Skream plays Volume! at the Bongo Club
David Pollock casts an eye over the illustrious career to date of Skream, one of the founding fathers of that most sonorous of sub genres, dubstep
The word ‘dubstep’ might spell out all you need to know about Skream. Much like dub reggae, the genre is borne of a heavy, trembling bassline and a slow rhythm which borders on the sinister. The ‘step’ part refers to the fact that you can still dance to it. Despite the synthetic, futuristic veneer of dubstep, its roots lie in the riotous urban rhythms of drum & bass and UK garage as much as dub.
It’s a measure of the genre’s viciously contemporary cachet that Skream, aka Ollie Jones, a 21-year-old lad from Croydon, has already reached the point where he can be considered a venerable founding father of the genre. Although dubstep has been bubbling under the South London scene since the turn of the decade, Skream has been on the Fringe of that scene for just as long and has been instrumental in its journey towards becoming a bona fide national subculture.
In 2007, dropping the term ‘dubstep’ has even more of an air of cool than uttering the phrase ‘new rave’. It’s even been written about in the Daily Telegraph, for heaven’s sake (‘a bass-heavy instrumental form’ was how they rather dryly described it). Yet it feels not so much a media invention as a living, organic movement.
Producers such as Zed Bias and others, most notably those on London’s Tempa label, were unwittingly to create dubstep, untitled at the time, through their experiments in welding the regular two-step style to languid dub rhythms, burying the results on the back of white labels. Yet, it wasn’t until a club named Forward> (run by Ammunition Productions, who also founded Tempa) opened at Soho’s Velvet Rooms in 2001, that the style eventually found its own outlet.
Around the same time, Croydon’s Big Apple record shop – now defunct – became the leading stockist for records by the area’s DIY dubstep producers, and it was here, working behind the counter, that Skream received a good part of his education. Already a friend of Hatcha, one of the genre’s older progenitors, the fledgling muso had been creating on his bedroom PC since the age of 15, and was thus perfectly placed to let the leading players in the area hear what he had come up with. It was Hatcha, in fact, who gave Skream his first public play at Forward>.
The next few years saw dubstep emerge into the national consciousness through such diverse outlets as Mary Anne Hobbs’ Radio 1 show, The Wire, and the soundtrack of Alfonso Cuaron’s 2006 film Children of Men. This latter appearance perhaps sums up the crossover potential of dubstep best – it’s a style which is accessible but dark, a perfectly-realised blend of dystopian futurism and raw, brutal contemporaneousness.
At this point in time, then, Skream is quite possibly the best-known dubstep producer in Britain, and, by extension, the world. His 2005 single ‘Midnight Request Line’ is certainly the genre’s most familiar plate, and last year’s self-titled album has taken him as far afield as America to play. He’s even remixed Klaxons, demonstrating just how closely dubstep’s still relatively-unknown nature is so perfectly in tune with its times.
Skream plays Volume! at the Bongo Club, Edinburgh, Fri 12 Oct.