Mike Skinner’s return burns up the UK.
Dry your eyes, mate: Mike Skinner is back and on great form after a six-year hiatus.
At the first of three sold-out shows at London’s O2 Academy Brixton, Mike Skinner can be heard before he is seen, the first lines of Turn The Page bouncing across the stage just ahead of his tense black-clad frame. It’s an old trick in the making-an-entrance playbook – the star gracing a fully-primed band and audience with their presence – but it feels oddly understated, as if the hyper-verbal force behind The Streets has just come back in from fetching a beer from the kitchen, the conversation he started 16 years ago with debut album Original Pirate Material, just carrying on, uninterrupted, unbroken. Where were we?
It makes sense: Skinner has always been a storyteller, and seven years after he ended The Streets with fifth album Computers And Blues amid stories of burnout and illness, fatherhood and the desire to turn to film-making – he has picked up the narrative thread again. These Brixton shows cap off a fevered, sold-out UK tour, Skinner the returning pop star still making sense of the world. “Can you see me, Brixton?” he asks, shaved head and ethereal pallor making him look as if he’s starring in an experimental Hamlet. “Can you hear me?” There’s a roar, and the front rows catch him as he falls into their arms.
His return to The Streets’ handle isn’t without risk. The cultural landscape has shifted tectonically since his groundbreaking first two records: 2004’ s day-in-the-life A Grand Don’t Come For Free featured mobile phones, but it was a Web 1.0 world, where returning a rental DVD was still a thing. Music’s not where he left it, either: UK garage inspired him (he sprays a bottle of champagne over the audience, an apparent tribute to the scene’s luxe swagger), but since then grime, its once underground offshoot, has set up a mainstream HQ and drill is the new exciting moral panic in town. For a man whose songs so often felt like a live-brain-feed from the sofa and cash point, chip shop and club – nostalgia could be fatal. It would be stupid to claim that it is absent tonight – the beer-chucking jubilation greeting the rowdy bounce of Don’t Mug Yourself or Fit But You Know It suggests hundreds of wasted youths being reclaimed. Yet despite its distinctive time and place, Skinner’s music offered an Ordnance Survey map for young adult ennui: small betrayals and morning-after dramas, little conflicts and glitches masking an existential dread so huge and formless it’s impossible to see around it. That never goes out of style. The encore signposts new directions, pushing forwards, not looking back, as Skinner showcases new material, some
The Streets, back on the streets (p10);
Blinded by the lights: The Streets’ Mike Skinner, O2 Academy Brixton, London, 25 April, 2018; (right) Skinner shows some skin, O2 Academy Birmingham, 19 April, 2018.
Let’s push things forward: (from left) Skinner with band and crew on the tourbus; getting a lift in Birmingham; some champers for the old-school UK garage heads.
(From top) Skinner meets and greets his public; his Instagram post proclaiming a new beer-drinking record for Brixton Academy.