We all know how important our teenage years are. How integral they are in shaping us into the adults we become. Not only for the choices that we make, but also as a reflection on our mistakes.
This is a story that matches both Oliver Jones as an individual and Oliver Jones as the dubstep producer better known as Skream. The two souls are obviously intertwined, but the road to adulthood for the two have both experienced astonishing highs and depressing lows.
Parallel to Oliver Jones’s life and the development of the person he is today, the producer played an integral part in the growth of the dubstep sound. Skream’s story takes him from Big Apple Records, to the crowd at FWD, to the mainstream consciousness with dubstep’s first crossover single.
From there, he travelled the stadiums of the world, hosted a show on the legendary Radio 1 and, ultimately, took his musical focus elsewhere.
The Croydon-bred producer was only 15 years old when he started making music. Skream first met Benga through his brother Hijak, a member of South London’s Internatty Crew (a junglist collective that also included Grooverider). The two would grow up together, as people and as producers – and as a duo responsible for bringing dubstep to the mainstream’s attention.
Some may say the most important thing in Skream’s development as a producer was the job he got at Big Apple in Croydon.
Early Skream material (often made with Benga) show the vibe that the early dubstep artists were trying to capture. Influenced by UK garage but perhaps less melodic. The duo’s first release appeared on Big Apple’s Judgment EP in 2003. The release could be compared to the LAS & Mikael EP we saw on Innamind last year, in the fact that one of the songs is a collaboration and the other two are individual productions. In the Judgement EP, the bass heaviness that would go on to define the duo’s sound was already present.
Big Apple provided a place for many producers to congregate. Through his job in the shop, Skream came in contact with both (shop owner) Hatcha and Youngsta, as well as DMZ – Mala, Coki and Loefah. The influence these producers had on each other is apparent in the music being made at the time.
Musically, dubstep was born after producers wanted to ‘make UK garage darker’. After Horsepower Productions laid the sound’s foundations, Skream and the other ‘founding fathers’ pushed melody into dubstep; taking inspiration from genres like house, dub and even jazz. One of the best examples is Rottan, a track appeared on Skream’s first Skreamizm EP on Tempa in 2006.
Without losing the sense of open spaces in the music, dubstep slowly became more melodic and started to include elements other than the bass and drums.
The breakthrough for dubstep came through Skream’s Midnight Request Line in 2005. In the legendary Breezeblock Dubstep Warz show on BBC in 2006 Skream explains:
“Through Youngsta playing it at FWD, a lot of the grime heads also started battering it through Roll Deep and Skepta. It kind of helps the scene as well since it sort of bridged the gap.”
The rest is history.
Through grime, new ears discovered the sound, which was also supported by the growing popularity of the DMZ events. Rinse gave Skream a radio slot in 2006 with his infamous Stella Sessions; a station that would go on to give dubstep near international coverage (which continues, in various forms, to this day)…
In 2007, Skream’s first album appeared in Tempa. Skream! showed the versatility of the producer through the beautiful lounge vibes of Summer Dreams to the dark grime beat Tapped with JME. Skream’s music gained broader public interest when the TV series called Skins used his music in the first series. The producer’s ascenscion culminated when he was asked to do an Essential Mix later that year.
The producer’s mainstream takeover became apparent in 2009. His Let’s Get Ravey remix of La Roux’s In For The Kill helped the single reach #2 in the UK charts – a release which went on to become the UK’s 11th best selling digital download of all time.
As the sound grew and more producers became involved, you could say Skream’s sound evolved to match. His 2008-2012 tunes are reminiscent of the harder, ‘wonky ’ productions – similar to those from Coki around the same time.
This is most noticeable in the fifth release in the Skreamizm series, an EP that highlights this shift towards a more aggressive/ mainstream sound. While this has become a clear part of dubstep these days, it’s still easy to recognise a Skream production. The distinct tempo switches, slicing kicks and snares and a sense of melody – all ingredients in the much-loved (and copied) Skream recipe.
In 2008, in hindsight what may have signalled the beginning of the end, Skream admitted he had been suffering from extensive writer’s block. The Croydon producer started experimenting with some other genres; some of which appeared on his 2010 LP Outside The Box. The Tempa-released album contained a variety of different genres, ranging from dubstep to DnB to electronic hip-hop.
This change in tastes was matched by the formation of the ‘dubstep supergroup’ Magnetic Man, an outfit comprised of Benga, Skream and their old Big Apple colleague Artwork. The collective signed to Columbia Records in February 2010, released an album that reached #5 in the UK album charts in October.
They even completed a debut sellout tour that November. The crossover album spawned four singles over 2010 and 2011, the highest of which (2010’s I Need Air) charted at #10. Magnetic Man worked with a number of mainstream talent, including collaborations with John Legend and Kelis, but are yet to release any new material.
Skream’s departure from dubstep, a genre he spent a significant portion of his life dedicated to, seemed to arrive when he announced started his own headline (under the Skreamizm name) tour.In his own words, Skreamizm allowed him to “perform three hour sets in smaller venues with a focus on genres like house, techno and disco”.
Is it a coincidence that the seventh instalment of the Skreamizm EPs was the last dubstep-oriented release? We’re not sure it is. The holy number of completion only adds to the story of two inextricably-linked souls that have finally reached adulthood – Oliver Jones and the sound we now know as dubstep.
As Joe Nice once said:
“Skream brought unbridled creativity, his work shows that the possibilities in dubstep are unlimited and free.”
The same seems true for Skream’s foray into non-dubstep genres.
While fans reminisce of the good old “Skream doing dubstep” days, the producer’s disco/ house direction seems to have brought the same successes as his time in 140. And although we may miss him, Oliver Jones’ contribution to dubstep is up there alongside the other founding fathers. Perhaps more so than many others.
For that, we must be forever thankful.
Click to DOWNLOAD (80MB)
- Skream – Backwards [Deep Medi, 2009]
- Skream – Midnight Request Line [Tempa, 2005]
- Skream – Gritty [Deep Medi, 2011]
- Loefah & Skream – 28g [Tectonic, 2005]
- Marc Ashken – Roots Dyed Dark (Skream remix) [Leftroom, 2007]
- Skream – Memories Of 3rd Base [Digital Soundboy, 2009]
- Skream – Lightning [Tempa, 2006]
- Skream ft. Warrior Queen – Check It [Tempa, 2006]
- Skream – Fields Of Emotion [Tempa, 2010]
- Skream – Rimz [Tempa, 2008]
- Skream – Just Being Me [Southside Dubstars, 2009]
Big love to Dubbacle for putting this article together
Many thanks to Boneless for the all-vinyl #6 mix together
30 minutes of Bass education #7 will follow in two weeks – find the previous mixes here.