“The last two weeks I’ve been to Ibiza twice, Detroit, Houston, LA… and then the last gigs were Newcastle, and Glasgow!”
It’s little wonder Skream sounds knackered. Maintaining an international schedule, working on new music, and looking after family would take it out on anyone. Enjoying some downtime, he picks up the phone to Clash in order to chat about Open To Close, his ongoing all-night-long project that incorporates his most daring, eclectic sets in a series of venues hand-picked for their atmosphere and impeccable sound.
Kicking off in Glasgow, Skream clearly relished being able to return to a city extremely close to his heart. “1100 people, sold out at SWG3!” he exclaims. “So I was pretty buzzing about that anyway, and the show was next level. As it was always is in Glasgow. The set went better than I could have imagined. Everything was perfect.”
“My entire mindset would have been different had I grown up in Glasgow,” he muses. “It would have. The common taste in music is a lot better than most places. Even when you end up at an after party, some kid will put on a mad disco record you’ve never heard of and it’ll be fucking great!”
One of the key aspects of the Open To Close shows is that it underlines just how passionate Skream is about music. Coming away from one of his sets you’ll have experienced disco edits, rare techno, left field house, and everything in between, a constant deluge of inspirational aural fixations.
“The thing is, I spend about 500 quid a week on music,” he explains. “I buy music all year round for this tour, because I finally get to play out all the music I like and listen to. It’s very, very fun. On the other side of it, I get a buzz off sharing music with people. I like playing people music they haven’t heard before.”
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“I couldn’t possibly listen to any more music if I tried,” Skream says, before breaking down into laughter. “When my son goes to bed I’ll sit up all night ripping vinyl. That’s what I spend most of my time doing at the moment in the lead up to this tour. And everything I’m getting I love, its tunes I’m really into, and tunes I’ve never heard before… which is the best thing. It’s like educating yourself while finding something new.”
It’s this constant urge to find something new that keeps Skream moving forwards – and it also finds him out on a limb, working against the increasingly myopic, safe big room sets that often dominate club culture.
“I can’t play the same music all night,” he insists. “I can listen to the same tempo all night, don’t get me wrong… but it just gets monotonous. There are so many DJs around at the minute who get paid way too much money to play some fucking shit… And I don’t get it. It’s common denominator.”
“I try to do my bit,” he says. “I make a conscious effort to keep things exciting… that’s all I can do I guess.”
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I’m humbled by Open To Close because people are trusting me to provide their whole night… and I love it!
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It’s this ethos that underpins Open To Close; each set is different, but it’s fuelled by the same appetite, the same desire to explore fresh aspects of music.
“I’m humbled by Open To Close because people are trusting me to provide their whole night… and I love it!” Skream exclaims. “I definitely feed off the crowd – you can do that within the first couple of hours.” “Ultimately, everything is different all night, and it’s a good way to find out what vibe they feed off more. There’s songs that will make everyone go mad! But I find it more interesting when songs make some people go mad, but others not.”
Pushing himself all the time to uncover new music, Skream has come full circle – his preferred format is vinyl, recalling his adolescence spent around the counter in Croydon’s Big Apple Records. “Mate, the best stuff is being released vinyl-only,” he insists. “And that’s not me being a snob. I don’t play vinyl out but the quality of a lot of the stuff is amazing. I’ve been buying some absolute gems recently, and new stuff as well. Not just old stuff. It seems to be thriving. I know units don’t do nowhere near like they used to. But there’s enough new releases that you can look out, so something must be going well.”
It’s not like that initial grime era, Clash comments, where artists would sell 10,000 records from the back of a van.
“I worked in Big Apple Records in Croydon, right, so we sold them records. They used to bring the records to us. We’d have kids queuing around the block to pay 12 pounds for a white label. It was an absolute piss take!” he says, laughing at the memory of it all.
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Of course, that era of grime production was a formative influence on the young Oli Jones – his ‘Midnight Request Line’ was practically a grime homage, and was voiced by a number of MCs. With grime’s resurgence resulting in Stormzy’s BRIT triumph, would dubstep follow suit?
“Who knows, mate? Who knows! The thing is, the underground sound of dubstep is not common denominator music. It’s dark, it isn’t widespread. It’s not an easily understandable sound. I’d like to see it happen. It’d be great for everyone doing it. But I can’t see Rhythm & Sound having a resurgence and getting the number one spot.”
But then, few people would have expected an unreleased Skream dubstep track to rinse out the speakers at this summer’s Soundwave – but that’s exactly what happened when Hatcha wheeled up one of Skream’s dubs during a Croatian boat party. The producer was as surprised as anyone at the reaction.
“Basically, what it is, is that I found a folder with all my old bass lines,” he explains. “To be honest, I was pissed out me head, and I was fucking around with some bass line and it was good, and I thought, well Hatcha’s just got married… so I sent him that. And apparently it got played a few times, reloaded four times!”
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I’ve been making a lot less music, but better quality...
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“It’s not coming out,” he asserts. “It’s funny! To me, it sounds exactly like one of my records from 2009 which is kind of why I wouldn’t release it. And that’s also why I couldn’t see myself getting back into it. The excitement is just not there for me anymore.”
Currently utilising four brand new, unreleased songs in his live set – “I’ve been making a lot less music, but better quality” – Skream is relishing the chance to get back out there and focus on more Open To Close dates.
“Every song is a song that I love, I’m not just playing it for the sake of it,” he says at one point in our chat. “It’s all over the place. There’s emotional parts. It’s the dynamics that I love – going up and down, having the time to let things breathe. It doesn’t have to be mental all night. That’s something that I’ve learned over the past 15 years…it can be subtle but still work.”
“Now is the most diverse I’ve played,” he tells Clash. “The people trust me, let me do what I want to do. It’s not being questioned, and it seems to be going well. The shows are selling out. I’m just excited for people to come out and have a good old dance.”
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