September 17, 2014

Skream & Benga: Foundational Figures

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The intro sounds truly fit for a king—or in this case, kings.

Before they can even drop a beat or crack wise on the international airwaves, the MC has to make it known: “OK, ready to turn the page to the next chaptah… REAL. I need everybody to get one hand in the air, one hand in the AIR! Let me see them! Make some noise for Skream and BENGAAAAAAA!!!

And then the duo in question—Oliver “Skream” Jones and Adegbenga “Benga” Adejumo—take to the air, often chuckling to themselves. Surely, their unassuming ladtalk as they begin their installment on the semi-regular “In New DJs We Trust” program seems to suggest, “This dude who just gave the intro can’t be speaking about us.”

But, of course, he is. As the BBC bumper to the show indicates, these two jokers just so happen to wield an authority on dubstep that simply can’t be duplicated by the hordes of hyper-competitive bass-jockeys that ride their jock. Initially performing together as part of the Smooth Criminals crew, Skream and Benga came up in the South London district of Croydon, schooled by older brothers involved with the U.K. Garage and drum-n-bass scenes, respectively. Moving on from habitués of Big Apple Records and Playstation sample-stitching, the two eventually made some of early dubstep’s most enduring anthems. “Midnight Request Line,” which propelled a sample from an early ’80s hip-hop chestnut by Rock Master Scott & the Dynamic Three towards a darker, minimal present, gave Skream a leadership role within the fledgling genre at the tender age of 19, while “Crunked Up” and “26 Basslines” introduced the world to Benga’s funky swagger.

Yet, as the status of both producers grew, the two forged their reputations apart from each other. Skream would feature prominently in Mary Anne Hobbs’s legendary BBC dubstep special, which gave the genre its international introduction. And Benga’s collab with Digital Mystiks co-founder Coki, “Night,” became an enduring classic.

However, the Magnetic Man project changed this, and proved that Skream and Benga, together with fellow Big Apple alum Artwork, could do more than make club bangers. The single, “I Need Air,” which featured pop-dubstep crossover artist Katy B, made it to No. 10 on the U.K. charts, and Katy B’s own Benga-produced track, “Katy On A Mission,” peaked at No. 5. Skream also continued to chart with his remix of Laroux’s “In for the Kill” (at No. 11).

As foundational figures, Skream and Benga have not only gained career success, but universal respect from the normally fractious crew of dubstep fans around the world, since quite frankly, the music would not be what it was without the two to guide it along. Can’t front on that.

While Benga may regret a few things he says here in the interview—we managed to get him to part with a few choice details on compression he would rather have kept to himself—we’re sure that you won’t. For even though it’s not always easy to get these two to behave, their views on production, the ever-changing skill sets of their profession and the dubstep community will prove invaluable regardless. Forward…

DJ Times: It’s only recently that your names have become soldered together as a production unit. Tell me about the first time you guys played out. Were you part of any sorts of partnerships before that?

Benga: We’ve been DJing together since we were about 14-years-old. We used to be in a group called Smooth Criminals together, which was quite funny.

Skream: A long time ago.

Benga: Long, long time ago. And we’ve always done separate music, but we’ve always toured together and DJed together. I guess it’s just become stronger and stronger and stronger as we’ve come along.

Skream: It’s like best-friend energy onstage as well, which you can’t really replicate. That’s the difference between us and what other people do. We’ve done this, what we’re doing now, since it started, so it’s just kind of natural. And I think people can see it as well.

DJ Times: A while ago, I heard some early tracks of yours, Skream, on Joe Nice’s show, this stuff on Fruity Loops. Artwork even said you did a lot of Playstation PS tracks as well. So tell me how you started on your productions.

Benga: We did start out on Playstation. There wasn’t a lot you could do with it.

Skream: Basic sequencing.

Benga: Basic sequencing and basic drum editing and mapping was how I got started. And then we kind of moved onto FL Studio and stuff like that, which was like Fruity Loops 4 at the time, I believe, or…

Skream: No, Fruity Loops 3 was the first. That was when I first, well, that was what I first started using.

Benga: Then we started using that, and with that you could sample for longer, while we could find stuff off the internet. We used to get these dodgy kicks and snares I used to love and there was another plug-in called the TS-404?

Skream: Yeah, the TS-404, and that was the start of our wobble.

Benga: [laughs] We started trying to replicate other people at first with Wookie’s wobble bass. The first time I remember actually getting outside press, like at the time of people having tracks played in clubs, were [tracks] literally just made in bedrooms.

Skream: And people started to take notice, saying, “Hold on a minute—the sound is good enough that maybe we can do this.”

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