Ben Hayes came to London to study, to learn from those around him.
It's a process that has yet to reach completion, but it's already resulted in some startling music, fusing the digital with the analogue, the breathtakingly old with the startlingly new.
Aware of the new movements within London's jazz scene, Ben Hayes effortlessly melds this with a highly distinctive take on the nexus of club cultures that exist under the pavements of London.
2019 promises much, with Ben Hayes launching new projects, as well as a completely overhauled live show.
New EP 'See Sun' is incoming, and the producer will preview his live set with a very special show at Clash Live in Miranda, Ace Hotel, London tonight (February 27th).
We've grabbed a preview from the EP - find it below - and you can also absorb a full Q&A with Ben Hayes after the jump.
There’s been much talk of late on the conversation between London’s jazz underground and club culture. Where do the connections lie in your mind?
I’m not sure I see a distinction between them. From where I’m standing, I just see them as part of the same thing. For me the commonality is in the intent. That’s maybe why I don’t see them so much as separate things. To me they’re different manifestations of the same drive to create music that’s experiential and social and visceral.
And, practically, there has always been a symbiosis. This jazz movement couldn’t have happened like this were it not for bedroom producers and jazz musicians on the come up hanging out and making stuff together. You can hear it in the music. In jazz, it freed players from needing a proper studio budget to put something out, which just added more fuel to the DIY fire.
And in the dance music around the scene, there’s this sense of the edges of the form being erased, because the looseness and instantaneousness and freedom of jazz has seeped in, so we’ve ended up with dance music where conventions like DJ friendly intros or predictable structures have become less important than innovation and surprise and rawness.
Thinking about this question, my mind goes back to Steez in south-east, where the night would follow this seamless continuum from sit-down spoken word, through the “space jam” (an open jam which got transcendent – it was crazy sometimes too, over eight instrumentalists on stage, and producers with MPCs and controllers, singers, MCs, poets), to live bands, and closing out with DJs til early, with a second room hosting jams and cyphers all night.
And through all of this at no point did it feel like there was a hard edge, like we were changing pace. It just felt like different windows into the same place.
What attracts you to the intersections of analogue and digital that exist in your work?
Do you view these as complimentary, or do you prefer to thrive on the differences? They’re all just colours on a palette. I find myself thinking less and less about the cosmetic distinctions between the sources of sound.
When I’m writing, the thing I’m most concerned with sonically is constructing a world. I think quite spatially, and kind of architecturally about sound, so I tend to look at all sound sources, analog/digital/physical/synthetic/human/inorganic, as building materials for this world, independently of where they came from.
Generally speaking it’s the combination or juxtaposition of sounds that makes me feel something, so it’s that interplay I’m looking for more than anything else.
You also play in Minyanta, how do these experiences within West African culture inform your production work?
The first time we played with our kora player, Jali Bakary Konte, I left with so much to think about. I’d listened to a lot of kora based music before, of course, and had had some exposure to Mandinka music (the tradition we draw on in Minyanta), but actually playing with Jali I was struck by how differently we fundamentally felt the music.
Our relationships to things like rhythm and phrasing were just coming from totally different places, because, of course, this was an entire musical tradition that I was a total stranger to. This was a really important experience for me, because I saw how narrow my view of music really is.
There is so much outside of the edges I’ve drawn for myself. It’s something that echoes in my mind as I produce, because I don’t want rely on my default instincts. Having a sense that I might sometimes be musically blinkered pushes me to challenge myself on the intention behind my ideas.
London’s jazz scene in part thrives due to its sense of community; there are three collaborators on this EP, do you feel a part of that community? Does that ‘scenius’ - as Eno calls it – provide a point of inspiration?
I definitely feel a deep sense of community here. It’s a really beautiful thing, to be able to walk into a gig, be moved musically by your friends on stage, and be surrounded in the audience by faces you know, all of whom are creating their own incredible work.
I was really lucky to land on my feet in London. I came here to study jazz seven or eight years ago, and ended up at music college with the most unbelievable musicians (who are doing such wonderful things right now – like Jake Long, Joe Armon-Jones, Nubya Garcia, Rosie Turton, this list could go on for a very long time).
There was an attitude of sharing and mutual recognition right from the start, and that has never really gone away. There’s no way I could be making music like I am today if I didn’t have the chance to absorb from these people.
So to bring it back to your question, the ‘scenius’ runs deep, for sure. My inclination when creating is often to pull away from anything that feels too comfortable, or safe, but the shared language from this community feels like my anchor as I explore.
‘If That Hurts’ opens with that guitar line, before giving way to shrouded electronics, gorgeous effects, and that slumped beat. There’s a lot to unpack sonically; can you remember writing it? Where do its roots lie?
Ah, yeah, this was a tricky time. The core of this tune basically came together in one evening, when many things in my life were colliding. A very intense relationship was coming unravelled, and at the same time I had lost the work that was keeping me afloat, and so I had to move out of my studio and set my gear up in my bedroom. The acoustics in that bedroom were so terrible, everything I tried to make just sounded two-dimensional and flat, which felt apt given my emotional state.
I don’t remember exactly what sparked it, but I decided to embrace the 2D acoustics and create something out of “flat” sounds. My friend had left me his guitar to look after while he travelled, which I recorded through a crappy microphone to eliminate any depth from its sound; I recorded a bunch of foley-esque hits around the room which I layered into the very boxy percussion; I loaded some DX7 sysex files and played with some vibeless, digital, plastic-y tuned percussion sounds.
As it came together, I felt like my flatpack soundworld would make more sense in some sort of context, so I played with growing and shrinking the space across sections to create the texturally deep sections and sudden juxtapositions you hear in the middle. I’m not sure exactly when, but at some point I just couldn’t get the idea of Shiv singing on it out of my head, and from there everything just fell together.
Shivum Sharma provides vocals, how was he to work with? What do you learn from collaborations such as those?
Shivum is a genuine artist. By that I mean he has insanely focused vision, but at the same time is always genuinely curious about other people’s ideas. Really he’s a dream to work with. A lot of singers can be self-conscious being particular about what ends up in the track, but I love it when they are. There’s something very motivating about creating with someone who really cares what they’re making.
In general, collaborating with a vocalist is always interesting for me, because in many ways we are speaking a different creative language. I always feel like listening to my work with someone else in the room momentarily gives me the ability to hear through their ears. Not really, of course, but some combination of creative rapport and deep self-consciousness fabricates a pretty convincing illusion.
And doing this with a singer, is such valuable insight as a producer – I think about things so sonically and spatially, so this expressive and narrative point of view quite often changes the way I think about a track.
You’ve been working on a live show which we’ll see tonight – any spoilers? What can we expect?
So this show has come from a long time spent wrangling with the limits of performing electronic music live. I see precision and immediacy as these two competing ideals who can’t easily exist concurrently in live electronic music. Recreating sounds as they were originally designed prevents you from taking risks or being truly in the moment, while improvising and creating sound live risks losing sonic detail, which is often what’s at the core of electronic music.
So this show is all about allowing me to move seamlessly between these ideals, rather than stick to one. It drifts between total improvisation and recognisable fragments of my tunes, with the freedom to shape it as I want in the moment.
Finally, what does the rest of 2019 hold for you?
After this EP is out in the open, I’m going to take my live show around the UK, and then spend some time finishing off the next release. Beyond this, I’m in the process of pulling together ideas for an album. I also plan to do a lot more DJing this year.
Outside of my own music, with Minyanta we’re currently working on an album which we’ll be recording in a few months time. I’m also collaborating with some artists and bands from the south London scene (currently wrapping up an album with Where Pathways Meet), and working on Asoma, a live electronic project I put together last year with Jake Long, Maxwell Owin, and Jack Stephenson-Oliver.
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'See Sun' EP will be released through R&S Records on March 29th.
Photo Credit: Tom D Morgan
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