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Baker's Dozen

Aides-Memoires: Ben UFO Selects 13 Favourite Records
Rory Gibb , December 4th, 2013 05:35

Ahead of Hessle Audio's three-room takeover of Fabric this Friday, the DJ and Hessle Audio co-founder rifles through his record collection and discusses thirteen particular favourites with Rory Gibb

"What do records represent? It's not just about music, because you have music everywhere. Records are artefacts that remind you of things or people." Ben Thomson is flicking through the record shelves that occupy one corner of his living room. Elsewhere in his South London flat the vinyl spans rooms, filling several shelving units and overspilling into boxes and neat rows on the floor. He's recently slimmed down his jungle and drum & bass section, he says, gesturing to several stacked plastic boxes filled with 12"s; these are the ones he's kept. His living room shelves, meanwhile, contain recordings from right across genres and eras, unsurprisingly for a DJ whose regular shows on Rinse FM stretch well beyond dance music. The first installment of Morphine's three-LP retrospective of Philadelphian synth improviser Charles Cohen, The Middle Distance, is playing in the background as I arrive.

Over the past half-decade Thomson, aka Ben UFO, has acquired a deserved reputation as one of the UK's most daring and wide-ranging club music selectors, with his keen ear and technical ability enabling him to cut between eras, dance lineages and mixing styles with dazzling ease. Having first fallen in love with drum & bass and jungle as a teenager, it was dubstep that offered his launching-off point; indeed, inextricably linked to Thomson's own development as a DJ has been the maturing of Hessle Audio, the label he co-founded in 2007 with David Kennedy (aka Pearson Sound) and Kevin McAuley (aka Pangaea), while all three were students in Leeds. Having first emerged while dubstep was beginning to undergo its rapid process of proliferation and globalisation, Hessle Audio brought a strikingly focused, spacious and percussion-centric aesthetic to bear on 140bpm sub-bass driven music, via their DJ sets, club night Ruffage and regular shows on Sub FM. When dubstep began to unravel at ground level, leaving an open playing field, Hessle proved one of the most coherent focal points within a rapidly diverging UK dance community, with the label's releases and its founders' DJ sets subtly plotting connections between the pirate radio-borne genres they grew up with and the worldwide house and techno diaspora.

So Thomson's DJ sets often bring a swift, impact-led mixing style to bear on house, techno and the various strains of mutant, bruk 'n' bass UK techno that have established themselves in recent years. On a club floor his sets somehow manage to be simultaneously considered and raucous, locking into an irresistible four-to-the-floor groove, or knocking you for six with unexpected tangents, old favourites you'd forgotten about or brutally bizarre secret weapons ("I'm really into finding records that work in big spaces to lots of people, but that are really weird as well," he says at one point).

Hessle Audio also present a weekly Thursday night show on Rinse FM, with Thomson and Kennedy as hosts. The radio offers Thomson a platform to go further off piste; rather than exclusively play dance music he'll often dart across the spectrum, with one particularly memorable recent show handing the reins over to Mississippi Records for a varied hour alighting on gospel, soul and more. Recently moving from a fortnightly to a weekly slot, he reflects, "opens up a lot of possibilities, and it allows me to take a looser approach, which is always something I've liked in listening to radio. The best grime shows, for example, were the ones that had this kind of explosive, unpredictable energy. Obviously my shows don't sound anything like that, but because of the way I approach music, when I was doing one show a month I couldn't relax enough to approach radio in the way I would want to. I felt like each show had to represent me completely, but that's really limiting. I hope that by doing radio this regularly it'll affect what I do in clubs in ways that I might not expect. I hope it'll open things up."

I've met up with Thomson to speak to him about thirteen of his favourite records for a Quietus Baker's Dozen feature - a process of selection, I suggest, that was presumably pretty formidable given the breadth and depth of his record collection. "Initially it was, very much so," he admits, sitting down on the sofa next to his record shelves and turntable. "How could I possibly narrow it down? I had a few different ideas - [perhaps] choosing a section of time, choosing a genre that meant something particular or that influenced me in the early days. I could have picked classic dubstep, or jungle, or contemporary synth music or something.

"But I think the internet is awash with those kinds of features already, and I couldn't think of a way to do it that wouldn't feel tired. How many of those pieces have you seen online recently - 'XYZ selects their favorite extremely internet credible jungle records for XYZ blog'? The quantity of recorded music, and the nature of writing about music - and talking about it - is obviously such that certain things will get a disproportionate amount of attention relative to their real influence. So I guess, for example, the mid-90s era of jungle, the beginnings of techstep and stuff like that, has got a huge amount of press attention and has been talked about loads as this really influential era of music for contemporary dance music producers, especially the stuff that's coming out of London." With the intention being to avoid that kind of canonical selection, he continues, "in the end I felt that I would like to at least try to approach it a bit more spontaneously".

So, Thomson reveals, he hasn't chosen a Baker's Dozen list at all. The plan, instead, is "just have a look through my record shelves and see what leaps out. I figure that if something does leap out at me instinctively then it's probably worth talking about, and I thought I'd rather do that than spend hours over-thinking it, and meticulously trying to figure out what the most credible old dubstep record would be to sum up my experiences as a stoned 20 year old."

That way there's also always the possibility of chancing upon something you might have completely forgotten about. "Totally," he nods. "And with the dubstep thing that happens all the time. I think the last time I played dubstep records in a club was one of the Hessle nights in Fabric about a year ago, and me, Kev [Pangaea] and Jamie Blawan were playing stuff at the end, all back to back, and Jamie played a record that I'd only heard maybe once or twice before in clubs, and it was amazing. I couldn't remember what it was, and it turned out it was a tune by RSD on a label that only released two or three records. If someone were to make a list of all the canonical records, or the most important, significant dubstep records, there's no way that track would ever make its way onto the list. But it could mean so many different things to different people. Those records were as much a part of my experience as the big records."

To begin reading through Ben UFO's Baker's Dozen selection - assembled on-the-fly across the course of an extended chat about his history, DJing, music and memory - click on the image below.

Ben UFO plays both a regular and a jungle set at London's Fabric this Friday 6th December, as part of Hessle Audio's all-club takeover, alongside Pangaea, Pearson Sound, Frak, Objekt, Fiedel, Anthony 'Shake' Shakir, Joe, and more. For more information and tickets click here to visit the Fabric site.

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