Dance

20 Questions With Skream: On His New Label, Fatherhood & First Hearing His Music In A Club — When He Was 14 Years Old

Skream
Eisa

Skream

Skream, having recently had an unusual amount of studio time on his hands, made roughly 220 tracks during quarantine. The next move was finding a home for this sonic bonanza -- with the U.K. producer ultimately realizing the most practical solution was to just build that home himself.

The artist born Oliver Jones -- who came to prominence roughly 20 years ago, when he was just 14 -- has thus launched his new label, IFEEL. The first drop is the recently released Chester's Groove EP, featuring the tech-house heater title track by Skream, and a pair of remixes of Berghain resident Normal Nodge. The project's crisply psychedelic cover art was done by iconic British street artist INSA, a longtime hero of Skream's.

"There’s an interview with me from like 15 years ago with a hoodie with his print on," he says, lighting up when speaking on the topic. "To have him involved is a big deal for me."

The congregation of these three artists is an out-the-gates demonstration that via IFEEL, Skream can do pretty much whatever he wants in terms of his art, with this boss position allowing him to release tracks far outside the dubstep genre that made him an icon as the sound blew up, and made him an international star, in the early- and mid-'00s.

Speaking from his studio over Zoom, Jones calls dubstep "my childhood," but says that having so much time to focus on music in the last year has reminded him of his love for producing music across electronic genres -- a passion that will be made tangible as he continues dropping IFEEL releases.

Here, he talks about the label, being a child prodigy and why you should always pay your taxes.

1. Where are you in the world right now, and what's the setting like?

Right now I am in my studio in South London, an area called Croydon. My setting is pretty dark, as you can see, and I'm surrounded by equipment and more equipment.

2. What is the first album or piece of music you bought for yourself, and what was the medium?

It would have been a CD... no, it was a tape! It would have been a boy band called East 17. It’s not the coolest of first purchases, but I don’t think everyone’s is that cool. When I was a kid, like 5, 6 or 7, the boys were into a group called East 17 and the girls were into a group called Take That. It’s just kind of how it was. But, to be fair, I used to play a lot of music as a kid. I always had an obsession with buying CDs, I had to have every version of every CD, like limited edition, deluxe edition... I don’t know where they are all now. Probably in my mum’s loft or something.

3. What did your parents do for a living when you were a kid, and what do they think of what you do for a living now?

My mum is a lawyer, a very successful lawyer. She’s done that my whole life. She should have retired ages ago but she hasn’t. My dad’s had many different jobs.

They’re extremely supportive of what I do. They wasn’t at first, because when I was 11, when I started DJing -- not like professionally, but in my bedroom -- it was all fun and games. And by the time I was 13 I was like, “this is what I want to do, I want to produce music.”

It wasn’t necessarily heard of. I’m 35 now, so this is quite awhile back, and they had their reservations obviously. It just wasn’t the sort of job anybody knew. We didn’t know anybody that was a professional DJ, or a professional music producer, so they were very concerned. But I wasn’t the most well behaved kid at school -- so they didn’t have a choice, really.

Luckily by the time I was 14 or 15, I started having my songs played by DJs. I hadn’t played any gigs, because I was too young, but I was quite popular from a young age -- so it calmed them a bit, because I had a really good support group at a record store where I eventually ended up working. My mum and dad asked them, “Can he make it?” And they were like, “Definitely.” That was sort of that.

4. If you had to recommend one album for someone looking to get into electronic music, what would you give them?

I’d have to say Kraftwerk. The first Kraftwerk album, really. Just purely because it’s where we all come from, you know? I think it sounds fresher now than it ever has. It would have to be that -- because I think the best to learn is to look from the start.

5. What’s the first non-gear thing you bought for yourself when you started making money as an artist?

Sneakers. I can’t remember the exact pair. I was a sneaker addict for such a long time. I’m not no more. They would have been Jordans or high-top dunks. I had an unhealthy obsession with sneakers. And watches! I used to buy a lot of Rolex watches. I have none of them anymore.

6. Where’d they go?

Lost to many parties. And they were good gifts.

7. What's the first electronic music show that really blew your mind?

It would have been when I was like, 14. There was a really famous party that had just started called Forward. It was also the first time that I heard one of my songs in a club. It was the icing on the cake for me that was like, “This is what is what I want to do.” It wasn’t bougie or a big venue or anything, it was just a dark basement -- but it was at a place called Velvet Room, which is gone and is now apartments. It blew my mind hearing my music through a nightclub system. Literally, I've made music every day since then, more or less -- give or take some birthdays and funerals.

8. What are you able to do with your own label that you haven't been able to on other labels?

I will have more freedom because I’m the boss -- but also it’s the perfect time for me, because after all this lockdown, I’ve had a lot more time making music, and making music not necessarily for Friday or Saturday. I’ve never liked just one style of music, and I don’t think anyone does. I’ve always been interested in making all types of electronic music, and producing for bands.

9. Have your abilities changed at all during lockdown?

I’ve had more time in the studio over the last year and a half than I’ve had since I was at school. It’s been really nice to get to know my equipment again, with a clear head and not, like, tour brain... being in the studio one day a week because you’ve gotta get back on a plane.

The lockdown has made me extremely confident as a producer. I’m really wanting to make a lot more music than people are familiar with me making. The idea of the label -- it was fate to a degree, because I needed this time off to get back to my original passion, which is producing. In lockdown, I’ve made 220 tracks, and they need a home. And they’re all mine. So the best thing to do was to launch a new label exclusively for my stuff, and release it at my pleasure.

10. Want to explain who Norman Nodge is, for people who may not know?

Norman is a resident at the famous Berlin club Berghain, like the hardest club in the world to get into. He’s just an all-around legend, really -- and he was supporting the original track "Chester’s Groove," and he was like, “I think this is so dope.” I thought he’d say no [to remixing it], because he’s also like a lawyer or something along those lines, so I never thought he’d have time to do a remix for me. He ended up doing two. My mind was quite blown.

11. How do you balance the demands of your work with being a father?

Well, my son is nine, and my daughter is two in July. Their birthdays are the same day, July 13. It’s been pretty easy balancing it for the last year and a half, because we’ve been together all the time. My son lives with his mum just around the corner, but he’s with me three days a week -- and obviously I’ve got my daughter every day. If I need to be in the studio, I’m in the studio, and if not, I’m with them.

It’s a little bit more difficult when you’re touring. You miss ‘em, you know? I haven’t toured extensively since my daughter was born. I did a little bit, but she was too young to remember. But now she’s two, and like, Daddy’s girl. It’s gonna be pretty hard when things kick back off. It’s what I do, and it’s the way I earn my money, so it just kind of is what it is. So you make sure you’re switched on and on the ball when you’re home.

12. When you do go back on the road, do you anticipate doing anything differently?

After the last year and a half, I’m gonna need to go back pretty hard -- because there are things that need paying for. I’m in the States in August, but other than that for the rest of the year I think the majority is U.K., so that will ease it in a bit nicer. I’ll just be gone for a day or two. This year I don’t think I’ll be as international as I was before. I’ll only be gone for a couple of days or overnight -- so hopefully that will ease everyone into me not being here.

13. What does the term "dubstep" mean to you?

My childhood. It’s just been a very, very big part of my life, you know? It’s where I was introduced to the world.

14. Do you care about NFTs?

I don’t understand them! My brother is super into NFTs and cyrpto, along with a few really close friends as well. I’m just so into making music. It’s the one thing I know a lot about. Not that I’m not down for learning, but it’s a completely different world, and I really just don’t understand it. I was going to launch some via my management and my brother and close friends -- I’m just leaving it with them. They asked what they need from me. Other than that, the conversation just hurt my head.

15. Finish this sentence: the most exciting thing happening in dance music right now is _____.

Technology. I think there’s some really innovative software coming out really thick and fast at the moment. I think that’s a good answer, without me upsetting anyone.

16. What's been the hardest part of being off the road during this time?

Getting fat! I was always on my feet, and now I’m either in my chair or out in the park or whatever. But I’ve never been big on exercise. I got a personal trainer at the start of lockdown. We’re still friends.

But the hardest thing has been the social side of everything. I’ve been a complete fish out of water. I’m not as willing to go and socialize as I was beforehand. I’m still quite talkative -- but if anyone asked me out before, I’d be like, "Yeah cool" and now I’m like, "Ugh, I’ve gotta get dressed." I just miss real interaction.

17. What's been the best part?

The time I’ve spent with my kids and seeing a lot more of my family. Everyone’s gotten super close. It’s been nice having more conversations with my parents and seeing my daughter grow up -- because her life has been in lockdown really, so I’ve seen everything. Which at the same time makes me [wonder] if I missed a lot with my son. I don’t think I did. But that’s been the best, seeing my daughter grow.

18. What's the best business decision you've ever made?

Stopping buying sneakers! I used to waste so much money.

19. What's one piece of advice you'd give to your younger self?

Sometimes take advice. Especially take advice from people who know things you don’t, when you think you know everything. I was a kid when I started. I didn’t live the same life as everyone else. I went straight into a career in entertainment -- and as a kid you don’t really care for boring stuff. But boring stuff is important as you get older.

20. Is there one piece of advice in particular that you'd you wish you’d taken?

Paying my taxes. It was just having a career as a kid, basically, and just not listening to stuff that bored me. It bites you in the ass at some point. It was a long time ago, but it was a big step back when it happened. Other than that, there’s not really much that I wish I’d listened to. But paying your taxes is the golden one.