By Mike Skinner, Musician
Words by Nikolaj Hansson / Illustration by Sine Jensen
Some, or many, would claim that Mike Skinner can, to some extent, be depicted as one of the most important voices in British music throughout the 21st century. Ever since releasing his debut effort, Original Pirate Material, in 2002, Mike Skinner dominated the charts with four more albums, until putting The Streets in the grave for good in 2011. That didn't mean the end for Skinner though. Whilst doing The D.O.T., a collaborative effort with Rob Harvey, Skinner is doing short films, producing music and managing artist. Oh, and working on a sci-fi film, apparently. We met with the influential brit during his visit to CPH:DOX in November to hear his viewpoint on conformity, demographics and why the iTunes Top 10 really has no importance.
Do you find that your approach to making music has been influenced by your medical complications over the years?
I think the only thing that influenced me really was having epilepsy as a kid. That definitely stopped me playing video games. There's a few years there when you're a kid; you either play loads of video games or you do something constructive. I think that was a good thing, not being able to play video games all the time.
Have images surpassed the importance of words today?
We're a visual animal. I went to one of those really posh restaurants a few years ago. One of the courses they brought out was two pieces of jelly; one of them purple, one of them orange. They told you: "This is an orange jelly and this is a beetroot jelly." And then, after you'd finished it, ask you: "Which one did you prefer?". You say: "Well, I liked the beetroot jelly." They're like: "That was not the beetroot jelly, that was the orange jelly". What they did was that they made the orange jelly purple and the beetroot jelly orange. It made me realize that our sight dominates all other senses.
In June 2013, you released a short, titled “Spoiler Alert”, about a superstitious man constantly thinking about the time of his death. Do you think that we've become too hypocondriac?
I think we're just as concerned about stuff as we always were. I read a thing the other day, saying that too much milk causes cancer. I think the Danish are among the most coffee consuming populations but in the UK, we've only really just started getting into lattes and stuff like that in the last fifteen years. I'd imagine we drink more milk now than ever because of Starbucks and stuff like that.
Spoiler Alert by Mike Skinner
Was The D.O.T. a means for starting all over again?
Yeah, it was just another thing that I wanted to do. We're still doing that now. For me, it's all just sort of the same thing really. It's just making songs. But since Rob sings instead of me, I think people see it as a big change. But it's not really much of a big change. Of course, I don't shout and scream at thousands of kids anymore but I DJ still.
Is the eccentric artist fading away in a sea of conformity, A&R men and regulations?
I think a lot of people believe that if you sign a record deal, the expectations are that you're gonna try to get into the iTunes Top 10. If not, the business model doesn't support it. But there are loads of people being creative outside of that system. You just have to try and forget about that Top 10. I don't think there's a great deal of good music in there, although there's a great amount of music in the world generally.
Quite a lot of your lyrics are based on your own life. Is it brutal to make music solely about own personal experiences and emotions?
Everything is personal to me. Even when it comes to the video stuff. It's personal in the sense that you're asking yourself whether you're really into what you're doing. You might not be writing a song about yourself, but you'll be looking at the story from a point of view, saying: "Do I really like this?". It's always personal, for that reason.
The Streets' Guide To Surfing
Sydney Pollack is quoted for saying: “Editing feels almost like sculpting or a form of continuing the writing process.” With reference to your own work, what’s your opinion on this?
Totally. The edit is kind of where I start. I direct stuff in my head as I'm going along. The latest thing we did in Jamaica, I was literally editing it in my head as we went along. I very rarely did more than one take of anything. You'd line the camera, shoot it and move on to the next shot. Absolutely, you can completely change the story in the edit. A lot of videos I've done have disappointed in the beginning, where we've turned it around in the edit.
I read somewhere that you follow a set of rules when making an album. Couldn’t this be considered a limitation of your creative output?
That's sort of the idea really; to constrain the process somehow. There's nothing more frustrating than being able to do absolutely anything. If you sit down, wanting to do a 2-minute film about a given subject and conveying that in a certain way, it suddenly then forces you to work out how you're going to bridge those gaps. Even just going down to the fact that music has to be sound and that a film has to be video. You couldn't make a film out of food, you know?
Have you ever found yourself torn between artistic integrity and increased income?
I don't think anyone could ever accuse me of that. Proof of that is in that I don't do The Streets anymore.
About The Streets. Was it always meant to be a five-year project?
By the second or third album, I knew that. It was a five album deal, so it was very tidy to end it there.
You've produced, mixed and mastered all of your music. Do you have a hard time letting go of the concept that is making everything yourself?
With the film stuff that we do, I struggle with it. The short, Spoiler Alert, that was a big crew. Once you're shooting, you really just have to let it happen. You storyboard, you script and you plan the shots with the DOP. But once it's going, it's going. I like to do things myself. I've made the decision to do that. I've sacrificed a lot to do that.
Do musicians ever dwell to much on nostalgia?
It's just easier, really. If you discover a sound that works, it's a risk to go away from that. But it's also a risk to stay the same.
Everything Is Borrowed by The Streets
Living in London, what are your thoughts on the booming housing prices and all that?
I don't think there's a massive change. London's always been London. Obviously, there was the housing boom in the eighties and noughties. In terms of the creative industries, it just moves further East. When I first got to London, there were a lot of creative things happening in Notting Hill and places like that. Now, Notting Hill is purely rich people. It's all East. Even Shoreditch is really expensive. I live in North London though.
It seems that you had quite a few bumps in the road of the course of your career. Is it frustrating, being on top of the world and selling hundreds of thousands of albums, while still not feeling you’re in complete control of your life?
I've written a lot of songs. Most of them haven't been as good as I wanted them to be. I just like it when it's truly magical and connects with a really simple idea, something that turns it all around. But I've definitely done few of those, the ones that really worked. Every song you do, you think it's really good and it's usually not. I'd say more times my career has been a sense of disappointment in myself.
What's that like?
You never know it at the time. I don't listen to my old stuff. I listen to it obsessively while making it. I've done it all for the right reasons. My idea on how things should be and look changes all the time. I can't expect to look back at it. Otherwise, I'd be making the same stuff all the time.
Thanks to CPH:Conference & SWIM.