Magnetic Man: The Hadron collision of dubstep
Skream, Benga and Artwork give the inside track on their meteoric rise at the Volvo Snowbombing festival in Austria.
It's a year since dubstep had the musical equivalent of a Hadron collision when Skream, Benga and Artwork, aka Magnetic Man, were signed. The three have been making tracks together before Skream and Benga - or Ollie and Beni as they were known back then - had even hit puberty. They'd heard about each other's enthusiasm for mixing tracks on their PlayStations, and started off by exchanging tracks over the phone. Nine years older than the boys, Artwork (Arthur) had slightly more advanced equipment, and after meeting them at Big Apple records in Croydon, respected their clear passion and became a mentor to them.
It's not just apparent that these guys are friends, but as they laugh their way through the interview it's obvious there's no clashing of egos here. It's two o'clock in the afternoon on a Tuesday at Snowbombing and the boys haven't been to bed since they arrived in Austria yesterday. Skream hasn't made it down. They have a reputation of liking to party and they're not showing any signs of slowing down. I ask Benga and Artwork if they think fame has changed them or affected their friendships in any way, and they both laugh as if the concept of is completely ridiculous.
"We take the piss out of each other all the time saying that. ‘Get me a drink.’ ‘No, I can't.’ ‘You've changed,’” jokes Artwork, as Benga laughs and interjects that the fame hasn't affected them at all. It's easy to see that they don't take themselves too seriously, despite the commercial success and critical recognition they've received in the last year. Even though the group is at the top of their game, they're still losing money when they do shows. Artwork informs me that 80 per cent of those who have downloaded the Magnetic Man album did it for free. But with genuine conviction adds, "It ain't about money; we're making music, that's all we wanna do." I had expected the boys to have something to say about the commercialisation of the genre they've made huge, but they aren't concerned by it.
"It's just, like, as soon as music gets popular it becomes attached to the word commercial. But people are starting to like the music, so whatever." Artwork then agrees with Benga "That's the thing, you've got a track like "I Need Air" that can still smash up clubs now, everytime. And because it was, like, where'd it go? Like five in the charts, people are like "Ah, it's commercial". No it's not. It smashes up clubs to this day."
As I agree a little too emphatically, they ask if I like the song and I admit that I was listening to it before I came to the interview. Benga comments "Ah, that was you on the balcony earlier? Now we know where you are as well, lovely. I'm coming to check you later." They're not shy.
At points it was a little difficult to ascertain which bits were genuine answers and which were purely jokes. I asked what might be the next musical style to take off in the industry and they elaborate on a story about a man called Jack Masters who, reliant on Ketamine, is at the forefront of the up and coming "Wonky Step" movement in Scotland. Sadly, I nod along and am no more aware that they were pulling my leg until I Googled it.
Having brought up the tranquiliser du Jour, I feel I should ask for their opinion on drug use: "I love it," replies Artwork. But Benga hastily adds: "Actually we don't support it. We're not gonna say don't use them, we'll just say we don't support you using them." "Just be safe out there. Have fun. Don't kill yourself," adds Artwork.
Joking aside, the dubstep pioneers are grateful for the funding they received from the Arts Council which started them off, and say that when they actually start making a bit of money they'd like to give something back to other struggling artists. If it hadn't been for the funding, Benga said he'd probably have been a footballer. Artwork agrees that he was actually really good at the sport and says if he wasn't in music, he could've just been his manager.
So, what are they working on at the moment? "We really cannot say what we're up to at the moment. I'm so sorry." states Artwork. There will be a huge amount of pressure on the group to offer something big so perhaps this explains their reticence to give away anything too soon. After working with John Legend, I was curious to see if this was a deliberate move to crack The States, but they explain they've never actually met him and that the collaboration was all back and forth over the internet. Cracking America was never on their minds "We never plan anything, we just do it," asserts Benga.
As Paul Harding from Pendulum is becoming the first drum 'n' bass resident at Space in Ibiza, I ask if there are any plans to do the same for dubstep. They exclusively reveal that they're playing the closing party at Space this year; this massive achievement for the group will be sure to end the clubbing season in style.
With some elements of fashion and music regurgitating styles from former, more memorable decades, I was concerned the Noughties might slip by as an amalgamation of re-hashed ideas. Fortunately it had a new musical genre to mark its name: dubstep.
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