Alice Meets… The Last Skeptik
‘Drunk on Music’
True music, the kind that has a life of its own and just seems bigger than you or anything you’ve known, can be entirely intoxicating. And producer/ dj/ host/ all-round superman of the UK scene The Last Skeptik is a musician who seems to me to be crazy drunk on music. His latest single ‘No Train’ dropped earlier this month and is trippy as hell – definitely one to check out.
So, me and Skeptik braved the streets and freaks of North London to drink and chat about his current projects, the dope ‘No Train’, inspirations, producing music, therapy, the good old days, his antics with London crew Livin Proof and how he gets his MF Doom style swag on…
Skeptik: We were in a tunnel, and I was wearing a joker mask – it was the best video I’ve ever done cos my face wasn’t in it, which is brilliant.
APS: So that was for a video with Rewd Adams right?
Yeah, Rewd Adams. It was for the first tune that we’re gonna leak before we do the singles – so it’s just like a two minute preview track.
What’s the song called?
It’s called ‘Nukey’
As in the place?
No…as in like a bomb.
Oh okay. (Both laugh)
Basically, I name my beats really strange things and a lot of the time people just keep the name of my beat for the tune. So called that one ‘Nukey’ for some reason and it’s just stuck – we had loads of different names for it, we were gonna go for a serious name like ‘Pay Homage’ or ‘Know Your History’ or, you know, all that stuff, but we thought ‘fuck it, let’s just be real about shit, add a wacky name and run with that.’
Cool. You’ve got a few projects on at the moment – could you tell us where you’re at?
Yeah, yeah. So I’ve got the joint album, me and Rewd Adams, called ‘How Not To Make A Living’ and that’s nine tracks done. We’ve got features from Mr Thing and a couple of other special guests. And then my solo album, an instrumental project, that’s the bane of my life currently. It’s completely ready, completely mastered – so, when I have the right platform, that’s when it will be out. Just waiting for the right time (laughs).
And ‘No Train’ dropped on the 19th – it’s got a pretty funny sample, where did that come from?
It came from an old library record about a symphony orchestra. One member actually comes from this town Beek en Donk and he’s talking about how he comes from such a small place it doesn’t even have a train station. So for some reason the person doing this record decided that it’d be a great idea to re-enact the scenario of this musician going to the train station and going ‘one ticket to Beek en Donk please’ and then the train guy going ‘NO! There are no trains.’ (laughs) I thought it was hilarious how the guy gunned him down, just for the sake of acting out and telling the story – I thought that was brilliant. So I just made a whole song around it.
Do you know where Beek en Donk is?
Somewhere in the Netherlands, I don’t know…
So you’ve never been or anything?
No no no, I’ve never been there. It’s just pretty silly. And I was getting so annoyed at the fact that I’d been working on so much stuff for so long but not had a release, that I made this beat and said ‘you know what? I want it released as soon as possible.’ So, it got made first / second week in August, art work got done that day, video got done the next day, released a month after…and that’s kinda restored my faith in music a little bit to get something done and out in such a short period of time.
So where do you look for inspiration for your music, and what inspires you to make music?
Ah, that’s tough. I guess listening to other people – back in the day I would just go to people that I respected and know, hear their beats and get really depressed about how I don’t make beats as good as they do. Butcha or Chemo, even people like IQ or whoever else I was hanging out with at the time, I would hear their beats and go ‘Fuck. There’s no point me doing this anymore.’ I would give it a day and then after that I would get up in the morning and make ten in a row or some shit like that. I think maybe that’s the drive to always be a little bit better, not necessarily than everyone else but just than the last thing I made – that inspires me more than anything. Then you’ve got the classical music and jazz music that inspires me – everything I hear that’s good, that’s really fucking emotional and cinematic and…depressing. And you know what? A good film sound-track, or good placement of a song in a TV series or film – something that evokes emotion similar to the script – that really inspires me a lot.
When you’re making your music do you feel aware of inspiration, or do you feel like it’s more unconscious the way that it comes out in your music?
I don’t know, there’s certain things maybe – someone said the other day ‘oh you can hear how your influences…’ It does come through, but without copying you know? It’s not a straight jack or anything (laughs). But I definitely think that once you hear someone else doing something it adds to your vocabulary, adds to your database as it were of things that you can use yourself. So rather than stealing their ideas you learn techniques to do things – you kinda wanna try it yourself and add to it.
Some of your instrumental stuff, the more mellow stuff like ‘ihatejune’ sounds so detailed and I was wondering – from the perspective of someone who doesn’t produce music – how you manage to get down to that level of detail and subtlety whilst still maintaining the overall balance of a composition?
Like how do you get into the intensity of it whilst…?
Ah – just be depressed. Something like that (‘ihatejune’) was just I was so down that I wanted to make something that equally reflected where my head was at that day. We’re all so complicated with how we feel – you can be really fucking angry one minute like a tough guy and then a wimp the next – and I think it’s important to get every single side of your personality out in the music. With a song like that I think if you’re in the zone it comes quite easily, and that’s definitely my favourite type of music to make. In this climate of music you’re not allowed to make music that’s just depressing and slow unless you’re making ballads, unless you’re a pop singer. And I hate that. My instrumental album is all like cinema, it’s not bangers or massive tunes that you can play in a club, it’s just songs that you can listen to on your ipod, kind of pretend it’s like a movie sound-track – as cheesy as that sounds.
Yeah, I always think that kind of music’s good for journeys – when you’re just staring out of a window or something, actually listening to the way that music’s made.
Film Noir, you know, it’s all about-
Film Noir you know?
Oh I thought you said ‘Film Moi’…
‘Film Moi’? That would have been brilliant, that would have been the most poncy thing I’ve ever said in an interview – ‘it’s Film Me you know’ (both laugh).
So do you see music as a form of therapy in a sense then?
Oh without a doubt, it’s the only reason I do it. And I get really cranky if I haven’t done it in a while. I mean, the cathartic process of making it is therapeutic, but it’s also the listening back to what you’ve done, knowing that you just kinda blacked out, channelled whatever’s in you. You kind of look back at it and understand it – and that’s therapy. So it’s like writing down if you have a diary or something – you can look at it from an objective standpoint and think ‘ah that was silly, I should learn from that’ or ‘that wasn’t really worth getting upset about’.
You know how a lot of the time people tend to produce their better stuff towards the beginning of their career when they’re a bit younger – do you reckon that’s linked to when their hormones are a bit more haywire? When they’re most emotional, putting themselves all out there…
(laughs) Maybe. I do listen back to the stuff that I made when I was sixteen and think ‘fucking hell, that is just deep’. I couldn’t get that deep now. But then again you know, you listen to some shit that people sing in their thirties/ forties and it’s beautifully depressed.
Yeah, and wise yeah (laughs). Wise/ depressed you know – same thing.
Ha! And how do you feel your production style or method has developed or changed, if at all, since you started out?
Since I started…I think my drums have gotten a lot better and I’ve spent more time focussing on them. When I was starting out- everything to me was about the melody you know? And I think now I’ve just gone like half-circle or whatever, and now it’s just all about the drums. In order to make the most out of the melody, you have to have either organic, quiet drums or massive fucking drums – they’re the most important thing to me in a beat now.
I’m really bad with musical terminology, I kinda just throw it around and don’t really know what I’m talking about-
Same as all of us.
But I think the drums on your remix of Eslam Jawaad’s ‘Star Spangled Banner’ are an example of good drums – sort of well-executed.
Yeah, yeah. Just like heavy, I know what you mean, I feel that – thank you. Also, I think I’ve become more liberal with synths. When I was a kid it was all ‘don’t fuck with synthed out stuff- don’t fuck with that shit, sounds like Swizz Beats or Neptunes.’ Everyone was hating on it the whole time, and now it’s like ‘don’t do the sample stuff – it’s just so mid-nineties’. You can see so many changes in what people’s opinions are and what people think you should do with music, but, it just has to sound good and that’s first and foremost. Like say with this new single (No Train), it’s not hip hop, it’s not dubstep – it’s not anything, it’s just music.
(pause) That lady was just eating cat food out of a tin.
Hard times. She must be living here in Islington, paying Islington rent…
Man, that was brilliant. She was really like…posh.
Was it a pouch? Like those on-the-go-
No- it looked like a tin of sardines or something, but cat food. Big Up.
Maybe she’s Cat-Woman.
(laughs) True, maybe she is.
Anyhow…I’m really interested, because I think particularly with hip hop a lot of bands when they were first coming out were relatively young – in high school or just out – and I think a lot of that comes through in the music. So I was just wondering if you could tell me a little bit about your first record, the time of recording that, and what it kind of means to you now looking back at it?
The first actual release I had out on 12 was ‘Prior to the Present’ with Sway, and I guess that was the tune that first kinda got me out there. It was on UK Hustler’s compilation and the guys that worked at Mr Bongo’s put it out, selling it at the counter there and stuff. I mean, I was at uni in Guildford, had my MPC2000XL excel, and I was just travelling down every weekend to go do the record shop run – you know, when there were fucking great record shops around. At the time I was hanging out with Jazz T and all those guys from Guildford – so, so much respect for those guys, they were like my mentors when I was at uni. So I guess that first record was me being at uni making beats, trying to get out there best as possible; that record kind of epitomises that time.
And is there a moment of your musical career so far when you’ve just kind of stopped and thought ‘yeah, I’m proud of this’ or one sort of landmark?
Mmmm, I think there are two. One where I was onstage at Koko’s for the Electric proms, and it was sold out, live on the BBC. It was me doing cuts, Flea from the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on the bass, Damon Albarn on the piano, Tony Allen – Fela Kuti’s drummer – on the drums, Magic Numbers were playing, we had Hypnotic Brass onstage with us, and then Kano, Bashy and Eslam Jawaad were all rapping, and it was sssiiick. And so we were all just doing a version of Fela Futi’s ‘Water No Get Enemy’, it was me doing the cuts and I was just like ‘aaah…this is it…shit’s not gonna get better than this’. But, then a year after that was when I was part of the LoveMusicHateRacism band and we went to Sziget Festival and headlined the first day there, it was like 70,000 people, and that was just ridiculous. (laughs)
I can’t even imagine it.
For real. You can see why big rock stars have to do drugs and all types of shit to fuck themselves up; because they have to replicate the high that they get from that many people on a daily basis. It’s a ridiculous feeling. So, those are two of my highlights. And also – when I first got the test-pressing of my first record on vinyl that was like ten Christmases at once. Me and my friends all crowded round and listened to it (laughs), even though we’d heard the song billions of times, we were like ‘it’s on records, this is amazing!’
And are there any artists you’ve not worked with yet that you would dream of working with?
Oh shiiit. Emiliana Torrini without a doubt, she’s fucking incredible. The lead singer from the Walkmen is crazy, I definitely want to get him on something. They’re all not rappers strangely enough. As much as I would love to get Nas or Busta on a beat or something – that would just make my fucking life – to me it would be more of a musically challenging thing to go and produce a record for the guy from the Walkmen or whoever. I really enjoy doing something that’s a little bit different; working with people that aren’t straight up emcees.
Yeah, I feel like your production style sort of lends itself to like different types of vocals, it’s not just straight breaks for rapping. And you host for Livin’ Proof – it seems like there’s a lot going on there – the NTS radio show, booking big name acts, recently playing Cologne…what’s on the cards with all that?
You know, with those guys they just tell me what dates I have to do and I do em. The core unit of Livin Proof is Budgie, Khalil, Rags and Snips, and that’s their crew. I’ve known all of them for years, but I’d never even been to Livin Proof before (both laugh). But I just started getting drunk at their nights, and for some reason, some stupid reason, they had a mic. I’d never hosted anything before in my life apart from a shit load of radio shows over the years, but I said to them ‘I’m drunk, let me just get on the mic’, and so they just gave me the mic (laughs). And I started doing it for so many months until they were like ‘you know what? We should start putting you on the flyer and paying you…’
So that’s how it started?
That’s how it started. Just cos I was drunk really – how so many things in my life start.
You deejay at parties as well, how do the two compare? As a dj do you have more control?
Yeah, nothing ever beats djing; djing is literally the best thing on the fucking planet, if I could do that every day of the week I would. Hosting is just a lot of fun, and there’s less responsibility because all you’ve got is your voice so nothing can really fuck up about that – no-one really hears what you’re saying anyway so you can pretty much say whatever the fuck you want (laughs).
Does it ever really take its toll on your throat?
I think there was one Livin Proof that I was just shouting so much that I lost my voice, I think it was the time that I nearly broke my ankle. I was just getting so aggy that night.
How did you nearly break your ankle?
Ah…Freeway ‘What We Do’, every time that song gets played I just go a bit nuts, and this one time I was going so nuts that I was just jumping up and down like crazy, and I just landed like ‘crrr’ and I heard like a snap, it was just so much pain – more pain than I’ve ever felt.
(laughs) Mr Thing was just laughing his fucking head off.
(laughs) Cool. That’s it for my questions – unless you’ve got a message or anything you want to say? Any wisdom for an aspiring producer or anyone trying to step out into the music world?
The best bit of advice I saw was from my boy Alex Robinson – he put on his twitter: ‘if you wanna have a little money from music, start out with a lot of money’. So true, but it’s worth it. I think the best advice as well is to be able to take criticism – I’m not very good at that. But I’ve been lucky enough to have people around me who just kinda criticise me to the point where I have to be good at it.
Suck it up?
Exactly. To listen and learn from people and your peers, that’s the most important thing. You’re never too fucking good.
Drunk, if slightly depressed, on music. I recommend you check out Skeptik’s ‘No Train’, put your headphones on, and drink it in…