What happened when Skindred met the music stars of tomorrow?

Mikey Demus and Benji Webbe of Skindred meeting ACM students
Skindred meeting the students of ACM (Image credit: Yulia Hauer)

The Academy of Contemporary Music (or ACM as it is more commonly known) in Guilford has spent just under two decades attempting to facilitate careers in the music industry for thousands of students. Whether your dream is to be in a band or enter the business as a producer, tour manager or songwriter, there are dedicated courses to help you achieve your goal.

Hammer are here today to have a look around the facilities, which include multiple studios, live music venues and classrooms full of students (all drumming along to Muse as we peak through the window during one class), and to get a feel for this unique place of education. ACM isn’t just another university course offering endless talks on theory from stuffy old lecturers that have never stepped out in front of a live crowd in their lives, instead the students at ACM are treated to an incredible array of guests from the world of music.

Firstly we bump into Ace (aka the guitarist in ‘90s Brit-rock legends Skunk Anansie) who works here between tours teaching, and asking his rather impressive list of contacts lend their expertise to the school. Only weeks before we were here, funk legend George Clinton gave a talk and jammed with some of the students, and a few weeks from now Motörhead guitarist Phil Campbell will be in town to give a masterclass. It is, in all honesty, very cool indeed.

Skindred meeting the ACM students (Ace on far right)

Skindred meeting the ACM students (Ace on far right) (Image credit: Yulia Hauer)

“You’ve got to get people who have actually done it to talk to these kids,” Ace tells us. “These guys have been there and seen it. It’s great to hear their expertise and their stories. It’s quite a unique thing I think.”

And today this unique establishment will play host to one of its most original visitors. Fifty per cent of everyone’s favourite party-starting, ragga-metal crew Skindred (singer Benji Webbe and guitarist Mikey Demus) are here for a Q&A with the students, and to play a special acoustic session. And they’re certainly happy to be here.

“Who knows what I could have done with a place like this,” Mikey tells us as he looks around the place. “There was nothing at university for me to try and think of playing the guitar as a job. I mean, obviously, it did work out for me in the end, but you wonder how many people had the skill and ability to be a great musician but could never find the right people to play with, or just went off and did something else for a career because they just didn’t know the possibilities. So I think this is great to help those people out.”

For Benji, he believes that the people he speaks to here today may end up surpassing what he has accomplished in his career.

“I believe the next Nirvana are here,” he says,“honestly, I tell you that I’m going to be speaking to the next Pantera today. You have to believe that. You have to hope that people keep pushing rock and roll forward. You never know who is going to be listening here today and what they are going to go on to do, I want to inspire someone here today and then have them come up to me in ten years’ time when they are about to headline Download and say ‘Hey Benj, remember that talk you gave? That made me go out and start a band.’ I’d love that. And I believe it, because these kids are passionate and rock and roll will never die.”

Skindred answering questions at the Academy of Contemporary Music

Skindred answering questions at the Academy of Contemporary Music (Image credit: Yulia Hauer)

And with that the duo head off to the small stage to address the packed venue. For the next hour, Benji and Mikey hold the students captive with stories, songs and advice about their long and varied career. From Benji receiving huge laughs with his tales of Korn never recognising him and a hilarious (potentially libellous) impression of Phil Anselmo, to Mikey making jaws hang open remembering the time he was hit in the face with a dead fish thrown from the audience. And this is before the duo incite a mass singalong to acoustic versions of Kill The Power and Nobody, Skindred are as excellent company as they are in front of an arena.

As the time flies by, Benji ends by giving a powerful speech about the power of music, about the inspiration and solace you can find in it – and tells the story behind closing song Saying It Now. Dedicated to a close friend that passed away from a terminal illness before he had the chance to say his goodbyes, the song, excellent on latest album Volume, is given a new lease of life in this more intimate and stripped-down environment, letting Benji’s voice soar and crack with emotion as Mikey teases the notes from his guitar. The raucous crowd are suddenly silent, but the song’s end they erupt and the two men leave the stage to sign autographs, pose for pictures and chat with their fans.

"Has anyone seen Benji?"

"Has anyone seen Benji?" (Image credit: Yulia Hauer)

“I loved doing that,” Benji says afterwards as he settles down. “We’ve done a few of those acoustic sets, usually for some American radio station, and people are just looking around, but those guys were really into it. It’s one of the best ones we’ve ever done. Like I said man, the passion for music was there. You could feel it from these people, and ultimately that is what is going to make them succeed or fail. It isn’t this place or this course, it’s the people that are here. Music found me, and I’m lucky that I’ve been able to make a career from it. I think back to all the times I’ve had to sleep in the back of a van or on the floor of some crazy person’s house after a show, and, don’t get me wrong, I love that we’ve built up enough that I don’t have to do it anymore…”

“But if you did,” Mikey chips in. “you would wouldn’t you.”

The resigned look on Benji’s face says it all. Skindred just took ACM to school.

Your guide to Skindred's new album, Volume

Stephen Hill

Since blagging his way onto the Hammer team a decade ago, Stephen has written countless features and reviews for the magazine, usually specialising in punk, hardcore and 90s metal, and still holds out the faint hope of one day getting his beloved U2 into the pages of the mag. He also regularly spouts his opinions on the Metal Hammer Podcast.