Since his debut in the winter of 2011 on Outernational, followed closely by his solid breakthrough next year on Dirt Crew and Sleazy Beats, the African-born Dutch DJ and producer has been a name on the lips of many disco lovers and a pillar of the slo-mo house scene. In the eve of his first trip ever to Romania and shortly following his latest release on Dirt Crew, we had a long and fruitful talk that resulted in the following interview.
Hello Ben and welcome to We Play Wax!
Let's start with a bit about yourself. How did you get into music? What was that spark that got you focused on producing this beautiful and quite romantic sounds? How did you ultimately decide to follow this musical path?
I guess that as a teenager, at a certain point you get in touch with music and I fell in love pretty fast with it. It was really different music at that time, I was into hardcore and happy hardcore, but I was 12 years old you know… Growing up I kept enjoying music a lot and at a certain point I started going to illegal raves and I really liked it. After that I got in touch with Drum and Bass and that was a big music period for me. A lot of my records are from the D’n’B years so I can’t play them anymore which is a bit of waste. This is when I started organizing events and DJ-ing and getting seriously involved in music. As I grew older, I got more into house music and a couple of years after that I started discovering things like The Revenge, Session Victim, 6th Borough Project and Delusions of Grandeur. That was the turning point for me and it’s been going on since 2009 I think.
So when did you start making music? Did you release anything prior to your Ben La Desh moniker?
I started producing by making 180 bpm hardcore stuff, but it was only for fun, I never released anything. I also ran a D’n’B record label and together with the events I organized I made some money which helped me buy good speakers and a decent computer and some gear. Later on I started going down in bpm, collecting records and sample them, that’s how it really started actually. I already worked at a music distribution, did events, ran a label and promoted other artists, so in the end I always had the dream of releasing my own music.
So from playing around with hardcore to smashing disco house hits. Tell me about your debut as Ben La Desh. How did you make the jump?
I think it was in 2011 and the first release was on Outernational. I already did some disco edits under a different alias about one or two years before which I gave away for free on soundcloud, so it took a while. At first I didn’t even want to release the track because I always had doubts about my music, never was completely sure if it’s good or not. In the end I think it’s a good not to start releasing your music too fast. I decided to take my time so I waited really long until Outernational said they were going to release the track either way. That’s when things started rolling and developing.
Unlike most producers who just go with the hype and change their style every 2 years, your sound has been quite consistent throughout your career. Even more, it's been constantly evolving. What's the secret to keeping it on the same path path, how do you manage to filter out all the outside interference?
Uff! Honestly, I am quite narrow-minded so sometimes I can listen to a lot, while other times I can’t hear anything at all, so I am focused on my own thing and I don’t really care what is happening around or I simply can’t. For example, even if I try to make a certain house sound, I can’t do it, I can’t recreate that typical sound. So I just do my thing and in the end that’s my own sound and people apparently like it so I think that’s how it all goes.
What is your approach to making music? How much do you sample and how much do you build from scratch?
I built a huge library on my computer so I sample a lot. Sometimes I just grab a small sample, start with a beat and let things develop from that point. In the past I used longer loops, but now I try to cut really tiny bits and get those into repetition. You can hear this in some of my tracks: a small loop that constantly evolves, then fades away and comes back again. As I don’t own a Moog or a 2 or 4k hardware synth, sometimes I take a record and sample just a single synth note and start building my chords based on that. So yeah, a lot of the stuff I do is sample-based, but it’s a creative kind of sampling, or so I think. I like to get the sounds straight from a record, maybe it’s the whole process, the sound or something stupid in my head. So in the end, some records are entirely sampled, some have a lot of synths, and some have both. There's no rule for me, I use what I find around me, whatever happens in the studio I'll take it from there.
What about remixing?
Oh I love remixing! If you sample a lot, then you like remixing because, in a way, it's also sampling. The thing with a remix is that you have to stick to the stems, not just grab any sample you want and make a new track. The only thing is the deadline, you get like 4 weeks to work on it which can be hard as I can be a slow worker spending hours and hours on details.
What can you tell me about the Rotterdam nightlife? Anything special going on in the world’s busiest port?
To be honest, I don’t go out that much so I’m usually more at home and in the studio. But overall there’s a lot of good stuff going on in Rotterdam, some pretty cool places with cool line-ups. Rotterdam has a gabber history so people here still like heavier stuff, but there is room for deeper stuff as well. I got a resident deal with one of the coolest clubs here in Rotterdam called Perron which is nice as they might have the best programming in the city.
I've noticed that most if not all of your music was released on vinyl. Do you also buy vinyl and do you play it?
I do, I actually bought a huge DNB collection back in the days, but I can't do anything with it anymore so it's just standing here. I do buy vinyl, but I also got cd players. I play digital, I play both. But good music is good music (cliché :)) and sometimes I really want to buy a record because I just want to have it, or sometimes I'll just buy the digital file to play. So yeah, I love both man!
Outernational, Dirt Crew, Sleazy Beats, Young Adults. Pretty high profile labels from which one would expect nothing but the best. How's it like working with having that kind of legacy hanging on your shoulders?
Well some things happen out of coincidence and some are actually arranged. But I can explain it a bit. Outernational is owned by Mitchell a colleague at work and he asked me to release a track and a couple of months later I agreed to. Sleazy Beats is owned by Guy from Amsterdam and Kris from Copenhagen and they initially heard my music on Outernational. We played together at the same party and that’s where I met Guy. At a certain point I uploaded the demo of ‘Motion’ on soundcloud to see what happens and Sleazy Beats were on the case straight away and wanted to have the track. At that point I had to make 2 other tracks for the release and that’s how this connection was born. It was just a case of meeting the owner, uploading the tracks, having him listen and sign for it at the right time. With Dirt Crew I was in touch before releasing anything on those two other labels and the idea was to send them a track to release together with Plan D’Aqua, some other guys from Rotterdam. We were going to do an EP together, but we realised that one of the tracks featured a very famous sample that almost everyone knew so we decided not to go on with it and things went quiet with Dirt Crew for a while. Later I got in touch with Peter again who is also Dutch and I ended up doing a track for a compilation and then we talked about a solo EP. So that’s about it: luck, timing, good communication and maybe some good music :)
One peculiar thing I observed is that the best summer songs are made in december and even that the majority of deep disco and slo mo house is released during the winter. Is there a reason why. Do people actually dream of sun in the shade and snow on the beach?
Maybe it’s like that because the tracks released in the winter are made in the summer. Because label planning's are done so early or they are so full that it’s going to take 6 months before the tracks get released. That could be it, but I’m not 100% sure. One other example is my track ‘27 Degrees’. It’s called like that because it was 27 degrees in my studio. It was very hot, probably July or August when I made it, but then it was released in November on Dirt Crew so it can be the other way around too. For the Young Adults EP I’ve been in touch with them since March when I finished one of the tracks for the release, so the whole process of getting the tracks done, get them mastered and so on took about 1 year. But then you can also finish a track and it’s suddenly out one or two month later. So in the end you can have a track made 1 year ago released after one made 1 month ago.
The interview is almost over and I almost forgot touch on the moniker subject. Tell me about your artist name please, it has a certain latin sound to it...
Well, my full name is Beniño. I was born in Western Africa in Benin and “niño” in spanish means “little boy” so Beniño is “little boy from Benin”. My parents are 100% Dutch so there’s no Spanish or Italian ancestry there, just a bit of a creative mom and dad. Now for my artist name: I was drunk with friends one time and we somehow got to Bangladesh and from that we came to Ben La Desh and I thought it was funny because it also has Ben from Beniño. Later on I found out that in French, when you have no money in your wallet or food in your fridge you say “C’est la desh!” and that’s like a bonus thing. There’s no real special story about it, sorry.
So what's coming up for Ben La Desh in 2014? What should we be looking out for this year? Any plans for an album or a label?
No album yet because I still feel like I just started. It’s true, two and a half years ago I did my first release, so let’s take it easy. First, I’d rather work more on my profile and maybe at some point I’ll release my own work on my own label. I will think about it, but for now I’ll just do EPs and some remixes here and there. Speaking of which, I recently released a remix for Urulu on Let's Play House and another one for 6th Borough Project on Delusions Of Grandeur. Besides that I just finished two other remixes that should come out soon. It's a new direction for me, I remixed two bands: one is Pompeya from Russia and the other is a completely new band called Elder Island from Bristol. It's interesting to remix a band, work with vocals, guitars, live drums and so on, I really enjoyed working on them. And finally I have a new EP on Dirt Crew which is out now, it's very deep, probably the deepest one I've made, so let's see what will happen.
What about party-wise? Any special plans for this summer, where can we catch you play in the following months?
Well I have been to Glasgow not too long ago which was pretty nice. It's the city of OOFT! and The Revenge, Mermaids are located there as well. I played with OOFT! and Mermaids, we made some music as well, we'll see what's going to come out of that… I was supposed to play in Dublin last weekend but that got postponed or something, so I'll hopefully get a new date for that soon. And then there's the Romanian festival Durușa Summer Hills 10 days from now. I've never been to Romania so I'm really looking forward to it. I think that Kris from Sleazy Beats, Luvless, Duff Disco and some local Romanian heroes will be playing there as well. (Actually playing at Perron tonight, but that might be a couple of days ago when you read this interview :))
Last but not least, what are you hobbies outside of music?
Football, I like football. I play it in a team every Saturday if I don't have to play music. Besides that, music! And friends. But my main thing is music man, I fucking love music!