The Streets' Mike Skinner chats rebellion and his new film collab with the original rule-breakers of footwear, Dr. Martens
Musician, author, filmmaker and now something of a subcultural anthropologist, there’s much more than to Mike Skinner than The Streets. Teaming up with Dr. Martens (and a strong cohort of partners including Alpha Jackets, Edwin Jeans, Trojan Records and Brutus) to help launch their autumn/winter 2014 theme, Spirit of ’69, he’s made a remarkable short that delves into the legacy of the original British skinheads of the late 1960s. A working class movement which melded rudeboy pork pie hats, ska and rocksteady from the UK’s post-Windrush Carribean population with a proud British sensibility, the scene’s first wave was truly multicultural. A rebellious yet functional movement, in a world free of stylists it came directly from the country’s grey post-war streets and non-conformist youth.
What was your approach to the project?
Mike Skinner: The angle is that the first lot of skinheads were much more interesting then I think my generation thought. It was the first time that the British marketplace - and when I say marketplace I mean white people - influenced the sound of British black music. Specifically Trojan records but other sorts of labels. When you get into the ‘70s, you get reggae, you get Rastafari [but] Britain prolonged ska and because of its passion, Jamaicans over there and over here served that market.
You’ve said that skins were misunderstood…
Mike Skinner: The first skinheads were tough, but you get what they call a ‘last resort’ element to skinhead culture, which is this self-defense mechanism. For kids, they wanted some dignity in situations they maybe didn’t feel happy in. But in ‘69, at that period it is not as defensive. It’s another part of the story of these subcultures that started in the ‘50s and then went right the way to punk.
Can you tell me a little bit about some other people in the film?
Mike Skinner: Nigel is the older skin that you see. All skins are different. They all’ve got a very clear idea of what it is they were trying to do - they have very specific ideas about aesthetics. Nigel really told me an awful lot and some of it went against what you read about it in the books. A lot of the books see it as a decision. But if you speak to Nigel for him it was just a thing you did, it was just following fashion. As an ideology as a whole it does a have a direction, but if you are a kid you might not necessarily be completely aware of that.
Why do you think its endured as a subculture?
Mike Skinner: It’s potent, it’s charged, and I think that’s probably why its got an edge to it that’s authentic to kids. And it wasn’t easy to do - it wasn’t an easy decision to take. Mods could hold down normal jobs - mod was supposed to be secret – they had jobs in the week. Whereas [skins] is not secret, it’s overt, and that’s attractive.
Where did you shoot the film?
Mike Skinner: I shot all over, including in Manchester at a grime night from these guys called Murkage.
“The first skinheads were tough, but you get what they call a ‘last resort’ element to skinhead culture, which is this self-defense mechanism.” - Mike Skinner
Why put a grime night into a film about 1969 skins culture?
Mike Skinner: It’s quite straight forward. It’s showing its equivalent. You can’t really draw parallels, because some things chime with now and some things are actually the opposite. In the narration I was gonna specifically talk about ‘69 and its lead up, but visually I was gonna try to draw parallels with the past and I think a grime nights run by Jamaicans is probably the closest thing to a shebeen, or whatever those dances were.
What would be on your perfect skins playlist?
Mike Skinner: I really like that record Barbwire by Nora Dean. We all have a very straight idea of what we think of as ska. Its the same with all music, with disco or blues - when you actually really investigate all of the music that you can, you notice that like disco, for instance had a middle-eastern influences, there’s Soul Makossa, African drumming, German synthesizer music, it was a lot of different sounds. That’s the same with ska. Desmond Dekker as an artist is probably my favorite. From a Jamaican perspective, ska is sort of mom and dad’s music, but we just really loved it and it became kids’ music over here.
The full Dr. Martens Spirit of 69 collection is in store and online from 1st September.