When Mr Benn leaves his house at 52 Festive Road, possibly wearing a black suit and bowler hat, he enters his studio via a magic door. But how does he decide which outfit supplied by a shopkeeper he is going to try on today? “It depends what I have planned for the studio that day,” the Bristol-based hip-hop/reggae DJ/producer responds, smirking. “If I’m gonna be working on basslines, I’ll don the Bootsy Collins-esque oversized star-shaped shades, pimp jacket and clown shoes. Whereas if it’s a mixing day, I’ll opt for the Lee Perry-esque suit covered in CDs, paired with the pink beard dye and briefcase stuffed with dollar bills and bananas.”
Raised on a diet of The Specials and King Tubby as a kid, Mr Benn tells DJ Mag that everyone from the Ragga Twins and Congo Natty to De La Soul and the Beastie Boys featured for him in his youth, “plus the big band jazz of Count Basie and the ridiculous bass-playing of Les Claypool of Primus. When I was 12, I wanted to be Flavor Flav [of Public Enemy]. I even tried to speak like him at one point, but soon realised that was a very bad idea.”
He started DJing in and around Bristol, and making original tunes and mash-ups to play out in his dubwise hip-hop sets. His track 'Long Time' with Blak Twang and Blackout Ja, released on his own Square One Sound label, put him on the map, and he has continued in the reggae/dancehall vein ever since. “I love the energy, dynamics and diversity of reggae and dancehall, banging soca or the sweetest, smoothest lovers' rock,” he tells DJ Mag. “It will always make you wanna move.
“I naturally try and incorporate all the other styles I have absorbed over the years too, rather than trying to replicate straight-up reggae styles,” he continues. “Why don't I make trance? I don't get it — it confuses me.”
Electronic music scenes come and go, but dub seems to be omnipresent. Why is this? “You can't argue with dub bass,” Mr Benn suggests. “The original sub bass is the foundation of everything good. Simple as that.”
In between remixing the likes of Horace Andy & Ashley Beedle, Terry Lynn and Monkey Mafia, Mr Benn — real name Ben Menter — started work on his debut album. 'Shake A Leg' has finally arrived, out now on Nice Up!, and features collaborations with top MCs such as Top Cat, Ragga Twins, Tenor Fly, Serocee and Zulu.
Mr Benn should rightly be delighted with every single track on his album.
From carnival-tinged dancehall ting 'Shake A Leg' with Blackout Ja to straight-up Tubby-esque reggae piece 'No More Guns' with Tenor Fly, via reggaeton cut 'Wine Down Low' with Mad Dog and soca sensation 'Do the Move' with Top Cat, this is an album of strictly feelgood-yet-conscious vibes. You need it to nice up your summer — what are you waiting for?
“With the Ragga Twins track ['Without A Trace'], it was amazing to see how quick they worked in the studio,” Mr Benn says. “Every verse was done in one take, no messing about. True professionals, and legends in the game! Having spent many hours as a kid zooming about on my bike listening to their 'Reggae Owes Me Money' album on my Walkman, it was a real honour to have them agree to do a track with me.”