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Ben UFO
Rinse: 016 Noel Gardner , October 11th, 2011 22:10

Despite bearing a passing resemblance to Joey Barton on the cover of this CD, Ben UFO does not appear to be someone greatly invested in creating an 'enigmatic' if fraudulent public persona, preferring instead to let the music do the talking. Not even his own music, either – Ben Thomson, to call him by the name on his increasingly stamped passport, is unusual amidst his peers, in that he's a highly respected DJ and label boss who's yet to release a single track of his own. It reflects grandly on him, I think, that if he were to dip a toe into production (he insists he's not bothered, for the record), few would have much of an idea of what to expect. True, there's a broadly identifiable style related to Hessle Audio, the label he founded with David 'Ramadanman' Kennedy and Kevin 'Pangaea' McAuley while all three lived in Leeds – hybridist dance music unafraid to champion soul and femininity, indebted to early house as much as mid-decade dubstep. That's only a small part of what gets thrown around across this excellent mix album's 29 cuts, which collectively justify his keenness not to be tied down to one scene or genre.

When Rinse – a particularly tenacious London pirate station who, by the time they became 'official' last year, had already done more than most to bring grime, dubstep and UK funky to the wider world – started releasing mix CDs in 2006, they tended to be more or less genre exercises. Not all the time (the scattershot series debut by Rinse label boss Geeneus, for example) but Skream's 2007 mix is half his own tracks, with his pals like Benga and Distance comprising most of the remainder. In the last two or three years, the streams have become gradually more crossed, to the point where Thomson has a fortnightly show on Rinse blazing through sets of house, techno, percussion-clattering UK garage and millennial ragga-pop featuring a future Radio 1 DJ. Sets much like this one. Granted, you can still attend plenty of club nights rigidly dedicated to one genre, but it feels like the numbers are decreasing every week. Blame, or praise, the lack of a monoculture.

For a DJ who's clearly invested in playing sets that are primed for you (yes, you) to hit the dancefloor and rave without frontiers, Thomson pays a fair bit of heed to the technical side of things while he's at it. He's an especially big fan of dense vocal loops, the kind you think are saying about five different things and then the next tune slams in and you still haven't figured it out. This happens on Kassem Mosse's '012A', Karenn's 'Caretaker' and 'Lady Science' by Soul Capsule, a late 90s deep house roller slashed to barely recognisable pieces – and is presumably the techno wing of his taste making itself known. Rather than doing these things in segments, Thomson returns to techno a few more times across the 71 minutes: 'Arpjam VIP', a remarkably hardnosed effort (it sounds more like an early 90s Underground Resistance banger than anything) by Night Slugs stalwarts Jam City, feeds into the blissfully Detroitian Carl Craig mix of Mister Monday's 'Future'. Pearson Sound, another Ramadanman alias, rejigs Joy O's should-I-be-shouting-the-hook-to-this 'Sicko Cell' – you might know it as the one that goes "cocaine powder" over and over – with some chemically unsound bleep techno scrubbing. Actress' 'Ghosts Have A Heaven' has its kickdrum brought to the fore while the melody from Snugs' 'Nibiru', seemingly exclusive to this mix, dips in and out while suggesting a microedited cut-up of a bhangra tune.

While a Ben UFO set goes further down the techno rabbithole than most of his contemporaries, even the likes of Jackmaster or Appleblim, he's still clearly got a weather-eye on the most interesting nooks of development in British club music. For example, you might expect his taste in UK funky to veer towards the type unlikely to ever bother the charts – the stuff that glommed on to what the genre's originators blueprinted around 2007 – and you'd be partly right, thanks to inclusions like 'Dunkel Jam' by Elgato, who released a single on Hessle last year. However, you'd also have to ignore 'Sensitivity', a 2011 tune by Champion awash with pinball drum dizziness and the lush vox of Ruby Lee Ryder, which has been one of the most hotly discussed funky tracks of late.

Witness, too, the way he gets out the calligraphic pens (metaphorically speaking) and sketches UK garage's family tree: bassline/4x4 (Bassboy's 'Pump it Up'), unadorned UKG itself (the tremendous 'Keep Your Love' by London producers Ordinary People) and 'Sweet Love', a 1999 Ras Kwame production which features General Levy and forgotten girl band Fierce and somehow manages to be garage, ragga, pop and R&B in equal proportion. For a mix (a DJ; a scene) which, right now, is so crushingly credible that you know it's going to arouse suspicion no matter what, Thomson deserves props for assigning space to something which can very probably be found for 50p at a car boot sale.

It's on here because it's a floor-pleaser, or a potential one at least – as is the case with everything else on Rinse: 016. Apart, oddly, from the final two tracks: a snippet of repulsive junk noize by Andrew Coltrane, who I assume is on Thomson's radar through a release on the Trilogy Tapes label (if you can find the Ben UFO mixtape they issued a while back, it's totally worth your ears), and something by How To Dress Well, who's been dubiously touted as 'indie R&B' to me but seems a cousin of Radiohead and James Blake more than anything. Tempting to think that this jarring conclusion is the DJ saying: okay you lot, head for the cloakroom cos it won't be getting better than me tonight. More likely he'd be too modest for that sort of carry on, but the takeaway here is that a Ben UFO set is about as much fun as you can have on a British dancefloor in 2011.

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