Benny Ill: The art of sampling

Benny Ill, real name Ben Garner, is best known for being one half of seminal production duo Horsepower Productions. Labelled as “The original dubsteppers” by Blackdown, Horsepower are responsible for much of early Tempa’s catalogue, with classics like ‘Gorgon Sound‘ and ‘When You Hold Me‘ that took UK garage into much darker, dubbier terrain and ultimately paved the way for the raw styles like grime and dubstep.

Fundamental to Horsepower’s sound was their ability to build tracks using layers and layers of samples. Taking audio clips from the wall of VHS tapes inside Benny’s home, Horsepower would sample film scores, dialogue and amazonian rainforests, reconstructing sound bites to lay narrative and form the swing of their own productions.

Releasing material since 2000, the dynamic of the unit has shifted over the years. Benny however has remained at the forefront of UK bass culture, be it DJing under various guises or producing solo music for Deep Medi and Swamp81.

Ahead of his appearance at Hospitality In The Park, we asked the sampling guru to shed light on what the art form means to him, tracing back its most imaginative uses from Brian Eno to Underground Resistance and Pete Rock.

1. Brian Eno and David Byrne – America Is Waiting

Asked to provide a list of YouTube tracks on the theme of sample influences, I embarked by questioning myself of the possible meanings of such a theme. Having mused over several possibilities, I settled on an amalgamation of them all – taking the theme’s meaning in each and every way. So, to commence, I’ve chosen an example of one of the very first records to use a digital sound sampler in the creative sense.

Sampling devices, originally conceived to reproduce studio recorded sounds such as pianos or drums, were quickly adopted by the more experimental artists as instruments in their own right, by inputting all manner of sounds, noises, vocals and dialogues to create a totally new concept in music. Messrs Byrne and Eno (of Talking Heads fame) by no means the least adaptable of studio experimenters, produced this somewhat abstract piece which plays introduction to their 1981 record album “My Life in the Bush of Ghosts“. For myself and many other later artists to adopt the use of sound samplers, it represents a landmark in the imaginative use of these devices – the sampler: the maverick chameleon of the studio.

2. J Saul Kane – Depth Charge (Drum Death Version)

Fast forward to 1989 and this classic early breakbeat tune championed in many of the clubs and raves of that legendary year, was in my opinion a historical milestone for underground dance music, and the art of sampling.

Mr. Jonathan Saul Kane, who also operated under several other monikers was an early pioneer of the use of motion picture dialogue in dance music records. This track, and it’s companion piece, “Han Do Jin Version” famously sampled Godfrey Ho’s 1982 kung-fu movie “Incredible Shaolin Thunderkick”. This film starred (among others) my all time favourite actor of the genre: Mr. Yuen Sui Tien, who made famous the role of “Drunken Master” in various other pictures and was in fact mentor and trainer to many stars of action cinema such as Jackie Chan, Samo Hung and Yuen Biao.

As a fan of martial arts movies and dance music this record represented to me the best of both worlds, and as such went on to be a massive influence on my own music productions. In an additional twist, this and various other of Mr. Kane’s records could be played at either speed (33 or 45 R.P.M.) to suit dancefloor requirements, and at the higher speed lent a decidedly “hardcore” feel to the otherwise hip-hop flavoured drums.

In the link here I’ve decided to feature the 45 R.P.M. version because, not only was this the preferred speed for many of the era’s listeners, but also, at this tempo it represents a strong influence on future “breakbeat” utilising productions. An interesting side note, and equally influential, was this record’s use of combat sound effects as percussion (possibly sourced from the same film as the dialogue).

Feel free to also check the flipside “Han Do Jin Version” in regular 33 R.P.M. playback here.

3. Gaz – Sing Sing 

Moving on, we come to an often sampled disco tune, 1979’s ‘Sing Sing’ by Gaz. Originally released on the famed Salsoul disco imprint, and here presented in a “bootleg” edited version which was part of the “Ballroom Classics” record series, (presumably titled in reference to a famous New York nightclub of the era) This, my preferred version for dance-floor play, is purely instrumental and cuts up the drum break a little for even greater foot stomping effect.

The clever double meaning of the track name which references the lyrics of the original version’s vocal chorus, for me, has always conjured up images of the infamous New York state prison of the same name, featured in many gangster flicks of the 1930s and ’40s (and still operates as a maximum security correctional facility to this day).

The reasons for this song’s inclusion in this list are two-fold: firstly, it features one of the more well known “breakbeats” sampled time and again in various records (usually to great effect in my opinion) and secondly, it’s amongst the library of sampled records used by Horsepower Productions (the music collective of which I am a part) No prizes will be given for guessing the particular track it’s used in ! Let me just say it’s on there somewhere but I wouldn’t want to end up convicted in court and travelling “up the river” to Sing-Sing myself, so I’ll leave it at that!

For any die-hard disco fans amongst you, here’s the full vocal original version in all it’s glory.

4. Ernest Ranglin – King Tubby Meets The Rockers

Next on the list comes a classic instrumental reggae tune, which I’m including here for multiple reasons. Ernest Ranglin, the celebrated Jamaican guitarist plays here his own version of the original track of the same name produced by by Augustus Pablo, which was in turn a dub version of Jacob Miller’s 1975 hit song “Baby I Love You So”.

Widely regarded as one of the finest examples of dub ever recorded, the original was also included on one of my favourite dub LPs of all time, the 1976 album “King Tubby Meets the Rockers Uptown” produced by Tubby and Pablo himself. Dub music has always been a great influence on myself and other Horsepower members and it’s spirit lives on today in many genres ranging from the more obvious ones such as Jungle and Dubstep to others, including Disco, House and even Pop where studio production techniques originating from dub are regularly employed, sometimes even unbeknown to the producers.

The answer to why I’ve chosen Mr. Ranglin’s version here is simple: this fantastically talented musician, who has turned his hand to a wide variety of music including Jazz, Latin and African, is another regular feature in the Horsepower sample vaults. A subtle element of one of his guitar riffs taken from the collaborative CD “In Search of the Lost Riddim” (which comprises Ernest playing alongside African musicians) was used in one of my personal favourite Horsepower album tracks.

Full credit and respect is due to this master player, and it’s the least I can do to spread the good word on occasions such as this. You can listen to this CD album in it’s entirety, here and also the original Pablo dub of the title, here.

5. Underground Resistance – The Theory

For my next selection let me step forward in time again to 1991 and to another pioneer of electronic music production, “Mad” Mike Banks of Underground Resistance. Mike and his various production partners dominated the early ’90s techno scene with a series of strong releases, many of which are still played and loved today. An original master of Detroit techno, Mad Mike’s highly experimental approach to making records played a large part in shaping my own methods, and is someone I’ve always looked up to, not just in terms of studio technique but also in creating concepts around which music is made.

Commonly, but not exclusively, Sci-Fi and Hi-Tech themes were used for these UR records, and in this fairly early example, a piece of dialogue is used from a Star Trek movie, the words of which could stand almost as a motto for all their releases: “the needs of the many .. outweigh .. the needs of the few” In my opinion the sample plays a double role in the music, not only as a counterpoint to the electronic nature of the sounds but also with a thought provoking message with regard to the nature of the release and underground music in general. These days with many types of dance music in high mainstream popularity, it’s difficult to imagine the true underground nature of such music scenes: small run vinyl only editions were bought and played by and to a tiny fraction of today’s audiences, and in very few locations.

Also of note with this record, like others on the imprint is the way in which it combines a feeling of natural soulfulness seamlessly with the mechanical attributes of the mostly electronic sound palette. Something which is not easy to achieve and sadly missing from a large quantity of techno records. This record by Mr. Banks is not only a passing inclusion here though, because he served as a direct encouragement to myself: having sent him a copy of the first record I ever worked on, I was delighted to receive in return a signed hand-written fax complete with UR graphics offering a supporting message of approval. A faded copy of this fax still remains in my files as a reminder of how motivational such correspondence can be to someone starting out in the field.

6. Rum & Black – Nightmare Man

Here’s another one from 1991, this time from our side of the Atlantic: Taken from the LP “Without Ice” produced by Smiley and PJ of Shut Up and Dance fame under one of their many monikers. These masters of the sampler are without doubt one of my greatest inspirations in the field of sample based productions. With a distinctly London flavour, the duo had a string of underground hits that did serious damage in the raves and clubs of the late eighties / early nineties.

Pioneers in the use of pitched up hip-hop and funk breaks they trail-blazed a path followed by many fledgling producers who went on to adopt and develop the groundwork they had laid to create new and exciting genres. One of their distinct talents was the ability to select samples from some unlikely categories, for example pop music, and then lend their own beat and bass heavy style to result in many dancefloor classics of the period. A quick glance at the relevant section of the “who sampled” website will confirm the diversity and inventiveness of sample sources, and this particular album features a typically wide selection ranging from Kate Bush and Whitesnake to Ice Cube and Funkadelic !

Also they were one of the earliest groups to inject reggae and street friendly flavours into the rave scene, which was at the time largely dominated by American based techno and acid gouse records. Their input into the invention of UK bass music genres such as hardcore and jungle is often overlooked, so the inclusion of one of their tunes here serves to dispense some well earned respect.

Although they had many bigger and more significant tracks, this choice here is a personal favourite, featuring some nice rhythm programming and a great movie sample that well provides a dark mood to the proceedings. Also on the LP and worthy of a quick mention was a version of their 12″ track “Slaves” another massive hit on pirate radio and dancefloors, one of the first in the context to use a certain particularly punchy drum-break which went on to be further sampled by others on several later records. You can check out the single version of that, here

7. Horsepower Productions – Classic Deluxe 

For the number 7 spot on this list, I’ve decided to take a different tack and choose a tune co-produced by myself, relevant here because it features a wealth of sample sources combined to construct an entirely different aspect to the sum of it’s parts. Not exactly a floor-filler, but nevertheless one of our more popular numbers from over the years, and it’s inclusion on the CD featured in this particular link: Tempa Recordings’ “The Roots of Dubstep” testifies to it’s influence in one way or other to the aforementioned genre.

Drawing from a broad spectrum of sample sources, the title refers to the nature of the material used to create the track, both classic and deluxe. Few have spotted the various bits and pieces pinched from some very well known titles in the world of music, and perhaps that’s all for the better. We’ve yet to face a copyright infringement lawsuit regarding this release but I expect that is more due to the underground nature of the sales figures than anything else!

From my increasingly misty memory of the recording session involved in the production of this piece, some of the artists sampled may or may not have included Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, The Police, Nigel & Marvin, Carl Craig and The Incredible Bongo Band. On a later album we reprised this theme and method with a sequel “Classic Deluxe Part Two” which also featured many sounds from the natural world. This record was also received quite well, I’m told, and it’s lengthy programme time of over 11 minutes has suited itself to provide a background for various radio interviews conducted over the years, in addition to the purpose of helping insomniacs to fall asleep (and possibly both uses in combination).

A further version of the original, overdubbed with the dulcet tones of pop diva Katie B was actually recorded in ’06 early on in the embarkation of her illustrious career. This went on to receive a release as a digital bonus track to our leviathan LP of 2010 “Quest For The Sonic Bounty” and was met with some mixed reviews, and even accusations of “sell-out”. As if we would do such a thing ! This vocal version, entitled “Open Up Your Eyes” remains a personal favourite so I guess I could care less about other people’s opinions on the matter…

8. Hijak – Babylon Timewarp

Now, I’ve been asked to provide this list and it’s accompanying waffle, partly in promotion of my appearance on the Deep Medi stage at the forthcoming “Hospitality In The Park” an all day event organised by the seminal imprint Hospital Records and scheduled to take place in Finsbury Park on Saturday September 23rd 2017. So, it only makes sense to include a title selected from the archives of the celebrated Deep Medi Muzik label.

This record label, born in the darkest depths of South London well over ten years ago continues to delight worldwide audiences with it’s various takes on the Dubstep genre and has been an outlet for the music of a plethora of new and established artists during it’s long existence. The title I’ve chosen here, from one of the earliest issues from the Deep Medi stable, is well suited to represent both the event in question and also the theme of this tracklist. Produced by a good friend of mine, and one of the familiar faces of the early Dubstep scene, features a classic reggae styled vibe in combination with the all encompassing low frequency bass tones now well associated with this section of music.

A record which never leaves my box of classics, it has proven itself to enliven crowds time after time, whether as a well known anthem or as received by fresh ears. The title, which refers to a much earlier release by a certain Mr. B.Thomas (also a familiar name in the music industry) epitomises the reggae tinged aspect of the label and in many ways paved the way for the continuation of the sound, and particularly relevant also to more recent fashions popular in it’s genre.

A couple of notable points gleaned from the record credits are: that it features the talents of the now galactically famous Skream on additional production duties; and a footnote to the title declares “big up Loefah (root dedication mix)” which is a reference to a previous release by Loefah on the esteemed DMZ label featuring a similar vocal sample, which if I’m not mistaken is the voice of legendary Jamaican soundman, Coxsone Dodd.

This quoted narrative also well represents the nature of the scene of the period, dubplates (one-off acetate recordings) being the order of the day at a time when CDJ’s and Laptops were yet to take over. A forever classic, this tune never fails to take me back to the heady days of Dubstep’s early inception, and in particular, to dances held at the now legendary 3rd Base or Mass venues in St Matthew’s Church, Brixton. Like many others I feel pride to have been present at these occasions, and for those new to the phenomenon, this record captures well the atmosphere of the times.

9. Silkie – Jah Man

Approaching the end of my list, let me consider something a bit newer and this piece here seems to fit the bill. Ninety-four releases later on the same label as the last selection, comes another regular artist of the imprint, Silkie – with this nice flip-side tune from 2016 which I’ve personally included in some recent DJ sets to good effect. Still encompassing the dub tinged feeling common to many of the label’s releases, albeit with a more modern twist to the programming featured, no doubt this one will get a spin on the Deep Medi stage at the Hospitality in the Park event, if not by Silkie himself who is also appearing, it’s one I would consider including in my own set.

In congruency with the “sample influences” theme of my list, and although many years separate the various tracks chosen, it’s possible to hear sampling techniques still employed in this relevantly current example, showing that sampling is with us to stay: now a part of the fabric of modern music which I doubt the manufacturers of the original machines could ever have predicted. As I mentioned before, the original purpose of digital sound sampling units was to recreate studio recorded sounds, useful for adding that additional touch here and there perhaps when recording budgets did not allow for extra sessions with drummers, pianists or other instrumentalists. At the touch of a button (or rather many frustrating minutes wrestling with boxes of floppy discs and adjusting perplexing parameters on tiny LCD screens) the user of the sampler could dial up various sound options including factory preset samples, often provided with the unit by the makers.

Nowadays there are a myriad of alternatives to many of these processes available on an ordinary laptop or personal computer but we tend to return time and again to the sampler whether in plug-in form or in some cases the actual devices themselves, which in fact often have a tone and sound texture still largely unreplicatable by modern computers.

10. Pete Rock – Pete’s Jazz 

For the final entry on this playlist, I’m returning back in time to earlier days of sampling, and to the field of hip-hop – a genre which in many ways was built on the foundation of the sampler and to which the music owes it’s very existence. For it was the emergence of this technology which put the making of music into the hands of those who previously could not afford the high prices commanded by much of the studio equipment previously required.

0As different manufacturers began to offer increasingly affordably priced machines, a crew could afford, from the proceeds of a few record releases or show ticket sales, a sampler with which alone they could basically create a sufficiently professional sounding backing track for their vocals – leaving the relatively low cost of a day or two in a recording studio to get the vocals down and perhaps a bit of a mixdown – and there you have it, a complete product at a fraction of the cost.

The E-mu Systems, Inc. SP-1200 sampling drum machine, released in August 1987 is one such machine, and what better proponent of this relatively simple unit than one of Hip-Hop’s supreme beatmakers – Pete Rock. This track, taken from his 2001 compilation LP entitled “Petestrumentals” represents as good a take as any on the type of masterpieces it’s possible to create with a sampler and very little else.

Many producers like myself took inspiration from this field of music and it’s method of production and indeed, my first ever forays into creating tracks were conducted on a Commodore Amiga home computer owned by a friend, with which an even more affordable form of sampling was available via free software and the computer hardware alone – and, if you could get your head around pages of strange numbers and scrolling lists of text, you could create a very similar sound to the type of early samplers such as the SP-1200.

Being the last tune on the list and so as not to leave you in despair for more of the same, I’ll depart leaving you a link where you can listen to the rest of Pete’s album.. so kick back and enjoy, or even hook a mic up and get your bars on!


Benny Ill plays at Hospitality In The Park on the Deep Medi meets Roots Of Jungle stage on September 23. More info and tickets available here

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