In The Mix: Skream Interviewed

Oli Jones on club culture, fabric, and his Open To Close tour...

It’s fair to say that Skream has been in a few clubs in his life. The man his family call Oli Jones was part of dubstep’s first generation, and helped take that penchant for bass saturation global before deciding to broaden his sound, direction, and approach.

Since then, Skream has dabbled in disco, taught a few lessons in techno, and entered house hysteria as his non-stop travels have taken him around the world countless times.

New project Open To Close takes things right back to the beginning. Skream has pieced together a very personal itinerary, taking in some of his favourite clubs around Europe. Tailoring his set to suit each club, the producer is relishing the opportunity to swap peak-time sets and festival outings to hit fans with new music all night.

“I did a similar tour in America as a way of really making the transition known from dubstep to house, disco, techno, whatever you want to call it. It worked so well! I feel like I work in a better environment playing all night because rather than just playing peak time, and playing a similar way, I can really show off the music I’m into, I guess.”

“I’ve got so many songs where I’m like, ‘I wish I could play that out, I wish I could play that out…’ and sometimes it just ain’t possible because the mood, and setting, and everything just ain’t right. But with the Open To Close tour I can literally do whatever I want.” Seizing control of his chosen club for a full night, fans can expect to hear anything that comes out of Skream’s record bag – whether that’s rare disco, up front techno, or “mad old African stuff”. It’s a project that sits close to the producer’s heart, with those formative years on the UK Garage and dubstep scenes enshrining the importance of a club setting within dance culture.

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“First actual club-type thing was a place in Alpington, which was the moodiest party that I’ve ever been to in my life,” he recalls. “I was about 13. And then, there was an under 18s in Croydon at the Fairfield Halls called Pulse. And that was around the time I was really starting to DJ, so I could only have been 14, I think. And that was all like the big name DJs of pirate radio – which I thought was amazing! It was my first interaction with girls in clubs.”

“And then after that, I guess my first proper club – luckily – was Velvet Rooms. We used to go up in a limo from Croydon, because it was cheaper than getting a cab.”

Despite the uproarious laughter coming down the line, though, it’s clear that this isn’t a joke – the Croydon kids really did used to grab a limo to go to the club. “We could get ten of us in there and it was cheaper than getting a cab,” he explains. “And that was my first club. It was all the guys from the record shop and we were going to watch Hatcha DJ at the first ever FWD. So not a bad one, really!”

Since then, he’s been able to experience some of the finest club spaces on the planet. Open To Close allows him to re-visit these, while also ticking a few off the map. “There’s places like Labyrinth in Belgium, which are nigh on impossible to get a gig in, and are an honour to play at. So having the opportunity to pick them was amazing, really. Same with Transport in Rotterdam – I’ve heard so many good things about it, I know I’m going to go there and be like: thank God that’s on the tour!”

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We used to go up in a limo from Croydon, because it was cheaper than getting a cab!

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The thought of playing such prestigious confines, though, doesn’t phase Oli Jones. “I like feeling nervous,” he insists. “And the thought of playing there makes me feel nervous – so that’s a good thing. Because it’s got so much heritage I’ve literally got to go there and play the best I possibly can – as I always try and do. I just want to go there and… not prove to people, but say: I deserve to play here. And really be able to go and pull it out the bag. Pull out loads of tunes that people might not know, or expect me to play. And just give it my all, I guess.”

The schedule includes a stop at Glasgow’s renowned Sub Club, a hub for new music and renowned as containing one of the hottest atmospheres in Europe. “It goes without saying that the Sub Club is one of my favourite clubs on the planet,” he says. “It’s one of my favourite cities in the world, full stop. Obviously I’ve got a lot of friends there, but the Subbie is my spiritual home. I’ve got such a good relationship with everyone, and they’ve always let me do what I want to do there. So it always helps when you’ve got a relationship with the club, rather than just with the promoter. Your whole trip seems better. It’s definitely my favourite place.”

As for what makes a club truly great, Skream has only one demand: “Lighting!”

“I hate anywhere with too many lights. I hate lights – always have done. I think that might just be from my first club being Velvet Rooms, and then Plastic People, or the different rooms at fabric. I think that nobody is particularly good at dancing, so when there’s lack of light you’re not worried about if people are looking at you, or if you’re dancing OK, or if you look OK. When it’s just darkness it seems more relaxed, and people feel more comfortable.”

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I hate anywhere with too many lights…

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One of the benefits the original Plastic People offered, of course, was that you could almost hide within the sound, lot in a sea of bass – something a brightly lit club simply couldn’t offer.

“Can you imagine?” he asks. “Everyone stoned out of their minds! All pale white faces and bright red eyes! And could you imagine people not even knowing what the music was and then trying to figure out how to dance to it with lights on? It would’ve been a nightmare!”

So there you go: if Plastic People had been a bit brighter than dubstep might not have happened. But London’s reputation as an incubator for new sounds goes beyond ideas about the best lighting, it comes from a unique sense of culture that finds full expression in these places. The closure of fabric, though, casts new doubt over whether this culture can even survive.

“Of course I am,” he says, soberly. “It’s where I’m from. It was one of the first places I went and heard one of my records get played. The worrying thing is that if they can close fabric then they can pretty much close anywhere. It’s terrible. It’s so sad – you look at how many people have lost their jobs…”

“It’s a family. Things like the fabriclive CDs – they’ve got so many people doing that. It connects the dots in so many more ways than just the club.”

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At one point during our conversation, I challenge Skream to pick a night – any night – at a club from his life that has since closed. He’s unequivocal in his answer.

“Obviously it would have to be fabric,” he says straight back. “I’ve had so many good nights in there. If there was a chance to have one more – even a farewell party – it would be monumental. I tweeted a while ago – I was trying to be positive – the comeback is going to be an absolute beast! But unfortunately, it just doesn’t look like it’s going to happen.”

But one thing fabric’s closure has underlined is just how important, and how precious, these spaces are. Open To Close allows Skream a chance to highlight that, and also have a hell of a lot of fun along the way. From Berlin to Rotterdam to Croydon, a few things run through ley-line of electronic culture.

“It tends to be very industrial cities, very metropolitan cities, and it gives it the beating heart. It’s these places that actually bring people together, rather than separate people.”

It really is as simple as that.

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Catch Skream on his Open To Close tour:

28 London Village Underground
30 Dublin Opium Rooms

4 Brighton Patterns
5 Southampton Switch
12 Birmingham Blackbox
24 Edinburgh Cabaret Voltaire
25 Manchester Gorilla
26 Bristol Marble Factory

3 Leeds Mint Club
9 Nottingham Stealth
18 Glasgow Sub Club

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