A Sit Down With DJ Ben Sims
Ben Sims is known for his driven techno sets, three deck wizardry and fast paced interchange whilst Billy Nasty carved a niche through his storytelling capabilities and record label management which has seen him release music by the likes of The Advent, Mark Broom, Paul Mac and more.
Sims has been among the most reliable forces in UK techno for over a decade, releasing waves of 12-inches through his own Hardgroove, Ingoma and Theory labels, while pushing his sound at some of the biggest techno events on the planet. But, as he admitted when we spoke in his east London studio last month, it's only recently that he's begun to come away from an unwavering commitment to the servicing the dance floor through his long awaited (and much pondered upon) debut album, Smoke & Mirrors. By extension, he doesn't mind labelling himself as predominantly a DJ. Much of his music down the years has simply been derived out of a need for a particular type of track for his sets. It just so happens that countless others have found a place for his productions as well.
"Ive just always really wanted to do a radio show that solely showcases new music, like the kinda shows I grew up listening to."
What first drew you to electronic music?
The break-dance/hip hop explosion of the early 80s. All the kids were dancing to up-tempo disco breaks or electro and I kinda got hooked on both. For me there's still a clear link to what I do now from those early naïve days of discovering such exciting, intense and passionate music.
How do you typically construct your drum tracks?
Recently I'm going back to taking hits off old drum machines and just classic 606, 909, 808 and constructing rhythms out of that. But I have also added sample hits of old disco records I construct it in Ableton.
How many times have you played at FM and what is that you think makes it such a special festival?
This'll be my 4th (3rd as a resident) and it's truly one of the highlights of the year for me. The crew that run the fest are great and have made us (me and my wife) feel very much part of the family from the get go, we even celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary there last year! It's just such a wicked party and always feels more like a big BBQ with mates and quality music than some generic huge event'. It's just very chilled, welcoming and friendly so we tend to stay all weekend, have fun and get our groove on after the 'work' bit is over. Obviously the fact I get to do my usual techno thing AND an alternative set is ace too as it's a very rare I get to do that or play parties where it would even make sense but FM is diverse musically and you hear everything from Disco to Dub, Rave to House and Techno to Electro over the weekend, it's all embraced with open minds and open, often raised, arms.
Youve been playing in North America a bit more often lately. Do you think that the general clubbing population here is more accepting of your style of techno than they once were?
Its been interesting to see how the scenes kind of changed. Like when I recently played Stereo in Montreal; there were a lot of heads down, with people getting really into it. There was almost a Berghain, four oclock Sunday afternoon kind of vibe. And I just played Output in New York, which is a great space with a great sound. Ive been coming to New York for a long time, and in the past there never were clubs like that where techno was appreciated, which says something. Theres a lot more interest.
Obviously you are well known and respected world wide for your Techno sets, which often incorporate house and disco. How many reggae dub sets have you played now & how have your fans love of yours?
This will only be my 4th public Roots/ Dub set (twice before at FM and the aforementioned b2b with DJ Pete in Berlin last month) so I'm still pretty new to it. With some of the early 'Essex Rascals' sessions at venues like 'The Key' and Corsica' we definitely had Reggae or Dub sections too but we were going through various genres in a night and just playing whatever we fancied. Generally, the response has been positive and people can see I'm just having fun playing a style of music I love. Obviously it's not for everyone and some people can't even deal with me doing my 'Ron Bacardi' House or Disco sets as they only want Techno but there are plenty of heads that dig it and one of my roots podcasts remains one of the most listened to and downloaded on my Soundcloud page, so that's a good sign.
For me it's really important to not just be a one dimensional techno dj - I grew up loving various of genres of black dance music and still buy records of all styles most days. Techno became the thing most people know me for which is great but I love the chance to flex the rest of my record collection too.
Do you have a lot of material specifically for your sets that's unreleased?
I'd say probably 25% of my set is re-edits or re-tweaks of other peoples' tracks, or special versions of the tracks that I've done just because maybe the one that went out just didn't work as well as I thought it would, so I went back and changed it. But I couldn't justify putting it out again because most people wouldn't notice what the changes were.
Speaking of records - are you planning on doing any record shopping in London and where? Where do you usually pick up most of your music?
Usually I go online and use Juno.co.uk (and Decks) as my main navigation since they stock pretty much all new releases in my fields, so if I actually visit a record shop these days, its mostly 2nd hand record shops where I look for '90s house & techno stuff. But otherwise I have Clone Records Rotterdam in my backyard which I pay a visit once in a while, or the good ol visit to Hardwax / Rush Hour or Space Hall, but honestly most of my record shopping goes online these days.
You`ve been on the circuit for many years, do you have a favourite period or era?
I guess as you get older you reflect more on the past? It was really exciting to get involved with this amazing new scene and working at Zoom Records 89-94. It was a great place to be at the time. Things were really exciting as the whole house/techno scene was new & fresh. Clubs were opening in every major town/city all over the world at an incredible rate. But saying that now's pretty exciting. I'm interested in all musical genres and the beauty of Techno & Electro is that it does keep keeps changing & evolving. I still loving DJ'ing and playing my part in the wonderful scene that we live and work in.
Is it true that you largely produce in order to have music for your own DJ sets?
Yeah, Im not a musician at all. Im a D.J And most of the time, that really is what Im aiming for. Ill go to the studio during the week and try and make tracks that I can play on the weekend. There are plenty of people who produce, and then built a DJ career after that; Im completely the other way around. If I stopped deejaying, I dont think I would have the need to make new music at all. Deejaying is my overriding passion, and I make music because of that.
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