By Laurent Fintoni
From the depths of South-East London, Croydon to be precise, a musical genre has emerged that defined the past decade and is set to continue shaping the next. Dubstep has been – to many – the definitive sound of 21st Century London in the same way that Jungle defined the city’s worldwide presence worldwide throughout the 90s. And without the three men who make up Magnetic Man, dubstep would have been very different.
Composed of Skream, Benga and Artwork, Magnetic Man could be described as a supergroup, especially when you consider each artist’s individual track record. Artwork was one of the early, and often unsung, pioneers of the sound that helped to shape its sonic aesthetic through dark 2step anthems in the early 2000s. Skream and Benga, meanwhile, revolutionized the sound Artwork and others were making while in their teens, taking that dark 2step sound that Croydon had became famous for and distilling it down to its core essences of bass and drums, producing mesmerizing numbers that despite their simplicity helped cement the elements of the genre as we know it today.
While Skream and Benga rose to popularity in the wake of dubstep’s new found fame in the mid 2000s, refining their production skills along the way, Artwork stayed in the back so to speak, an unsung pioneer. That is until the three decided to form Magnetic Man. As we said, a super group, but really just a bunch of friends doing what they love, together.
Magnetic Man first appeared in the tail-end of 2006 and early 2007. I had moved to Japan and was keeping up with dubstep primarily via Rinse FM and dubstep forums. A remix of “We Want Your Soul” started appearing in sets from certain DJs, Skream and Benga among them, and it was credited to Magnetic Man. It was deep and dirty, a real surprise at a time when dubstep was finding its feet in the limelight and the sound was becoming more and more homogenized. Throughout that year and the next Magnetic Man remained an enigma. Their first appearance, at the legendary FWD>> night at Plastic People was made from behind a sheet, concealing their identity. Rumours abounded though, and if you had an ear for things it wasn’t very hard to make an educated guess. Beyond these first few dubplates nothing else was released until 2009 when it became public knowledge that Skream, Benga and Artwork in fact were combined to form large scale Magnetic Man figure.
They released the Cyberman EP and started performing live – as the main attraction by that point, especially as Skream and Benga had become household names in the world of dance music. Armed with laptops, the three set out on a tour funded by the British Arts Council, and this in turn led to their signing with Columbia records, in effect creating the first major commercial dubstep act. Forays into commercial success had already been made within the genre by that point, including by Skream, but with Magnetic Man the trio accessed a level and audiences, that the genre had never reached before.
Following the release of their self-titled debut album last year, the trio have been on the road again. The tour will take them to Barcelona and A Coruña in a few days, for the 2011 edition of Sonar Festival. While it’s the first time the three will perform at the festival as Magnetic Man, they’re no strangers to Sonar, in fact Skream performed there in 2007 as part of the MAH curated stage. We caught up with Artwork, ahead of the group’s forthcoming appearance, to ask what it’s like to have gone from underground pioneers to mainstream stars, what happened to those original remixes and what’s in the pipeline next for MM.
How does it feel, to have taken Magnetic Man from a side project four or five years ago, through to a world recognized name in dance music?
It feels great though it’s not a big jump really. There have been lots of little steps. It’s really good to see the progress that we’ve made and where we are now.
You guys are in a unique position within dubstep. You're rightfully originators of the sound and now you're helping to shape its more popular/mainstream incarnation, thanks to the attention and popularity Magnetic Man has received since the project launched. What has been the most challenging part of your transition from underground producers to popular dance music stars?
The most challenging thing has been the amount of time that we spend on Magnetic Man now.
If you had to go back to a more underground position tomorrow what would be the one lesson you would take from the Magnetic Man experience so far?
I think it would be to just do what you set out to do and to make the music that you want to make.
I remember hearing Magnetic Man for the first time on Rinse sets in 06/07, you made a remix of “We Want Your Soul” at that time if I remember rightly, as well as a remix of an old house track which name I can’t remember. What ever happened to those? Did they ever see an official, or even white label, release?
No, they never did. We set out for them to be special dub plates that were to be played by us and a select few others. We said we’d never put them out and so we’ve stuck to that.
What's been the best thing about signing to a major for the MM album release? And what's been the worst?
The best thing is that you get your music heard by such wide audiences. The worst would be all of the dinners that they take you out to! Ha ha. From studio to live is always a challenge, especially within dance music. With the MM show now a couple years old, how much have you changed your live setup since your first shows?
It’s still the same basic principle that we started out with but it’s become more complicated and polished. It was scary in the beginning but it’s not now.
And how much of these changes (if any) have you then brought into the studio?
Not a great deal really. In our case it’s usually the studio that influences our live show rather than the other way round. You're set to play Sonar this year for the first time as MM, though not the first some of you have appeared there. I know this isn't your first festival appearance, but if anything what are you looking forward to the most about Sonar?
For one, it’s a new audience for Magnetic Man. We’re also looking forward to the sunshine and beer.
What's your favourite (and publicly acceptable) festival story as MM so far?
My favourite was when Benga streaked across the Benacassim stage during Temper Trap’s set after he made a bet with Skream. There was also a stage invasion of 500 people during our set, which was chaotic!
Which artists from the Sonar line up this year are you particularly looking forward to catching while you're there?
It’s a great line up this year. I’m really looking forward to seeing Redlight Feat. Ms Dynamite, Katy B, Chris Cunningham and the guy that bought the golden ticket to DJ (if that’s not a joke).
And what's next for MM in terms of releases? Are you already working on new music, or is it more touring the album for the foreseeable future?
We’re working on more but can’t go into it at this moment in time. Expect good things!
It’s always good to end on some lighter questions, so here's a set of short ones to wrap it up:
a/ Best thing about Croydon?
b/ Worst thing about Croydon?
c/ Like Desert Island Discs but with pieces of kit, you're stranded on a desert island and can only have one piece of equipment with you to make music. Which is it?
It has to be Logic on a Mac
d/ One guest (vocalist or other) you'd like to work with as MM but haven't yet?Prince
e/ Best hangover cure?
Hair of the dog
f/ Best album you've heard so far this year?
Katy B – On a Mission
PlayGround is a media partner of Sónar
Dubstep was music for minorities until Magnetic Man arrived and made it more popular than ever with their first album, a work that connected the music of the London underground to the song format and the energy of rave. It's time we had a word with them.
Review: " Magnetic Man"
Review: Katy B '' On a Mission"