By Kelly King, Director
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We meet up with Mike Skinner, aka The Streets, down in Chiswick where he and business partner Ted Mayhem run their record label, The Beats, out of a glorified shed. The moniker of a former owner, "Geoffrey Kemp Insurance," is stencilled in wonky letters above the window. There's bars across the front, a busy train line along the back and leaking bags of rubbish strewn down the side. So much for pop star glamour. Mike says all he needs to work is a computer and somewhere to record the vocals, which he does in the toilet. The carcass of a broken iMac lies amid the rubbish. Mike takes great pleasure in telling the story of how he threw it off the roof. He can't even get inside though as Ted has the key and he's not around so we move on down to Vauxhall -- Mike's manor.
We grab a coffee in a cafe under the railway arches by Vauxhall Bridge. Mike says he likes the bridge because it's honest and down-to-earth -- a description that is equally true of Vauxhall itself, though Mike bemoans the fact that it now has a Starbucks. He's been living around here for about four years but he's mostly on the move these days and actually living in a hotel, although he seems to have houses scattered around the place. "They're all too messy," he says, though it's unclear whether he means dishes in the sink or existential angst. We get some shots of Mike outside the MI5 building, on the bridge and in Vauxhall's new bus station, crowned by a dramatic pair of ski jumps. Mike thinks they look like part of a giant Scalextric track. It's a busy part of London but a place where people are mainly passing through on their way elsewhere. The sort of place you can easily lose yourself in the crowds. Mike says he spends a lot of time wandering on his own. He seems like a restless soul.
We grab a taxi and head into town. Mike wants to go shopping for electronics on Tottenham Court Road, the place to go in London for cheap microchips and bargain processors. He describes himself as a "gadget freak" who is "promiscuous with his technology." We check out all the latest gizmos and toys. He's constantly playing with his phone and texting and says he is still on the look out for his "Mrs Right" of phones. Most of his work is done over the internet from a laptop and he says the Web has transformed the way music is being produced and packaged. As well as having a sharp ear for a hook and a clever lyric he's also clearly a pretty sharp businessman.
Onto Selfridges, London's famous Oxford Street department store, which Mike describes as his "favorite shop in the world." He says whenever he gets a day off he comes here. It pretty much covers all his interests: electronics, music, books and clothes. Mike takes particular interest in a massive flatscreen television that looks just like a mirror when it's not on. He's also fascinated by the spy gadgets on display, which include a bulletproof car door that has been blasted with various weapons. Maybe there's a bit of 50 Cent envy there. Earlier in the day Mike had told a splendid story about why he has five sugars in his tea. He'd heard that another rapper, Wiley, had four, so he decided he would have one more. It's a splendidly-knowing Spinal Tap moment.
We finish the shoot on Hampstead Heath, looking down on the misty gray London skyline below. A kite stuck in a tree catches his eye and Mike wonders whether there's a story behind it. He says he likes to come up here for the greenery and fresh air and would like to move to Hampstead or Highgate -- two of London's most exclusive and expensive districts -- one day. As he says, he isn't half as common as people think he is. Turning away from the landmarks, behind us the city sprawls outwards towards Barnet where Skinner was born. Somewhere between the city and the suburbs. It seems an appropriate place to leave him.
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