Modeselekted: In Conversation with Benjamin Damage
After a successful tour of renowned Berlin based IDM duo Modeselektor last December, the Red Bull Music Academy is gearing up for its third entry into India – this time touring Welsh born techno tycoon Benjamin Damage across the country. Leaving the more predictable musical metropolises of Bombay and Delhi off the tour’s route map, the RBMA is targeting roads less travelled with a gig itinerary that includes Kolkata, Chennai, Pune and Hyderabad. “These cities are also rich in musical heritage – RBMA is not just about electronic music or contemporary production sensibilities,” says Munbir Chawla of Wild City, who is working closely with the academy on this project, “It’s for individuals that show excellence in the arts, regardless of whether you’re a techno producer or classically trained Indian vocalist. We’re just hoping that musicians and producers in different cities realise the power of this world traveling series of workshops and festivals”.
As the first artist selected to be signed onto Modeselektor’s 50 Weapons label in 2010, Benjamin Damage has since released his solo album Heliosphere on the label, as well as the acclaimed LP They! Live – a collaboration with fellow Welshman Doc Daneeka. The LP is the duo’s debut album together, and overall achieves some paradoxical triumphs – successfully playing with the sheer magnanimity of emptiness, achieving depth by employing a feeling of empty space. Its overall minimalistic quality – perhaps a symptom of the fact that the album was created in Berlin’s notably sombre, minimalist musical landscape — in turn has the rather grandiose effect of overwhelming the listener emotionally. Its ability to also coexist in the limbo space between house and techno, simultaneously straddling other UK bass sounding genres, is perhaps a result of the two collaborators succeeding in bringing their individual influences together rather seamlessly.
There’s also a certain lucid dreamlike quality to the album as a whole – lucid in the clarity and self-awareness of the impeccably meticulous production, dreamlike in the intentionally shadowy intrigue, wayward vocals and lingering melancholy that trickles gently like a stream through most of the LP. Futuristic sounding synthy tracks like Juggernaut and up-tempo bangers like Charlottenburg co-exist with the more ethereal, alluring ambiguity of tracks like Halo. There are some goosebump moments in Battleships that arise from the detached quality of fellow Welsh collaborator Abigayle Wyles’ vocals, combined with the tension created by the syncopated percussion. Also a must-listen is Welsh countryman Sasha’s Involv3r remix of Battleships here. As a musician who has an equally strong affinity for the world of danceable electronica, this album succeeded on both counts for me – tracks listenable on the dance floor on a Saturday night out, and equally listenable the very next day on a rainy grey Sunday afternoon, cup of ginger tea and hangover pills in hand.
I chatted a bit more with Benjamin about his nine track journey collaborating with long time Swansea brother Doc Daneeka, and on working in Modeselektor’s mad studio in Berlin.
Nirupama: You’ve known Doc Daneeka a long time — how did that relationship impact your collaboration for They! Live? Can you share some of the challenges and the triumphs of making the LP together?
Benjamin: We both moved to Berlin at the same time to make the LP. Modeselektor had gotten tired of waiting for us to send them music, so got us on a plane to Berlin, set us up with a place to stay, and let us make the album in their studio. It was quite intense living and working in the same place every day. We didn’t really know anyone there so we were both hanging out and working together. We only had limited time to make the album so the pressure was pretty massive. Before, it always felt there was all the time in the world to complete things and you could take your time. I think we both learnt a lot very quickly, not just about music but about life too.
Nirupama: What is the inspiration behind They! Live? Is it inspired by the movie?
Benjamin: It was inspired by some films we were watching. I like the feeling of watching films late at night, especially if they are quite unconventional. They Live is a John Carpenter film and it’s exactly the kind of movie that doesn’t really stand up to close scrutiny, but somehow makes perfect sense late at night. It’s when your imagination can fill in the blanks and make up a new story in your head. I think that was the point of the album. It’s not completely in your face and obvious, but a little bit hidden and behind the curtains.
Nirupama: Tell us about working with Modeselektor, and your experiences working in their studio in Berlin?
Benjamin: Their studio was amazing, so many great machines to play with and there was a view over the whole of Berlin! It was a beautiful place. Modeselektor is always very supportive and came in when they weren’t busy touring and helped out.
Nirupama: How does the fact that you didn’t grow up listening to techno affect your sound/productions now? And what were some of your musical influences growing up?
Benjamin: I grew up listening to jungle and rave and I think that comes out in my music. I think it’s best not to have only influences from the same genre – that’s when things become stale and repetitive. The sub is very important and I like how things change quite dramatically in UK hardcore.
Nirupama: What’s in store for your sets here in India?
Benjamin: I’ve got a lot of great new tunes to play and I’m super excited to see how they go down!
For more on Benjamin, visit www.benjamindamage.com
For more on the Red Bull Music Academy, visit www.redbullmusicacademy.com
Benjamin Damage’s RBMA India tour dates include: Kolkata, Tantra – May 21st. Chennai, Dublin – May 22nd. Pune, Euriska – May 24th. Hyderabad, Over The Moon – May 25th.