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You'll know Skream as the world-beating dubstep DJ responsible for some of the genre's most seminal tunes. But before he became a globetrotting headline star, he earned his stripes playing dark, hellishly loud, sweatbox clubs.
Now, after a summer of main stage sets, his autumn tour is taking things back to his roots: back to the gigs where sound and selection were all that mattered.
Skream has cooked-up Skreamizm, a very special set of dates that see him play three-hour sets in intimate, dim lit venues. The tour began in September, taking the him across Europe and it culminates in Manchester at The Warehouse Project on November 30, with a South London homecoming show at Brixton Electric on November 9.
Mixmag caught Skream to talk about the Skreamizm concept, why he's going back to his roots and how he's trying to change the attitude of the clubbing community.
What's been going down during Skreamizm then?
Basically it's just me playing a three-hour set of music that people might not necessarily know. Like a lot of my older, early dubstep stuff up into stuff that I’m into at the moment: house, techno, rave, indie, party music... It’s really all over the place, but I’ve got the set to a place where I’m happy with it.
Have you been preparing the sets in advance?
I had to originally, because it’s a three-hour show. The order of tracks isn’t set in stone but I had to get together a load of music and it’s changing each night.
Have you played sets of that length before?
Never! Not before the Skreamizm thing. I thought it was going to feel really long but it doesn’t at all. It’s not long enough!
Has it been challenging? Or has it been enjoyable putting together a collage of tunes?
I haven’t found it challenging. The first hour and a bit is stuff that I’ve made, so it literally feels like being back in 2006, 2007, which is quite cool because I’m playing in a blacked-out room and it’s nice to play those tracks again after so long and hearing how fresh they still sound.
You mention the dark, low light aesthetic. Why did you decide to do a tour based around that?
Because in the last year I’ve seen enough light to last me a fucking lifetime. I’m not becoming this guy who hates light, not at all, it’s just that I haven’t felt like I’ve been to a rave for so long. You can’t count festivals because I quite enjoy them, but every show in clubs makes each artist a spectacle and it’s like a night of headliners at a concert.
And you’re now expected to come out, play big tunes, throw your hands in the air…
No, no, no, it’s not even that. I’m talking from a punter’s perspective. I can cater for the headline crowd for the rest of my life but it’s more about changing the way nights are on the whole. I just think people don’t go out and rave, they don’t actually care who’s playing. I haven’t been to a proper rave in so long, I just wanted to do it, it’s where I’m from.
So you're feeling disconnected from those roots?
Yeah. It's because of the punters, the dancefloor. Everyone wants to have their phones out recording all night and not actually dance.
What are the key parties you’re trying to recreate with Skreamizm?
I guess, to a degree, Plastic People. I spent a lot of my time growing up in there. Or even going to a party like Renegade Hardware. I remember the first time Pendulum played it. It was pitch black. I was in the back corner of the building just shocking out.
So Skreamizm is quite an honest attempt at creating a space where people can come and get their heads down and get stuck into tunes.
It is so simple. That’s the thing. It’s not anything overly complicated. I can’t see how it’s been so hard to do for so long.
At what moment did you think that you needed to do a set of events to prove that?
It happened slowly. It was being at festivals and clubs nearly every night throughout the summer. You’re looking for something, you’re not too sure what and you realise that it’s that rave element. Even when I say rave people will have a different perception in their head. People will think they’re going out raving this weekend but they'll actually stand and look at a live show or whatever. They’re there in the building but not actually there, at one with it all. I could get a complete backlash for saying that, but it’s from a personal perspective.
It’s also taking the DJ's word for what you’re going to listen to. Like, going out and trusting the DJ, getting involved. Don’t leave the dancefloor if you don’t like one tune. Because you see stuff like that happening now. People leave the dancefloor and end up in the smoking area for two hours. Just don’t move. If you don’t recognise a track, that’s not a bad thing.
You’re challenging people to engage with what you’re playing?
Yeah. Just take my word for it. Try and understand why I like these tunes.
Do you miss playing smaller venues?
Of course I do. But at the same time I love playing for a lot of people. This concept wouldn’t work with a big crowd because everyone’s got ADHD now!
You need a certain amount of intimacy.
Yeah, that’s another vital thing.
Do you feel pressured to play certain tunes when you’re on a bigger stage?
Of course, but I never play a record that I don’t like. This isn’t me shunning big stage shows or big stage music. This is a concept. And for people to find out that my set is changing. I’ve always danced around styles, since I was 17-years-old, this shouldn’t be a surprise.
You seem to have become more fascinated with house...
That's not a new thing. I’ve always bought house records, ever since I was working at Big Apple records. But I’ve become more fascinated with it as it's become more bass orientated, I guess. Especially Boddikka and the Instra:mental stuff. I thought that was heavy.
What was the catalyst for you playing more 4/4 stuff?
It was probably when club nights became more versatile, when you’d have Scuba, Andy C, Sinden and myself on a bill. I love the variety.
Does dubstep still interest you?
Yeah! Ben Verse out of Pendulum is making some wicked, dark stuff. Really heavy. Mala is someone I’m always fascinated by. I like a lot of what Youngsta plays but also the tear-out stuff, which is always controversial. But Skrillex is an amazing producer, I like most of the tunes he makes. Skreamizm isn’t me saying I’m not playing dubstep anymore, it’s completely the opposite. But people shouldn’t associate me totally with dubstep.
So you’re becoming more versatile?
Completely. Another big influence is Jackmaster. I’ve been rolling with him a lot, I love the energy of his sets. The diversity of DJing is what I appreciate.
Check out Skreamizm tour dates and buy tickets for the remaining shows here.