"We’re not getting older. We’re still the same"
To call someone a founder or pioneer is, sometimes, to relegate into history with gracious praise. But British dubstep legends Skream and Benga not only earned that placement as teenagers, they're thriving in the shifting currents of trends and time. And in a very candid, riotously entertaining interview with MTV Iggy, it's clear they've retained every ounce of the infectious enthusiasm that propelled them so far so fast.
Rounding the corner into the new millennium, in a historically smoggy industrial town outside London, two 14-year-olds met at a record shop. Stocking and selling UK garage, 2-step, and drum & bass would have been a very agreeable way to make some cash for any kid at the time, but sometimes fate works in ways stranger than fiction: the musically-inclined duo worked at Big Apple Records in Croydon, which turned out to be the epicenter of a nascent dubstep scene.
At the shop, Oliver Jones (Skream) and Beni Adejumo (Benga) met vinyl-hunting DJs and Producers like DJ Hatcha, Digital Mystikz (Mala and Coki), and Arthur “Artwork” Smith and fell into a crew of like-minded people who mixed wobbly bass lines and syncopated rhythms to create music for themselves. DJ Hatcha played Skream’s first dubplates at the club night FWD>>. And, just like that, a new genre was born.
Fast forward 10 plus years. Dubstep’s sub-audible frequencies have radiated past those early pockets of skinny, solemn, hoodie-wearing young men and now ensnare gleeful, glow-stick brandishing audiences in the tens of thousands. Filthy facemelting is all the rage.
And Skream and Benga are still in the thick of it — since dropping iconic tracks like Skream’s 2005 “Midnight Request Line” and Benga’s boundary-pushing 2008 album Diary of An Afro Warrior, in 2010 they formed the supergroup Magnetic Man with old pal Artwork. At the ripe old age of 25, Skream and Benga are the pioneers of a sound that’s broken through to mainstream success.
A few days after a sold-out show at one of NYC’s biggest venues, the old friends met this harried, traffic-delayed interviewer at an Euro-swank hotel in the area formerly known as Hell’s Kitchen. Ensconced in a booth at the hotel bar and joined by fellow-legend Sgt Pokes, the MC and co-founder of DMZ Records (with Mala, Coki, and Loefah) who toasts for them on tour, Skream and Benga quickly displayed why they’re the most beloved figures in the scene.
In between the shouts of laughter, non-stop teasing, and overlapping responses, they discussed crazy dubstep fan arguments, certain rumors concerning Prince Harry, the hunger to create, paparazzi attention, parenthood both literal (Skream) and figurative (Artwork), mother love in the form of ham sandwiches and jollof rice, and why everyone picks on Skrillex.
You couldn’t get this kind of rapport if you scripted it.
How was the Terminal 5 show in NY?
You have a crazy show coming up with Skrillex, FatBoy Slim, Rusko, a long list of very different styles.
Skream: We’ve been planning hard for a while. They’re always amazing shows. They’re like mini festivals.
Benga: Mixed lineups seems to be the way for it. That’s the way to keep people’s attentions wrapped.
So what are you planning to do to keep people’s attention?
Pokes: We’re mental.
Benga: We crowd surfed on Friday-
Skream: Saturday, Thursday.
Benga, is it true that you pushed Oliver into the crowd once and he ended up breaking three ribs?
Benga: [Laughing] He had crowd surfed before.
Skream: We had done it before then, but this is one people like to remember.
Benga [to me]: Do you need to split us up?
Pokes: No one pushed anyone, I was there, all right? This guy [pointing to Skream] is a liability. No one pushed him–
Skream: I was pushed.
Pokes: Floated off the stage.
Skream: I was pushed.
Pokes: I distinctly remember Benga and me saying, “This is a bad idea. Don’t do it. It’s London. They won’t catch you.
Benga: It all stemmed from me doing it successfully. I was the only one who crowd surfed at the end, before it was shuttin’ down…I’m sorry, I can’t stop laughing, it was too funny.
Skream: Nah, that’s fine.
The windups…are you still pranking people on tour? I heard that you played a trick on a maid in a hotel by pretending to be dead.
Benga: She had a breakdown. She cried-
Skream: She thought she found a dead body-
Benga: We should go out and visit her again. Don’t we?
Pokes: She’s now in permanent psychiatric care.
Benga: It’s mental.
I heard this other one about Artwork — he told somebody that Prince Harry was a fan of yours?
Skream: Well, yeah-
[Benga and Pokes start laughing]
Skream: He told the national newspaper, and we were featured in the paper the next day. But what you’re stemming from — we had invites to go and see a show at Buckingham Palace, but we didn’t meet Prince Harry.
But then, after, Artwork got drunk, rang the Sun newspaper because we know someone there, and was like, “Yeah, he went up to Skream and was like, ‘Love your music, mate!’”
And it all got a bit out of control because my mum rang me the next morning, “You didn’t tell me you knew Prince Harry!” “Mum, clearly, I don’t.” There have been a few.
Are you still partying, as you always do? You’re kind of famous for it.
[All three start cracking up]
Skream [Points to Benga and Pokes]: These two have been having nice times together. They’re doing most of the partying.
Pokes: They be playing drafts.
Skream: Playing checkers
Pokes: Discussing poetry. Shopping.
Skream: Me and Pokes have been playing Scrabble with the eyes.
I was curious because you’re a new dad, Skream. Congratulations.
Skream: Yes, thank you. I don’t drink when I’m home. I only drink on the road.
Pokes: He goes outside his house and drinks.
Skream: I don’t drink when I’m home. Unless, if I have the baby, maybe a glass of wine.
Benga: I’ve seen the liquor underneath his sink.
Pokes: I’ve seen eight bottles of vodka underneath his sink.
Skream: That’s the party drawer, that’s why it’s there.
Pokes: Never gets used, no?
Skream: Somebody did drink all three bottles, but it wasn’t me.
Benga: Really, I think I know who it was then.
Skream: Jesse. [Laughs]
Pokes: He loves it. Jesse is the name of his son.
Skream: Jesse Jones. He’s three months. Well, three and about-
Pokes: Three months and a week.
Skream: That’ll do.
Pokes: What, is he five?
Skream: How long have I been on tour? But no, he’s great. It’s amazing.
Skream had a birthday at Dub War here in NY, in 2006. And now you just played Red Rocks with Pretty Lights. Changes you’ve noticed in those 5 years?
Skream: Bigger crowds, more lights. More lights are definitely something that’s happened since then.
Benga: The shows just got bigger, production-wise, everything.
Skream: There’s a lot more money in the shows. On the production, I mean. Crowds getting younger.
Skream: We’re not getting older. We’re still the same. We’re still the fun wunderkinden.
[All three burst into laughter.]
Is that something someone called you?
Pokes: The dupstep wunderkinden!!!
I’m guessing that was in a German newspaper?
Skream: Yeah, and then it got used in EVERY bit of a story after. I loved it. I’m one of the wunderkinden.
Well, you kind of are…You’ve both been doing this since you were 14? 15? Has working and doing music together changed?
Benga: In our time, we’ve done, what, 14 records together? We had the Magnetic Man album, then done The Judgement-
Skream: Yeah, we done a crap remix of The Judgement. We’ve never really sat together and finished a record. We can’t do it.
Benga: We talk too much.
Skream: We’ve known each other too long — we just talk and talk. And we know all the same people! We’re gossips. So we just sit there talking gossip.
Benga: Literally. “This happened! THAT Happened!”
Skream: And it gets to the point where we’ve been sitting there for eight hours. Artwork sits in the middle of us.
Benga: We did do one wicked record that we never finished.
Benga and Skream [taking turns]: Bleep–bleep–bloop–bleep–
Pokes [dryly]: Awesome.
Skream: We know what it sounded like! Blom–blom–
[Skream and Benga dissolve into laughter.]
Skream: F*@cking #1 record!
It sounds a little minimal.
Skream: It was. Extremely.
So Artwork’s the sort of the Dad, I suppose?
Skream: You can refer to him as that if you’d like, but we cannot!
[Benga and Pokes flop over each other laughing. Overlapping "he would freak," "daaad!" "oh my god!" etc.]
Skream: He keeps everything moving, whenever we get sidetracked.