Artwork, Benga and Skream first met eleven years ago in a record shop in Croydon, where they became collaborators and pioneers in an underground sound we now know as dubstep. Fast forward a decade, and they’re competing with the likes of James Blake, Burial and — most astonishingly - Britney Spears in re-imagining their own movement for the masses. We caught up with Magnetic Man’s senior member, Artwork to ask him about the project’s origins, their plans for the future and what they say to those who accuse them of “selling out”…
How did your relationship with Benga and Skream begin?
I had a record shop in Croydon called Big Apple, with a recording studio at the top. It was the birthplace of this sort of music. Benga and Skream used to come in and hang around the place when they were 13-years-old. They started making beats on their Playstations and bringing them in to play on the shop stereo. By the time they were 14, 15 we realised their records were getting seriously good – so we signed them!
Were you a mentor to them in the early days?
They’ve said that in the past, but I don’t know. They were so good even at that age, us older lot were learning stuff from them as much as the other way round. We put out their first couple of records when they were teenagers still cutting their teeth at house parties. They developed their own style very quickly from there.
How did the idea of forming Magnetic Man come about?
We were already making records together for fun and we decided we wanted to put some music out there that was a little bit different, but we didn’t want to do it as Artwork, Benga and Skream. The idea was to hide behind a name to see if people liked the music for what it was. We came up with the alias Magnetic Man, but our cover didn’t last long. A few mates of ours who have radio stations would play the record then big us up straight afterwards! They let the cat out the bag.
How does the creative process work?
We’ve known each other for over ten years and we’re very similar in our approach to things, so we trust each other. One of us will start something, and then pass it on to someone else who’ll add a vocal or whatever it needs – then someone else will mix it. It’s a really cool way of working.
How does having three DJs work live?
We lay the set out like a normal band would, then we have three computers running at the same time so that you can swap around any elements of the track. We split it up so that the drums, bass, vocals and top line are on different computers. Then we pull all of these elements in and out and filter new sounds over them, so it’s always changing and moving.
Dubstep is moving increasingly into the mainstream and Magnetic Man has been a big part of that. Do you ever get so-called dubstep “purists” accusing you of selling out?
Look, we were there from the start. It’s not as if we’ve suddenly turned up and said: “we’re going to make dubstep.” It grew out of our little shop. You can’t accuse us of jumping on a bandwagon. Strangely enough, it’s only ever people who have just got into dubstep in the last year that try and tell us Magnetic Man isn’t what dubstep is about. It’s like: “well what the f— do you know?!”
What do you think of artists like James Blake, who are taking dubstep elements in a very different direction?
Brilliant. I’m absolutely blown away by his stuff. He’s got a completely new style. I think you’ll get this a lot now – there are loads of different styles of dubstep, and people are becoming far more open to it.
Britney Spears’ new song has a bit of a dubstep beat to it – when things go that commercial, does it make you guys pleased, or p***ed off?
It makes me indifferent. It’s just another pop song. If something’s got a buzz around it, it’ll get shoved into a pop record — that’s always happened and it always will. You just have to stick to that age of adage that there are only two types of music: good music and bad music. You make your own mind up which is which.
There are some excellent collaborations on the record. How did working with John Legend (on single ‘Getting Nowhere’) come about?
We played the track to our publisher Guy Moot at EMI, and he said to us: this is really soulful, I’m going to call John Legend. We were like: “yeah right — good luck with that one!” But a week later, he told us John loved the track and wanted to do it. Unfortunately, we did it all separately by sending edits back and forward so we didn’t actually get in the studio with him, but it worked really well.
And what about Katy B (‘Perfect Stranger’ / ‘Getting Nowhere’) – is this going to be her year?
Katy is amazing. We went to Romania to shoot a video the other day. It was 110 degrees or something ridiculous like that. We were moaning after about an hour, but Katy had been there two days already and she didn’t say a word, she’s so focused. It’s the same in the studio. She just turns up and keeps going until she smashes it. And have you heard her live? We took her on our last tour — she sounds even better onstage than she does on the recorded version. Believe the hype.
Finally, what does the future hold for Magnetic Man?
Honestly, from day one the whole project has been totally arse-about-face and last minute. We started off making records for a laugh, not even intending to sell them, and then we spent four years on tour before even making an album, so we’re just taking each day as it comes. We have the NME Tour coming up and summer’s worth of festivals – I’d tell you which ones, but they’d get the hump! – beyond that, I’m giving nothing away…
Interviewed for Spinner February 2011
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