116 & Rising: Ben UFO

Founded in Leeds circa 2007, Hessle Audio have advanced greatly since HES001 (TRG’s ‘Put You Down’), blazing a roaming trail through dubstep, house, techno, garage, electro and everything in between. Over four years the Hessle stable has produced some of the most original, forward-thinking bass music, emerging from some of the savviest producers around including James Blake, Peverlist, Elgato, Martyn and Blawan to name a few.

Hessle Audio is headed-up by Kevin McGauley (Pangaea), David Kennedy (Ramadanman/Pearson Sound) and Ben Thomson (Ben UFO), who are all in the more tender realms of their twenties. Out of the trio Ben UFO is the only one who doesn’t produce music, which probably accounts for his more gradual ascent up the UK bass hierarchy. Despite this, his creative scope is vast, holding a fortnightly show on seminal radio station Rinse FM, co-running Hessle Audio and scaling the same heights as Oneman and Jackmaster, who all possess outrageous skill in the booth but have yet to lean towards production.

Kim Wilson sat down with Ben UFO in an East London cafe to chat future Hessle Audio output, his roots as a dj and some of his favourite vinyl hot spots…

Exciting news, Hessle Audio are putting together a compilation for the fans. What made you decide to do it?
We’ve been working together for a while and gradually expanding our roster of producers. Working on a larger project seemed like a good way to celebrate the last few years – every producer who’s released original material with us has contributed. It makes explicit how much time has passed and how the music has developed since we started the label; listening to Bijoux by CosminTRG for example, and comparing that to his debut release for us in 2007 makes it clear how much his sound has changed.

How does it work, Hessle Audio is roughly a twelve-person strong team, how do decisions get made and new artists signed?

I co-run the label with David (Pearson Sound/Ramadanman) and Kev (Pangaea). The workload is shared between us and we don’t release any material that we can’t all agree on. I’d hesitate to call us a “12-person team,” as the producers are free to pursue other projects.

How did you guys meet?
I met David at FWD>> – we were both regulars in around 2005 when you used to see a lot of the same faces week in week out. Kev and I met whilst studying in Leeds.

It has been noted that you are not on the album. Do you think you might ever venture into the realms of production?
Not right now. At the moment I feel more focused on digging for new and old music. I think generally the skills necessary for being a good producer – the ability to isolate yourself and immerse yourself in what you’re working on, that ability to withdraw – don’t always go hand in hand with those needed for good DJing. Staying away from production I think has helped me retain a broader overview of music in the UK, and it’s helped me adapt my DJing to my own changing tastes.

How did you get into djing?
Pretty straightforward really – I started buying records when I was 16 or 17 and my only way to listen to them was on my Dad’s old hi-fi. I didn’t really intend to start mixing but it seemed like a waste of a collection not to at least give it a go.

I’ve heard you describe your early influences as “old jungle” and “left of centre D&B” – would you say that is still true today?

I’m still influenced by the music I used to listen to, of course. I spent a huge amount of time totally enthralled by that music, and it was hard to tear myself away from it. The main thing that pushed me towards dubstep was the positivity of the scene in 2004-5. There was a sense of possibility and a collective excitement about the future which had been lacking with most of the music I’d grown up listening to.

The mix you did for Fabric back in 2009 contained some of my Detroit heroes, such as Alex Omar Smith (Omar S)…
…that mix was one of the first I’d recorded, experimenting with a range of tempos in a relatively short space of time. It’s an early example of the kind of thing I still try and do today.

Hessle Audio Fabric Takeover May '09 by Ben Ufo on Mixcloud

Where do you go shopping for records?

Alan’s Records & Tapes in East Finchley is the shop I always like telling people about. It’s a great spot for old disco and funk records, blues and soul, early house tracks… all kinds of stuff. I always look forward to Record Store Day, last year, I played a set in BMSoho to a crowd of people drinking in the sun and picking up records, it was a pretty good way to spend an afternoon.

What’s you favourite London venue to play and party?

In London, Plastic People without a doubt. You feel that closeness to the music which only comes with smaller venues I think, and the soundsystem still sounds incredible. It still feels like a privilege playing there having spent so much time there at FWD>> over the years. That place has really shaped the way I listen to and appreciate music.

What else can we expect from you and the Hessle brethren in 2011?
More music and hopefully more opportunities to play that music out and about. We’ve got the launch party for ‘116 & Rising’ at XOYO on May 13th, and our next Fabric party on July 1st.

And finally, why you called Hessle Audio?
Kev and I used to live on Hessle Avenue in Leeds. We spent hours trying to think of a name but everything we came up with sounded trite, so we sacked it off and named it after the street.

‘116 & Rising’ Hessle Audio’s first compilation, is released on May 16.