London’s Ollie “Skream” Jones built a name for himself early on as a producer at the forefront of the dubstep movement. With his many hits, specifically his festival anthem remix of La Roux’s “In For The Kill,” support on BBC Radio 1, radio show on Rinse FM, and involvement in the supergroup Magnetic Man, he can be credited for creating mass appeal for the once underground genre. Despite his great success in dubstep, he has maintained his forward-thinking tastemaker status and reinvented himself in the disco/house scene. Now producing tracks like his most recent single, “Rollercoaster” featuring Sam Frank, Skream is well on his way to establishing another legacy of timeless dance classics.
We were able to sit down with Skream at HARD Day of the Dead to chat about everything from how he has dealt with his fans who aren’t so happy with his change in genres to the forthcoming Magnetic Man album. Read up on our conversation after the jump.
Gotta Dance Dirty: First question interview tradition – what do you like to drink?
GDD: Vodka? That’s it? Nothing else?
Skream: Vodka and ginger beer is my main sort of tip all at the moment but it gives me really bad heartburn so I have to be a little bit careful.
GDD: [laughs] Nice. So what’s new, how’s touring been?
Skream: Yeah good, like, I’m always touring so this is kind of, just – it is how it is.
GDD: Same old same old?
Skream: Yeah, like you accept what you do so you can’t complain. You can’t complain about touring because you accepted to do it…right?
GDD: Right. So you’ve shifted to producing and playing house, techno, disco. How did this transition come about?
Skream: I worked in a record store from age 11, so I’ve been buying house stuff since I started working there. I’m from UK garage, really, so house and garage is kind of what I was brought up with, it’s the first thing I got into. So I’ve always been a lover of that, and it just happens to be that we created a genre that -
GDD: The dubstep spark?
Skream: Yeah, and that’s what we’d done, we didn’t do anything else. So if things would have been different I might have been a house producer… But the actual real change was when I did a techno set, a special one off, for Modeselektor, at the Warehouse Project in Manchester. And it went fucking amazingly well. I loved every single record I played, and at the time I was so nervous, and the feeling after… it was so different.
GDD: Was that the first time you did a techno set?
Skream: Yeah the first time I did one was that one off. Modeselektor asked me to be on the bill, and they said “We know he knows techno, we want him to play a techno set.” I put this set up on my SoundCloud, and the feedback… It got voted for numerous mixes of the year online, and it was great. I enjoyed the set so much. It was my most sober set I’ve ever done cause I was so nervous. I was smoking about a thousand cigarettes and I dug one beer, cause I knew there was like Modeselektor, Four Tet, on the bill. It was like I really needed to deliver it, and luckily I did. And at that point I was like I can really do this full time.
GDD: So has the transition inspired you to explore other genres that you might not have previously?
Skream: Um… no. It’s more… I’ve done production for indie bands and stuff, I’ve listened to everything. I’ve just rekindled my love of house music, really, and the quality bar at the moment of this sort of stuff that I’m playing is so high it’s just amazing. They send record after record, and I can’t fit all of these in. And that’s why I was just saying, I ended up playing a 4 and a half hour set just so I could get everything in, and it’s so enjoyable cause you can let records play for 6 minutes, 7 minutes actually. I really enjoy the journey of the set cause you can really really get into it – wait for that solo after 6 minutes – you know what I mean?
GDD: Yeah, you can tell more of a story.
Skream: From the producer side of things, I used to get really annoyed cause I always mixed so quick when I was playing dubstep, so I’d sometimes want that second drop played, but with this sort of ADHD-inspired crowd that’s been spawned over the last 5 years, it has to be quick and in your face like “Bang Bang Bang.” And like I’m playing to like an older sort of crowd now as well. It’s just weird, you can feel the difference. They might not be as noisy, but every single person is dancing, and you know that and you can feel it, and you can just feel it coming back. Honestly I’ve had one of the best summers of my life, I’ve been changed.
GDD: So you feel that there’s a much better reaction, or maybe more energetic reaction when you’re playing?
Skream: This is a personal reaction, for myself, I’m playing sets and things like that for myself. And that’s the beauty of it. Obviously you’re always playing for the crowd, but I feel the crowd I’m playing to now is appreciating musical taste rather than wanting to hear the record the last DJ played and the next DJ’s gonna play, to a degree. Obviously you can’t generalize on that exact sentiment…but yeah people appreciate your ear for music, in a sense.
GDD: So what do you have to say to those who are unhappy with your change in style?
Skream: The music I made is still there. You can still hear it. I completely understand. It’s flattering that people get so offended…it is! Cause people have so much love for the music you made, you can’t be angry with it. It’s just one of those things. But the music is still there to listen to. I’m not sorry because I’m happy.
GDD: There’s no reason to be sorry.
Skream: Right, so I don’t feel I’ve done anything wrong. And how happy I am at the moment…it’s just another clarifying thing for me.
GDD: Can’t argue with that.
Skream: I’ve always been happy with what I’ve done regardless of what it is I’ve been playing, but I was starting to get to a point where I wasn’t happy with what I was playing, and I was losing creativity in the studio because I wasn’t being inspired by what I was playing and what I was hearing. And it’s no disrespect to anyone else, it’s just a personal thing. It was time for a change.
GDD: So tell us about your single “Rollercoaster”? What was the inspiration behind it?
Skream: I’ve always wanted to make a disco record – a straight disco record – and it took two years to make the record. So I had made it and then I sat on it, and when Sam Frank sent me the track, he said, “you’ve got a hit, this is a hit.” And I tried to actually get the record to Kylie Minogue cause I thought it would really fit her. It’s just what I wanted… It’s exactly what I’ve wanted for so long and the outcome was exactly how I wanted it to be. It’s just so hard to make disco or club because as an electronic producer you come from a field doing everything yourself. Whereas in a disco sense, everybody listens and they say yeah it was a band. You have the best musicians around, so the bass player on that record used to play for Prince. They’re all amazing musicians. It would be so nice to hear what I’ve written transcribed, in a sense, to what I can’t do. It’s that thing, letting yourself go a bit and letting someone else fuck with it, and I really liked it, it was really really exciting. I owe so much to Sam Frank for it. He did just as much work on the record as I did, in a transcribing sense.
GDD: Would you say you prefer collaborations? Seems like you were very inspired by your experience working with others.
Skream: I love them remixes cause it always gets you out of a writer’s block, out of a hole. But I love collaborations. Sometimes collaborations are a little bit forced, like you’ll talk about it with someone for so long that you end up doing it, and it’s like you don’t actually know what to do when you get there. But it’s cool. It’s nice when you have an idea and you’re struggling to find that thing, you work with someone you’re able add that thing that was missing. It helps to stop your frustration as well.
GDD: So describe your creative process, has it evolved over the years?
Skream: Eh…not especially… Now I’ve got a lot less time to make music. I’ve got a son, I’ve got a house to pay for, you know what I mean? So I can’t sit in the studio every day. I’d love to, but in the real world, things need to be paid. I don’t DJ for money, but I love DJ-ing. There is a bit of money that comes from it, so it’s hard to turn down some things… Before, I used to smoke more weed when I was younger. I don’t actually smoke weed anymore, but right when I was like 15, I used to love it, so yeah I’d abuse it more than anyone else. I had great fun, but I’m wanting to get back into the studio a lot more. I’m waiting for a studio to be built in my house, and then I’m gonna take a few months and fully get back into the writing process. Just having time to be able to go out and have lunch and come back to the studio, rather than having 4 hours to quickly do something because it never works – because you’re trying to force something out and it’ll never come naturally. I really do miss – this sounds really bad, like mixed from sound this will transcribe horrible to reading – but, at a time when I didn’t have gigs, when I purely just made music it was nice, well not nice, but at the same time, you’re able to spend a lot more time on your craft. The other thing you get into, when you’re touring a lot, is making something for the crowd. And you try to make a banger every time because you want it to be the biggest song in your set
GDD: You see what works?
Skream: Yeah, I’m kinda not in the banger thing right now, I want to make 12-minute records.
GDD: As a well respected tastemaker do you feel like you have a responsibility to educate the younger generation of fans?
Skream: I’m like a boring old person, I’ll drill music into your head. Like, if we sit at an after-party, we’ll argue about music, I’ll insist that the record I’m playing you is the best record ever made. Because I love playing people music, I don’t know, seeing that reaction when they really like it – it’s a great feeling. I love music… Obviously everyone does but I love finding records… I love reading credits on records, cause like someone played sax on that record and you find out they played sax on another record, and then you realize it was the same producer.
GDD: So you’re able to connect the dots.
Skream: Yeah so I love that part of looking for music. So I would sound like such a boring bastard.
GDD: So with so many productions under your belt how do you manage to maintain your creativity?
Skream: Uhh you don’t…you see it comes and goes, like writers block – it becomes your worst enemy. It’s that other thing again of not having so much time in the studio, when you do get back and you’ve been touring hard all the time, and you’re brain-dead when you get home…but you feel like you have to be making something or you feel like you’ve been lazy or whatever. So I don’t know, it’s just hard. You have good weeks and you have bad weeks. It’s a knock on effect, I love getting new synths and sounds cause that’s what will get you back. Then the next thing you’ve got your main riff and you’re ready.
GDD: Yeah, a sort of domino effect. So what’s your vision for Skreamizm events? Do you have any plans for it for the future?
Skream: Yeah hopefully it takes over the world…You know what it’s all about – it’s like the thing for me to show people music. Everyone who’s on the bill is really into it at the time or the moment, or a massive fan….like I’ve got a big show in London, I can’t actually say who’s on the bill, but if I pull it off I’ll be so happy. The lineup’s unreal. But the people who are coming are the kids who were coming to my dubstep show, the London one, they didn’t know what to expect, it was a three-hour show and the feedback was insane. It was so good. There are kids who only go to dubstep clubs and seeing them dance to Prince records, or an old Marshall Jefferson record, and just forgetting genre, really getting into the music. I know that sounds like another cheesy producer/DJ comment but it was like something – like when I did the Skreamizm London show, something happened that night and it really set me up for that announcement, that change in genre. And it worked. People were excited after coming to that night. I know these Skreamizm shows have been going so well. It helps that I’ve got a lot of friends who will come and play for me for cheap, so there’s a really good lineup, but people enjoy playing it because they come and play different sets that they choose to play out. And its just a really fun night, everyone gets really wasted.
GDD: Sounds like a good time. So as for Magnetic Man, have you guys finished the second album yet?
Skream: Not yet.
GDD: Not yet? What can you tell us about it so far?
Skream: We’ve got four, five or six really good records. We’re just waiting for the summer to be over sort of officially, and we’re gonna finish it. Should be done January, February. But it was meant to be delivered January 2013.
GDD: So what does it sound like? Is it in line with your transition or…
Skream: The thing is, we couldn’t try and recreate the album we’d done before, because its not the same time, everything’s changed, music policies have changed. It’s all over the place. It’s like we got beatless records that are almost Zero Seven-esque. We’ve got full on ballads, we got a full-on dance track that’s like an old Bloody Beetroots or Basement Jaxx record. Hopefully, we’re waiting to hear back if we’ve got- there’s a certain feature – if we get it that’ll be the first single.
GDD: Awesome. Alright so what’s next for Skream? What do you have coming up?
Skream: “Rollercoaster” and just generally trying to have a nice time.
GDD: That’s always good! Well thank you so much.