He’s sold drugs to students and fancies animated wrestlers. He’s Mike Skinner aka THE STREETS and he’s produced the debut album of 2002. Words: James Smart
n the main stage at (ilasgow‘s (iig on the (ireen.
something radical is going down. Well. radical if
you're 14. anyway. On stage. a bunch of men in masks are pounding their instrurrrents and pretending to assault each other. pausing only to piss tlremsely‘es and climb up the Iurching drum riser.
Slipknot are enjoying themselyes. but inside the tent that holds the second stage a different kind of anticipation is building. It's the Streets‘ third ey'er gig. and no one knows quite what to expect. A sharnbolic liy'e PA'.’ A tightly honed but charrnless run through debut album ()rigi/ru/ l’i'rult' .llurr'rr'ul‘.’ A no-show'.’
As it happens. we get one of the bye performances of the year. The set up is simple: liy‘e drums and bass. a man on keys and singer Key'in Mark. The garage-style backing is certainly competent. but what really astonishes is frontman Mike Skinner. a 23-year-old who raps. rhymes and hollers like he really was born to do it. Skinner chats like Partridge. raps like Iiminem and bounds about the stage like Albarn circa Park/(fit The message is clear: this is a man whose time has come. and he‘s going to milk may last minute of it.
It's testament to Skinner's charisma that he can fall back on the grossest of cliches and make them seem fresh. vital and intoxicating. ’I.ighters!' he cries hallway through the gig. Hundreds of festival-goers who’y'e ney'er been near a Phil (‘ollins gig fumble in their pockets. way'e their clippers in the air and grin.
Post-ironic rock star posturing aside. Skinner is a pretty well-grounded chap. A few days before the gig. he makes an amiable intery‘iewee. apologising for answering his phone only on the second attempt. ’l‘y'e just got out of the shower and I'm all clean.’ he explains. ‘so you might get better conversation out of me.‘
The all-new. shiny-clean Mike Skinner doesn‘t seem too seduced by the hype. including a Mercury Pri/e nomination. that has gathered around him. If anything. he claims. the celebrity party circuit has been a calming influence. 'I don‘t really go out to be seen. I generally go out and get fucked and don’t stand about chatting to people. I either drink too much or take too many pills and get into a complete state. But I‘m doing that less now. cos people really notice it. I was at the HIM 100 Sexiest Women in the World party a while back you can guess why. But we got there quite late and I missed Rachel from S ('lub because oby'iotlsly‘ I was going to talk her out of marrying that lad and into going out with me — and there were jtist loads of really coked-up models and Londonites. But the food was good.’
Skinnch distaste for ‘I.ondonites‘ might seem strange fora man whose estuary accent and frame of reference seem to lray‘e sprung from south London‘s estates. ptibs and kebab shops. But despite being born in the big smoke. Skinner spent most of his childhood in Birmingham - a part of his life described in depth by one-time friend and musical collaborator (‘rispy on idiosyncratic website www.the—streets.co.uk. well worth checking out for the hilarious ‘I)on‘t Mug Yourself" game and Skinner‘s own postings ("lb/(ken 4 for PS2: RI'I)I£ . . . I'm finding myself strangely attracted to the female wrestler. Do I need help‘."). ('rispy scents none too happy about Skinner upping to London with the Streets concept. which he considered to be a shared enterprise.
Skinner is philosophical about the dispute. ‘I moy'ed to London and became successful. and all of a sudden all these people started thinking they had claims oy'er' me.‘ he says. 'But I handled the situation badly. said some things I shouldn‘t hayc said. I put (‘rispy‘s sttiff on the website to let people know I
wasn’t holding any grudges. But it’s not something that can be resolved. I can’t really walk around Birmingham any more.’
It's strangely fitting that an album from a band whose Very name is rooted in geography should be made by a migrant. And Skinner's frequent namechecks (‘BarneL Brixton. Beckenham‘) do more than just add colour. They're the sign of a young man staking a claim to a new identity.
This kind of aspiration is visible throughout ()ri'gimr/ Pirate .erlt’l'frll. a gripping mix of poetry and lariness. It‘s an album for people who’d like to forget their education and lounge and strut with laddish impunity. and an album for people who‘d rather leay'e their macho side at the door and search for something more ephemeral. Skinner's lyrics are a mix of booze. thuggery. sophistication and subtlety. In "The Irony of it All‘ he dramatises the contradictions through the fictional figures of Tim (weed- addled student prone to oy‘er-intellectualising daytime TV) and 'l’erry thard-drinking lout ).
’I‘m probably more like Terry] says Skinner. ‘I had to start smoking less cos it was making me paranoid. But He met loads of people like Tim ~ a mate of mine used to deal skunk and I‘d go round with him and sell the stuff to students. Out of the other tracks. 'Weak Become Heroes is totally me and ‘Too Much Brandy ‘. the one about the big day out in Amsterdam. that happened just as it is. But a lot of the songs. the really mad ones. they're what I‘d like to be if I wasn’t such a sap. I'm not going to set myself up by saying the albums a documentary. cos. well. it’s like hip hop records. Life‘s not that exciting.‘
Skinner has a habit of making the most mundane of situations sound thrilling. It’s this iny‘entiy'eness that sets him aboy'e many of
his I‘iy'als in the garage scene. Where Oxide and Neutrino are stuck in playground raps such as: 'I‘m sick of all these fake .\I(‘s/Sounding like Mr Blobby.‘ Skinner has his eyes on bigger game: ‘My frequencies are transient and resonate your eardr'ums/I make bangers not anthems leay'e that to the Artful Dodger? he declares on 'I.et’s Push Things Forward.
Musically. l'K garage can sound exceptional. its broken beats conjuring drum (S: bass. hip hop. house and rock. but lyrically it's often sorely lacking. The Streets combine musical innoy'ation with great lyrics. and of all the garage acts yying for public attention. Skinner’s band haye the best chance of smashing into the mainstream. For one thing. they were ney‘cr‘jus‘t about garage.
“Weak Become Heroes is a lo-li version of a house rccordf says Skinner. ‘I’ye been into all sorts of music: trance. indie. drum & bass. I don‘t use those influences directly. btit they’re all there. In terms of hip hop and garage. I We both. that‘s why it sounds like it does. Lots of people say it's not garage. it‘s l’K hip hop. But that was the original aim. mixing hip hop and garage.‘
It's a heady mix. ()rr'ginu/ PIIYIH’ .llulcriu/ is the most promising debut released this millennium. That afternoon on (ilasgow (ireen was a set by a band who'd only just got their heads round playing live. In the Barrowland. the Streets should be sensational. Ilis final message for the people of Scotland: ‘Spread the love. keep the peace. and if you can‘t. wear rubber gloy‘es.‘
The Streets play Barrowland, Glasgow, Sun 1 Dec.
WIN TICKETS FOR THE STREETS
Do you want to experience this genius at work for yourself? The first three people to send an email to promotions©list.co.uk by
Friday 29 November 2002 will get two tickets for the show at the Barrowland on Sunday 1 December. Remember to include a daytime telephone number. Usual List rules apply.
Na. ‘1‘ [‘th THE LIST 15