Jenna Roberts, London - United Kingdom - on 2/7/12
You've seen him in an illegal warehouse in the 90's, you've seen him at The End. You’ve seen him in Ibiza and you've seen him Shake It at London's hottest parties. Just Be is Matthew 'Bushwacka' Benjamin's dancefloor orientated solo project, that is carefully crafted for the collective. An integral part of the British dance music scene for over 20 years, Matthew discusses going it alone, The Roots of acid house, the pitfalls of commercial success and drops us an exclusive podcast, which you can download & listen to here Pulse Radio Podcast 082: Just Be.
Do you wanna start by telling us a little bit about the Just Be project…the ideas behind it? I’ve been recording for a long time with the same name, the same identity, the same everything. I’ve watched the scene develop a lot over the years and I felt like I needed to do something with a different identity and that I wanted to do this project under a different name. Initially I was just going to put stuff out and not really say anything about it…not highlight that it was actually attached to myself. I spoke to my best friend in Ibiza, told him the whole game plan, how I wanted to get involved with other labels, and that I wanted him to have a good long think about what a suitable alter ego could be. I wanted it to be 2 syllables, something nice and simple and he said to me, why do I have to think about it for a long time – I already know what it is…”Just be” …and I said “That’s it”! So the name came from a friend which I am very grateful for and but the rest is down to me.
How would you describe the Just Be sound? Well, there are a few things going on at the same time because I feel that I am quite eclectic as a producer. What I’ve been working towards with this project is writing music that I am going to play out and that other people are going to play, that fits in to different brackets. It’s all kind of housey and a bit techy. It’s not re-inventing the wheel, but I’m adapting to the things that I’m hearing that I like to play, and kind of going with that but giving it my own twist. Somebody once said to me a long time ago, when you are a musician and you write music, it’s very hard not to sound like yourself. I’m not trying to sound like anyone else, but what I am trying to do is to make music that works for people’s collective, for people’s labels, that fits in with the bracket of what they are doing. The stuff I’m writing, the stuff I’m recording, and the stuff I’m listening to from these people is music that I like, so that is the direction of where it is going. It’s not just one particular sound; it’s all just on the dancefloor dance music. Some of it is deeper, some of it is a bit more tribal, some of its a bit more techno.... it’s all for those moments on the dance floor.
Where have you been working on the productions? Interestingly, that is all about to change over the summer. I’ve had an amazing recording studio that is very close to my house for the last thirteen years, which is a fantastic space - air-conditioned, sound proofed, designed by a really good acoustic designer. I’ve got a really good quality sound in there. Unfortunately, I am having to say goodbye to that studio in the middle of the summer and I’m going to move a smaller set-up back to where I live now. Next summer, I’m going to move and build a new studio, and in the interim period, I am going to be touring with Layo with our new album. I’ll be very sad to move out of the place I’m currently at, all my records are there, and I’ve been in there for a very long time. It’s not a commercial studio, it’s personal to me but I unfortunately do not own the premises, but my goal is to have a place that I do own.
In terms of the production techniques, do you use anything for Just Be that you might not use with the Layo and Bushwacka stuff? It’s a transitionary period at the moment. We’ve been writing an album for the whole of last year, from when we finished touring South America last March up until now, which is now finished. At the same time, I was writing all of the new Just Be stuff. We kept the projects very separate. I didn’t play any of the stuff to Layo, he didn’t want to hear it because he didn’t want it to influence what we were doing. But a lot of it was just ideas and getting ideas down. In terms of equipment, am I using equipment separately? Not really. But there are some analogue toys that are new to me that have started to creep into my set up. I got rid of a load of stuff at the end of last year and at the end of the year before, because it was stuff that I just wasn’t using anymore, and it was just gathering dust. That was a really strange process, because I have only ever bought stuff, I’ve never sold anything. The first thing that went was this great big synthesiser called an Alesis Andromeda that I hadn’t turned on for a long time, but as soon as someone wanted to buy it and came along to pick it up, I was convinced that it was the best thing, and sounded better than anything else (laughs). For me, I don’t care where the sounds come from, what their origin is, all I care about is the end product, and how that sounds.
Tell us a bit about your relationship with Safehouse Management.... Lynn Cosgrove has been a friend of mine for a very long time, basically since I started Djing and since the whole scene began back in the day. She actually used to be my agent when she was running a company called FXTC. She’s a very inspirational woman, and we’ve always got on like a house on fire. Anyway, back last year, we had been talking a lot about what I was going to be getting up to in the future, and then at the beginning of this year when I had finished touring South America, I wrote to her and told her exactly what my game plan was, and she said we should talk. Safehouse in my experience so far, is fantastic. It’s a great team of people, all doing their individual jobs very well. It’s a family affair but a much respected business, and I’m very, very happy there.
Why did you make the decision to do this new wave of Just Be releases, was it always planned this way? I’ve been making a lot of music over the last couple of years, and a combination of a few things happened. One of them was that the Digital Revolution kicked in so heavily that Beatport became absolutely massive, i.e. their database of new tracks coming out, and I was finding that I was writing a track which I knew was tried and tested and working really well on the dancefloor, would come out and get lost in the huge mass of other music being put out there, which was very disheartening. At the same time, what I noted that has changed with the scene is that it is all about collectives at the moment. There are individual artists flowering, but usually within these collectives. There aren’t really individual artists that are flowering outside of collectives. Olmeto, myself and Layo, our label, is an extension of us. It’s a label that puts out our music and our music only and always has been. We weren’t doing that because we didn’t want to be part of a collective...When it was End Recordings, there were a lot of people on that, but that was a long time ago. It was basically because, along with touring, writing albums, producing, remixing, putting on nights, and Layo running The End, also running a label with lots of other artists on it and looking after them and their goals, was too much to take on, and a lot of hassle because there were lots of people that were under the preconception that they would make a lot of money from underground house music. So that whole thing was too much, so we thought, let’s just keep it as our own label to put our own music out, and that was a great beginning. But then for me, wanting to go off and do some solo stuff, putting it out myself seemed like a ridiculous idea, so I started writing a lot of music and sending it out to people who I respect and want to work with, and so far the response has been fantastic. Releases signed, sealed and delivered on Get Physical, Maison D’etre, Plus 8 and Intec Digital.
Can you imagine any of the Just Be tracks ever making it to the commercial Top 40, a la Lovestory? What would your reaction be if that happened? Well I think you only have to sell about 1,500 copies of a track to get into the Top 40 now. There’s about 55 million people living in this country so that’s no big deal. Well let’s just say a Top 10 hit..... [Laughs] It would be an accident like Lovestory was....well almost. On the one hand, it would get a much bigger audience knowing the name and knowing who I was, and on the other hand it would turn lots of people who know the name and know who I was against the project because they would think that it had sold out and gone commercial. It’s a funny thing with these things when they happen, because some people love it and some people think you’ve sold out, but what is the definition of underground these days? Even a lot of underground is quite commercial. However, going back to the question, I don’t think we need to worry about that for the moment, because I can’t see that happening [laughs].
So, do you think that commercial success affects an artist’s credibility? Someone like David Guetta who has churned out lots of commercial dance tracks, and from what I can gather most are collaborations with people who are very famous already; it’s affected him in a good way – he’s a producer and he likes the music that he produces. Those are the people he wants to work with and it has enhanced his demand as a performer, that’s great. I think that if somebody who is known as being a trendy, cool, credible guy writes a track....let’s say Jamie Jones...if one of the vocal remixes that he is working on goes into the charts, I don’t think that is going to affect him in a massively negative way. If he churned out another ten that ended up in the charts then everybody would think that he’s sold out, but then he would be getting into a different area of his musical career.
How’s everything going with ‘Shake It’? Layo and I are very much concentrating on promoting our album this year, and touring our album, which is due for release around September, with singles coming before, during and after, so we are going to do a couple of club dates to promote the album, and the artists that have been remixing for that. We are not planning on doing anymore warehouses until after the summer.
The warehouse parties that you have done with Shake It have obviously all been licensed venues, do you ever miss the drama of the illegal parties that you used to be involved with? I’ve been involved with them since day one and the difference then and now, apart from it being new, fresh and exciting and the drugs being really good back then, was that people would pay some dodgy squatter fifty quid to turn up with a set of bolt cutters to cut the padlock of a warehouse, wire up the generator for the electricity and then charge people to get in, sell them drinks and keep all the money; Now putting a party on costs a fortune. You’ve got to rent equipment, pay for the venue, pay for all these extra things. It’s got to be registered and legit and taxed and all sorts. They are still good fun and I prefer a lot of them to clubs, especially in London at the moment. There’s an awful lot of work to put them on. But do I miss the old days? I love doing what I do now, and I think the only way I could ever recreate the old days is not to have the 20 plus years of experience that I’ve already got.
When the Tories came back into power, there were a lot of people saying that there might be another 89-esque Summer of Love, what do you think about that? Do you think it would ever be possible? I live a very different life now to the life that I lived for a very long time. Music is my drug. I live a very grounded and healthy life and am really enjoying every minute of it. But I’m not going to be in anyway hesitant to say that if they wanted another Summer of Love to happen then there would have to a bit more of a catastrophe proceeding it, in terms of a bigger mess that London could be in. I can only refer to London, I can’t refer to the rest of the country. Plus there would have to be some seriously wicked pills because at the end of the day, you couldn’t escape that feeling back then, and it didn’t come from going down the pub and having a couple of pints, that’s for sure. So yeah, if someone had flooded the country with some seriously wicked pills then there could have been another Summer of Love.
Your new parties, ‘The Roots’ aim to revive some of the Acid House memories, they must be a lot of fun for you? So much fun! We’ve done three so far on Thursday’s monthly, and now I’ve decided to do a couple over the summer on Sundays - all dayers, depending on getting the right license. The reason for that is not because we weren’t enjoying the parties, but because so many people who really wanted to come, couldn’t come because it was a school night. So that, combined with my tour schedule, have made us decide to do a couple over the summer on a day when more people can come. They have been absolutely amazing. All the music was just fantastic to hear from everybody, and also to play ourselves. Lovely people, amazing atmosphere and a ton of fun - A beautiful celebration of the music that has influenced everybody to this day.
Who have you got lined up? Well, now that we have changed the date, we’ve kind of changed the ideas. We’ve already had Mr C, Eddie Richards and Colin Dale which was wonderful, and there’s a whole group of people in the pipeline but I don’t want to mention them until I know the dates.
Do you think that it is important for today’s clubbers to be aware of the history of the music they’re dancing to? I don’t think it’s essential for them to be aware of it. I think the big difference is, is that when I was at school, not only was I not hearing house music, but I didn’t have a big brother, aunty, uncle who had been listening to it for the past 10 or 20 years of their life, so I hadn’t been brought up with people, friends or family, above me that had already had that music and that sound going on. These days the sound already exists, it’s everywhere. House music itself, if kids are hearing that now, they would have been hearing it since they were born. It’s not new in that same way. I think it’s interesting to know the history. It was fascinating doing The Roots, with the younger crowds who were coming to Basing House, some had read about it but some had just come in off the streets, looking for somewhere to go that night, and were really amazed by the music and the sound. They hadn’t heard those tunes before. Equally there were some of them there just dancing and having a good time and wouldn’t have known the difference between those tunes and those that were made last week. So, I don’t think it’s essential for people to be aware of the history of it, but it’s quite nice for them to have a bit of knowledge around it.
What’s the biggest influence on the Just Be sound – past, present or future? Future.
And what is the future for Matthew Benjamin? (Pause) That’s an interesting question.......I’m not saying that I live each day as though it’s my last day on earth, but I do know that if I keep doing all the things that I’m doing now, with the same energy, the same positivity, the same zest, then the future is very, very bright.
Pulse Radio podcast: Just Be Tracklist
1. Chicago Sunrise - Mark Hemming
2. Everless - Everless & Me
3. Love Handles - Fur Coat Remix
4. You're not Welcome - Walther and Royce
5. Dirty Channels & Bugsy Featuring Amina - Alone
6. A declaration of Beats
7. Chicago Sunrise (Reprise) - Mark Hemming
8. Dancing In The Dark - Guy Gerber and Tennis Remix - Layo and Bushwacka!
9. MArtin Dawson & Jay Shephard - Cut a Hole
10. Pedro Mercado & Karada - Dia
11. Just Be - Second Base
12. Just Be - Troubled Soul
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