Benga has been a mainstay within the dubstep scene since its inception, having released his first track over a decade ago at the age of 14. Continuing to be a headline DJ within the rave and festival scene, he is one of the pioneers of the genre and part of the Croydub collective who bear influence over a significant segment of the electronic dance music sub-genre that we see today. The 25-year-old Magnetic Man member now has his sophomore solo album Chapter 2 set for release next month. We sat down with Benga to talk about his live show, the new LP, skydiving and what to expect in the coming months.
You recently had your first ever live show which took place at London's KOKO venue, how do you think it went?
I couldn’t have expected to go as well as it did. Don’t get me wrong I spent a lot of time rehearsing new tracks, specifically for the live show. It was a stem mix, so there were no master tracks, just straight stems going into a compressor. I spent a lot of time getting the sound right in rehearsals, so watching it actually go off (the crowd), I remember on my second track in watching everyone go *roars*, the floor just started moshing, I just thought to myself “this is on a par, if not better than the sort of vibe I get at my normal DJ shows and if I can keep that level of energy in my live show, with all the breakdowns and all the vocal performers, I’m gonna win.”
As well as P Money and Youngman, you introduced us to two new artists at the show, Marlene and Bebe Black. How did you discover them and what made you want to use artists breaking through rather than established ones?
It was just so natural, there were all sorts of artists that I recorded with, but those who were at the live show had the best vocals and the attributes that I wanted on the record. With Marlene, she came to me via Guy Moot who’s the head of EMI Publishing. He sent me something back over one of my tracks which at the time, was called “Minors” and he sent it back renamed “Overdose” with Marlene on top of it, and I listened to it. Some parts were ridiculously good but I just couldn’t get my head around the structure of the track, so I sent them the beat for “Pour Your Love” and then she came back this top line and I was just freaking out when I first heard it as it was that good. So I asked her to come to the studio to change a few things on “Overdose” and she wrote a verse for it. Although it wasn’t quite what I wanted, I got her to write a bunch of harmonies on top of it which were great. What impressed me was how unfazed and confident she was, so I thought she needs to be on more tracks, so she ended up being on three more. Bebe Black came via Mike Pickering (Head of A&R at Columbia UK), who signed Bebe and got hold of my track “Icon.” He then sends back Bebe’s vocal, again, I thought it was sick, sounded different to a lot of what I had heard from other vocalists. She came down to the studio; two days later we had finished “Icon” which eventually became the first single.
You tour throughout the year playing all sorts of venues and festivals, what prompted you to break new ground with a live show?
I’ve been touring and DJing for 10 years, so for me to start “breaking new ground” was because 1. I needed a change, I couldn’t just bring out a new album and carry on what I’ve been doing for the last decade. There was now a platform for me to play my own music because as you know, as a DJ, you get music from everyone else and just mix it up. But I wanted to bring that sort of energy with all my own music, plus bring an actual show. So the best thing for me to do was bring this live show on Ableton with all the stems, have all the control I ever needed with bringing it down, the breaks, the stops, and all these delays here and there just to keep things bubbling along.
We’re sorry to hear you lost your laptop at the show, how did that happen and has it been recovered?
(Laughs) I misplaced it right after my performance and eventually realized it was gone. So I tweeted/Facebooked the message “if anyone’s found my laptop I’ll give you money,” and the response was mixed. People were things like “good job you’ve lost your laptop because when I find it, I’m going to leak all your tunes,” lots of dickhead comments like that. I also had comments saying “stay positive, you’ll get it back,” and today I get a phone call from my manager saying the laptop had been returned to the venue with a message on it saying “My name’s Dom, all I would like you to do is plug this message for me, don’t want any money either, thanks.” Didn’t think that was gonna happen did you?
I just thought a laptop disappearing would be a similar scenario to the film Taken – if it's missing for more than 48 hours, it’s gone forever.
And then all my new beats appear online, and me going around town taking names…
Seems legit. You’ve got a solo album coming out soon called Chapter 2, what can we expect on there in terms of sound and collaborations (aside from the artists we’ve spoken about already)?
I’ve also got an artist on there called Rudy, she performs a track called “Waiting.” It’s got a wicked rift to it, quite catchy but deep. I feel like with her vocal – whatever she says, you believe it, really powerful. All I can say is that she smashes the track and it’s got that skippy signature Benga sound. Instrumental-wise I’ve got a 303 track called “Take Control,” which you’d hear at my live show, it’s quite aggressive, dark, energetic, and still very different to what’s going on now. Then you got “Running” and “Yellow,” tracks which are party tracks, keeps it moving you know.
You and Skream recently took on a slot at BBC Radio 1, how’s that going and what do you think that says about where the dubstep scene is headed as you two being given a show on the biggest radio station in the UK?
For one, this genre called dubstep, is now a staple in the music industry, and maybe in the future we may sit back and look at it the same way we look at house. It’s that big now, main stage status, and really a dominant genre.
Which city would you say has the wildest ravers?
It’s between a couple, I’d say Amsterdam comes first of all, it’s just crazy. They always mosh out, and they always come up with new ways to kill each other, they do the wall of death, ring of roses where they all rush into each other in the end. The other city I’d say was London, always a wild one there.
How would you compare the European/UK rave scene to the American one?
It’s clear to see that the dubstep scene in America is blowing up, it’s not late, but it reminds me a lot of how it first was in the UK. I’m excited about where it may go, but I want to be amongst the guys that change the game, not just go down that generic safe route of just doing the same brand of dubstep that everyone else is doing.
Give us a rundown of your set up when you’re producing a track.
I use Logic, loads of VSTs, play everything on my Novation keyboard, I got Symphony IO, Interface, Denon Audio Monitors, a few synths, a Virus TI, and a few other little bits. I like to keep it minimal.
In the video for “Icon” you ended the clip with a skydive, what’s the story behind that
I’ve always wanted to skydive, then I got a treatment from the director and he said he wanted us to do just that. I loved the concept but I wasn’t sure we were going to pull it off, is it actually going to look like a good video or just me randomly jumping out of a plane? But I trusted him, he smashed it, we had a lovely time, wasn’t scared at all, just excited.
I noticed you and Bebe were wearing retro Jordan 4 Flights as well, falling out of the sky in style...
They need to sponsor us, we’ve jumped out of a plane wearing Jordan Flight, that surely represents everything that shoe is about? Nike ‘Air’ we’re in the air haha.
What can you tell us about your other upcoming projects, is a Magnetic Man album on the horizon?
We’ve got a Magnetic Man album coming out hopefully at the beginning of 2013. We’re still producing that as we speak and I think the first single will be out before the end of this year. I’m also producing Youngman’s album and P Money’s album. I can’t wait till my album’s out, then Young’s album’s out, then P Money’s and Example’s got his record coming out which I’ve worked on a few tracks in. I don’t owe anything to the UK but I feel like it’d be good for me to conquer that side of things, and then move onto America…
Benga's forthcoming album Chapter 2 is set for release August 27 via Columbia UK.