Mike Skinner

Music artist‚ The Streets‚ The D.O.T. Birmingham‚ United Kingdom

Interview by Nikolaj Hansson
Illustration by Sine Jensen

May 12 2016

Many would call him one of the most important voices in British music this century. After releasing his debut effort‚ Original Pirate Material as The Streets in 2002‚ Mike Skinner dominated the charts with four more albums‚ until putting that moniker in the grave for good in 2011. That didn’t mean the end for Skinner though. He founded a record label‚ The Beats. Nowadays he collaborates with Rob Harvey on The D.O.T.‚ produces music and manages artists. Oh‚ and he’s working on a sci-fi film.

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 from playing video games. There are 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.

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 and 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 two-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?

It seems that you had quite a few bumps in the road over 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 when it’s truly magical and connects with a really simple idea‚ something that turns it all around. But I’ve definitely done a 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.