Given his encompassing way of doing things, it’s easy to forget how Ben UFO first broke through. In 2007 he formed the label Hessle Audio with Pearson Sound and Pangaea, spearheading a visionary UK-rooted club sound that borrowed from dubstep, techno, house and two-step. Ben UFO’s famously the only one of the three that’s not put his name to a record, but when he steps behind the decks, the sound Hessle Audio have championed is always the main backbone. As he joins Craig Richards and Stellar OM Source for Collisions this weekend, we picked out ten far-flung favourites that have appeared in his record bag over the years. From Gemini to Groove Chronicles, this is a dive into Ben UFO’s wildly adventurous approach to DJing.
Actress – Maze [Honest Jon’s]
Actress showed us just how rich electronic music could get on Splazsh, his 2010 full-length that recalled everything from Prince to Burial. Grandest of the lot was Maze, a dense odyssey that sounded like a dial-up Internet connection trapped somewhere between the 80s and the distant future. Most of Actress’ records are difficult for any DJ to play, but Ben UFO has still found a way to sneak Maze into his sets in the past.
Ricardo Villalobos – Mormax [For Disco Only 2]
More than any of his other records, we’d love to know how Villalobos pulled this haunting mind-bender together. The German-Chilean placed two samples from Philip Glass at the heart of Mormax, peppering in his percussive hallmarks and vocal snippets in characteristically erratic form. Whether or not the two minimal pioneers had direct contact with one another in the process, the thought of Glass lending an ear to Villalobos’ bizarre sound world is an idea we can get behind. Mormax is certainly one of Villalobos’ best records, but other than the man himself we’ve only heard one DJ that’s been bold enough to play it: Ben UFO.
Gemini – Jovial [Relief]
Chicago homed many pioneering house producers throughout the 90s, but none of them quite matched Spencer Kincy for pure idiosyncratic flair. Jovial was about as spacey as he went during the early years of his career, a style he would later hone on seminal records for labels like Peacefrog and Tinted. While many of these classics are still like gold dust, a recent reissue on Anotherday means Jovial is now easily within our grasp.
Eddie Flashin’ Fowlkes – Deep Pit (Kenny Larkin Mix) [Dance Pool]
This isn’t the only Kenny Larkin remix we’ve heard Ben UFO drop before, but with another Detroit stalwart on the original, it was the first one we wanted to include. Larkin plays a more melancholic card than usual picking up from Eddie Fowlkes, stringing out that misty piano loop for all it’s worth. Like many great 90s house records, it’s only becoming more sought-after with time, no doubt helped by Ben UFO bringing it back to the surface.
Sia – Get Me (Groove Chronicles Vocal Mix) [Long Lost Brother]
Look for any list of the most essential UK garage tunes from the late 90s to 00s, and you’re practically guaranteed to find at least one from Steven Jude. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many records like this ultra-smooth Sia remix are now prohibitively expensive to obtain, as strong a testament as any to his lasting appeal in 2019.
Photek – The Seven Samurai (Photek Remix) [Science]
Drum programming at its uppermost level, with all the added tension you would expect from a true master of sound design. If there’s one thing that illustrates Ben UFO’s tastes, it’s his love of the UK's electronic landscape, so it’s little wonder he would be a fan of one of the greatest drum & bass producers ever. Photek’s Form & Function album didn’t make people gush quite like its predecessor Modus Operandi when it was released in 1998, but it was still one of the best drum & bass records money could buy. Two decades later, that’s still the case.
The Sounds of Silence – Moments in Club [Inner City Records Co.]
Exceptional Baltimore breaks from 1993, only with the twisted paradox of sampling snagged from Art of Noise’s serene synth-pop hit Moments in Love. If you want a perfect example of how Ben UFO freely transcends styles, listen closely to the way he moves from UK garage to ghetto house to Moments in Club in this excerpt recorded live at Osaka’s Factory club in 2015.
Commix – How You Gonna Feel (Pangaea Remix) [Metalheadz]
Steve Spacek’s strained voice counted for everything on Commix’s How You Gonna Feel, and Pangaea doesn’t neglect this on his rework for Metalheadz. But where Spacek was the focus on the original, Pangaea lets go of the accelerator, leaving him to float between crushed drums, cymbal sheens and snarling bass. Definitive Hessle era two-step.
James Blake – CMYK [R & S Records]
R & S, Hessle Audio and Hemlock probably wouldn't be the first labels that come to mind when you listen to James Blake today, but the UK artist had releases on all three long before his supernova moment. Blake brought something new to what we were loosely defining as "dubstep" when he emerged in the late 2000s, so of course Ben UFO and Hessle were one of his earliest champions.
Mala – Alicia [White Label]
The best song from one of dubstep’s most important innovators. Is there any reason Ben UFO wouldn't be a fan?
Listen to Ben UFO's ten Dancefloor IDs as a full playlist via our YouTube channel.
Photo: Anna Wallington