Oliver Jones, better known as Skream, is credited as one of the chief originators of dubstep, having risen from the South London scene that produced contemporaries like Coki, Mala, Benga, Artwork and Loefah in the genre’s early days. Having introduced the “wub” bass that came to define the genre and accidentally set the dubstep tempo at 140bpm (reportedly because he didn’t know how to change it on Fruity Loops), Jones was as influential as any other on the development of a style that took the country by storm. Following up his early success with a change in style and a greater focus on the increasingly en vogue house and techno pushed by DJ friends like Jackmaster, Skream has transformed his sound and moved away from his dubstep roots, a decision that has proven divisive among his significant fanbase. In exploration of this evolution, we’ve engaged in a journey through the sounds of Skream, picking out some of his key releases from down the years.
The Bug - The Judgement
Taken from Skream’s first release, a joint EP with Benga called The Judgement, “The Bug” nicely shows off the origins of dubstep. Garage swing and the early wobbles of his signature sound make it a hard-hitter that built on the proto-dubstep that had started to develop in London around the new millennium. Indicative of the sound that would come from just south of the capital and in particular Croydon’s Big Apple Records shop from 2003, when this was released, “The Bug” is an excellent entry point for Skream’s music, allowing us to start our exploration at the very start of the dubstep movement.
Midnight Request Line - Skream!
2006 saw dubstep move from the UK underground into wider spheres, with the release of albums like Burial’s self-titled debut and Skream! seeing more global and chart recognition. A key track in this development, “Midnight Request Line” was considered somewhat of a show stopper. Clinically clean in its production, the track merges electro melodies with scattered percussion and rumbling bass lines, making it a mainstay of dubstep sets in clubs across the country, and earning it a place on most dubstep “best of” lists.
La Roux - In For The Kill (Skream’s Let's Get Ravey Remix)
By 2009 dubstep had well and truly infiltrated the charts, and Skream announced his embrace of pop with this remix of La Roux chart topper “In For The Kill”. Adding a half time beat and a growling bass to the singer’s eerie vocals, Skream closed the gap between mainstream music and the sounds of London’s underground dance scene.
The Epic Last Song - Outside The Box
2010 album Outside The Box delved into drum and bass, with dubstep taking somewhat of a backseat. The aptly named “The Epic Last Song” builds on fairly typical DnB beats but demonstrates something that Skream had always excelled in, with melodies standing out more than in other releases of the same style.
It’d be wrong to say that everything Skream touches turns to gold, and it’s certainly not baffling that this one gets a fair bit of bad press. Shapeshifting from his dubstep roots into new territory might not have harmed his stock as a DJ too much, but this one is a bit Skrillex-copycat-tries-techno, and it’s definitely not his finest work.
An outing on Crosstown Records brought Skream into tech house, and whilst it may not be as groundbreaking as his early releases, it definitely fits the label’s blueprint. A change of sound following his success had seen him incorporate more disco, house and techno into his DJ sets, and it is perhaps unsurprising that his involvement in dubstep has come to an end given the relative decline in the genre’s popularity over the last few years. Even so, clearly his career is still going pretty well...
Words by Andrew Kemp
Photo courtesy of Skream