Artist of the Month: Skream

Harry Levin sits down with London legend Skream to discuss the 11-year break between ‘Skreamizm’ EPs, his return to playing dubstep, and more.

15 min
Skream AOTM
Sept 11, 2023
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By
Harry Levin

It’s been over a decade since Skream added the “izm.”

But what is the “izm”?

Between the years of 2006 and 2012, the “izm” may have seemed bound to dubstep considering that during that period of time, Skream (a native Croydonian by the name of Oliver Jones), released seven EPs under the now mythical moniker of Skreamizm, aptly titled Skreamizm Vol. 1 to Skreamizm Vol. 7.

Within these seven releases were his well-earned reputation as a pioneer of the then burgeoning genre — a style that juxtaposed the deepest, most grueling basslines stemming from Caribbean-born soundsystem culture against slicing snares tantamount to cracks of lightning.

To the fans, every new Skreamizm EP was the next step in the evolution of dubstep, basking in the frequencies of tracks that still define the sound to this day like “Filth,” “Dub Period,” and “Make Me.”

To Skream, the “izm” goes far deeper than any wobbly bassline he’s ever produced

Skreamizm is all about a body of work at a period of time,” Jones says, speaking to Beatportal at Beatport’s London offices in Farringdon. “Something that we’re keeping going with Skreamizm in particular, there’s a story or a connection behind [everything].”

Now Jones is continuing that story for the first time in 11 years with the release of Skreamizm 8.

Check out Skream’s ‘Artist of the Month’ chart on Beatport.
Skream Beatport 1

In that longstanding interim, quite a lot has changed in Jones’s life. He made a widely publicized separation from dubstep. He’s now a father to two children. In recent days he’s also made the decision to be sober.

With so much change, it’s only natural the scope of this latest chapter in the story would be more layered in its presentation.

“Each Skreamizm [before Skreamizm 8] was what I made in that summer. [Skreamizm 8] is a snapshot of just a slightly longer period of time,” Jones says. “It’s a retrospective record. The majority of the music I’m making is very retrospective, and everything I’m working on is somehow influenced by some point in the last 22 years of Skream.”

Towards the beginning of those 22 years, Skream was inseparable from dubstep, but it was actually just following the release of Skreamizm Vol. 7 that he made a break from the genre, he himself admitting he was pushing it until he “didn’t recognize it anymore.”

His very next release after Skreamizm Vol. 7 (which included non dubstep tracks like the squelchy UK bass tune “Sticky,” and seductive electropop single “Copycat,”) was the bona fide disco heater, “Rollercoaster” featuring Jones’ frequent collaborator, Sam Frank.

See, while dubstep was his thing for quite a few years, Jones’ upbringing defied the idea of staying in one lane, musically.

“I’m from the house party generation where DJs played everything, trying to make people go mad,” says Jones.

Over the past 11 years — that longer period of time embodied within Skreamizm 8 — Jones spent his time producing music for no other purpose than to make people go mad.

House, techno, UK garage, electro, disco, breaks, all of them and more have all come into his discography in the past decade, and the new EP, across its 11 tracks (the most extensive of the entire Skreamizm series), demonstrates this intention for diversity beyond a reasonable doubt.

“It sounds evolved because you learn a lot in 11 years,” Jones says with chuckle. “It felt at home in that series and it’s quite nice to have the series back.”

Skream Beatport 5

In November of last year, Jones said Skreamizm 8 is his “best work to date,” and concurrently, there isn’t one track on the release that clearly belongs in one bin or the other.

Your Love,” takes a high-energy rave beat and pairs it with acid 303 lines alongside the pure soul vocals of Barbados’ own Lagoon Wavey.

Waiheke Island,” a co-production with Jones’ Leeds-based cohorts, Prospa, starts outs breakbeat before deep house chords come in and the beat realigns at four-on-the-floor under progressive, uplifting melodies.

“I’ve always tried to float between the lines with stuff I’m into around that period,” Jones says. “I just try and put things together that shouldn’t really work.”

One track that epitomizes this idea is “Thinking Of You,” which combines grime drums, orchestral keys, and Jones’ own voice, or as he describes it: “me talking.”

Not only is putting his own voice in one his tracks outside of his general production pallet — feeding the idea of mixing different elements together — but the presence of his voice has its own story behind like every other element of the Skreamizm legacy:

“It was initially a voice note I recorded on a somber day during lockdown to my kids for their future,” Jones says.

In the recording he addresses the fears and stresses of lockdown, offers hope for the future, shares realities of life, admits his own inability to predict what’s coming next, and ends with the most important fact: that he loves his children.

“It was never meant to be a song. I started to write some stuff under it and it seemed quite natural,” Jones says. “I played it to a couple people and they cried. Literally the first person I played it to cried. I was a real emotional thing. The words meant something.”

One line Jones says on “Thinking Of You” that means something to him is:

“It’s what you got to go through to get to the place that you want to be.”

Speaking musically, Jones is in the place he wants to be. Producing his best work yet. Reviving the Skreamizm series, and in order to get to this place of contentment, what Jones had to go through was the COVID-19 lockdown.

“[Lockdown] needs to be mentioned. It broke people. It made people. Being in the studio for that two years was what really got me best friends with my studio again because I wasn’t just making music for Friday nights or Saturday nights. I didn’t have any expectancy from ravers, and I got massively into making music again.”

Skream Beatport 8

As we sit in the boardroom of the Beatport office, Jones goes on to say that he made nearly 1000 tracks in those two years of lockdown. He turns to his manager, Scott Paterson, who is sitting to his left, to confirm.

Paterson thinks the number is only 450.

“I thought it was 900 by the second year?” Jones says to Paterson. “You told me it was 480 by the first December.”

Paterson goes to his laptop and starts pulling up folders with tracks from Jones. 254 in the first pile. 259 in the second. Then 50. Then 71. Then 11. Then 31. Then another with 122.

“Most of it was strong. If lockdown didn’t happen I don’t think I would have put out a body of work as a body of work. I don’t really care what anyone thinks of [Skreamizm 8] because I think it’s really good,” Jones says. “And there’s other stuff. I managed to get a point where I’m not just Skream from dubstep. The journey’s been fairly successful since I stopped ultimately just playing dubstep, and I don’t mind playing dubstep shows again because I’m fully comfortable where I’m at with what I’m doing.”

In recent years, Jones’ reentry into dubstep has been massive. He’s shared three compilations of unreleased tracks from the early to mid 00’s, each under the title of Unreleased Classics.

He released “Summoned,” a dubstep track on the fabric Originals compilation in April. He’s also played dubstep at numerous festivals including EDC Las Vegas, Do LaB at Coachella, HARD Summer, and even a 6.5 hour set at Shambhala—the first festival he played in North America all the way back in 2006.

“Dubstep has gone full circle. I always knew it would happen. Everyone got the noisiest they could get because there’s only so fuckin’ noisey you can get. Now it’s back. Listen to ‘Rumble.’ It’s basically the music I was making in ‘06 and ‘07,” Jones says. “Everyone’s always wanted me to play dubstep, but it makes more sense now because people see the evolution. Now they really want to hear that old stuff they’ve never heard.”

Skream Beatport 11

After this interview, Jones and the rest of his team are going around the corner to the legendary London nightclub fabric to discuss the release party for Skreamizm 8.

On the weekend of October 20-21, Skream will take over all three rooms in fabric with more than 20 artists across the two days, but the most anticipated set is surely a B2B between Jones and an artist with whom he made some of his earliest records on a Playstation. An artist who was right alongside him throughout that evolution of dubstep: Benga.

This will be their first set together in over ten years (apart from a reunion of their supergroup Magnetic Man with Artwork to celebrate the tenth anniversary of Big Apple Records at XOYO in 2018), with the last taking place during their famed residency on BBC Radio 1.

“Whether I don’t see Benny in ten years or ten minutes it’s exactly the same. It’s fucking great. It’s magical really. Lots of laughter. Lots and lots of laughter,” Jones says putting specific emphasis on laughter of it all. “Still don’t got any idea what we’re playing on the night which is the stressful part, but we’ll figure it out. He’s on fire in form.”

Like the Skreamizm EPs, every artist who plays a Skreamizm party (the parties continued in between the EPs) alludes to a specific story or connection in Jones’ evolution as an artist.

The connection with Benga is clear. Another artist performing for the Skreamizn 8 release party are the Detroit techno outfit Octave One who played the one of the first Skreamizm parties ever. On the second night, Jones will play together with Scottish house sensation Ewan McVicar all night long, following up a celebrated shared set at Hideout Festival in Croatia last year.

“The lineup we put together is festival-worthy. It’s strong. Nods backwards. Nods forwards,” Jones says. “Friends of old and new.”

Skream Beatport 10
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Skream Beatport 9

One friend of Jones who tragically will not be present on the lineup or in the dancefloor is Jamie Roy, the Scottish house music wunderkind who passed away in September of last year at the age of 33.

However, being that they were very close mates, Jones included two sonic eulogies for Roy on Skreamizm 8: “Roy The Boy,” and “Not Ready Yet.”

“[‘Roy The Boy’] was the made the night that we found out. It was a hard record to finish. That was everything that I felt at that minute in time, and that’s why it sounds like a sad record. You can hear the sadness in it. ‘Not Ready Yet’ was a few days after, I think,” Jones says. I wasn’t sure if I was going to put it on there because it was quite hard listening to it, but I had to put something on there.”

In addition to the two tracks, the blue flowers on the cover art for Skreamizm 8 are meant to reflect Roy. Jones admits the EP is very much in his honor, and as someone who played a pivotal role in Jones own life, Roy is, by nature, inseparable from Skreamizm.

That’s what is found within the “izm.” It’s not just music. It’s Jones’ playing afterparties with Jamie Roy on the island of Ibiza. It’s Jones meeting Benga for the first time while he was working at Big Apple Records as a teenager.

The “izm” is the living history of Skream, a story that’s now spanned 22 years. A story that will live on in the annals of electronic music for generations to come.

Skream drops Skreamizm 8 on September 15. Buy it on Beatport.

Harry Levin is a freelance journalist living in Denver. Find him on X.

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