Mike Skinner Music Is Genuine Chaos
“When I first started DJing properly,” says Mike Skinner, “I thought it would be a sort of dignified way to grow a bit older.
“And… it’s not that. It’s Saturday night, everyone’s 18, 19 and there’s no escape.
“It wasn’t very dignified, but it was an incredible education. Every day you learn something about music that you didn’t know – usually from the DJ before you or the DJ after you – and you can’t buy that sort of experience.”
The 41-year-old creator of The Streets has been hard at his second career behind the decks for almost a decade, since happily bringing his influential UK garage rap act to an end with a fifth and supposedly final album – 2011’s Computers And Blues.
After his hard-earned success (two number one albums); marriage, fatherhood, and being the wrong side of 30 in an exhausting and youth-oriented industry, had deemed his term as the “geezer” poet laureate for the young “sex, drugs ‘n’ on the dole” crowd to be done and dusted.
But following an emotional sell-out Streets comeback tour in 2018, Skinner says he regained his “focus”. He began dropping singles under his famous moniker once again and then set about resurrecting a music film project that had been simmering in some form since the very start.
Now, his experiences of DJ sets around the continent with his balloon-and-bass night Tonga, alongside Murkage Dave, have formed the basis of The Streets’ forthcoming sixth album.
Quadrophenia for ravers
The record, when it arrives, will also soundtrack a nightclub-based celluloid musical, entitled The Darker the Shadow, the Brighter the Light, directed by and starring Skinner.
“The album is like two years old now,” he explains. “I spent a few months with a script editor which was great and then at the end of the year I decided to kind of do it myself really, and we’ve since got different funding through the music industry, rather than the film industry.
“The film has definitely got things in common with Quadrophenia [The Who’s concept album and film],” adds Skinner. “Also, in a weird way, kind of Tommy [the same band’s rock opera] as well, because in my film it’s a musical but the songs are the voiceover.
“Tommy has got a bit of that, although it’s not surreal like Tommy.”
The Streets’ hit 2004 second album A Grand Don’t Come For Free – which contained generational anthems like Blinded By The Lights, Dry Your Eyes, and Fit But You Know It – was written and acted out on record as a rap opera.
It told the tale of a bloke who’d lost a bagful of cash and, in attempting to retrieve it, some friends and a girlfriend along the way.
So Skinner’s move into the movie world seems a natural progression.
The London-via-Birmingham star made his name as an early laptop bedroom producer and quintessentially British working class rapper, at a time when more glamorous Americans still ruled the rap game.
As such, he inspired a succession of UK artists, including some that would ultimately spearhead the grime scene, to find their own voice. Kano has cited Skinner as a musical inspiration, and he showed what he could do in front of the camera as Sully in the recent crime drama Top Boy.
With Skinner’s film yet to be finished, due in part to the coronavirus pandemic, fans have to wait a little longer to see how he fares on the big screen, and to hear the accompanying comeback album.
But while they do, The Streets man has been sharpening his skills with a “freeing” new mixtape of all-star collaborations, or “rap duets”.
None Of Us Are Getting Out Of This Life Alive has got all the multi-cultural, genre-straddling ingredients of a Streets party – drum and base, heartfelt ballads, hip-hop, house, and wry observational humour – except this time with added on-trend guests like Tame Impala’s Kevin Parker, UK rapper Miss Banks, and Mercury Prize-nominated punks Idles.
Mike Skinner Music Is Genuine Chaos