Mike Skinner: “I shouldn’t have played at Colston Hall in Bristol”

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is to feel a little guilty, “sincerely declares Mike Skinner, in his Birmingham-via-London twang. “I shouldn’t have played at Bristol Colston Hall. Massive Attack hasn’t played it for years. At the time, I thought it was just a name. The place takes its name from the former slave owner Edward Colston, whose statue had just been demolished in the city two days before our interview; Skinner had played there in 2005 and 2006. “It was a fantastic time to bring down the statue,” says Skinner. “He was motivated as much by white guilt as by black power. Even Piers Morgan supports it. If he supports it, I’m pretty confident that we’re ready to go. ”

Skinner is back doing what he does best: philosophize on current affairs and, finally, release new music like The Streets. None of us come out of this life is the first release of Streets in nine years, a dynamic mixtape full of duets with Tame Impala, Idles and Ms Banks. He has spent the last decade jumping from project to project and figuring out how to grow. But the poet geezer of the people seems to have finally found a good point. “There is a lightness”, he says about the mixtape (note: this is not an album) and that the recording process was “just make a few s *** and listen” rather than thinking too much about everything. “It hasn’t been like that since my first album,” he adds.

We’re talking about a 10am Zoom call from his home in Highgate. Skinner is 40 years old now, but his speaking voice is so much like his rap style that it’s like being transported back to the days of his debut in 2002, Original Pirate Material. The record was a defining moment in British music, fusing British garage, hip-hop and ska with previously unspoken details. His noisy tales of boys’ culture spilled over Smirnoff ice cream, Reebok classics and questionable skewers, but also allowed a generation of young men to express their emotions – his ballad will be-OK-mate “Dry Your Eyes “reached number one in 2004. His social commentary rejected the Americanisms of most MC-led hits in British charts at the time (” here we say birds, not bitches “, he sang on “Let’s Push Things Forward”) and reshaped British pop in its image of everyone in a polo shirt.

It was this exploration of daily existence, he says, that made his story so compelling. “I think in the soap opera of life, if you describe the actions, the brain feels the emotions,” he says, about to embark on a favorite metaphor. “I know everything I’ve ever done. It’s the difference between rock and country music. And I’ve always been more country than rock. ”

The reform of Streets was a boost: even Skinner’s manager Tim Vigon was surprised. “When Mike told me he would bring The Streets back, it was a complete shock,” he said. You can see why: in 2011 Skinner looked tired of The Streets. Sales were down since his third album, it’s not that bad to be famous, 2006 The hardest way to make a living easily, pierced a hole in its relativity. His last two uneven albums, 2008 Everything is borrowed and 2011 Computers and blues, had their moments, but The Streets had lost their vim. Skinner seemed happy to move forward (“this is not a retreat from Frank Sinatra,” he wrote in his 2012 memoirs, The history of the streets).

Mike Skinner at a street concert (Getty)

He spent his hiatus working on a number of tiny projects, with varying degrees of success. He made discreet records like The DOT, The Darker the Shadow, the Brighter the Light; some VICE documentaries; a podcast with party comrade Murkage Dave; and he played DJ all over the country with his Tonga balloon and bass party. “I thought the DJ would be a worthy way to grow,” he says. ” But it’s not. Being in night clubs three times a week did not become an adult. ”

It was the making of a film, he says, that gave impetus to the revival of The Streets. “Imagine the guy from A big one don’t come for free grew up to be a DJ, “he says of the film’s plot. “It’s just a little caper, really. Skinner plans to play as well as his music, but he achieved by writing the soundtrack that he was doing mostly new music from Streets. “The reason I stopped The Streets was to make a film and the reason I started again was to make a film,” he says. “I didn’t need the money and I was not bored.” If his motivation had been financial, you could hardly have blamed him. The demand for street reunions was high. His 2018 tour ended in seconds.

Still, I wonder, in a landscape where pop culture from the past is constantly reevaluated, if he feared that some of his old songs, like “Fit But You Know It”, might have been …

“Canceled! »He intervenes preventively. “It could be much worse. I could have made much more problematic music. I will not worry about it. It takes a second before laying down. “I think social media is going to have to find a way to address the context problem. I think the context exists in the real world, what someone looks like is quite important for what they say. And on Twitter, you don’t get a satisfactory level. And it also works when you look back. So, at best, “Fit But You Know It” can just be seen as something naughty that may be of its time. In the context of FHM culture and Nuts magazine, he’s probably a little more awake than that, but certainly less awake than now. ”

Interviewing Skinner is a bit like walking through a mirror gallery: you don’t know where your next thought comes from, but disorientation is part of the fun. Even the most basic investigations can give rise to random theories (“will meat be illegal in 50 years? I think it probably will be”) or some side balls on Virginia Woolf’s diary, the work ethic of medieval England, or how Darth Vader was actually on something. “He was really convincing because he had an interesting point – it was like, if the bad guys are going to win, you might as well join me, right? Even if you end up being bad, at least you won’t be dead. “

Skinner seems to like to offer contrary opinions – even when it comes to more serious matters. Growing up in the 90s suburb of Birmingham, Skinner gravitated to black music – during the Britpop Wars he listened to Nas and Wu Tang Clan – and then influenced British rappers such as Kano and Giggs. He has talked about black culture in the past, so naturally I want to hear from him about Black Lives Matter. “It was incredibly moving,” he says. “It’s easy to say to me, but I don’t think racist people are the problem, even if they are pretty vocal on Twitter. I think racist systems are more damaging in order of magnitude. I think what is happening right now is that people are starting to understand the difference between racist people and racist systems. ”

As in real life, Skinner’s new music sees him giving funny advice like he did in the songs that made him famous. None of us come out of this life is full of one-liners who originally branded her as a lyrical heavyweight (“she talks so much about her ex even I miss her”) and life-warning hacks (“some people drink to be interesting / some people drink to be interested ”). “I’m trying to have something to say because I don’t want to waste time,” he says. “In the end, it ends up being advice. There are only so many times that you can say “I love you”.

But he is clearly having fun too. The cover of the mixtape includes an expensive diamond-encrusted lighter chain with The Streets logo running through the middle. He wears the chain, and when I mention it, he proudly pulls the lighter under his T-shirt and holds it in front of the camera. After a little reluctance, he told me that it cost £ 25,000. “But in terms of what we spent on illustrations for my albums in the past, it was over £ 25,000, I’ll tell you. The label is therefore happy. “

“I love glamor and violence and all those good things in entertainment, but it doesn’t work with my music”

The music, a lively mixture of dirt, trap, drum’n’bass and house, plays in this feeling of abandonment. “I’m not trying to reinvent music,” he says, a little disappointing for a man whose work has been pushing the limits. “It’s an album of rap duets. I’m just trying to keep it super simple. However, Skinner seems invigorated, his new songs offering a diverse range of guests. In addition to the great indie rock hitters, Tame Impala and Idles, there are a bunch of London’s hottest rappers, including Jimothy Lacoste, Jesse James Solomon and Oscar #Worldpeace. What connects them? “The main thing is an element of reality in what they do,” he says. “They all have fairly specific detailed lyrics. I love glamor and violence and all those good things in entertainment, but it doesn’t work with my music. ”

None of us come out of this life teeming with recurring themes from Skinner: the mobile phone usage policy (“most human drama is now happening on WhatsApp and Twitter,” he says, “this is where the action takes place”) and the Party. Or more precisely how, now that he is married with young children, big nights become less frequent but just as violent. “I sometimes feel like a Raymond Chandler character,” he admits, taking another of his tangents, “a slightly blase private detective, hopefully, better than the world I am in. ”

Blasé or not, it is as if he had never left. It turns out that Skinner missed the tour bus, the stage, the chaos. The reunion shows were noisy, and for a while it was the first Noughties again. It’s just that Skinner always wants to get things done. “I understand the nostalgia,” he says. “No one gets this more than I do. I know what it’s like to play your new song, which is just not as good as the others. But at the same time I try to make good songs. I’m not calling her. This is what I am here to do. And if I don’t do that, “he says, taking a few seconds to think about the alternative,” I’m going to keep singing “Dry Your Eyes.”

None of us come out of this life was released via Island Records on July 10

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