Actually really, really nice
“Pleasure Principle (Gabriel Szatan): I’m here with Ben UFO – hello, how you doing?
Ben UFO: I’m very good, thank you.
GS: While on your US tour last year – which you ended up accidently headlining because Joy Orbison couldn’t make it – did you find it difficult purchasing alcohol?
UFO: Not any more difficult, actually, than I find buying alcohol in the UK given that I look probably about 17 anyway, so I always carry ID with me [laughs]
GS: That aside, how was it?
UFO: It was really good. It was a shame that Pete couldn’t make it; there were three dates that we were supposed to be doing together, and I was doing a couple by myself on top of that. In the end, it actually worked fine – I thought it would have a really big impact on the turnout at the clubs, and the vibe in those clubs as well, but in actual fact all the gigs went really well. The people were lovely, and seemed to be up for travelling from a long away as well, which was a nice surprise. I had a great time.
GS: Do you think your predilection for drumming that you had as a child has been the core reason behind the supremely percussive approach you take both as a selector and a record label runner?
UFO: That’s funny, where did you hear that I had a predilection for drumming?
GS: Must have been a FACT interview a few years back? Possibly on Sonic Router, the first one you did for them?
UFO: That’s funny… I played drums for several years – though I don’t talk about that very often – but yeah, I’ve always been drawn towards interesting rhythms. That’s probably the main thing that draws me to the music that I like, and the thing that turns me away from music I’m not into so much. If I find rhythms too stiff, I find it really, really difficult to listen to, especially music that’s orientated around repetition and groove.
GS: One thing that’s struck me with Hessle Audio is the minimalist titles – actually, did you know that, 116 & Rising excepted, in the past two years the only release of yours that’s had more than two words in it? Can you guess?
UFO: No, you’ll have to tell me.
GS: It’s [Peverelist’s] ‘Dance Til The Police Come’, HES018. Okay, main question is: do you guys request that your artists have single or two word titles just to keep that image up, or is it something that happens naturally?
UFO: [laughs] I am a control freak, but not to that extent. We give all the artists we work with pretty much complete free reign. Obviously we sign the music, but a big part of running a record label for me is feeling like I’m actually working with people. I like the producers that we work with to feel, as much as possible, as though they’re part of process of releasing the records. They wrote the music, they should be able to dictate how it’s presented to people.
GS: On the subject of Hessle, I’ve noticed you’re a fan of Opal Tapes, and you released a superb double-sided mix for The Trilogy Tapes back in 2010 – do you have foresee Hessle doing something outside of vinyl, like a tape release? Or do you have any ambition to do that?
UFO: Certainly not with Hessle Audio. I feel like we have a fairly well-defined identity, and we’ve been running for over five years so I think releasing something like that, which is so context-specific, would be inappropriate for us. I ended up doing The Trilogy Tapes cassette purely because I met Will [Bankhead], got on really well with him, and latched onto the enthusiasm he had for all of his old pirate radio tapes, and his tapes from the noise and hardcore scenes. I think enthusiasm like that is really infectious.
GS: Why do you think we’re seeing a resurgence of dark, bleak, rough, distorted, overblown music? Why do you think that’s coming back into play?
UFO: I think essentially things do come in cycles. The last few years perhaps were dominated by the resurgence of house music and there was a real emphasis on melody. But I guess a good way to stand out if everyone’s moving in that direction is to pull away and do something that’s totally opposed to that. The music that I’ve been hearing recently that has really stood out to me has been, for the most part, in that rough, distorted, quite bleak style that you’re talking about. Yeah, I think I’m always looking for stuff that has its own identity, and at the moment I feel particularly drawn towards that kind of sound.
GS: It’s been about a month since your FabricLive 67 CD came out – how did you find the reaction to it?
UFO: Really good, overwhelmingly positive. It’s a new experience for me doing something that – I’m not used to putting something together in advance and then having to sit on it for months, and having to wait to see peoples reactions to it months later… I’m so used to getting a very immediate reaction from people on dancefloors as I’m mixing at the time. So yeah, it was satisfying to see it go down well but by the time it actually came out, I felt quite removed from it. I think that’s actually been a good thing, it’s allowed me to look at it without prejudice and I feel like I can see it for what it is now. Had I not had that distance from it, I don’t think that would have been possible.
GS: You find yourself rooted more in house and techno now than ever, but it’s not uncommon to see you, especially at festivals, with an MC. Is there any precedent for this, and how do you find the split between the two worlds?
UFO: That’s an interesting one. I do play to a really wide variety of crowds, and some of those crowds have a frame of reference for DJing with MCs, and some don’t. It’s quite rare that I’ll play with an MC in Europe, that really doesn’t happen often, but if I’m playing a UK festival to a predominantly UK crowd who have more often than not grown up around MC culture and UK dance music culture, then it’s more common, and it makes more sense to present it that way. I think the most important thing is just that whoever is MCing is fairly sensitive to the kind of music that’s being played; especially these days, where people tend to bring in a lot of disparate styles. Someone like Chunky is fantastic to DJ with, because you can tell he’s always listening. I don’t need to speak to him at all when I’m DJing – I can play a tune that might have a vocal, or doesn’t require as much of an MC presence, and he’ll just latch on that immediately. But equally whenever there is an opening for him, he’ll just slot straight into that.
GS: Speaking of festivals, you’re of course playing Pleasure Principle, which will be held on a holiday park in Cornwall, but you’re no stranger to huge outdoors events as well. Do you have a preference, and if you do does it come down purely to acoustics?
UFO: [long pause] A while ago, I would have said that I was much more comfortable playing in small club situations, and I would gravitate towards those small rooms with low ceilings and amazing acoustics. But recently, I’ve actually started enjoying playing in all kinds of different spaces; I think I’ve gotten better at adapting to where I am, and possibly maybe better to adapting to different acoustics too. There are certain environments and occasions where the subtleties of more delicate music gets lost, and that is unfortunate, but that’s not to say that playing in those spaces isn’t fun. It’s just something I’ve had to adjust to. Sorry, that’s not really an answer to your question at all is it?
GS: Not to worry. How important is it to maintain an independent mindset in today’s music climate, not strictly in terms of records, but overall?
UFO: What do you mean by an independent mindset?
GS: Well, it’s something I was struck by when I was watching a Theo Parrish interview where he said that he couldn’t trust major record labels, but also that he couldn’t trust other people telling him what to think and what to do. It struck me that he was talking not only about releasing records, but about his entire worldview. Is that something you share?
UFO: Not necessarily, no – you’re probably getting sick of answers like this, but I think it’s a question of balance a lot of the time. There’s obviously room for individualist, genius figures, and people do crave that a lot of the time, but UK dance music has always had a history of big movements that aren’t strongly focussed on individual auteur characters, and I think it’s important to retain that sense of community; I like to feel as though I’m engaged with the people around me who are making music, especially because I don’t produce myself. I think it’s really important that I retain those connections to other people.
GS: Throughout your career, across many platforms, you’ve been seen to adopt a relatively, I guess, studious approach to your art. Could you envision yourself in a Simon Reynolds role one day?
UFO: No, not really. I think from the outside it might look like I’ve adopted a studious approach to music – that’s just my personality I guess. But I’m not a writer and I wouldn’t enjoy making a career out of thrusting my opinions at people. To an extent I feel like I can sort of do that with DJing – I can present my musical worldview to people through the records I play, and I think I find that more satisfying than trying to articulate that same thing via writing. I’m certainly better at it, anyway.
GS: I think the first time I listened to you was a Sub FM set, which I was think was the 2nd Birthday Ruffage Show. It was you, Brackles, Bok Bok, Oneman and Elgato all playing back to back for three or four hours. That was four years ago – do you miss the days where you could pull together a gang like that with relatively minimal effort, and just play freely together?
UFO: I do to an extent. That was a really nice show. It was when I was living at home, in my old bedroom with my parents downstairs. I think it’s actually still relatively easy to pull together people at quite short notice to do stuff like that. To an extent, we’re all doing our things at the moment, so it might not always be appropriate to bring together huge crews like that, but that’s kind of contradicting what I said before about working within a community. I guess one of the big things that really has changed is that we only do two shows a month on Rinse, whereas on Sub FM it was every single week, so I felt like we had a little bit more flexibility then to arrange more one-off shows, guest shows and concept shows…
GS: You did a jungle show as well…
UFO: Yeah, with Untold, and one by myself actually too. I’d like to do that again. We are actually about to go weekly on Rinse – we’re going to shift our timeslot to 9 til 11 every Thursday, so I’m hoping that will be an opportunity to do some fun and interesting things.
GS: Winding up here, I have a story I’ve always wanted to tell you. Back when I was at school, they had an Arts Fair in my last year, and they asked me to make a mix for the fashion show, which had a theme of being in a junkyard or something. I was too lazy to do it, so I sent them your Fabric promo mix, the first one which was published by Sonic Router. I passed it off as my own. Leaving aside the dubious morality of that, I didn’t actually go but the image that’s always stuck with me is of all these parents – Jeremy Clarkson included – sitting and watching their daughters walk around in binbags while [Untold x Tempa T bootleg] ‘Nextaconda’ played in the background. It’s always something that’s amused me. I was just wondering if you had any other really good tales of complete, horrendous misappropriation of your work?
UFO: I wouldn’t call that misappropriation at all, that sounds awesome. [laughs]
GS: Sorry about that! Finally, given the chance would you rather spend the day with Delroy Edwards or Del Boy Trotter?
UFO: Pfffffft, what a question. I’ll go with Delroy Edwards, a slightly more realistic option.
GS: Alright cheers Ben, thank you very much.”
The full transcription of my Ben UFO interview, conducted 16/02/13 on behalf of the Pleasure Principle Weekender. Audio also available on request.