Skindred: Scenes cause division, which is not cool
Skindred's Benji Webbe on metal in the mainstream, its diversity and what scenes actually mean
If you're a metalhead and you're looking to party, look no further than Skindred. For years they have been one of the best and most fun live bands in the world, fronted by the charismatic and well-dressed powerhouse that is Benji Webbe.
Never bowing to trends or scenes, Skindred exist on an island, bringing pandemonium wherever they go through a mix of ragga-tipped vocals, a bombastic rhythm section and an air raid siren soundsystem.
But what does Skindred's fearless leader think about metal in 2017? Can we ever achieve mainstream acceptance? Where are the scenes? And do bands need a theatrical show to survive? Here's what Benji had to say...
Will we ever see metal bands get big enough to headline the world's biggest festivals?
“I remember Rammstein supporting Dub War in Germany in 1993. All they had was loin clothes and baby oil and they had two lighters between them – I've still got the poster. And they didn't give a fuck, even though they were terrible. And now look at them. Bands like that deserve it.
“There are a lot of bands that will be future headliners, but we can't keep going 'There'll never be Sabbath'. No there won't, but we just have to get behind what we've got. I firmly believe Disturbed should be headlining because they're a great live band and put on a great show, but in ten years time they'll be [in their fifties]! I can't see me lining up for Bring Me The Horizon. Although everyone I know who hated on them are now going 'You've got to catch the new Bring Me stuff,' so they must be doing something right.”
Should we be doing more to nurture bands?
"A lot of people say to me 'Oh you guys deserved so much more' – well put us on the fucking cover then! I've gone past that stage where I've wanted to be on the cover. I've nurtured my band in such a way that we know we can play the majority of the venues in the UK and sell them out or make them look rammed, without the help of magazines, just through hard work and earning the respect of promoters.
"Obviously there are so many flash-in-the-pan bands who get on the cover who have disbanded, and then bands who haven't been on the cover keep going. The proof is in the pudding. What do you say to the singer from so-and-so? Big Mac and fries please. They had the world at their feet and couldn't respect it."
Scenes cause division, which is not cool
Is it important to keep showmanship alive or does metal not need to worry about it? Do we need to support the bands who ramp up the theatricality element or big stage productions?
"If you can go home, pay your bills, have a happy life and have pyro fair enough. But if you go home and your kids are starving, and you've got pyro, you must be fucking stupid. If you can afford it great, if you can't don't. I don't think a Skindred show needs it. I would love more theatrics on stage but if it means I come home with less money, fuck it.
"It's not for everyone. I wouldn't want to see Rage Against The Machine with pyro, I just want to see them with two lights, that's it. If I went to see Steel Panther, maybe. I've seen Bullet For My Valentine with and without pyro. It's strokes for folks, I just love to watch a show. But then you wouldn't want to see Rammstein doing an acoustic set. Fancy going to see The Prodigy doing an acoustic set? Maybe I'll do that. That sounds funny as fuck."
Does metal need the mainstream?
"We don't need the mainstream because we've got our own scene. We've been playing in Skindred for 15 years and I'm seeing people bringing their children, and their children bringing their children, and that's what I call dedication in rock ‘n’ roll. Metal fans will do that. You'll stand in front of a 65-year-old with his son who's 30 and his son who's 13. That's dedication and it's beautiful. Beyonce can't do that, nor can Jay Z."
Does metal have a problem with living in the past when it comes to the whole 'you must wear denim and leather'?
"I'll go out dressed like a teddy boy on Monday and a skinhead on Tuesday, and that's the way it should be. You're not going to like everything, but you should be your own judge. People ask me 'What's your guilty pleasure?' and I say that I haven't got one, because if I like it I'm not going to be ashamed to tell you. I'm the cunt who walks around the gym in a Downton Abbey t-shirt so everyone else can fuck right off. I don't care."
You wouldn't want to see Rammstein doing an acoustic set
Is metal doing enough to diversify its audience and make others feel more included?
"In my 25 years of rock ‘n’ roll I've never been called a n*gger by metal fans, even before Dub War and Skindred. I go to a club and watch a band, and I've never felt any racial animosity. Obviously there are people who think like that but they've never said anything to me. And I know for a fact there are hip-hop and reggae clubs where a white guy will go and feel pure fucking hatred. For me music is music and there's only two forms: good music and bad music.
"One thing I do enjoy is DJing at rock clubs on Saturday nights up and down the country, and I will play some random dance track. These people in front of you working normal jobs act as if you're playing War Pigs or something, which just goes to show me they love living and they love life. People wear black t-shirts, black this, black that, but stick on Dancing Queen and they go crazy.
"There's only a minority of purists, a vocal minority. If they were the majority I wouldn't be talking to you. I've felt nothing but love from the metal community since I first heard AC/DC and started this shit."
Where are all the scenes?
"I've met hardcore metal fans in Jamaica, I had no idea there was a scene over there. But the whole scene thing has become like gangs, and I'm not into gangs. That gang don't like that gang because of the way they have their hair. I think music should be a big pot that everyone draws from and enjoys. I think scenes cause division, which is not cool."
In Metal Hammer 300, we gathered the biggest and best names in metal to debate the genre we love. Is metal in danger of stagnating? Do we take ourselves too seriously? What is metal anyway? Find out in Metal Hammer issue 300 – in stores and available to buy online now.
You can also read all of the issue 300 on TeamRock+ right this second.