Dubspot Interview: Rinse FM’s Oneman (502 Recordings) & Ben UFO (Hessle Audio)

[Photo by Megan Jolly.]

Dubspot sat down with the influential taste-makers Ben UFO and Oneman for an interview ahead of their celebrated DJ sets at the recent TURRBOTAX® party in Brooklyn. Through hosting shows on the renowned Rinse FM radio station, running well respected labels, and paying close attention to the artform of DJing, the two have found themselves at the forefront of British dance music. Ben UFO co-founded and manages Hessle Audio alongside Pangaea and Pearson Sound, and Oneman recently started 502 Recordings. Both labels deliver an array of sounds from established artists as well as those on the come up. Although the two are ambivalent about the term UK bass music, they’ve done a lot to steer the direction of music that falls within that category. Tracks released on Hessle are immediately embraced by fans all across the world, and support for a song by Oneman is a widely sought after mark of approval. Neither produce and instead focus their energies on DJing, bringing to the table top shelf mixing abilities and an eclectic interest in music that defies genre boundaries, as evidenced by their sets here in New York. Below, they discuss how they pick out tunes, the importance of sound quality, the role of the DJ, pirate radio, and the impact of technology.

As radio DJs and label owners, what grabs you about a track when you first hear it?

Ben UFO – It’s quite difficult to put it into words. You can normally tell within a few bars whether or not someone’s grabbed your attention enough to make you want to listen all the way through.

Oneman – I get that, and then also if you feel like you want to listen to it again, or if you’ve repeatedly listened to it for four or five plays to hear those bits you missed when you started, that’s when you know they’ve taken time on their production.

Do you ever come across tracks that you don’t like the first time, but then hear again and change your mind?

O – I’ve definitely had that happen. Most recently with that SBTRKT tune, “Wildfire“. I remember hearing that and thinking, ‘There’s not much for me here,’ and then the more I listened the more I appreciated it.

B – I often find it happens when I hear a DJ I really rate play a tune – like they might mix it in a way that catches my attention. I always respect the DJs who can make you value stuff you’ve already heard.

What other non-musical sounds do you use in your sets? When you DJ do you just play the tunes, or do you put stuff in there?

O – In a club or on the radio I don’t, but the more you do mixtapes, the more you want to be creative with it, and it’s cool to add say these textural sounds. Stuff that can kick it off and give it that draw. You can create your own thing, it gives it a certain identity.

B – I don’t really do so much of that. But I definitely have that propensity to go in there and edit stuff once I’ve recorded it. But when the mix is over, I try and leave it alone as much as possible. I know that as someone who doesn’t produce, it’s not really my area of expertise.

How do your studio mixes differ in other respects?

B – With a studio mix, I know that people will be listening to it repeatedly if it’s good. So I’ll try and offer something distinct. Sometimes, for example, I’ll use old jungle tunes that I listened to as a kid. Or doing it in the style of a night that’s now dead or like a DJ that I used to respect.

O – I like that idea. Of putting yourself in the shoes of where you were before.

Do you listen to music that you might not play in the club?

O – I try and work as much of that into a set as I can. So part of my set will be 90 or 110 BPM because there are tracks that I want to play. There’s not too much music I listen to at home that I wouldn’t play out except maybe some jazz compilations and stuff.

B – Serato makes it much easier to mix stuff in that you normally wouldn’t.

O – Yeah, before Serato I never would have played something like the “Quiet Storm” instrumental in a mix or in a club. Serato has changed the DJ for the better I think. It’s good to surprise people like that because we’re DJs, we don’t produce, so we can’t wow people with our productions. We have to wow them with our selection or mixing and how we put everything together.

[Music: The newest 502 release: Teeth - "Shawty" and "Shawty (FaltyDL Remix)". Photo by Megan Jolly.]

How long have you been DJing?

O – About ten years.

B – Since I was 17 – so 8 years.

What tools did you start with?

O – I started with a hifi and a tape recorder. We’d make tapes and play them to each other at a point when we started getting cars in about 2001-02. Napster was just coming out. We were still recording onto tape in about 2003-04. Then we started using audio recording software, and then we started using Serato.

Can you talk about the different roles of the DJ, like as artists themselves versus introducing people to new music?

B – They’re linked I think. I don’t think you can separate the art of DJing from the music we’re playing. It all goes hand in hand. It’s about the experience of the person on the floor, the person that’s listening. The way I approach a set is by thinking about the music I want to present to people and how I want to present it.

O – And you hope that the people want that experience. That they want to hear what you want to play. That they are coming to see you DJ because they like your taste in music and don’t want to give requests all night long. They just want to hear what you want to play.

B – It’s nice when they want that, but it’s also nice when you feel like you’ve made them feel a certain way. That their perception has moved along with you.

How do you balance the push and pull of what the crowd wants and what you want to play?

O – I never worry about that sort of thing. Say 50 percent of the crowd knows what I’m doing and the other half just want to hear the new stuff. Sorry, but I’m here to do what I want to do and play what I want to hear that night whether it’s new or old. It depends on what mood I’m in. Anything can affect what I want to play.

B – I think it’s easy for us to an extent because our reputation is as DJs who go against the grain a little bit. So a lot of the people who come to see us know that we’ve made our ends by doing something slightly different.

O – I don’t bow myself to trying to create that balance. It’s important, but it comes with DJing. It’s natural.

How do you think the concept of DJing has changed over the past few years?

O – It seems that there’s more producers who find it hard to sell records because of the market, and the best way they can make money is by performance, so they’ll DJ or do a live set. So the roots DJ has been kind of pushed out because the demand is really in seeing someone who’s made something and been played on the radio and they know who it is and what the track sounds like. So they can go and watch this person do it, rather than where it used to be that you’d give a DJ a track you’ve produced and he’d decide whether he wanted to play it or not. And then the crowd would use the DJ as the point of call. You’d have to have mixing abilities, a set of turntables, vinyl or dubplates. You couldn’t be a producer and a DJ because it was too expensive.

B – The price has reversed a bit. You make a big tune and then you go out and play it and that’s how you make your money. It used to be in like disco or house, the DJ would come first. And then maybe you’d delve into production by doing your own edits to have exclusively. Then you might generate a production career on the back of that.

Is there a conflict of interest there?

O – In a way. But really a producer isn’t going to make money from selling records. It’s as simple as that. So it’s a necessity now because DJing is your main source of income.

B – If you want to throw yourself into production full time, it’s almost impossible to do that without performing in some way.

[Music: Addison Groove - "Fuck the 101", from Hessle's recent 116 and Rising. Photo by Megan Jolly.]

After seeing the success of producers DJing, does that give you the urge to make your own stuff?

O – I’ve thought about it, but I never thought I’d get further by doing it. But I still enjoy DJing a lot. I’ve flirted with production in the past, and it always comes back around to DJing again. I always get back on the decks and spend five hours mixing rather than two hours on a track.

B – Same with me really. It just hasn’t happened naturally and now it’s gotten to the point where in order to keep doing the thing I love, I’d have to change my attention. I’ve become known as this guy who finds records that no one else has heard. There’s only so much time in the day really.

O – Even without producing I still get really tired.

How important was pirate radio to you for discovering new sounds when growing up in London?

O – It’s the main reason I’m sitting here today. But it doesn’t play as important a role anymore unfortunately. Internet radio has kicked off, and stations like Rinse you can listen to on your smart phone walking down the street. It’s great. We don’t need pirate radio anymore. But it’s a romantic thing. Nostalgic. We miss it and wish we could have it again.

B – I don’t have that nostalgia, because I grew up in a different part of London. I grew up in West London and the pirates there were very different. It was all broken beat and reggae. So it doesn’t mean as much to me. But I still get misty eyed about tuning the dial in my dad’s car. You’d skim the FM and get a whole cross section of London on that one frequency and that’s not there anymore.

Were the majority of artists played on pirate radio from London?

O – Yeah, I think so. Each station had its own little pocket. Like Rinse was big for Dizzy Rascal and Wiley and the early grime sound. Delight FM in South London had So Solid Crew and a lot of other crews you’d never of heard of but that were really important to the birth of grime music. They had their own areas where people would listen to their stuff. Like, if you were from South London, you’d listen to Delight FM. From East, you’re Rinse. From North, you’re Mission FM. From West, you’re…

BShakes his head, declines to chime in.

O – You always had your station and had people trading tapes.

B – I think the real change now that you’re starting to see is like on YouTube you have the whole world listening. But if you did pirate radio sets you’d get instant feedback and know whether you were doing a good job or not because people would call up. Or your friends would tell you. Or people would be trading your tapes. But now you stick something up there and it kind of disappears. Or you get feedback from 12-year-old boys on the internet.

[Photo by Megan Jolly.]

Why does London seems to be in a constant renaissance with club music?

O – James Blake sold out the Williamsburg Music Hall and he’s been here three times in the past two months by appealing to the indy side rather than the clubby side. That really shows the music’s influence on a huge scale now. Maybe not as big as hip hop from the States, but on an indie level you definitely hear the rhythms and stuff making an impact.

Where do you see the evolution of all this going?

O – I’m a strong believer of the present is the present and the future holds what the future holds. But I’ve never been good at predicting what’s next. Or getting it right.

B – I’m definitely waiting for what’s coming next. There will be something new soon.

O – And it will be great. And it might be from London, and it might not be. With the internet, it might be from anywhere.

How important is production quality in what you play, and how important is sound quality when it comes to new artists?

B – I’m always just waiting to hear the ideas really. Especially when checking for tunes at my house. When a producer has enough skills to communicate an interesting idea, then that’s enough for me. If I’m really desperate to play that tune out, there’s things I can do. I can take a tune and have it cut to dub. I can have a mastering engineer work with it. I can try and give rudimentary feedback. I’ve got very good monitors at my house so I can give vague mixdown feedback. So it’s not hugely important as long as the ideas are there.

O – I agree. It’s more about the ideas. But production quality is important – like if someone’s got a good idea and it’s badly put across, you won’t play it out. But if it all gels together, there’s definitely things you can do for it. A lot of the releases that we’ve done at the label that I’m most attached to, the producers sent material at a standard that I couldn’t release. But I continued talking to those people and started becoming friends with them and worked very gradually towards doing a release.

Do you urge them along to improve on that front?

O – I definitely do that with my artists. I talk to everyone I’ve signed about what I’d like them to do. I always look at like MoTown and the Hit Factory. They’d always sit down together and plan shit out and write stuff and create a sound. Rather than having all these individual producers doing stuff and releasing it on one label, they’d be like, ‘We’re a label together, we’re working with each other.’ Personally, I’m really into the idea of the artists purely releasing on one label and then working together. I’d really be upset if any of my artists decided to release on other labels while still releasing with me. We’re doing this thing – we’re a family. It’s important creating a vibe and a camp that can take over the world!

  • c-sick
  • 7/7/2011

good shit

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