Thursday, February 28, 2008

Benga Interview

..look at the bass face on yer man in the back

Mark Gurney:
You were quite young when you started producing?
Benga: 12 -13, at the time I was playing football, but I was always in music. When I was in primary school I would get this little tape recorder, I stole it from school as it goes, (Laughs) a little white thing, and you could record things, so I’d stop it and record something else and create a dodgy mix.

M: Like a stop tape mix
B: Yeah, I always wanted to do something with DJing and I begged my mum for decks for ages, but she wouldn’t get them. I had this friend, anything I wanted he’d get, he had rich parents. It’s not like my parents aren’t well off and that, but they just didn’t believe in buying anything that would disrupt my education, so I used to go round his house and mix and I learnt within two weeks, or something stupid like that. I went to Big Apple (Croydon Record Shop – now closed) and was buying records from there even though I didn’t have decks. And they said to me “Hey, you’re too young to be buying records, your wasting your money pal” and I was like, “I bet I can mix better than you.” They were like, “c’mon then”, so I clashed Hatcha (much laughter). John Kennedy, the owner of the shop at the time, gave me sponsorship, so I didn’t have to pay for any of my records after that.

M: What inspired you to start making tunes?
B: Hatcha had so many tunes I couldn’t get, and that pissed me off. So the only way to get tunes like that was to make them myself, Hatcha was getting tunes off El-B and that and them tunes were banging. And I tried to imitate it, but where my sound wasn’t strong enough, me and Skream, we were both trying to do the same thing; we came with some next level on it. We had Artwork saying no, you don’t wanna go down that route, just keep doing what you’re doing. You’re going somewhere else. So we carried on building and are making what we make today.

Going back to that vital decision you had to make between Arsenal Youth Team and Music, how easy was that choice?
B: How does everyone know about Arsenal? My brothers at that time they was mad, saying things like “You gotta stop doing one, music or football”, and my older brother would train me at football, but sometimes I wouldn’t come out. And he would say “I’m not gonna waste my time trying to train you up” so I picked music, coz I felt it more, I enjoyed it more. I could sit for days and days making music.

M: So you’re a lazy arse?
B: Yeah, (laughter) but I scored some wonderful goals back then.

Obviously people want to know about 'Night'…how did you end up collaborating with Coki?
B: It was our third tune. We made ‘World War 7’ together, another tune called ‘Full Throttle’. They were mediocre. I’m not saying they were shit, but average tunes. We kept coming up with melodies and riffs, but kept turning them down; it’s weird how the simplest thing worked so well. I came up with some mad oscillator to pitch, some mad route to make it do that mad pitch thing, and then we came up with the riff, basically we used a bit of science, a bit of Coki science head. I think it was the fact we knew we wanted to come up with something different, so we sat there until we did.

M: On your new album you seen to be experimenting with melody a lot more, especially Zero M2 and Loose Synths. It’s sounds you were really going for it...
B: That’s the thing though, it’s not like I just begun to experiment. It’s more I’ve learnt a lot when I was making a lot of pop and house music, but I turn it on and off. It’s knowing how to use it in dubstep.

M: Lets get into the album in a bit more depth. ‘Emotions’ is such a powerful track. How did that come about, was it a mood you were in that day, a vibe, or just grew from a simple chord structure?
B: I think I wrote ‘Emotions’ the same time me and Coki wrote ‘Night’. It was one of them tunes where I was moving so quickly, like, in two months I wrote 50 songs. So if I wrote something like ‘Night’, I would turn around and write something completely different, which would produce ‘Emotions’. And the next night I would write ‘Go Tell Them’. I kept on switching it up, bang bang! That was the beauty of writing so much and so quickly.

M: It sounds like you writing is instinctual...?
B: Yeah, rather than trying to sit there and think of what to make next.

M: Is the house tempo of ‘Someone 20’ a statement of your other musical tastes or just a evolution of your sound? It’s almost saying dubstep doesn’t have to be 140 bpm and banging.
B: Exactly, It’s more about when people sit down to write dubstep, they think they have to make clubs tunes. I know it’s hard to get dancefloor and be creative; it doesn’t always go hand in hand. If you try and mess around with the beats too much you can get lost and it doesn’t sound right. It’s a weird one; some of the tunes I created for that purpose, with mad beats structures didn’t make it onto the album. But, me sitting down writing them, is helping me find ways of incorporating that into my dancefloor stuff.

Do you listen to any old music at all?
B: Now and then. I not really the kind of sit down and listen to a certain type of music person. I just listen to whatever’s around. I remember Arthur (Artwork) went out and bought me a bunch of CD’s, there was loads of old stuff. He bought me Chic, Stevie Wonder and loads of other old school thing and it took me two weeks to listen to everything, listening to what goes into the songs they make. That’s about it really, that’s the only time I’ve listen to whole albums.

M: Yeah, it’s quite interesting, because there are other producers out there who get their influences from old music etc. You seem to draw your influences from within. And the tunes you make somehow tie in with other stuff that’s out there. Which is a mad concept to comprehend. It’s instinctual, organic and natural music…
B: It’s slightly mental you should say that. Arthur used to say that to me. It’s only now that I realise what he was saying. He used to say, “you’re really natural at it. You kinda of listened to music while you were younger and get the influences now”; it all comes out when I’m making music.

M: You have a tight knit friendship with Skream, growing up together. How important is that for you?
B: He is one of the ones who pushes my limits and I think I do the same to him. It’s no competition. It’s more the fact that I make a tune that’s big and he’ll want to make a tune better than that. And it just grows and grows, and our production gets better. It’s only healthy for us. So, not only has it helped in that way, but also kept me focused.

M: Are you addicted to BAPE trainers?
B: (Laughs) Badly, badly.

M: How many pairs do you have?
B: It’s really hard for me to count. Because I keep this wardrobe of just trainers, the fresh one stay in the wardrobe and other ones go under my bed.

M: Do you still wear the ones under your bed?
B: Yeah, I try and match my trainers with my top (Benga is wearing a deep purple polo shirt with matching BAPE colourways) I’ve been ringing up BAPE every day this week because they have four new pairs out and I’m gonna buy every single one of them. And some BAPE’s are £160, and some days I’ll go in an spend £700 on 4 pairs of trainers.

M: Why Bape?
B: They are exclusive, you only get one pair, in your size, in Europe. You’d never come across the same person wearing the same ones. Plus, they’re bright and colourful. People always Looked me up and down, the hair first, trainers second (laughs).

M: Are they not giving you any free yet?
B: Nah, but we’re working on an endorsement at the moment. (grins)

M: Are you still kicking ball?
B: Not at that level, I had my moments. But Power League is one of the things for me, coz I’ve never lost my close control and my finishing ability, I used to score some stupid goals. I used to score from the corner flags, things way before my time. My manager used to say, you shouldn’t be finishing goals like that at your age. All the boys who I used to play with as a boy, are still playing. We killed division one in a Nationwide tournament recently. I played for Whitely for a while, semi-pro, but I started going away too much and couldn’t make commitments.

M: Plus it keeps you fit.
B: I need to bruv, have you seen this belly? It’s not a good look. I ran twice yesterday, once at 1am and once at 6am.

'Diary of an Afro Warrior' is out on Tempa in March.

For more info check or

Words: Mark Gurney

:) Many thanks to Markie at 3 Bar Fire

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