Magnetic Man feel the pull

By David Carroll

Magnetic Man are one of dubstep's biggest pioneers thanks to their crossover hit, I Need Air.
Magnetic Man are one of dubstep's biggest pioneers thanks to their crossover hit, I Need Air.

You're there at the birth of a brand new strain of sound. The music store you loved and the record label you were instrumental in helped to launch the careers of a clutch of ground-breaking artists.

A number of your subsequent tunes are now considered classics of the genre. So can you really blame Magnetic Man for wanting to get paid?

Magnetic Man is the cream of the post-dubstep generation. The supergroup, made up of three British producers - Adegbenga 'Benga' Adejumo, Oliver 'Skream' Jones and Arthur 'Artwork' Smith - released their self-titled debut album late last year on Sony's Columbia Records to a rapturous response.

Prior to the release of the album Magnetic Man was well established as a fiercely exciting live act, pulling ever-increasing numbers of punters to their sub-bass-and-lights onslaughts. The album, though, was a game-changer. Thanks to the Top 10 single I Need Air (featuring dubstep's pin-up girl Katy B), Magnetic Man were catapulted into the ears of plenty of people who'd never heard dubstep before.

The problem was: the fans who'd been there from the start; the fans who went to the early club nights, who bought and continued buying the records and supporting those producers and DJs who were laying the groundwork for what would become dubstep. Not only do a large number of these fans not like what Magnetic Man are doing, there's conjecture as to whether it should even be called 'dubstep'.

Artwork reads those forums and he's got an opinion, alright: "Is dubstep just this music from this club at this time? Does it have to stay this way forever? Benga, Skream and me have been friends for 10 years and working together for five or six, and now we want to push it on to the next level."

Before we talk next level, though, let's rewind to the foundations.

Back in Croydon in the late '90s, Benga and Skream began hanging out at Big Apple Records, a shop which started out selling techno and rave, but was also deeply in tune with the emerging garage and two-step scene. Above the shop was a recording studio owned and operated by Artwork.

"These kids were 14, 15 years old," recalls Artwork, "and they were making beats on PlayStation PS1s, and I was like. 'What the fuck is this? How did they do that?' 'cause it was mad, right?" Recognising their raw talent, Artwork took Benga and Skream under his wing and into his studio.

In 2001 the club night Forward launched in London, giving this new music another vital platform. As Artwork remembers it: "Coki, Horsepower, Benny Hill, N Type, Loefah were there at the start, but it was really Hatcha. He was DJing at Forward, and he wanted to play darker tracks, with less beats. Like, it was initially his attempt at two-step but with dub, so Hatcha called it dubstep, and it grew from there."

So far, so good. Artwork, Benga and Skream signed to Big Apple Records, recorded the label's first three singles and broke boundaries as soon as they were established. There were successful albums and the big singles got bigger and bigger - Benga and Coki's Night, Skream's Midnight Request Line, and then the worldwide crossover hit remix of La Roux's In For The Kill.

"Things had been going well for us, and we wanted to keep going," says Artwork.

"Anyone can make beats, but we've always loved songs - the emotion, the lyrics, the melody, giving a great performance - and, with Magnetic Man, we wanted to experiment with that. It did feel like going out on a limb, but we said 'What do we want to do? What would we want to listen to?' Sure, we want as many people as possible to hear it, but that's because this is the music we love."

They're not alone. From those early anonymous shows in front of 50 punters to performing for 15,000 people at outdoor festivals like Roskilde, Magnetic Man have become the definition of dubstep for many. Perhaps that's what irks those early adopters?

"If you think we're only about I Need Air, then listen to our album: there's proper nasty dubstep and orchestral stuff. At our shows we play our new stuff, and that connects anywhere in the world. We've got plenty of bangers, and we play some real dark stuff too, from Benga's old stuff, Skream's old stuff. This is dubstep, man, but it's really just good music - there's no agenda."

Artwork pauses, then adds: "And if you don't like it, then fuck off."

Magnetic Man perform alongside Diplo, Katy B, Digitalism and Ruby Frost at the Rhythm & Vines Soundcheck, Vector Arena, on September 29.

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