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A Skins soundtrack retrospective: Part Two

by Cris


This is the second article in a six-part retrospective of the Skins soundtrack. You can find part 1 here.

skins generation 1

The Skins cast included famous stars like Nicholas Hoult, Dev Patel and Daniel Kaluuya. Photo credit: Channel 4

Skins was a teen drama series in the UK that ran from 2007 to 2013 – think a more edgier, sexier version of Degrassi or a predecessor to Euphoria (which I personally think would’ve been Skins if it was successfully adapted to the US audience). Skins stood out, being a show that gave importance to how relatable it was to the youth by casting actual teenagers to play teenagers and even employing them to their pool of writers. Much like a lot of youth oriented shows, music played a big part in Skins episodes, but somehow unlike a lot of shows at that time, Skins was very influential and managed to shape and define a whole generation’s music.

This week, we look back at the music in the show’s second season.

By the time that series two of Skins rolled out, the show was already a certified hit. This was also the last season with the original cast before a new batch replaced them as series regulars – a tradition carried on to future seasons with each batch only lasting two seasons each. Skins now has a massive following and with it, more songs to unpack in each episode.

It was hard to just to choose a few, but we’ve hand-picked these memorable songs from Series 2:


Hummer by Foals

In between Seasons 1 and 2, Skins produced a mini episode that was released online and made available through the show’s MySpace account. Remember when MySpace was a thing? MySpace at the time was THE place for bands to promote their music. Skins put this online platform to great use. Mostly known as the episode that propelled the band Foals to greater popularity, the Skins “Secret Party” follows the gang as they throw the ultimate raver in an abandoned church right smack in the middle of the forest. The party saw almost 300 fans as extras – winners of a contest held by E4 to be part of the Skins Secret Party. Foals would later on contribute a couple of more songs to the show’s soundtrack, but Hummer became their most downloaded song at that time, following the release of the “Secret Party” webisode.


Bad Before Good by Day One

Bad Before Good was featured in the first episode of the series entitled “Maxxie and Tony”. Maxxie, similar to the first season, shares this episode with another character from the series – but it’s not his best friend Anwar, this time it’s with Tony. It’s actually a shame that Anwar didn’t get an episode of his own; we could’ve used a bit more Dev Patel in season two as he is quite the scene stealer in any episode that he’s in.  I also never really figured out why they always sidelined Maxxie. There was so much potential with that character. In any case, we do get a lot more of Maxxie dancing here as this song plays while he does his solo rooftop dance shown with a montage of the different characters going through tough times. The lyric “It’s gonna get bad before it gets good” gets repeated like a mantra as snippets of each characters’ woes are shown onscreen. As much as we wanted to believe that the bad stuff is going to get better in the next episode, this is just episode one and we all know Skins doesn’t like to shy away from putting their characters through a ringer.


Good Times Gonna Come by Aqualung

“Good Times Gonna Come” features in the second episode called “Sketch”. A new character is introduced, and it’s actually one of the better episodes in my opinion. The episode follows Sketch, who has a crush on Maxxie. Maxxie, unfortunately can’t return her affections as she’s not exactly his type, and not the typical gender he’s attracted to. She tries to downplay her femininity and leaves little gifts for Maxxie to find. She also  stalks him – to the point of even breaking in to his room and pleasuring herself on his bed while “Good Times Gonna Come” plays in the background. If Aqualung sort of sounds familiar to you – you might know him from the song “Brighter Than Sunshine” which was featured heavily in the 2005 Ashton Kutcher movie “A Lot Like Love”, and most recently in the TV series Schitt’s Creek.

Interesting Trivia: Sketch’s episode was penned by Jack Thorne, who almost ten years later, co-wrote the play “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child” with J.K. Rowling.


Alice Practice by Crystal Castles

One of the most memorable songs in series 2, “Alice Practice” plays background to a dramatic scene of the third episode of the series. In the scene, we see best friends Sid and Tony at a club, while the actual band – Crystal Castles, make an appearance. The crowd rushes forward as the band begins to play, pushing Sid and Tony away from each other. In the ongoing chaos of teens wildly dancing, they eventually find each other and Sid grabs Tony tightly, pouring out his anger and grief as he slowly accepts his father’s death with “Alice Practice” drowning out his cries of despair. It’s a highly emotional episode, and we’re all shocked at the death of Sid’s dad (who’s perfectly played by Doctor Who himself – Peter Capaldi). I love that they amped up the selection of music in this series but they also amped up the drama. I honestly think they messed up the development of most of the characters in series two, but I guess the more drama the better the music?


Keep the Car Running by Arcade Fire

Before their Grammy Award winning album ‘The Suburbs’, Arcade Fire released ‘Neon Bible’ which featured a lot of fan favorite songs like “My Body is a Cage” – a song used in a couple of movies and TV shows (recently in the season one finale of “Euphoria”). “Keep the Car Running” was another popular song off the album. In Skins, we hear this on the fourth episode of the series as our group of teens head off to the beach to celebrate Michelle’s birthday. We actually have plenty of great songs in this episode alone, with two Sigur Ros songs featured as well as other songs from Pavement, XTC and the next band in our list.


Childhood by Beach House

This is one of two Beach House songs used in Skins’ “Michelle” episode. It plays as Michelle sits in between the sand dunes to have a chat with Maxxie, while the rest of the gang scramble to save Scarlett’s station wagon from getting swept away by the waves. This is actually a nice throwback to the first episode where they crashed a car into a lake – coincidentally, also a station wagon. I guess a season of Skins isn’t complete if you can’t totally submerge a whole car in water.
For this episode, Beach House aptly gives that “chillin’ by the seaside feeling” with its twangy surf guitars and Victoria Legrand’s soothing singing voice.


Fickle Cycle by Animal Collective

“Fickle Cycle” plays in the scene where Michelle receives a surprise gift from Tony, who’s trying to win her back. It’s one of those random, quirky songs that’s fun to listen to if you’re tired of the usual fare. This one comes as a B-Side to Animal Collective’s 7-inch release of “Grass” in 2006. I love that Skins will find odd gems and just jam it in the soundtrack for everyone to discover – even if it was just used in a very small scene.


Maps by Yeah Yeah Yeahs

“Maps” didn’t feature heavily when it was used in the scene where Tony and Michell drive Sid off to the airport – it sort of just is this a random song playing on the car’s stereo. It might not be as memorable in the show as some of the songs in this list, or even some of the songs that didn’t make it to this list, but if I had an excuse to include the Yeah Yeah Yeahs “Maps” in any list, I would. It’s a song that screams 2000s, Skins is very 2000s and I don’t think a Skins soundtrack retrospective would be complete if I didn’t include this song here.


New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down by LCD Soundsystem

Having Cassie flee to New York, of all places, seemed so random. Why fly to a different country altogether? What’s in New York?

I have a theory. I think they chose to take Cassie to New York just so that they can have an excuse to use this absolute classic of a song – “New York, I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down” by LCD Soundsystem. I’m not from New York and I’ve only visited once, but I think this song resonates to any person that lives in a big, highly populated, highly urban city. It might also be a metaphor to any long-term relationship that’s slowly going sour or to any situation where the disillusionment sets in, but you’re still attached. In any case, it’s LCD Soundsystem at it’s best and it should always, always, be suggested as recommended listening to all lovers of music.


Time to Pretend by MGMT

I do believe it was the Skins finale that actually pushed this song up the charts. As we say goodbye to all the characters that we’ve grown to love, MGMT’s “Time to Pretend” plays them off. This is one of the songs that I oh-so-terribly missed with the international release since they disappointingly replaced it with generic electronic music. That’s how you really know that the choice of song matters. “Time to Pretend” perfectly represented how it was to be of the ‘Skins’ generation at that time, it’s a shame it’ll get lost in translation for a lot of current viewers.

With this, the season ends with sort of a cliffhanger. The last we see of Sid is outside the New York diner that Cassie works at, and they don’t see each other. Does he eventually get the girl? Skins doesn’t offer a clear answer, but we do know that this will be the last we’ll see of Tony, Michelle, Sid, Cassie, Chris, Jal, Anwar and Maxxie (probably not Cassie as she does return to the Skins special years later). It’s quite amazing how memorable this particular cast of Skins was. This batch produced a couple of notable stars today: Nicholas Hoult who played Tony, who was already famous in “About a Boy”, got wider recognition playing The Beast on the X-Men movie series; Kaya Scodelario who played Effy, starred in the Maze Runner series; Chris and Cassie – Joe Dempsie and Hannah Murray, went on to play Gendry Baratheon and Gilly on Game of Thrones; we even got Anwar (Dev Patel) nominated for an Oscar in ‘Lion’; and Posh Kenneth (Daniel Kaluuya) winning one in 2021. (Another interesting trivia: Daniel Kaluuya might just be a supporting character in Skins, but he had a bigger role behind-the-scenes writing two Skins episodes).

Although, Season 2 was a big good-bye to our beloved Skins characters, Season 3 introduces us to newer, more complex characters, and a wider variety of music – something we’ll talk about in the next week’s article.