Mr Benn can’t argue with a dub bassline
Mr Benn is a Bristol-based reggae, dancehall, soca producer who has released one of the best new albums of 2013, Shake a Leg. Somethingyousaid.com’s 25ThC finds out a bit more about him, the album and the Bristol scene:
Congratulations on a superb album. It’s getting a lot of play in my headphones and decks. Every track is a collaboration – is this why it took four years to complete? What are the pros and cons of such collabs?
Thanks a lot – I’m really pleased with it. The number of collabs was certainly a contributing factor to the amount of time it took (plus I’ve also got married and had a baby in that time!), and I didn’t initially set out to make an album. I was making tracks to release as singles, but after a while, I decided rather than trickle them out over time I would rather hold them back and release everything together in one big package like, “here it is – BANG!”
It’s interesting and inspiring to work with lots of different vocalists as I never know where a track is gonna go – often I will make massive changes to a track after the vocal is recorded too. But as mentioned, the time it all adds is a bit of a drawback. The ease of modern communication has made it possible for me to collaborate with artists all over the world from the comfort of my own home which is amazing.
I’m a big fan of Tenor Fly and the Ragga Twins who both appear on the album. How did you go about collaborating with them? Did they come to your studio to record or did you send beats out to them?
I’m also a big fan of them too so it was a real honour to work with them. I contacted The Ragga Twins through Myspace (which dates our initial contact!), and they got back and said they were up for it which I was thrilled about, having spent many of my early teenage years riding about on my bike listening to ‘Reggae Owes Me Money’ on my headphones. I went up to London for the day to record them in a studio they had arranged – they were really chilled and easy to work with, real nice guys, and really quick – watching them record was amazing, I think they’ve definitely got that twin telepathy thing going on!
With Tenor Fly, a friend of mine gave me his contact and I phoned him up, we chatted, struck a deal, he liked the track I sent him and recorded the vocals in a few days and sent them back to me – again, he’d been a massive influence on me, having first discovered him on the Congo Natty album that came out in about ’95. He’s got such a powerful and distinctive voice, I’d always had him in mind for the tune when I made it, but never quite believed I’d be able to get him on it.
Who do you have plans to work with in the future and who would you most like to collaborate with?
I’m currently working on an EP with Eva Lazarus who also features on the album – she’s also based in Bristol so it’s really nice that we can spend more time in the studio together developing ideas. I’ve also got a riddim selection coming out next year on Nice Up! which is a remake of the tune ‘Stars’ by Cornell Campbell which I’m really excited about.
There’s a whole host of people I’d like to collaborate with – Cutty Ranks, Horace Andy, Biz Markie, Stylo G, Mystro, Ms Dynamite to name few!
What is your current studio set-up and what is your favourite piece of hardware/software?
Basically I pretty much do it all in Logic – I bring musicians in to record, but I don’t use any outboard synths or anything. When I started out making beats I had an Akai S2000 sampler which was the core of everything, but I stopped using that many years ago! I also have a nice telecaster for recording chops and picked lines and a drawer full of random percussion bits and pieces which always come in handy. I’d have to say my favourite bit of software is the bass plug in Trillian which is simply amazing for creating any bass sound you want from live double bass to twisted analogue synth bass – it’s all in there.
The album artwork is superb and looks great on the vinyl. Who did the artwork and how did that come about?
The artwork is by a guy called David Cox who is a massive Reggae and Dub fan – he makes loads of beautiful work based on the music he loves. I’ve known him for many years as he’s a friend of my parents, and we have collaborated on projects in the past. When I decided to make an album, one of the first things I thought was that I would like him to do the artwork, so when he said he was up for it I was over the moon. As for the piece he came up with, it was even better than I could ever have imagined! The detail and skill in the piece are amazing – the original piece is actually about 18 inches in diameter, and now hangs on the wall in my studio.
The album encompasses reggae, dancehall, soca and hip hop. Who were your main influences when you were growing up and who is your favourite artist?
I listened to all sorts of stuff, but loads of Hip Hop, Funk, Jungle and everything in between. I’d say my main influences growing up were Congo Natty, De La Soul, Public Enemy and Aswad, but coming from a musical family (my dad is a musician), I was exposed to all kinds of Jazz and World Music too. I also played bass guitar and could also be found rocking out to Rage Against The Machine and Primus! I remember seeing Gil Scott Heron at a festival when I was about 14 and his bass player did an incredible solo which made me think “I wanna be doing that!”.
Which artists are you currently listening to that we should check out?
Jus Now, Blend Mishkin, Wrongtom, King Yoof and Jstar are all doing wicked things right now
Reggae, dub and dancehall are having something of a renaissance in the UK and globally at the moment. Why do you think this is and why are these genres so long lasting when others come and go?
It’s the original soundsystem music and will never die – It’s the foundation of all modern club music, but you don’t have to listen to it in a club – you can’t argue with a dub bassline (I tried once and ended up in hospital).
You are based in Bristol and having lived there I know firsthand that it has always had an excellent music scene. How big is the reggae/dancehall scene now and which clubs/promoters are supporting it?
I think the scene here right now is stronger than ever, there’s loads of reggaecentric nights that all run side-by-side in perfect harmony as they all focus on different specific areas whether its bashment and dancehall or steppers, ska and Soca. A few worth mentioning are Ruffneck Diskotek, Tokyo Dub, Teachings in Dub, Subloaded, DRB, Karnival, Strictly Steppas, For The Love Of Dub, all of which are run with passion and dedication by forward thinking promoters and DJs who simply love the music.
What tips do you have for any aspiring producers/DJs?
Find your niche and don’t try and just make whatever you think is popular at the moment – it’s cool to be inspired and influenced by current trends, but don’t just copy what everyone else is doing, cos everyone else is already doing that.