FEATURE INTERVIEW: Ben Sims
It’s fair to say that one of the UK’s biggest exports in the techno world is Ben Sims. A man who has stayed true to his sound ever since he started spinning, never compromising and managing to deliver a relentless yet meticulous set each time he plays out. Add to this, a worldwide recognition of his production talents with releases on Drumcode, KMS, Tresor, CLR and many others including his own Machine brand (with Kirk Degiorgio) and events, the man has a touring schedule that means every weekend is solidly filled up, well in advance. He very kindly took some time out for this interview, ahead of his closing Machine tour gig at Fabric this Saturday!
I have always wondered how he acquired the nickname of Sims when it isn’t his surname.
“I chose it actually, used to call myself ‘Ben S’ in the pirate radio days and wanted to lose the initial but not use my real name (for obvious legal reasons), so I became ‘Sims’. I was a fan of the original queen of hip-hop soul ‘Joyce Sims’ in the 80s so it was partly a homage to her and frankly, it just sounded better. It took a while for my friends and me to get used to it but now, some 25 odd years later, it’s by far the name most people know me by and I tend to forget it’s not the name on my passport.”
Cutting his teeth while the rave scene was in its infancy in Essex and London, I ask what it was like for Ben growing up during the rave explosion.
“It was a lot of fun, I was basically just a teen raver and bedroom DJ handing out tapes which lead to some gigs and pirate radio slots. Admittedly, I was more focused on going to parties rather than playing at them, but I can remember doing a set between DJ Hype and Slipmatt at a club back in the day, thinking I’d made it onto the circuit properly. I hadn’t but it was definitely a highlight of my limited rave era DJ career.” explains Ben.
Having played a countless amount of gigs worldwide, and releasing on most of the leading labels in the techno world, Ben has seen many high points in his career, and also a few lows. When asked about these instances, he continues:
“There’s been a few to be honest. As a DJ one of them was being asked to play the 25th Anniversary of KMS records in Detroit by Kevin (Saunderson). That was a big moment. I knocked up 4 special edits just for the set and they ended up being released on the label too. Remixing Jeff Mills for an Axis release and Robert Hood for M-Plant were definitely 2 of the highlights of my production career as was delivering my debut LP on Drumcode”.
“However, it can’t all be good. It’s often a rollercoaster of emotions with amazing highs and terrifying lows 😉 Probably the worst was the (much publicised) studio burglary. That was heartbreaking. I’d only just moved from another studio so it wasn’t even fully set up and luckily whoever did it only went for the modern looking equipment rather than old analogue stuff but it derailed me massively and pretty much tainted the whole studio move. Dealing with vile insurance values and an uninterested old bill is no fun either.”
Machine grows from strength to strength, with a huge arena at Dockyard festival for ADE and a tour that has seen many countries travelled.
“As a promoter, I’m constantly proud of the achievements of Machine. This tour has been so good – the best yet with so many wicked nights. Hosting the stage at Dockyard Festival during ADE was crazy with a killer line up and 4000 ravers in a tent for 12 hours! Being able to close out the tour in London, with a fabric takeover is another biggie for me. It’s such a great line up ready to descend upon the legendary Farringdon cavern of carnage. I can’t bloody wait!”, explains Ben
“Everyone I’ve communicated with directly is poised for a serious session. It’s a unique selection of names plus I’m a fan of everyone on the bill so I’m double excited to catch some killer sets. Personally, I’ll be going for a healthy balance of brand new, unreleased or exclusive cuts. There are a few special bits I’ve been saving just for the fabric party and some hot out-of-the-studio bits to be road tested too but I’ll also be dropping the odd cheeky edit of classics. In fact, one super special rework I’ve been chasing from a Detroit legend has just landed in my inbox tonight so that’ll be getting a debut rinsing from me on Saturday!”
On his Machine imprint to coincide with the tour they have just released a mammoth 50 track album, combining a mixture of artists such as Mark Broom, ROD, Oscar Mulero, Luke Slater and Robert Hood, alongside newer artists such as Charles Green, Avision and Blasha & Allatt.
“We just thought a ‘little’ compilation to support the tour would be cool – ask a ‘few’ regular guests to contribute and hope for a solid but ‘small’ package. It kinda spiralled with an afterthought of me doing a mix too. I widened the search for music to get a ‘bit’ more and was happily bombarded with an avalanche of killer cuts (it actually took some work to get it down to 50 tracks!).”
“The artwork was largely inspired by early 90s Rave flyers and the name, although totally fitting for the project, actually came last. It’s been a lot of graft getting it together but I’m really happy with it and it all happened pretty naturally if we’d planned on a 50 track compilation from the get-go it would have been stressful as fuck.”
Machine celebrates its eighth birthday in January, however, Ben doesn’t quite have the typical celebratory plans in place for the birthday.
“I usually take most of January off so I’ll more likely be celebrating 8 years of hard work by doing absolutely fuck all! Actually, it would be great to get the crew together; Kirk (co-promoter), Dean (Machine events manager), Josh (ex-machine events manager) and myself to share tales of DJ divas, suspect hotel charges, projectile vomiting in Motels and accidentally giving pints of vodka to teetotallers. It’s been quite a journey. “
His successful Hardgroove label is back with a vengeance after a hiatus, with an EP from Avision, this is only the start as Ben details.
“Yeah Hardgroove is back with a vengeance, the excellent vinyl debut from Avision just dropped as well as some seriously heavy gear from Cadans. Following that is a Various Artist EP featuring both the above and new heat from Mark Broom. Symbolism also has a few lined up, including 2 Various Artist EPs featuring the likes of Damon Wild, Marco Bruno, Stef Mendesidis and more. Work is underway for the follow-up ASSAILANTS EP from Truncate and myself too. We’ve had a few sessions together at my home studio and have a bunch of cuts on the go now, so hopefully, they’ll see a release early 2019 on our Obscurity is Infinite label.”.
With the touring, and production keeping Ben as one of the most in-demand DJs for the foreseeable future, and with decades of experience, I ask is there anywhere he hasn’t yet played that he would like to?
“There are still plenty of countries I’ve never played that I’d love to try. Iceland/Russia/China spring to mind immediately. Events wise, I’d love to take my ‘Ron Bacardi’ House and Disco sets to parties like Dimensions in Croatia, Dekmantel in Holland or Mutek in Canada – I always see a great balance of styles on their lineups. It would be great to drop some more Roots reggae and dub sets too, it’s so much fun doing it at Field Maneuvers every year and I really hope I can do it more often.”
I wonder if he ever has a chance to ever sleep, with a hectic schedule that leaves very little in the way of days off, I conclude with asking Ben how he likes to relax on the occasions he has downtime.
“I always book up a lot of things when I have time off to catch up on stuff I might have missed. See shows, go to restaurants and try to squeeze in as much quality time with my wife as possible. I had last weekend off and over the course of a few days we ate way too much food (various places but Korean bbq @ Koba was my personal fave), we checked out the Rammellzee art exhibition at Lazinc (really good), saw David Byrne Live @ the o2 (fucking amazing), caught Blackkklansman at the cinema (powerful ending, disappointing Movie) and I hit a couple of record shops in Soho (very nice stack of roots reggae 45s from sounds of the universe).”
Words By Louk