Clash talks to Artwork, Benga and Skream
Magnetic Man Interview

Dubstep has breached the levies of the underground. As Magnetic Man are dubbed the first half step super group they hit the Top 10 as their music gets daytime radio.

Clash gets them into suits the week they hit the charts to see how the most hedonistic crew of the scene are finding themselves in the pop machine.

We blag a natter with Artwork, the man who part owned Big Apple records in Croydon, the suburb of London which saw garage mutate into dubstep. Before too long Skream and Benga join us fresh from the Clash shoot.

You’ve hit the charts. Things are starting to spin faster I presume.
Artwork: It’s always been steady. It’s been steady but it’s like this last week you just notice there’s like, you suddenly look at the things that you’ve got lined up and you’re like ‘oh right okay’. ‘Just come on the radio in there, on Kiss yeah. Normally, like, you don’t normally hear dubstep until like after 10oclock, or even after 12 really.

What were your first memories of meeting Skream?
Artwork: His brother used to work in the floor below me. I had a recording studio on the top floor of Big Apple and Jack used to work in the jungle floor and Oliver used to come in first of all, you know, buying records and stuff like that. They were just like really into it. They were in the shop all the time from when they were like 15 years old you know. And they were just there constantly so I remember them being around you know and then they stated making tracks on PlayStations and bringing them in on MiniDiscs and saying ‘what do you reckon on this?’ and we’d play it in the studio. It’s good.

What were the main significant points Magnetic Man’s album creation?
Artwork: I think ‘I Need Air’ was the start. We were making songs. ‘Cause when we sat down we started to sort of make the album we were making just like dubstep kind of tracks and then we had that one, decided to try and write a song and that was like ‘we can make songs’ and ‘this is a real song’ you know. It changes it. I don’t know how to explain it really. It’s like it’s got a life of its own, it’s got a melody and a chorus you know.

How did Magnetic Man start? I remember Glastonbury 2007 and it seemed way more relaxed, just the boys playing their anthems.
Artwork: We were making Magnetic Man tunes about five years ago, four five years ago and we were talking about the DJ sets and how you could have two decks and ‘would it be good to have three decks?’ and stuff like that.

We’ve sort of moved on to sort of discussing whether you could get entire records, split them up into a top line, middle and bass and then play them and mix them live. But it’s quite difficult to do that on your own, so we were like ‘well look we can run three computers and we can do it, we can put on a show’. And at first it was kind of like we played 50/50, it was like half Magnetic Man and sort of like some Benga tracks, some Skream tracks, you know that’s how it sort of got together and so we did that at Glastonbury I think it was on the second tour round. That was two or three years ago. So that’s how it sort of evolved. We got a grant off the Arts Council to put the whole thing together. They were like ‘we’re looking for a band’ you know ‘have you got anything new?’ and we were like ‘yeah, we want to do this live thing with three laptops and they said ‘well go on then, here’s the money, go and do it’ and so all of a sudden it was like ‘shit’ and we were doing a tour you know. It was great.

When did you decide to take it in a pop direction?
Artwork: We were doing the live shows as they were and then because all of a sudden we did like Pukkelpop and suddenly there’s 5,000 people in a 3,000 tent, you know, they’re storming to get in. We did Roskilde. Huge crowd. And so all of a sudden record companies are like ‘hang on a minute, we’ll have some of this’ and we were like ‘well we haven’t got an album’ you know ‘we’ve got tracks’ and they were like ‘do it, just make it’ and so yeah, we just did it. It was quite a natural thing to do.

How easy was it to condense the writing process? You all previously wrote solo.
Artwork: We had been making the Magnetic Man stuff for sort of five years, you know on and off just making ‘Alright What’s Happening’ and all them other kind of tracks which I never released, and they weren’t meant to be they were just meant to be for us to play as this sort of live thing you know. We gave a couple of slates away. It was easy ‘cause we know each other so well. We’d been around each other for that long and we all like the same stuff so it was cool.

Being so far away from your niche and so involved with a major label, it must have been nice to have such a familiar face of Katy B in such unfamiliar territory?
Artwork: Brilliant. And Ms Dynamite as well. It was great to have them you know it turns out that everyone’s after Katy B now you know. Completely hot. And she’s great. She’s so good to work with and it’s good to have someone from our world into that mix and it works kind of really really well. She’s just like a really nice person you know to work with. When we sort of played the track to her we were sort of moving things about and messing around ‘til we got the perfect thing. She’s good at that. A lot of people you say ‘look this isn’t kind of working’ and they’re like ‘forget it’. She will go back and come back with something even better, so that’s where she’s very talented.

When you had the Big Apple shop, what were your expectations of the sound and its evolution from garage into dubstep?
Artwirk: You didn’t know what was going to happen. This sort of music come in and I was working with a guy, Danny Harrison, and we just loved good music. So this sort of garage thing come along and Danny had done all like the 187 Lockdown and stuff like that so he was there at the very start of that garage thing and it was just like a natural kind of progression into that garage sound but yeah there was no sort of big expectations, it was sort of like a Croydon thing almost you know and how many records you could sell in Apple and how many records you could sell in sort of London, but this was before the internet so this was when a scene would blow up in London and it would have a year there and then it may blow up in sort of like America or it may blow up in Spain or Germany you know and then you’d move around the planet. But this time with the dubstep thing it’s gone all at once round the entire world all at the same time, which is really weird you know.

What was the most important thing you’ve learnt during the writing phase?
Artwork: The most important thing we learnt was that too much chocolate makes you fat. Like most albums you can say ‘that was written on acid’ or some other drug or whatever. This album was written on processed sugar, refined sugar. The first day we went shopping, they were messing about and I said ‘look you go and get your own trolley, get your stuff, I’ll get my trolley, ‘cause we’re going to have to stock up ‘cause it’s a bit out of the way’ and I had some nice stuff in there you know nice food to cook. I turned up at the tills, I’ll show you the pictures right, I’ll give you the pictures. They’ve got a trolley full of 100 quid’s worth of shit, like Kinder Buenos, Kit Kats, blah blah blah just like that. A mountain of chocolate and fizzy pop. Mental.

I can imagine you bring a bit of order to those two. They can be a handful cant they?
Artwork: Everyone kind of thinks that but they actually work really really hard. You don’t get to be that successful at 23 if you piss around and they know what they’re doing and when it’s time to work, they work. Yeah they mess about, they work hard and play hard.

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What was the team talk before you started writing? You must have known you were going to a pop height?
Artwork: ‘Just forget it’. That’s what we said. We’re just going to make records that we like, just music that we like and if they don’t like it then we’ve got a problem but you can get sort of like trapped in, if you try and think ‘oh it’s got to be good for them but they’ve got to still like it’ and blah blah blah you know you go into a little ball and nothing will happen. So it was good that we all decided ‘we’re just going to make music that we like and good music. We got to make some songs, but we’re going to make good ones and forget what anyone thinks’ cause you get a lot of that nowadays, like you get thousands and millions of people. You haven’t got one reviewer, you’ve got 28 million online you know, but you can’t even think about it, you’ve just got to make the best music you can make you know.

Was there anything you trimmed back, any commercial or the big trancey sounds?
Artwork: We were kind of writing for things that we could play in the live show, ‘cause the live show’s really important to us and it’s been the reason that we got signed, so we want to make records that at those festivals, you know and at those live venues, are going to go off. So that’s where the view came from.

How aware are you of your own historical moment?
Artwork: I don’t know. It’s strange. You do kind of like think ‘shit,’ it’s a top 10 now, but it’s weird. It doesn’t feel any different than having a record that someone’s played and it’s gone off in a club.

What are they saying back in Croydon?
Artwork: Nah funnily enough all three of us were there last night. We walked across the bridge and looked back down at the shop. It was kind of a weird moment you know it was like we stood there ten years later looking back there like ‘oh right yeah’. It was a strange kind of moment yeah just looking back into the market where the shop was and everything started, there’s so much come out of the shop. It’s like all the customers that were at that shop were everybody from the dubstep scene now was there. Nearly everybody was at that shop at that time and it was a weird kind of breeding ground for music because it was like a nightclub or whatever where all the producers go but you could hear each other talk at this one and people weren’t pissed. So you had people come in and everybody bounced off everybody and I think that’s why that music defined itself so fast, you know it’s weird.

Croydon was small enough to incubate rather than people rip each other off.
Artwork: I think the whole dubstep scene is kind of like that anyway. People do come along like with their own sound like Joker and Malkay and these people come along, they can have their own sound and it’s not like it’s a locked off thing like the sort of drum and bass world was or anything you know. If it’s good music it’s going to get played you know.

Do you see Magnetic Man as an evolution or a jump?
Artwork: What’s good is, how it’s gone so fast and it’s really the last sort of three years that it’s gone, but it does feel like everybody that’s into it, it’s their thing you know what I mean. It’s not like rock ‘n’ roll where it’s a new rock ‘n’ roll band comes out or whatever and it’s part of a 40 year process but they’re just the newest thing. This music does belong to the people that were there at the start and that have been there for the last sort of five years or whatever. This is theirs.

Benga and Skream join the discussion.

Do you feel like you have entered the pop machine?
Skream: With all the shoots it’s starting to feel like it.
Benga: Yeah we are, but we’re coming through the back door.

Is it a bad thing to be in the pop machine?
Skream: Pop means popular.
Benga: I think we come back to that time and time again. People say when you make money and when you make a big song you sell out. Why do you sell out? What sells out? Your records? Fine. If that’s what happens I’m fine with it. If my records sell out and that makes me a sell out, whatever. I’m still making the same music I was five years ago.

You aren’t unfamiliar with lots of people enjoying your music, loads of excessive behavior and loads of girls. What’s going to change?
Benga: More ladies, more rooms full of people enjoying our music!
Skream: Bigger shows, stage shows especially.
Artwork: Especially with how we’ve been received at festivals now it’s been amazing and when you get it right and you get the right crowd. Or light show now is like 12 people come and set our light show up. That’s the most important thing to us, like we get to have like ‘can we have a massive like TV that we’re inside’ and all these other things, and they’re like ‘yeah yeah’ and that’s the weird bit, like when we first started we were like ‘can we have?’ ‘no, you can have some black cloth and you can have a projector’
Skream: And a lot of black tape.
Artwork: And that was like three years ago, that was it, and now it’s changed where you say ‘can we have?’ ‘yeah, yeah you can’.
Skream: Have you seen ‘Benga Streaks’ yet? You’ve got to put a link to ‘Benga Streaks’. That will show you about the live show.

Is it just Benga naked?
Artwork: Yeah it is. We were in Benicassim the other day and we were sitting there, 10,000 people, Temper Trap are playing in front of us and Olli’s like ‘I bet you won’t streak in front of the band, run in front of the band naked’ and Benga was like ‘yeah alright, how much?’ So he bet him a grand and he done it.

Did you pay him?
Skream: Not yet.
Benga: Listen right. That is not how it goes down. I don’t do that and not get paid.
Skream: I’ll tell you why you didn’t get paid. We was meant to pick cash up at a show and I said I’d give it to him out of that and then we got there they said we weren’t picking the cash up at the show.
Benga: Normally you just do it the next day, you wire it.
Skream: Yeah ‘cause I was in the mood to do it the next day wasn’t I. I was still trying to figure out what had happened.

Even within the pop machine there’s room for subversion. For example what’s K Dance all about?
Skream: Ketamine. Listen to the bass line on it; it’s not in time. It’s like someone trying to stagger up and get out of a chair on ketamine.
Benga: We all know what that’s like.

Do you think the pop world should embrace everything about an artist? And not just the plastic front?
Benga: Shall I tell you what? We don’t bring anything that’s malicious do we? It’s all fun.
Skream: It’s always fun. Couple of necks might get broken, people might fall off stage.
Benga: But no one really dies.
Artwork: Yeah it’s like a film.

Do you have a strong vision of where Magnetic Man needs to go now?
Skream: I think it’s just where it goes.

Artwork: Just see how it goes. We’ve never ever had a vision or kind of like ‘we want to do this’. From the start, we started to talk about the idea and then the Arts Council come to us and said ‘do you want to do this as a live show’ you know ‘we were looking for a live band’ and we were like ‘yeah, this is what we were talking about, let’s do it’ and then we did it, and then we just did the live show and then we were just doing live shows and Columbia said ‘do you want to make an album with this kind of stuff’ and we were like ‘yeah’ so all the time it’s just kind of seeing where it goes. We’re not in control of it do you know what I mean? It’s not like we’ve got a plan. It’s just rolling man.

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You all have quite chaotic lifestyles?
Skream: To be honest, everyone’s actually quite lucky. Normally this could’ve started a lot later. The actual fact that we’re following guidelines, to a degree, is quite mad, ‘cause normally there’s so much other shit going on.
Artwork: Everyone’s got their game face on now. We know we have to smash this now. You have to play the game and you can’t be saying ‘sorry man, didn’t make that shoot’ do you know what I mean? You can’t do it. This is important now, you know, and it’s like you’ve got a bit of responsibility for everyone that does make dubstep and all those people that have supported it for all those years. You can’t flop do you know what I mean? You’ve got a bit of responsibility to say ‘okay we’ll do it, let’s take this and show everybody’ not just the kind of scene that it was, to show everybody ‘look at this music’ and they’re not going to find just the music that WE make, they’re going to find all of the music that is in dubstep.
Benga: You can tell everyone does that. It’s how it all happens ‘cause people will come to a show and see, I don’t know, maybe say Rusko, then they’ll come and find us or they’ll come and find someone else.
Skream: You’ve got to understand that maybe they won’t like the vocals, but they like the beats and they look for more of that, just instrumental songs, and then you find what you like. You will find something you like in it.
Benga: We haven’t turned around and said ‘right we’ve done sub big dubstep song let’s go and do house’.
Skream: And we haven’t said this is dubstep. This is what Magnetic Man are doing,
Artwork: It’s just like a doorway. It’s just like going ‘here you are look, why don’t you have a look at this?’

The biggest and most controversial change is with the vocals.
Benga: We’ve never ever had a song come out like ‘I Need Air’ where it’s got that structure, verse chorus verse chorus. There’s been a couple of things like obviously he done that remix of La Roux, that wasn’t obviously original vocal, but there have been quite a few things like Von D ‘Tell Me’ and stuff like that. I don’t think the structure of it determines whether it’s dupstep or not.
Skream: Even to the degree of Anti War Dub. That was like a vocal. It was a chant almost but still. It was a big tune and people should have known then the power of having a vocal in a tune, ‘cause that tune was massive. It was like, the vocals have been turned into a slogan, you know what I mean.

I remember speaking to Benga about responsibility and moving things forward. Do you feel even more responsibility on a global level now?
Benga: I think that’s what happens when you do an album. Even if ‘I Need Air’ it goes everywhere as soon as we release an album which is like October the 4th it will be the songs off the album what might not be so poppy or so pop accessible, people will listen to them and think ‘that’s different’.
Skream: Go back to ‘The Bug’, ‘The Bug’ every time. Everyone who’s trying to write off Magnetic Man, fair enough it’s not you cup of tea, there will be something on there that you will like. If you like dark shit. For me it’s my favorite tune on there. It is dark. The concept and the idea of it is probably one of the darkest tunes I’ve heard.

I need Air is pretty subversive in that its pretty formulaic but when the beat drops its going to wrong foot a lot of people.
Artwork: It’s weird because we’re so used to it. We’re so used to that sounding like that. It’s hard to get in a space of something who just listens to four four kind of stuff on their radio every day and then all of a sudden they’re like ‘this is interesting’ but it’s difficult to put yourself in their shoes, because we’ve heard it for so long, but it must be different, you know.
Benga: As soon as it hit’s the verse you can’t imagine it. You can’t not see it in a dubstep club.

You’ve been staunch guardians of the sound. What do you say to haters that say you are ruining dubstep?
Benga: Well this is the thing right. I think we’re giving it a new life because everyone’s doing the same shit. For us to come out and do that and not do the same shit how the fuck are we ruining dupstep? I don’t want to get too emotional about this.
Skream: Not many other people I think could have done it.
Benga: Half the people just wouldn’t have done it. If you gave them opportunity they probably would have done stuff that they know people would have liked. Do you get what I mean by that? What have we done since the start? Tried to push it right? And that’s what we’re still doing.
Artwork: And if people listen to that record on the radio or they listen to ‘I Need Air’ and they’ve never listened to dubstep at all. I mean, friends of mine they say ‘you’re in a band. What music do you make’ and you’re like ‘dupstep’ and they are like: ‘what’s that’ you know. And these are young people, do you know what I mean, and they haven’t been listening to it and they’re like ‘that’s wicked’ and if someone listens to that and then thinks ‘this dubstep stuff’s alright. There’s a dubstep night down the road like on Saturday. Let’s go and have a look’ How’s that bad?

It may have been more acceptable to a lot of old purists if I Need Air had gone top 10 whilst on Tempa records. Could this have happened or was Columbia vital?
Artwork: Listen Tempa Records are going to have a top ten very very soon. Don’t worry about that.

The major labels spread music around. Do you still feel in control?
Benga: What we should be in control of is the music, right, whatever happens for them to spread that music. Just do it. Like I’ll happily stand here naked.
Artwork: No you have done as well.
Skream: They clearly know it’s not selling out because of everything else that goes on around it.
Benga: We’ve already shown that we aren’t selling out so whatever.

You twittered Mad first didn’t you?
Artwork: I think it freaked the record company out. It’s weird because Oliver just wanted to say ‘there you go, have some of that’ but what’s difficult is you know then the record company ‘what the fuck this is a track off the album’ but then after a while they go ‘ah yeah okay’.
Skream: Free music. Everyone listens to free music. Like generally from a bigger name down. Everyone should listen to it regardless. You haven’t got nothing to lose as a listener.

Why should someone go out and get involved in Magnetic Man?
Benga: Because you want to be surprised right? I love being surprised.
Artwork: I think it’s good music. There’s only two types of music in this world and that’s good and bad do you know what I mean? We’ve not gone for pure dubstep whatever. We’ve just sat down between three of us and said ‘let’s make some good music’ because it is difficult when they were like ‘okay you’re going to make an album blah blah blah’ and we’re starting to write dubstep tracks and we were like ‘no no no stop, let’s just make good music, don’t forget that’ and that was how this album came about, so hopefully that comes across.
Benga: I think when you make albums yeah and singles, singles could be for people in the clubs going mental but I think when you’re making an album in your household someone like your mum, this sounds funny, but someone from your household, someone in your mum should be able to listen to that.
Skream: [laughs] You just said ‘Someone in your mum!’
Benga: yeah well someone has a dirty mind.
Skream: Buy the record. Thanks for supporting us. Let us be your gods.

Words by Matthew Bennett

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