Mike Skinner says we’re a creative bunch.
A man who knows his stuff, a meticulous, stickler for the vibe, Mike Skinner has all his senses on lock down. An ear in tune with every emerging artist, finger on the pulse of every happening city and seemingly buckets more ideas to come. Interrupting blissful, Ibiza swimming pool sessions and hours of idyllic listening to his most played science and rap podcasts. We spoke to the man pioneering progressive, British bass sounds since his musical project, The Streets – about his newest collective and club night, Tonga and where he sees the future of UK bass music since the country chose to leave the EU.
An unearthly amount of negative articles have been saturating our news feeds of late, dense with frowns, wrinkles and wigs of politicians, facts, figures and a very damp outlook for the UK. Equating to a nation that’s had enough scrolling, ‘disliking’ and sighing to last a lifetime. However, the bass music that’s coming out of our small, shaken island, appears to be completely unfazed by the disarray. When speaking with Skinner, he was similarly unperturbed; “regardless of where the politics are, it’s really just about innovating and working hard. As long as it [the competition] stays as aggressive as it is, people coming up with new stuff and loving doing it and trying to out do each other. I don’t see that changing really, I just think we’re really good at it [being innovative].”
In a country divided by Brexit, London was resolutely pro-remain but it’s not all about the big smoke where urban music is concerned. Mike and Tonga partner Murkage Dave, with history in both Birmingham and Manchester, recognise that new sounds and credible artists aren’t just concentrated in the capital anymore; “people are starting to feel now that it doesn’t matter where you’re from you can have a southern sound, you can have a London sound – that’s what Soundcloud has done. People sort of grow up on the Internet so sounds aren’t so regional. I think you’re always going to have scenes, but now the scenes are just completely online.”
When posed with the question if Soundcloud might be too open as a listening and sharing platform, potentially resulting in a lack of originality amongst it’s users; Mike emphasised that as long as we continue to innovate and “people are able to keep working independently,” the creation of completely individual sounds will be sustainable.
Taking sounds from the distant Internet, engaging with them in real life scenarios and successfully making people feel something or react can be hard to master. But for Mike and Murkage’s newest brain child, Tonga (the name deriving from a shared love of an afro beat song, turned in-joke) it’s an experiment functioning without anomalies. After deejaying for the years preceding The Streets, he’s yearned to raise a bottle to his own night. So when Mike met Murkage things seemed to fall into their respective bass heavy, dubsteppy, grimey, rap-centric, sweat-box places pretty quickly.
The Tonga atmosphere is one the duo are keen to perfect, producing and experimenting with their own sounds since the parties began. At first Mike admits the tunes were “actually quite mellow and that’s not what the club is at any point, no one has got time to play a rubbish tune that isn’t really good.” So it was back to the drawing board to capture the essence and aesthetic of the small capacity parties. Tonga Balloon Gang, to use their full production moniker, bounced back with helium in their heels with the release of CCTV, which Mike succinctly summarizes as; “Tonga music.”
“The best way to cash in on fame is to sell your wedding to OK magazine! Or go on reality TV. This isn’t going to make any money, but it’s emotional watching it go off at Tonga. It almost makes me cry sometimes.”
Despite taking Tonga to places deemed much more cool; Paris, Copenhagen, Sofia, Notting Hill Carnival, CCTV was filmed in the pubs and department stores of Birmingham. “We’re going to do that a bit more often now, go outside of London and work with MCs’ in other areas.”
Mike’s message is clear, it’s not just about London anymore; it’s time for the “light to start getting shone in other places in the UK.” Their next goal is to set up regular Tonga nights in Glasgow and for Tonga to take over the The Rum Shack at Glastonbury, ultimately amounting in a dedicated Tonga festival! Until then, the Tonga crew is live and direct at MADE Birmingham this weekend which Mike says will be “incredible, all the guys we worked with on CCTV will be there and I think that will be a moment for sure.”
Tonga, a place where attitudes, issues and perceptions are left outside in favour of inclusivity, optimism and a twerk or a skank. Could this be an unlikely guide to creating a more United Kingdom in this uncertain 2016?
Mike Skinner & Murkage present Tonga is on the Saturday line up for MADE Birmingham 30th July. The event takes place for the whole weekend from 29-31st July featuring a day of Hacienda Classical programming, music on Saturday from Stormzy, Kano, Rudimental, Lady Leshurr and Shy FX and food programming on Friday and across the weekend – www.madebirmingham.com www.facebook.com/wemadethis