Shazam Meets… Benga
After the release of his debut album – Diary Of An Afro Warrior. The man known as Benga has become the poster boy for the Dubstep scene. He is back with his latest single Icon and a forthcoming sophomore album. We managed to grab some time with the much sought-after producer to talk about the influence of Dubstep, his future plans with Magnetic Man , losing his laptop and of course his new album Chapter 2
How would you describe yourself to someone who might not have heard of you before?
I’m going to try and keep it short and sweet. I would say that I’m a black male who makes underground music and whether you like it or not it’s very popular (laughs). I dress very smartly a bit like an American rap star, I guess I’m going to have to leave it at that.
What past or current artists do you feel have influenced your sound?
The biggest things that have influenced me would be stuff like Prodigy and Nirvana, even things that go back to Michael Jackson’s Bad album. When I was between the age of ten and thirteen I also listened to a lot of Jungle because my brothers were MC’s. The key thing was the energy of the music that drove me to do what I do today.
A lot of pop music in the charts right now is heavily influenced by Dubstep. Do you think this goes against the whole ethos of Dubstep and how it started out in underground club nights such as FWD for example?
No because if you think about Dubstep no matter what people say it was all about innovating and moving things forward. I think if there’s one thing that does go against Dubstep, it’s the people who are making music that all sounds the same. Not the people who produce Pop records and make it sound different to what it used to sound like because that’s what Dubstep was all about in the first place, pushing things forward.
Are you surprised by the impact that Dubstep has had over in America?
I never expected Skrillex to win three Grammys. The shows we’ve been doing over there have had a steady kind of vibe. We’ve been playing out in America for around five years and I remember the first time we went out there I did a tour with Hatcha over in San Francisco and it was packed. It was probably a club filled with about five hundred people. Now five years on it’s all over the internet and everyone is talking about it. I wouldn’t necessarily say that the Americans are late to the party but they’re at the point that we were at around maybe two or three years ago when everyone went out to find out what Dubstep was all about, and we were kind of like preachers. Whereas now we recently did a show in L.A to a crowd of ten thousand people and we played the biggest Dance stage at Coachella. So it’s been a steady growth.
There are a lot of British electronic artists who have been very successful in the states recently. Why do you think that is?
I believe it’s because electronic music is really pushing things forward. No matter where you’re from, you want something new in your life don’t you? From the people who have listened to Rap music all their life to the older generation who grew up when Rap and Hip-Hop began. The youth now want something to attach their generation to and it kind of seems to be Dubstep or some element of Electronic Dance music. They just don’t want the same old stuff anymore.
You had your first live solo show recently at Koko in London. How did that go?
It was amazing. Everyone who played and supported were just ridiculous, everybody was on top form. It’s really nice to have my team around me because it seems like everyone really knows what they’re doing and helping to push my project forward. To play at Koko was the pinnacle show that we’ve all been working towards and for it to go so well and the feeling that we all pulled it off, there was just feelings of relief and it was quite emotional. I wouldn’t normally bring my mum to my shows either but I brought her along and she had a nice time, and I had a good time too. I remember walking out on stage and just feeling so emotional I could have cried. Imagine if I cried on stage?
Looking at your Facebook page recently we noticed that you lost your laptop after your show at Koko. Have you managed to get it back?
You heard about that? Well actually I’m going to be getting it back later today. I was reading through my Facebook and my Twitter and I was reading some messages from some absolute idiots who were saying stuff like “I can’t wait to find your laptop so I can leak all of your tunes” and stuff like that. There were other messages from people being really genuine and saying that “We hope that you get it back; if you think positively you’ll get it back” so I’ve been thinking like that the whole time. So my manager rang me up and said “Guess what we’ve got” and I wasn’t sure what to expect him to say but he said “We’ve got your laptop”. I think I must have left it somewhere in Koko and luckily someone handed it in.
You tend to collaborate with other people such as your work with Skream as well as being a member of Magnetic Man. Was it a strange feeling to head out on tour by yourself?
I would say that if there’s one thing I’ve done over the past six months I’ve been really concentrating and put a lot of time and effort into everything I’ve done. Up until we did the sound check for the gig I was a little bit nervous and I was feeling paranoid about certain little things. Every time we rehearsed for this first show I would constantly be changing things, adding new music and elements to the show. It just meant that when we came to the actual show I didn’t feel as nervous but instead I just felt really focussed and really sure about what I was doing.
As we’re on the subject of your work with Skream and Magnetic Man, are there any plans in the pipeline to be working with them again in the near future?
One hundred percent; I do my radio show on Radio One with Skream every week on a Friday night, so even if I wanted to I couldn’t get away from him. I’m not trying to get away from him though if you know what I mean (laughs). We have got plans to do another Magnetic Man record and have planned to get a single out pretty soon, which means that by early next year hopefully we’ll have a new album. I don’t see why there’s no room for me, Skream or Artwork to do solo projects as well as the Magnetic Man project.
How is your radio show with Skream going? Does it take you back to your Pirate radio days?
There are some times when we wish it was a bit more like our Pirate Radio show but we’re always learning how to be professional and be proper presenters so it’s a new chapter in our lives. I remember the first time when we started doing legal radio at Radio One and we were just stuttering like mad, all we did was stutter we just couldn’t even get a word out. We used to sound like we were speaking in tongues but now we’re getting better at it.
So back to your solo stuff, you have just released your latest single Icon which features Bebe Black on vocals. How did that collaboration come about?
Bebe got signed by Mike Pickering and I’d already made the beat for Icon a while before she did the vocal for it. Basically Bebe got the beat from Mike Pickering and Mike is someone that I really respect. He sent me over the vocal version that Bebe had done and normally I find a problem with every track that I get sent back to me because I’m quite particular about all the vocals that I use on my tracks. There were only a few little changes that I wanted to make so we went in to the studio to do some recording and that was it, done. Now we have this single and we’re having a lovely time with it.
You’ve also got your second solo album coming out on the 27th of August. Can you tell us a little bit about this album and what we can expect from it?
The big theme about my album is that this album is about me evolving and taking it to the next level so that’s why I’ve called it Chapter 2. My first album was called Diary of an Afro Warrior and now that I’ve done this record there seems to be so many moments where it feels so different and so futuristic, it just makes me so proud to have done it. The key thing is that now I’m doing this record with a major label, twenty five million more people are going to hear it.
So do you feel the pressure then?
No I don’t really feel pressure anymore. It’s just that so many more people are going to be hearing some of my best work; it’s more exciting than anything else.
Are there any other producers or artists that you are currently working with or hoping to work with in the future?
I want to get back in the studio with Katy B so we can see what we can come up with, but then I’d also like to do some work with A$AP Rocky. You know who I’d really like to work with? I’d really like to do something with Kanye because I feel like we’d get some good s**t out. So if anyone from Kanye’s label or team reads this they know that I’m the guy to work with.
If there’s one person you could work with who you haven’t already who would it be?
If there’s someone who I’d like to work with who isn’t around or doesn’t do music anymore it would have to be Michael Jackson. I know you’ve probably had that answer about a million times but Michael Jackson was a legend. Imagine Michael Jackson over my music?
What current artists are you tipping for success in 2012?
I would say for me it would have to be Disclosure. I think Disclosure are going to smash it because their sound is very different. The thing I like about them is that it’s not all production, scientist based music. It’s more musical and creatively based and that’s what I absolutely love.
What does the rest of 2012 have in store for Benga?
Well my album’s going to be coming out so I’m going to have to hide for a week while people try and stone me (laughs) or go mental or love it, whatever they want to do. After that I want to perform my live show as much as possible because I want people to see what it consists of. People have seen me DJ before but this live show just brings a whole new dimension to my musical history.