Ben UFO Interview

"It’s almost like London planned it..."
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Electronic music seems to shed its skin on an almost daily basis.

The meteoric rise of genres is matched only by the stunning speed of the backlash. Throughout it all, though, institutions remain and none are more influential than London’s Rinse affiliated clubnight FWD>>. Toasting its 10th anniversary with a secret party at the weekend, the club invited eleven DJs to represent each year of its existence.

Rubbing shoulders alongside the founding fathers of dubstep, grime, UK Funky and more on the line up is young Ben UFO. Making his name solely via his ability with a pair of turntables, the DJ has helped lead bass music out of dubstep’s shadow and into somewhere warmer, more eclectic, adventurous and house-driven.

Invited to close the 10th anniversary of FWD>> the DJ is also working on a mix for the always-influential Rinse series. Stopping briefly to speak to ClashMusic, the Hessle Audio mainman reflects on his love affair with bass, and the challenges facing a continually shifting scene…

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What was your first experience of FWD?
I can’t remember the exact date that I went down but it was when FWD was on a Thursday at Plastic People twice a month. I guess the line ups, the balance was tipped slightly more towards grime in those days. So you had quite a lot of grime and the early dubstep stuff – 2004/5. The thing I remember most clearly about those days is that the community around it was so small that you would see the same people week in, week out. It was a really useful place to get to know new people. I actually met David – Pearson Sound, Ramadanman and who runs Hessle Audio with me – in the queue one night. We just got chatting and it turned out he was going to the same university! It was a really fun place and I think I met all of the people that I am closest to in music now at FWD.

The dubstep scene then was incredibly small.
The capacity of the club is just over 200 I think. It speaks really highly of FWD that they are so committed to staying loyal to that kind of vibe of what dubstep was about. They haven’t moved to a bigger club, they haven’t taken the opportunity to run off to some huge superclub and do monthly events there. They do larger events at Fabric but they still do the smaller nights, with a smaller capacity. So they’ve managed to maintain that closeknit atmosphere.

What keeps FWD fresh?
It’s a difficult one. It’s probably something to do with the connection to radio, with Rinse. FWD has managed far better than most to keeping moving with musical developments in London. Still, even now, they give producers an opportunity to place their music out on a big soundsystem. That’s great because if you speak to any of the original dubstep guys –Skream or Benga or anyone – FWD was the only place where they could bring their tunes down and hear them on a soundsystem. A real soundsystem with a proper bass weight. They could bring their tunes down, hear them and then take them home and work on the mix down or whatever. That’s how they developed their sound. I think FWD recognises that and they see it as being important that they keep doing that with new producers, nurturing new sounds. I think it’s partly due to their connection with radio – and London music generally – that they are able to do that. I mean, a radio station has about 16 hours of music a day so you have the space to give interesting new sounds airtime. I think the commitment to that helps to keep FWD fresh.

Is there any year you want to hear again?
Everyone has their own idea of a certain era and for me it’s definitely the early years of dubstep so it’s probably the 2005/06 sets that I am most looking forward to hearing. Youngsta and Skream are doing those years and that makes perfect sense as Skream had ‘Midnight Request Line’ back then and that was the tune which kind of propelled dubstep to a wider audience. Youngsta prepared the Dubstep Allstars 2 CD which was one of the releases that really sort of got my attention in 2005. It will be a chance for me to re-live those days when everything felt really new and exciting.

How are you preparing your set?
I think my focus is going to be on stuff that is unreleased I think. It’ll mainly be the tunes that I have been playing so far this year, the ones I have been playing for the past six months. The nature of my Djing means that the majority of those tunes are going to be unreleased. It’s difficult isn’t it because your perspective is always kind of skewed towards stuff that you are interested in, the stuff that you are prejudiced in favour of. I think that’s fine and kind of natural and even those sets from 2001-2010 all those Djs are going to be representing their own taste because there’s too much from each year to give an accurate account. I think I’m not worrying too much about trying to represent the whole of this year because no one can do that, it won’t be possible. It will be a broad selection and mostly unreleased.

Does the criticism for having unreleased cuts get to you?
It doesn’t wind me up at all because it’s understandable. If people are hearing stuff for six months before it comes out then they’re going to get impatient. Generally it is a balancing act because if a tune is going to be big then you want to hold onto it for a while as you want people to still have the same excitement for it when it eventually does come out.
I have a reputation for stringing together what disparate sounds. To me, that kind of DJing is really what’s broken through this year. You have people like Jackmaster really making his name with that Fabric CD, Oneman has done well – he’s using Serato now to string together all sorts of different music. I’m not quite as eclectic as that but if you come to one of my sets you will hear a broad range of music from 120 BPM to 140. That’s maybe what FWD were thinking about with this booking, getting me to do the 2011 set was maybe trying to get someone to represent this diversity. That’s definitely one of my targets for the set as well. Trying to represent the scope and variety of the music which is running through those DJ sets.

It’s gone really eclectic.
I think garage is the stuff that holds it all together really. It’s music that recalls a certain era but it’s also got that tempo where you can bridge dubstep, you can bridge house. Garage is almost perfect – it’s almost like London planned it.

Dubstep DJs were known for playing their own productions, who did you look to as an inspiration?
In dubstep, the big DJ for me was always Kode9. I’ve always gone out of my way to hear his sets. In terms of the kind of DJing that I do now it’s slightly more difficult because everyone who is Djing this stuff – which we don’t know what to call – we’re all finding out feet with it at the same time. It’s kind of difficult to find someone to look up to. The thing I find really important is that even though you are playing a load of different sounds I still want them to be linked together in a way that makes sense to the listener. I don’t want it to sound out of control – like, wild or whatever. At the moment I am looking to be like Optimo and DJs like that as they have this amazing ability to string together music from all over the place – music from 40 years ago and yesterday, and just make it fit into a continuum which really makes sense to the person on the dancefloor.

How did you approach the Rinse mix?
I was kind of lucky as I was in a position whereby I could talk to David – Pearson Sound – and Jackmaster about the way that they approached their Fabric CDs. They told me what they had done and how it had worked out for them and it just kind of confirmed my own view on it which is that it would be futile to try and put together a mix CD of purely upfront, unreleased, exclusive stuff because by the time the CD comes out everyone would have heard those tunes on the radio, heard them in the clubs and it wouldn’t feel special anymore. The way I kind of approached it was just to try and make the mix itself really special, to make the whole 70 minutes really stand out. Where something like a mix for a website you can rely on immediate hype around certain tunes to get the mix some attention with this I felt that it was really important to spent a lot of time thinking about it and the environments in which people are going to be listening to the CD, what’s going to be suitable for that. I guess that what I came up with was the final mix. It’s definitely the mix I’ve put most thought into. It’s always difficult to know if that’s what it’s doing until you see the final response but fingers crossed.

‘Rinse: 16 – Ben UFO’ is due to be released on September 19th.

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