My first exposure to Ben Sims was being shown a clip of him mixing alongside Cristian Varella, managing six turntables between them - this should give at least some barometer of Sims’ skills as a DJ, which are nothing short of masterful. Over the years however, the London based producer has had many ventures besides his pursuits as a world renowned DJ, running nights, labels, radio stations and producing techno records as surgically precise as his mixing skills.
With a performance scheduled for this years Bloc festival, we decided to catch up with Sims, discussing the festival, his relationship with Kirk Degiorgio and the future fate of London nightlife.
You managed to remain as prolific as ever last year despite having a large amount of gear stolen from your studio in Hackney, how did you manage to remain motivated after such an incident?
I’d only been at the new studio two months when that happened and it wasn’t quite finished before the break in, but it did make an arse of my plans for plenty of new production work last year.
Luckily I’d predicted that it may take anything up to six months to get the sound right in the new place. I’d really got my head down in the old studio before I left and had a batch of tracks put aside for new projects, so release wise it didn’t hold me up too much but obviously it was a nightmare and it took months to get the insurance money to start over. My first proper session wasn’t until September 10th, months after I moved in.
Was their any development in trying to catch those responsible? I remember seeing a lot of people share the CCTV footage via social networks…
Nope. Admittedly we didn’t expect the equipment back but we at least wanted to make it more difficult to sell and make people more aware of it. In general the police were fucking useless to be honest, they took it seriously when the statement was first made public and helped in getting lots of retweets and shares etc. but quickly lost interest, far more worried about saving face than actually doing their job.
We even gave them the footage and exact times they needed to pull CCTV from other cameras but they didn’t do anything, I don’t think they have the staff or time to actually investigate so called ‘victimless’ crimes, they’re obviously too busy filming TV shows about arresting drunks!
Can you tell us a little bit about your decision to close Theory last year as well? Will this be the end of your work as label host or just a transition into something new?
As happy as I am with the label’s output recently I just think its run its course, I’ve gone full circle from it being a remix project to a solo to a label for releasing music by others, all the way back again. It just feels right to finish at a point I’m proud of and start something fresh.
I’m not going to immediately launch a new label to take its place, initially I just want to focus on making new music, finish off some of the other projects that were overshadowed by Theory and take it from there.
You’re performing at Bloc this year… How was the experience last time you played there? Who are you most looking forward to seeing on the lineup this time round?
Obviously there’s loads of great names on the line up and plenty of my current faves and all time heroes but I’m most looking forward to checking out Ron Morelli, as although I’m definitely a fan of the label, I’ve never really seen him (or any of the regular L.I.E.S. acts) spin, plus Traxx will be on my hit list as I only got a chance to see him once before and he was awesome… I’ve gotta check out ESG, I only saw them a couple of times many moons ago and they were amazing, so tight, so really looking forward to that.
I had a lot of fun the couple of times I played Bloc at Minehead before, I used to go to soul weekends quite a bit at holiday camps like Butlins in my yout’ and was hugely influenced by that whole scene, so it’s great to be spinning at an electronic event like Bloc at the same kinda venue, feels like a rite of passage in a way.
I did also play the ill fated London one but just on the ship for Boiler Room. It was really cool and obviously I didn’t know anything about the forthcoming drama when I was on, it was only after that things started to get crazy with security and police clumsily shutting it down. I’m very glad they’re back to their spiritual home again.
Have you always lived in London? The last couple of years have seen quite a large threat to the city’s nightlife – Fabric recently coming under fire, alongside the closure of Plastic People, and Cable in 2013. How do you feel about this and do you think we’ll see more change to the London clubbing scene over this year?
I grew up on the Essex borders and moved to a London postcode in my early 20s but I’ve been partying and DJing around the London circuit since the late 80s, so I’ve seen many clubs come and go.
To be honest it’s kind of inevitable, most are in industrial or barren areas when they open, so they don’t really bother anyone but when leases or licenses need renewing, the whole area might have changed, become fashionable or gentrified and a loud club, with hundreds of people on the streets around it every weekend isn’t appropriate anymore.
Obviously it’s a shame when legendary clubs close or are getting serious hassle from the authorities but its also a bit naive to think they’ll last forever to be honest, best to celebrate them while they’re there and make the most of them.
Speaking of the local scene you joined NTS radio last year, have you been enjoying having a regular slot on the station? Any special plans for the show across the rest of this year?
Yeah it’s great to be back doing a regular show, especially on a local station. NTS has an almost pirate radio feel about it, with many of the DJs coming from the Dalston/Hackney area and I really like that, plus it’s very open musically and not known for one sound or one genre specifically and that’s really important.
I actually just revamped and relaunched the show, the first one of 2015 went out two days ago and is now called ‘run it red’ (named after my tendency to distort channels on mixers), plus I’ve given it some structure, some different sections and tried to make it a bit more professional sounding with jingles, vocal drops and music beds etc, rather than just me mixing a bunch of new tunes for three hours and annoying people by talking over them!
The focus is still very mush on pushing new techno, house and electronica (I only play music I’ve bought, been sent or has been released in the month prior) and whenever possible, to push new artists and labels.
It’s not a DJ set or podcast as such, it’s meant to be more informative than that, like the kinda radio shows I used to listen to obsessively (Jazzy M, Colin Dale, Tim Westwood, Mike Allen, Coldcuts, Solid Steel etc). It’s meant to showcase the music, not me.
And how about your Machine parties with Kirk Degiorgio? How did the two of you first meet and when did you decide to start running nights together?
We had many friends in common for a long time without properly meeting each other - that didn’t happen til the mid 2000s when I booked him to play a Split party at The Key in Kings Cross (R.I.P.), a few years later after Split was through we got talking about putting a night on together.
The concept of solely focusing on new music was all Kirk, he also found someone to help us run/fund it (Josh Doherty). That was four years ago and now with my manager (Dean) helping us things are the best they’ve ever been in London with regular nights at Corsica and Fabric plus we’re working on occasional one offs for later in the year and regularly taking the night to different countries all over the world ( last weekend Spain, this weekend Thailand and Singapore).
Add a label and a forthcoming mix CD by Kirk to the mix and it’s all going very well indeed!
Finally what’s next for yourself? Any new projects in the works over 2015?
This year I’m aiming to do more in the studio and try to get some long discussed, never materialised ideas off the ground (like a hip hop project, and hardware only electro jams) plus some techno collaborations too.
I’ll be resurrecting at least one of my labels that was taken down prematurely by distributor collapse (Symbolism) and also trying to do a few more ‘all night’ sets in open minded clubs - just before Christmas I did one at Twisted Pepper in Dublin and really enjoyed it, kind of like warming up and setting the mood for yourself, its a great challenge as you have no one but yourself to blame if the flow of the music over the evening is shit, so there’s far more responsibility than just a DJ set, and after many years of happily staying in my comfort zone, I’m ready to experiment a lot more and take some risks!