With nicknames like ‘3 Deck Master’ and ‘The Human Ableton’, you know you’re in for a treat of technical wizardry when you get the chance to see Ben Sims. Someone who can truly claim to have seen things come and go and come round again in the world of techno, Ben is a DJ of legendary status who has toured the globe delivering his funk driven techno and house that is the trademark of his DJ sets. On August 28th Ben will be joining Ben Klock and Russ Gabriel in Room Two for a star studded line up that also features Carl Craig, Sebo K, Alex Celler and many more. The man has kindly found a few minutes of his time to answer questions on what life is like in the shoes of Ben Sims…
So Ben, describe your day so far…
Friday 30th July: Spent the morning going thru digital promos and sorting my records etc for this weeks gigs, started the weekend travel by flying out of London City airport to Frankfurt (i'm playing NATURE ONE tonight, then over to Holland for ROCKIT festival tommorow) and now I'm waiting for room service in a hotel. Pretty typical Friday.
You started DJing aged 10. I’m guessing that you must have a pretty huge collection of vinyl stored somewhere, how do you stay on top of all the music? Are you very methodical about collecting?
Most of my records are in storage as I can't fit them all in my apartment but i'm regularly going back and forth with bags and changing my selection at home. Hopefully sometime soon I can have them all in one place as I often buy doubles because I can't find a particular track or I just forget I already own it; I'm not as organised as I'd like to be. I'm still a vinyl junkie though and always have a wants list on me, my desire for new or rare records for my varied sets and tastes is showing no signs of fading after 25+ years.
What was your dream job as a kid?
To be a DJ or work in a record shop, preferably both.
Who were your early inspirations and what inspires you today?
I was hugely inspired by UK soul/funk legend FROGGY (R.I.P) as a kid, he was one of the biggest DJs in the country at the time, the first guy to use pitch controlled Technics for mixing and luckily, he also did the school discos at my junior school as his then wife was a teacher there. So that really gave me the bug, seeing someone that talented and respected at a young age, it definitely started my lifelong obsession with the art of mixing. After that I searched for tapes of US DJs like DJ CHESSE, CASHMONEY, RED ALERT, LATIN RASCALS, AFRICA BAMBAATAA etc and recorded mix shows off the radio at home from guys like RICHIE RICH, COLDCUT, HARDROCK SOUL MOVEMENT and anyone mixing up rap, soul, funk and disco. These days I’m inspired by many different DJs, mostly techno or house, but in general guys whose sets are individual, have their own sound, who really put their heart and soul it and don't just follow trends, people like DERRICK MAY, JEFF MILLS and THEO PARRISH are always great to hear as it's always refreshing and always more than just a couple of hours of music, you can hear history and years of dedication in their sets that is sadly lacking in many DJs.
What have you noticed that’s changed most about clubbing, club culture and techno as a genre in recent years?
Well, if you stick around long enough you tend to see things come back around, a revival of this, a new version of that, fads and phases come and go but for me techno is essentially the same as it’s always been, just a new audience embracing it.
The clubbing generation definitely seems to have changed a bit, these days it’s more about the DJ than the individual tracks played and everyone seems to want to stay up for days! Fuck that, haha…
What period in time, for you personally, was the best time to be making music and DJing?
For me it had to be when I first started out, my first small parties, the nerves and the excitement. Within a year or 2 I was making (very) rough demos with a couple of friends, a rapper and a beatboxer, it was just so much fun and so innocent.
Has the way you DJ or your choice of equipment changed in the last few years? What’s your take on Traktor and Serato?
I’m using Serato now for my collaboration projects with SURGEON (FREQUENCY 7), PAUL MAC (KILLA PRODUCTIONS) and on the rare occasions the ‘ESSEX RASCALS’ project (MARK BROOM, TONY ANDERSON, PAUL MAC and MYSELF) make public appearances dropping soul, funk and beyond, it just makes sense to have more music to choose from when you’re feeding off other DJs as you never quite know where things are gonna go, so having a huge amount of tracks is good. It’s a great program and after initially feeling odd using it, I now really enjoy it.
At the moment I’m still using vinyl and CDs for my solo gigs but as the amount of DJs not playing digital seems to decrease each week, the technical set up at parties and particularly festivals just doesn’t seem to cater for vinyl anymore, recently I’ve had so many jumping records, feedback issues etc that I’m probably gonna need to just use Serato pretty soon. The non skipping setting on the program is slowly becoming a necessity.
How did you collaborations as Frequency 7 with Surgeon and as ROKU with Mark Broom start out?
ROKU wasn’t planned at all, an overzealous promoter booked Mark and myself to play individually but advertised us as playing together on 6 decks, when we arrived we saw the set up and just told him there’s obviously no way we were gonna do it as we’d never even discussed it let alone practiced but after starting to play solo I could tell the crowd were waiting for it so we just gave it a go and it worked. We had plenty of good times and toured a lot with the project playing everything from the LIQUID ROOMS to MONEGROS to the ORBIT but in the end decided to quit on a high and focus on others things.
FREQUENCY 7 was a happy accident really, I’d booked Tony to play on one of the infamous RETRO-VERT boat parties and was spinning before and after him, at some point I joined in while he was playing and it gave us the idea of joining forces and the project was born. We started out doing a couple of low key secret gigs which went really well and over the past few years we’ve played all over and recently did our first tour of Japan which was a lot of fun.
Over the past year the KILLA PRODUCTIONS collaboration I do with PAUL MAC has been going really well too, it’s something we’ve talked about for years but just never really got around to doing it before as technically we didn’t find a way that worked for us.
Do you see them more as a collaboration between friends or as something more professional?
It’s a bit of both really, obviously there needs to be a musical understanding and respect for what the other one does individually but being friends holds it together and enhances the sets as you just have more fun doing it.
What are the benefits to playing live with someone else and are there any downsides?
I like the challenge of trying something new, working with someone who’ll bring something to the set that I wouldn’t have thought of, really feeding off what another DJ is doing and the chance to play various styles myself that I wouldn’t usually play in my typical solo sets. It doesn’t always gel and sometimes you can have a different idea of where to take a set than the other guy but that’s part of the challenge too.
And does the same thing apply in the studio?
It’s often too easy to get stuck in a fruitless session on your own when you can’t hear that what you’ve spent all day working on is actually just a piece of shit, so just having another opinion in the room definitely helps but collaborating with other producers doesn’t always work as most have their own specific way of working and all have a different pace.
Over the past 18 months I’ve been working with PAUL MAC in the studio, often with him engineering my tracks and sometimes working on music together, I’m not a technology wiz and getting too wrapped up in all that stuff just means I lose focus of what I’m doing and get distracted from the sound I have in my head, so that’s working really well for me and it’s been the most musically productive period I’ve ever had.
What have you been working on recently?
Aside from the usual club gigs and festivals there’s plenty of other stuff going on, here’s details of a few..
1. A bunch of releases coming out on my 2 labels (THEORY and HARDGROOVE), featuring a variety of artists including REEKO, DJT1000, TIM BAKER, MESUMA, LIGHTER THIEF, SISCO DUX, DJ NUKE and myself, some are new tracks, some old and a few that were previously only available on digital that I wanted to get out on vinyl.
I’ve recently finally launched my label’s digitally and will be slowly releasing more of the back catalogue too.
2. I’ve just started work on my debut album which has been a long time coming, after various false starts over the years I’m now ready to do something more ambitious and hopefully it’ll see the light of day this time, I’m aiming for the album to cover all the styles I’m into and not just be my typical sound.
3. I’m just about to start a new monthly radio show/podcast which I’m currently compiling music and samples for; it’ll be a mix up of hard grooves, machine funk, house etc and will be syndicated on various stations and web radio. It’s likely be called ‘Funk You!’.
4. TONY ANDERSON and myself have just done our august edition of the ESSEX RASCALS ‘WAY BACK WEDNESDAY SHOW’ on deepfrequency.com, a monthly journey thru disco, soul, funk and more, you can check it here:
5. PAUL MAC and myself have started preparations for our forthcoming KILLA PRODUCTIONS mix CD, provisionally titled ‘Blood Bodies Murder’
How does the UK club scene compare to the rest of Europe and further afield for the harder techno sound that you are known for? Are there any stand out nights you recommend other than Fabric of course?
Admittedly the UK has never been the place I play most since I really got on the international techno circuit in the late 90’s, I’ve definitely got a hardcore following over here but it’s not as big as in Spain or Holland for example, I’d say that’s more to do with exposure at festivals etc than the actual style I play though.
There just aren’t the huge events here that embrace techno or give DJs the platform to do their thing, playing parties like MONEGROS or I LOVE TECHNO or AWAKENINGS or SONAR etc just has a knock on effect if you play well and sadly there just aren’t those kind of events in the UK for DJs to shine and build a bigger following.
Saying that the UK is still one of my favourite places to play as the crowd can be surprisingly open minded and often older than in some countries so you can play more of a mixed up set rather than just bang the arse out of it. Aside from FABRIC and doing my own occasional parties in London I really enjoy ATOMIC JAM in Birmingham, COLOUR in Manchester, DETACHED in Leeds was fun recently too, also up in Scotland PRESSURE in Glasgow and JACKHAMMER in Edinburgh are always a pleasure to play at.
To celebrate the occasion also here’s a recent mix of Sim's to whet your appetite for the 28th of August...