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Interview with Mr. Benn! (Nice Up! Records)

Sound the alarm! Sound the alarm! It’s time to catch up and interview the one and only Mr Benn! The Bristol-based boogie master is fresh from releasing his debut album on Nice Up! Records and is ready to tackle any dance floor that’s laid out in front of him. Being a big fan of his blends, tracks, remixes and mashups I was honoured that the man himself took some time out to discuss his past, present and future plans with me.

The Cool Beans Getogethers #4 – Mr Benn (Nice Up! Records) by The Cool Beans Radio Show on Mixcloud

Chris Arnold: Let’s start with the classic interview questions, when did you first
want to become a producer and a DJ? Did both desires come at the same
time or was one preceded by the other?

Mr Benn: I don’t think I ever thought of it as something I wanted to be, just
something I naturally fell into having always been involved in making
music (I played cello, then bass guitar before discovering midi
programming on the Atari ST) and buying records from an early age. I
got more serious about it when I got an Akai S2000 sampler and found
by using other people’s music I could make something a lot more
palatable than my early attempts at programming Amen style drums on a
Korg M1.

CA: Did you take to DJing like a duck to water or did it take a while for
you to hone in your skills?

MB: More like a kitten in a sack to water I’d say… I’m still learning to
be honest – when I first started I wanted to be a Jungle DJ so I
learnt to beat mix pretty quickly. Then I wanted to be a DMC type
scratch DJ, but soon realised I was far too lazy to learn to scratch
properly, so settled for just playing records I like one after the
other without any fancy stuff, and I’ve been happy doing that ever
since, and no one’s seemed to mind.

CA: Your smashing debut album Shake A Leg features a plethora of talented
vocalists, which ones were you particularly excited at the prospect of
working with?

MB: It was amazing to work with some of the artists I’d grown up listening
to such as Top Cat, The Ragga Twins and Tenor Fly – all absolute
legends in the game, so when they all agreed to do vocals for me it
was a bit like a boyhood dream come true! I used to ride around
country lanes on my bike listening to ‘Reggae owes me money’ by the
Ragga Twins on my headphones when I was about 12, I never could have
imagined I’d be working with them one day. I wanted to be Flavor Flav
then too – I don’t suppose you’ve got his number have you?

CA: You’ve DJ’d all over the place, any gigs you remember being
particularly mental? For the right or the wrong reasons!

MB: I think one of my favourite gigs ever has to be playing the Kamikaze
tent at Shambala Festival a few years back – the vibe, crowd and
response was absolutely awesome. You can’t really beat playing your
own music to a massive packed tent of people all fully going for it!
Also, playing at the old crown courts in Bristol this past NYE I
literally brought the roof down – while I was playing, a large chunk
of plaster about a meter across fell from the ceiling and landed
inches away from the decks – I nearly got plastered in the most
un-desirable way. I recently did a gig in Narbeth over in
Pembrokeshire where they had made a load of fake legs on sticks to
shake at me while I was playing which was a nice touch – I might start
demanding that at all my gigs!

CA: You’ve recently become DJ Daddy Benn, as in you are now with child.
Firstly, congratulations! Secondly, has fatherhood changed the way you

MB: Thanks – yeah being a Dad is amazing, one thing it does teach you is
time is extremely precious. I definitely have to be a lot more
efficient and productive when I work. I’m really lucky that doing the
work I do has enabled me to spend a lot more time with my daughter
than I would have if I was working a 9–5! You may also hear me playing
the Gregory Isaacs version of ‘Puff the magic dragon’ in my sets, and
if you hear me playing ‘Cherry oh baby’ by Eric Donaldson, that’s
always a dedication to my daughter, Cherry.

CA: You’re going to be performing a special 2 hour set at Quality Control
at The Harley in Sheffield on the 9th May, can you give us any insight
into some of the tunes you’re going to be spinning?

MB: It’s great to be given 2 hours because it really gives you the chance
to go through a lot of the styles I like playing. Expect reggaecentric
party music in all it’s forms from roots and dancehall to boom bap
skank to bashment boogie to soca, ska and jungle and everything in
between. I’ve got some super nice unreleased remixes of some of my
tunes too, plus some new stuff I’ve been working on with Eva Lazarus
and a heap more rump shaking niceness!

CA: Have you ever had any outrageous requests whilst Djing?

MB: A recent favourite was:
“Can you play ‘Cotton Eye Joe?”
“here, I’ve got it on my phone on youtube – can I plug it in and play it?”
“no, go away”
A magazine in Singapore once asked me if I’d ever DJ naked for some
reason – I really don’t think anyone would want to see that.

CA: You hold the proud achievement or releasing the very first album on
Nice Up Records. Tell us, how did you first get involved with Shepdog
and Nice Up?

MB: Me and Shep hooked up because we were both releasing mash up reggae 7s
– he invited me to play at his night in London, and to join him at the
Big Chill festival, and we hit it off right away. I think we bonded
over a shared love of reggae, rap, rum, raving and, um, raclette…
In all seriousness though, Nice Up! Was always gonna be the right
label for me as the style and ethos of it fits perfectly with what I
do – A foundation in Reggae and Hip Hop, but drawing inspiration from
all over the shop. Lively vibes to Nice Up any session!

CA: Your DJ sets have a proper “sunny festival” vibe about them, is there
a festival you enjoy playing at? Or simply just enjoy attending in

MB: See my previous answer – Shambala! Definitely my favourite festival.
Great people, not too big, great music, and always a great atmosphere.
The attention to detail and décor is fantastic too, and it’s all about
finding the hidden gems not listed in the programme, of which there
are many!

CA: Finally, what does the future hold for Mr Benn? Are there plans for
album number 2?

MB: There’s no sign of album number 2 at the moment, but ‘Stand Up’
featuring the excellent Nanci Correia is gonna be the next single from
‘Shake A Leg’, plus we’re gonna be releasing all the instrumentals of
the album very soon. A busy summer of Festival appearances ahead too,
plenty of shows with Eva Lazarus showcasing our new material. More
remixes. Probably more kids birthday parties and hopefully a nice
holiday somewhere warm and relaxing!

CA: Mr Benn, thanks for your time, you’re a gent and a scholar and I’m looking forward to catching your 2 hour spesh on Friday night!

You can catch Mr Benn chatting more in depth about his influences as well as spinning a few tracks live on Sheffield Live 93.2FM on Friday the 9th May at 5PM. Later that night he plays a 2 hour set for Quality Control at The Harley.