
Benga: [Laughing] He had crowd surfed before.
Skream: We had done it before then, but this is one people like to remember.
Benga [to me]: Do you need to split us up?
Pokes: No one pushed anyone, I was there, all right? This guy [pointing to Skream] is a liability. No one pushed him–
Skream: I was pushed.
Pokes: Floated off the stage.
Skream: I was pushed.
Pokes: I distinctly remember Benga and me saying, “This is a bad idea. Don’t do it. It’s London. They won’t catch you.
Benga: It all stemmed from me doing it successfully. I was the only one who crowd surfed at the end, before it was shuttin’ down…I’m sorry, I can’t stop laughing, it was too funny.
Skream: Nah, that’s fine.

The windups…are you still pranking people on tour? I heard that you played a trick on a maid in a hotel by pretending to be dead.
Benga: She had a breakdown. She cried-
Skream: She thought she found a dead body-
Benga: We should go out and visit her again. Don’t we?
Pokes: She’s now in permanent psychiatric care.
Benga: It’s mental.

I heard this other one about Artwork — he told somebody that Prince Harry was a fan of yours?
Skream: Well, yeah-
[Benga and Pokes start laughing]
Skream: He told the national newspaper, and we were featured in the paper the next day. But what you’re stemming from — we had invites to go and see a show at Buckingham Palace, but we didn’t meet Prince Harry.

But then, after, Artwork got drunk, rang the Sun newspaper because we know someone there, and was like, “Yeah, he went up to Skream and was like, ‘Love your music, mate!’”

And it all got a bit out of control because my mum rang me the next morning, “You didn’t tell me you knew Prince Harry!” “Mum, clearly, I don’t.” There have been a few.

Are you still partying, as you always do? You’re kind of famous for it.
[All three start cracking up]
Skream [Points to Benga and Pokes]: These two have been having nice times together. They’re doing most of the partying.
Pokes: They be playing drafts.
Skream: Playing checkers
Pokes: Discussing poetry. Shopping.
Skream: Me and Pokes have been playing Scrabble with the eyes.

I was curious because you’re a new dad, Skream. Congratulations.
Skream: Yes, thank you. I don’t drink when I’m home. I only drink on the road.
Pokes: He goes outside his house and drinks.
Skream: I don’t drink when I’m home. Unless, if I have the baby, maybe a glass of wine.
Benga: I’ve seen the liquor underneath his sink.
Pokes: I’ve seen eight bottles of vodka underneath his sink.
Skream: That’s the party drawer, that’s why it’s there.
Pokes: Never gets used, no?
Skream: Somebody did drink all three bottles, but it wasn’t me.
Benga: Really, I think I know who it was then.
Skream: Jesse. [Laughs]
Pokes: He loves it. Jesse is the name of his son.
Skream: Jesse Jones. He’s three months. Well, three and about-
Pokes: Three months and a week.
Skream: That’ll do.
Pokes: What, is he five?
Skream: How long have I been on tour? But no, he’s great. It’s amazing.

Skream had a birthday at Dub War here in NY, in 2006. And now you just played Red Rocks with Pretty Lights. Changes you’ve noticed in those 5 years?
Skream: Bigger crowds, more lights. More lights are definitely something that’s happened since then.
Benga: The shows just got bigger, production-wise, everything.
Skream: There’s a lot more money in the shows. On the production, I mean. Crowds getting younger.

Skream: We’re not getting older. We’re still the same. We’re still the fun wunderkinden.

[All three burst into laughter.]

Is that something someone called you?
Pokes: The dupstep wunderkinden!!!

I’m guessing that was in a German newspaper?
Skream: Yeah, and then it got used in EVERY bit of a story after. I loved it. I’m one of the wunderkinden.

Well, you kind of are…You’ve both been doing this since you were 14? 15? Has working and doing music together changed?
Benga: In our time, we’ve done, what, 14 records together? We had the Magnetic Man album, then done The Judgement-
Skream: Yeah, we done a crap remix of The Judgement. We’ve never really sat together and finished a record. We can’t do it.

Why not?
Benga: We talk too much.
Skream: We’ve known each other too long — we just talk and talk. And we know all the same people! We’re gossips. So we just sit there talking gossip.

Benga: Literally. “This happened! THAT Happened!”
Skream: And it gets to the point where we’ve been sitting there for eight hours. Artwork sits in the middle of us.

Benga: We did do one wicked record that we never finished.

Benga and Skream [taking turns]: Bleep–bleep–bloop–bleep–

Pokes [dryly]: Awesome.
Skream: We know what it sounded like! Blom–blom–
[Skream and Benga dissolve into laughter.]
Skream: F*@cking #1 record!

It sounds a little minimal.
Skream: It was. Extremely.

So Artwork’s the sort of the Dad, I suppose?
Pokes: Wow.
Skream: You can refer to him as that if you’d like, but we cannot!
[Benga and Pokes flop over each other laughing. Overlapping "he would freak," "daaad!" "oh my god!" etc.]
Skream: He keeps everything moving, whenever we get sidetracked.

What’s it like on tour with Skream and Benga vs. Magnetic Man?
Benga: To be honest, they just merge together, now.
Skream: It’s kind of the same thing. Pokes obviously does the Magnetic Man shows as well.
Benga: This is Magnetic Man minus Artwork.
Skream: Yeah, our tour manager is the same…Magnetic Man does get a bit crazier because Artwork’s there.
Pokes: You’ve also got a much more substantial rider for Magnetic Man
Skream: Yeah, the rider’s like, you can’t-
Pokes: You can’t actually finish the rider.
Skream: Yeah we have. Definitely.
Pokes: There’s been times when the red wine’s gone and the cheese is gone…

Is it more substantial because Artwork requests more?
Skream: It’s a bigger budget, it’s different…
Benga to Skream: We don’t actually request a lot in our riders do we?
Toby [the tour manager]: You don’t request anything in your riders. You ask for a bottle of vodka.

[Skream, Benga, and Pokes explode into laughter.]

Benga: We ain’t gonna change that! Thank you.

You could! You could ask for an all-white room, absurd all-white leather couches–
Pokes: I’ve always asked for a wooden bike. I’ve yet to receive one.

A wooden bicycle?
Pokes: Yeah, a wooden bike. [Responding to blank stare:] Exactly! Deal with it.
[Fits of giggles from all three]

Benga, I’ve seen your name come up in two different ways: as Beni Uthman and as Benga Adejuma.
Benga: Adejuma is my name. Uthman is my mom’s maiden name. [Pause] Should I have said that?
Pokes: Ohhh…the taxman!
Benga: Nevermind, that’s not me, NOT ME.

You’re Nigerian?
Pokes: Flygerian!
Benga: I AM Flygerian! Have you seen my jacket? This is my jacket. This is my phone. This is why I’m a Flygerian.

[Pause while we all admire his zippered leather jacket and iPhone.]

Since you’re known as the dubstep wunderkinden, how do you feel about how things have changed in the US vs. the UK?
Skream: We like it. We like change.
Benga: We love change.
Skream: When other people change something it’s better for us. We need it as well, we need other people to change things, to keep us mentally stimulated. I think it’s great. We’ve got a really close connection with everyone in the States. We’ve been friends with a lot of people in America for years, for like the last six years.
Benga: You just got to remember, like, when we first came here, they were just getting into dubstep.

Skream: Yeah. They [US dubstep producers] were coming to watch us, to our shows, a lot of the people who are doing really well here now. So for us it’s great.
Benga: They’ve embraced it.

Skream: And we’ve always welcomed them. It’s not like since it’s blow up here they don’t want us anymore. There’s never any hostility. The hostility never gets caused by anyone making the music, it’s generally the people writing about it. Like this Hipster Runoff sh*t, it’s like the worst blog ever. Now I’m probably gonna get attacked now. I probably shouldn’t have said that.
Benga: He said it! I’m backin’ it!

Skream: I’m still trying to get my head around whether if it’s a joke or not. Whether the whole blog’s a joke. Some of the writing is so bad, and they misquote people.

There was an exchange between James Blake and Skrillex — they changed James Blake’s quotes around to make it sound malicious when he was just stating how he sees the American crowds, or something. It’s really weird, it’s mad, because there wasn’t as much media attention. There was just music being made and music being heard, rather than SO many people talking about it.

Benga: That’s what I find I can’t get my head around. I never ever thought there’d be anything like that, like that blog. Cause I always thought it’s going to be like, everyone’s quite real.

[Skeam and Pokes talk over each other: "Yeah, it explains-" "Other people get in the mix-" "Yeah cause-"]

Benga: It’s tipping over the edge of that, kind of…you never know, we might start getting papped. If that sort of thing’s coming about.

Skream: It’s happened.
Benga: It has happened.

Skream: We were just in Barcelona, coming out of McDonald. We didn’t see any flash or nothing.

And then suddenly there’s this picture on a blog of me and Benga coming out of Mcdonalds, and it mentioned something about our dietary requirements.

That you eat McDonalds?
Both: Yeahhh!

That’s part of it too, though, the fans, the people who were into dubstep back then–
Skream: –Are there to argue. Dubstep fans argue so much online, it’s crazy.

Anywhere where you can write something…like, if you look on YouTube. I used to go to YouTube to get a general feel of how the record was going, but now you can’t find one dubstep track [on YouTube] that doesn’t end up with someone arguing about Skrillex. It’s ridiculous!

He’s become a bit of a lightening rod…
Skream: Yeah! He’s a really good friend of ours, and people can’t get their heads around that!
Benga: Why is it hard to like someone, as a person?

I think the argument is that he is somehow defining dubstep in the US?
Skream: I think he does for the US, but that’s how it is. It’s also the time. People have a problem with how long he’s been around.
Benga: We like his music. We don’t care about where it has come from. We just like his music.
Skream: Everyone should just like it for what it is. Or don’t like it.
Benga: In regards to trying to put someone down…everyone’s being like, go hate him, he’s like the go-to-guy [for that].
And [expect us] to be like, “Oh, we don’t like him, duh , duh, duh.” [Meaning more irrelevant chatter.]

Skream: So many people, I’m not going to say any names, but like, high-up DJs from radio stations and stuff, they’re like, “Oh, you don’t play Skrillex, do you?”
And I’m like, “what was the last Skrillex record you heard?”
And they’re like, “I can’t tell you.” It’s almost become like–
Benga: Trying to fight his fame.
Skream: –a fashion.

Benga: If you go back to us in the UK, we were like the poster boys of dubstep. We have such a range of sound, and I think peoples got their head around that he’s flying it.

Skream: The thing is, we’ve had that. We’ve had that situation where one minute everyone loves you, and then you get the diffident. It picks up as soon as you start to become successful. It’s such a weird thing.
It happens to everyone, because it’s like people want to keep the music for themselves.
Benga: There are some people out there who actually don’t like his music, and that’s understandable. But there are people out there who don’t like him–
Skream: As a person.
Benga: I don’t get that.

It may be that thing that happens in every genre — early adopters don’t like it when it becomes more popular and mainstream.
Skream: But it makes it better for everyone!
Benga: Everyone benefits.
Skream: Everyone is hating on him. Even the smaller dubstep shows with the deeper sound — they’re playing bigger rooms than they were playing before. So it is actually beneficial for everyone.
Some producers who…they find it really hard, because they have been making music for so long, and have never really had a break. And, I think, there starts to be this bitterness.
Benga: I think people [who are] not benefiting that much are not progressing.

Skream: You need the hunger, to get success. Like…I remember, when I done “Midnight Request Line,” I was so hungry to make more music after that.
Because finally you’ve got a listener. An outsider, as opposed to the same people who’ve come to the shows. And you get a mad crazy hunger. And I think some people don’t quite get that break, and then you end up getting quite bitter.

Benga: It’s half due to mindset. Time and time again, I go back to this — how ambitious and how much desire we had when we were young.
“Night” and “Request Line” didn’t come about by accident. We sat there, constantly, making tunes, 20 hours a day. Literally.
Skream: Since we were 13 or 14.
Benga: People seem to forget that. So if they’re not doing what they should be doing, if they haven’t been sitting there 20-hour days making music, they don’t have a reason to complain.
Or to say “oh this isn’t working” or “that isn’t working” when you haven’t been doing 20-hour days for 10 years.
That’s it.

Are you keeping it the same pace?
Benga: Let’s say we are, but we’re touring at the moment.
Skream: At the moment it’s a lot harder. And obviously children, well, child. I want to spend as much time as I can home.
My studio’s being repaired, but when I’m home and that’s done, I’ve got to get back on the regime again.
When I moved out of my mom & dad’s house, my studio was still there–at my mom’s.
So I’d get there at 9 and leave at 6. I’d just do that every day.
Benga: And then meet his girlfriend.
Skream: Yeah, meet my girlfriend when she gets home from work. I fit it into that work pace, which is good.
It’s just been hard, it’s festival season. So little music gets made in the summer in England. We’re doing all the festivals, and clubs shows,
Benga: We do two shows, right? We do Benga and Skream seperately, and together, and we also do Magnetic Man, and-
Skream: And we do radio shows, Radio 1. [laughing]We do quite a lot!

How’s Radio 1 different for you from your Rinse FM show?
Skream: Language. The crazy thing with Rinse is that it was so off-the-cuff, everything that was said.
Benga: I forgot about some of the beauty of it.
Skream: Yeah, some of the greatness. We are going to be doing a Rinse show, we just need to figure out what day of the week we can do it that still benefits the Radio 1 show.
Benga: It has to be a lot more structured. We’ve always done it like, “We just want to do everything all at once!” But now we structure it.
Skream: We don’t answer the phone to too many people because it gets quite irritating for us and them, specially the people at Radio 1. It drives them mad.
Benga: I think it drives everybody mad.

So now you might have to bring people on to help you to organize and structure things?
Skream: Yeah. We love having people do stuff for us. We love it. It’s great.
Benga: It always stems back to Mom.
Skream: Yeah, mommy’s world!
Benga: In fact, mom, you always used to–
Skream: Thanks for making me spoiled — giving me ham sandwiches in bed for breakfast.
Benga: Giving me jollof rice.
Skream: All the time! [Laughs]

Speaking of home, what is it about Croydon that so many musicians come from there? Ghostpoet, Imogen Heap, Amy Winehouse went to school there…
Skream: It’s the performing arts school. Loads of creative stuff. David Bowie, Naomi Campbell, Kate Moss is from Croydon. I think it’s because it’s such a sh*thole that it just makes people to want to-
Benga: -get out.
Skream: -be successful to get out. It’s not that bad. There are a lot worse of places.
Benga: It’s a good mixture. I’ve found a good mixture. I guess you have something to go home to, but there is nothing to do outside. But we also had a TV.
Skream: That’s why most people wait ’til they can go clubbing.

If a fan at a club wanted to buy you a drink, what would you ask for?
Benga: Depends, will you be buying me the drink?
Skream: Beluga Gold Line on the rocks.
Pokes: Alka-Seltzer

Benga what about you? Say a fan at a club wants to buy you a drink?
Skream: Anything with Rohypnol in it, wouldn’t it? Roofies.
Pokes: Rohypnol and coke, on the rocks. [Laughs]
Benga: If it was a lady friend, a WKD.
Skream: What you should know — if it was a lady friend, she would definitely be buying me a drink. [Meaning Benga attracts ladies.]
Benga: Oh, POW, gentlemen! Equal rights, so I guess I’ll buy the gentlemen a drink.

Benga, did you get a haircut?
Benga: No. I’ll tell you what, I can press my hair down. That’s what I do. I can have it messy if I want to.
Pokes: There’s a cord on his back. You just adjust it and it goes off.
Benga: I’ve got the most famous hair in dubstep, standing. I bring it out when I want to bring it out. [Pointing to Skream:] He really thinks he’s got the most famous hair in dubstep.
Skream: No, I haven’t. I haven’t been around the whole time. The french crop was the most famous haircut in dupstep, until you got the afro.
Benga: I brought the fire.

The new Magnetic Man album coming up…
Skream: 2012. Not even been started. But I’ve got a single coming out in the states, on November 14th, “Anticipate.”

You guys did an autonomic tune. I don’t know if you plan on experiment with other genres at all? Witch-house, tecnobrega…
Skream: I would make the autonomic stuff all the time. I love it. Still do loads of it now. I got a track coming out on Skreamizm Vol. VI which is out late November.

Toby [the tour manager]: We have to go to a photoshoot.

Yeah, sorry! One last question — do either of you cut dubplates anymore?
Both: No.

Right, because I’ve been hearing from a lot DJs that turntables are in such bad shape.
Skream: Blame the clubs. It’s so odd. It is blaming the clubs, I think.
Benga: Andy C even moved away from vinyl, and he was the last one.
Pokes: People never understand — when you’re playing a record that jumps, and they think you’ve got crap records, they don’t realize that it’s the way the thing’s set up. You can’t go out and play a set where every record goes [makes skipping noises].
Skream: Also, technology nowadays…endless possibilities to make shows so fun, do you know what I mean? It’s crazy now the interaction between things like, Ableton to Serato to…the way you can link it all together now. It adds a new excitement.
Benga: And do perfect shows. Like literally, perfect DJ shows.

Toby: We have to go.

OK, just one more question. Skream, I know you hate gabba…
Skream: You know, I don’t anymore. I was being a musical Nazi. I’ve found some gabba records I really like. It was a stupid young comment for me to say. I’ve made it a point to check it out ever since then.

What are you listening to right now?
Benga: I listen to a lot of bands.
Skream: Massive Arctic Monkeys fan, Miles Kane.
Benga: I’m starting to listen to that drumstep. It sounds mad, they’re playing it in the clubs and sh*t. I like some of the riffs. I’m listening to some folk’s remixes of Rusko at home.
Toby: We reeeaally have to go.

[Herded by their tour manager, they walk towards the elevators trailing "Do I still have time to go to my room?"..."No"..."Yeah, shut up"..."I need clothes!" etc. behind them.]

(source- MTV)

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