To launch a new series in the build up to Record Store Day, we hooked up with Ben UFO and Pearson Sound at The Vinyl Library in Stoke Newington to chat records.
Two thirds of the trio (alongside Kevin ‘Pangaea’ McAuley) behind Hessle Audio, the pair will be instantly familiar to anyone who’s paid even the merest shred of attention to underground British club music over the last 5plus years.
Ben Thomson has garnered nearly every accolade possible as a DJ – without needing to accrue a single production credit. CD’s for Rinse and Fabric, an Essential Mix and a top 10 placing in 2013′s prestigious Resident Advisor DJ poll are all just rewards for a man who’s continuously led the way for sonic progression for more than half a decade.
David Kennedy has been on a constant journey of sonic development since debuting back in ’06, with his sound moving away from what could ostensibly be called ‘Dubstep’ and into a series of exciting, percussion led hybrids, book-ended by a recent self-released 7″ of beatless soundscapes. Also a talented DJ, David, like Ben, has dropped a stellar CD for Fabric and an equally brilliant Essential Mix, both capturing his versatility and technical aptitude.
Inviting them down to The Vinyl Library recently, we chatted about their history as record buyers, as well as some of the gems they managed to unearth from the vast collection within this wonderful space. Both hugely influenced by UK dance music during their formative years, it was unsurprising to see both Ben and David make an instant beeline towards TVL’s impressively stocked selection devoted to Dubstep, Jungle, Techno and UK Garage. Armed with a stack of wax we sat them both down for a chat about what their selections meant to each of them, with each record sending them off on a series of tangents both amusing and insightful…
Hyponik: What’s the first record you want to talk about then David?
David: This is Goldtrix presents Andrea Brown, ‘It’s Love Tripping’ from 2001, so I guess I was about 12 or 13.
Do you own a copy of that?
D: Yeah I own a copy. With my turntables I got given a wedge of pretty dubious Prog-House and Tech-House with really big & punchy kick drums. Very big room sounding stuff.
Ben: 50 records for a tenner kind of thing?
D: No the records came with the decks – they wanted to get rid of them. I think it was one of those things where a kid gets bought all this stuff by his parents and then the kid decides it’s all rubbish 6 months later, and the parents try and flog it for £50 (all laugh). This equipment and these records are what I learnt to mix on. A lot of the music I didn’t like, but this track was really big back in the day, and made it to number one in the pop charts.
I’m assuming this didn’t ignite any general Prog-House love on your part?
D: Not especially, but because all this stuff starts with the most enormous kick drum and a continuous 4×4, it’s probably the easiest kind of thing to learn how to DJ with. So you could probably say I owe my DJ’ing to these functional Prog-House records.
B: Are you going to give away your Discogs name so people can check out those amazing old reviews you wrote?
D: I think I deleted them all.
B: When I first met David he had like 4 reviews against his Discogs name. It was like a Trance record, a Pendulum record…
D: Yeah and like old Noisia records. I’d go and talk about how, ‘the bass is awesome on this one!’ (laughs) I saw I’ve been on Discogs for like 10 or 11 years, which is actually nearly half my life! It’s quite bizarre really to see how your tastes change. It didn’t even used to be a market place, you just used to go on and log what you had. It was really incomplete when it started -I contributed quite a few releases to it.
Do you still use Discogs nowadays?
D: I still use it a lot. Partly because its a good way to see what you’ve got – when your record collection reaches a certain point it’s easy to forget what you have.
Do you ever go on there and check prices for records that you’ve made?
D: Yeah sometimes. It’s nice to see if you ever need to repress something. If there’s only one copy of a record on for £50 that probably implies that its quite rare.
I can imagine ‘Work Them’ probably costs a few quid…
D: It got repressed the other day actually.
If times ever get a bit desperate you could maybe flog a couple of copies on there. You almost definitely wouldn’t be the first artist guilty of that…
B: I’ve heard of people doing that; buying up all of the copies on Discogs then re-listing them for like £25.
D: Wasn’t it Will Bankhead (The Trilogy Tapes) who got fed up with people taking the piss with some of his stuff? He set up a Discogs seller account and just flooded the market with copies on sale for like 7 quid or something.
So what’s the next one you’ve got for us?
B: This is one from my early years. It’s Steve Alexander’s ‘Isometric’ on Reinforced Records. We discovered just now that he was a a session drummer for people like Duran Duran. I don’t want to slag it off exactly, but it probably represents an era of dance music that’s better forgotten about- when people thought that replacing electronic elements in dance music with live instrumentation was a really futuristic idea(laughs).
D: Has that even gone away yet? (laughs)
B: It hasn’t disappeared completely… but yeah I dunno, I’m not sure that any of this material has aged particularly well. I’m hearing this stuff again for the first time in 10 years, and with such different ears. I played the drums when I was younger so I think when I heard this the first time round I would have been blown away by the virtuosity of it. I must have heard this at around 15 or 16, when I was first discovering Drum n’ Bass. It was the kind of record you’d find in MVE for £2. I definitely didn’t have much experience with dance music at all at the time, and it’s nice to think back to a time when I was probably a lot less cynical, and hearing electronic music a lot more naively.
I’ve got so many phenomenal records on Reinforced. This is from quite an interesting time, where they’d been around for so long already and you could hear from what they were releasing that they were reaching out in a few different directions, to see where they should move on to.
What’ve we got from you now David?
D: We were talking about Noisia before – I wasn’t going to clubs at the time, but at 15 I was very much a bedroom Drum ‘n’ Bass guy, and hearing records like ‘The Tide‘, it was like ‘wow’. I guess in the same way some kids gravitate towards Metal – at that age you’re drawn towards “extreme” music.
It’s an impossibly huge sounding track…
D: It starts with a fog horn (laughs) Noisia really were the first to develop that super-detailed, ‘alien synthesis’ kind of thing. That would be an example of something I was buying after this kind of prog-house stuff.
Were you making a conscious decision to buy stuff at this point?
D: Yeah I’d be going to Soho on Saturday afternoons to Sounds of the Universe and Vinyl Junkies – which is now shut. I’d be buying quite a lot of funky house, vocal house and then I’d go somewhere like BM Soho, and go straight into the basement which at that point was quite intimidating; 30 huge guys wearing hoods and caps, rinsing out Drum n’ Bass, and then a 15 year old me politely asking, ‘can I have some Noisia please?’ (laughs) Quite a classic record store experience.
B: That’s quite interesting though, because I think things were a bit more tribal back then. For most kids it would’ve been either/or. I don’t think you would’ve come across many people that age who would’ve admitted to liking both Vocal House and Drum ‘n’ Bass…
D: No one else at my school was into it, so I didn’t really talk about this stuff. It was more of a solo pursuit. I didn’t go around my friend’s houses for a mix – it was something I did on my own.
Have you got a record you want to talk about then Ben?
B: We pulled out ‘Vansan’ by Appleblim, which has Shackleton, ‘You Bring Me Down’ on the other side. ‘Vansan’ was really big for us, and Appleblim was part of the first little wave of producers who started to get recognised in the house and techno universe. That kind of crossover was a factor in how we got our first major bits of exposure.
D: I think all 3 of us, Kev (Pangaea) included, probably own 90% of the Skull Disco releases.
B: It’s one of the only labels where I own the whole catalogue .
D: They had their run and it was pretty flawless. Down at FWD>>> different DJ’s would play a track like this in different ways. You’d also have Appleblim playing after someone like N-Type and both sets would get an equally good reaction.
B: It was a really nice time, and in stark contrast to drum ‘n’ bass which was already heavily split into sub-genres. Like you wouldn’t hear a jump-up set next a deeper or techier set really, whereas somewhere like DMZ you’d hear someone like Pinch next to Skream – there’d be that kind of crossover and variation, which was kind of refreshing.
D: Appleblim was actually the first person I heard playing a Hessle Audio record at FWD>>. I heard him play Kev’s track ‘Coiled.’
You’ve got some more Dubstep there?
B: It’s an old Benga record, ‘Dose/Skank‘…it looks like a weird miss-press with the ‘Dose’ label on both sides.
D: The first Benga stuff we probably heard would’ve been from around 2006 onwards…
B: Do you remember his ‘Benga Beats’ album? It was a self-released CD. That was the first thing I picked up by him.
D: There was a track called ‘Zombie Jig’ which I remember vividly from FWD>>>, it had one of the lowest basslines I’d ever heard. Then you had stuff like ‘Crunked Up’ which was absolutely massive, you’d hear that at every single party. Records like this one (‘Skank/Dose’) were ones we’d sort of retrospectively visit – because that came out in 2002 and none of us were buying that kind of stuff then.
B: It’s sort of a link between El-B/Horsepower style dark Garage stuff and early Dubstep. We weren’t listening to that stuff at the time but we were definitely interested in finding out where it came from.
D: I got my first copy of that when Big Apple, which was sort of the ‘birthplace of Dubstep’, shut down. Someone found out that they were re-selling all their old stock on Gemm, which I guess was a sort of prototype Discogs. There was this massive rush when someone found that, but I managed to get a few Big Apple things. So I got my copy in 2008, which was quite late on, but its still one of my favourite records.
Now that you know some of these people, would you ever be cheeky enough to say to them: ‘Can I have a copy of so and so?’
B: I didn’t ask for it, but one of the only records I’ve been given in that kind of way is Loefah’s Big Apple thing which is just so, so hard to get hold of. Even back then I think it was pretty tough to get. I licensed one of the tracks off it for the mix CD I did for Rinse – I didn’t end up using it and I just expected him to send a digital file over, but he brought a copy of the record down to a gig we did in London..
D: (laughs) The happiest night of your life.
B: (laughs) I’m just a such a nerd…I was completely overwhelmed with happiness.
What’s next then?
D: Well this is a record by Starfox (Greg Bonnick and Leon Spencer aka. Agent X ) on Slimzos Recordings, which is Slimzee’s label which had quite a few 2 track 12″ releases. Again this is stuff I wasn’t really buying when it came out in 2004/2005. Talking of Discogs and getting hold of stuff like this on there… a couple of years ago it was getting out of hand and you’d – well not me personally, but some people would be paying £50 for Wiley records.
Both of us met this dealer through a similar experience buying records off him online, and I think he must have looked us up – he messaged us and said, ‘I’ve got this lock-up ,you should come down’.
He has this self-storage lock-up in King’s Cross kind of area, so we had a nice dusty-fingered afternoon down there. He had a lot of grime, I think he’d been buying ex-DJ’s collections but finally decided to pack it in.
B: He had some dead stock from record shops as well.
D: He had Slimzee’s collection too at one point I think. He had loads and loads of records and he knew what they were worth.
B: That is quite a fun thing about Discogs, when you stumble across someone who’s decided to sell their collection and its like this remnant of an old DJ’s career sitting around your house.
Is there any artist or label, other than Skull Disco, where you’ve got a complete-ist urge to collect the whole catalogue?
B: I wouldn’t say it was a complete-ist tendency with any of those labels particularly, it was more just that they didn’t release any bad records (laughs). I think the only labels where I own the entire catalogue are DMZ, Big Apple and Skull Disco – and it’s just because they’re all great.
D: We grew up with them as well. You could say that more recently about Livity Sound. We’ve probably bought every single Livity Sound record and that’s not us 5 years laters trying to pay £50 for the first Livity record – its just ‘cos they’re in the shops right now. We’re going to record shops every week, and we’re able to buy them as they’re coming out.
Interview: Christian Murphy & Josh Thomas
Photography: Conor McTernan