While the internet goes into a mourning frenzy over The White Stripes, tearing its customised Liverpool shirts and phoning suicide helplines to hear many comforting hours of improvised blues riffage, across town a more celebratory wake is underway.
A wake circled by Cortinas playing ‘La Cucaracha’ on their horns, drowning in brandy, Bacardi Breezers and supermarket lagers and attended by sobbing miniskirt dollies and buzz-cut bruisers called things like Calvin Schmalvin in their dead uncle’s old suits.
Because this week, with the release of Mike Skinner’s swan song ‘Computers And Blues’, we also say a sad farewell to The Streets, an act just as influential to the UK rap and grime scene as The Stripes were to mid 00’s blues rock.
Unlike Jack’n’Meg, Skinner is bowing out at the very peak of his powers, and we’ll miss him all the more for it. This was the first act to make beat-driven magic out of the grist and marrow of UK street life – scoring pills, dodging fists, engaging in inadvisable Lanzarote one night stands and failing to meet up with your mates in a club because your reception’s shit.
Instead of the faux Compton of much early century grime and jungle, Skinner dealt in real London life and all its mundanities, intoxications, shames and glories.
His impact on modern culture cannot be underestimated – not only did he open up the impenetrable and imposing world of council block culture to the wider populace, he allowed indie to embrace rap to a degree it’d only previously scraped by having John Barnes ‘freestyle’ on ‘World In Motion’.
You only have to stand gawping in the punk blast of Bromheads Jacket doing ‘When You Wasn’t Famous’ or Futureheads raging through the chorus of ‘Fit But You Know It’ – both on specially-commissioned Streets B-sides – to realise Skinner was a force for unity, proving that seemingly disparate sub-cultures can go together like beer and sharking.
What’s more, there wasn’t an ounce of fakery in him. Unrelentingly upfront and honest, when Skinner hit the big time there was no I’m-still-down-with-the-plebs pretence to his records – no Alex Turner pretending to still be failing to pull in Sheffield pubs, for example – instead he rapped about shagging pop stars, dodging the tabloids and the difficulties of taking drugs when everyone has cameraphones.
It was arguably his downfall, losing him the everyman touch and connection with the common lad that made ‘Original Pirate Material’ such a powerful debut, but Skinner’s witty cultural diarising never knew any self-parody or flimsy characterisation. What you heard was what you got; and what you heard was frequently gob-smacking.
And just as he blazed a trail like a spluttering Fiesta through rap, he was also at the forefront of nu meeedja, being amongst the first artists to tweet so often it was as if he was single-handedly trying to burst the internet and also concocting such YouTube inventions as the ‘Computers And Blues’ interactive film, where the viewer could decide how Mike gets out of bed one morning (hint, go for the ‘smoke six fags’ option and get sacked by your bastard of a virtual boss).
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It’s this sort of activity that makes you think Skinner’s quit music because it’s simply too primitive for him, and that whatever he might come up with next will be as forward thinking as an Area 51 engine technician. So while you’re necking a shot of diesel oil in honour of The White Stripes, raise a pint or twelve to The Streets too. Dry your eyes, mates…
Listen to The Streets, ‘Computers And Blues’ on We7: