'It has to be real': Benjamin Damage on why a live show as a DJ is complicated to perform
Welsh DJ and producer Benjamin Damage recalls his first international gig in 2010, playing Berghain for the first time, running through fields in Ireland to make it to a set in front of 8,000 people and more
There are a lot of names that pop up when we say bold UK techno, but on top of the list among the newest rages is Benjamin Damage. True to his name, the "young techno king" is making some critical impressions with his deeply rooted soundscape, making him one of the most acclaimed young artistes in the UK underground scene in recent times.
The first producer to be signed to Berlin duo Modeselektor's renowned label 50 Weapons, Damage drew his first sounds from UK's vibrant underground vibes putting together a sonic spectrum from early rave and jungle to 90s house. His uncanny and non-linear approach to making techno, that produced an emotion rarely found in modern electronic music, earned him early recognition among his peers.
It was Damage's collaborative effort with Doc Daneeka in their critically acclaimed album 'They! Live' -- they worked together in Berlin fusing UK bass, techno, lush ambiance and haunting vocals -- that established the Welsh artiste as a force to reckon with.
What really cemented his place in the scene was the praise he received from critics for his stunning debut solo album 'Heliosphere' in 2013. The album was welcomed as a warm return to soul in the cold industrial world of Berlin Techno. His tracks 'Delirium Tremens' and 'Swarm' became anthems in summer music festivals all over the world, making his powerful DJ sets a favorite in his adopted home and abroad.
Abandoning the stage laptop, Damage delivers a truly live electronic techno performance, taking elements of his original tracks and recreating them in a new form in every show.
His all hardware setup premiered at Fabric in 2014 and was heavily refreshed in 2018 with debut shows in Oval Space and Berghain. Damage’s second solo album 'Obsidian' was released to rave reviews and was the last album to be put out by 50 Weapons before closing down.
Benjamin is now at home with R&S Records in 2017, releasing the 'Montreal' EP and the single 'Malfunction / Binary' that was released in July 2018 with a full-length album to follow in 2019. In an exclusive interview with Meaww, the artiste shares insight into his music-making process, the journey and what sets him apart from the rest.
Excerpts from the interview:
How exciting is it - the thrill of bringing new music to new places?
It’s always a great adventure. Every new place has its own unique culture and atmosphere. From playing in an underground basement in Denver to a massive show at Sonar in front of thousands of people, it’s always a different energy. New places always give me inspiration to write new music and go in different directions.
When people listen to your music, what would you say is one most important thing they can take away from the experience?
It’s a very personal thing what you get from music, it’s not up to me to say what it means or what it should mean. I just make music that means something to me and it’s up to others to make up their mind what, if anything, it says to them. Recently a married couple sent me a picture of them getting a tattoo of the name 'Monolith' from my 'Obsidian' album as it was the song they fell in love to. I didn’t originally write it as a love song.
Similarly, what do you take away the most when you play live music in front of audiences world over?
I love seeing the crowd and feeling the atmosphere. Playing live is a very intimate experience even if it’s to a large crowd because it’s all 100 percent your own work and you are there performing in the moment.
We can't help but wonder, how much damage (the fun type that gets people dancing crazy) do you cause on the dance floor with your live sets?
There was one time where the whole club turned into a riot and we all had to leave. I can’t really take credit for that though as it was apparently a long-running feud!
Touring across several countries, what would you say is the most exhilarating experience of being a performer?
The build-up can be very intense. You have the worry about the equipment getting delivered and in working order, the soundcheck, making sure all the cables work and nothing is going to break. So many things can go wrong. After a really good gig when things go well and the crowd is happy, there is such a release of emotion after all that build-up. It’s like a surge of adrenaline and it’s impossible to go to sleep for a while after.
What would you say is at the heart of your music?
I try to put as much emotion as I can into my music and I try to live life to the fullest extent and embrace the highs and lows.
Looking back, where did it all start? What was that one point in life when you decided music is the way to go?
I always wanted to be a full-time musician. The performing part came from the desire to make music and produce. I was never the person who just wanted as much attention as possible for the sake of it. This is why I had to make a real live show which is pretty complicated to perform. I could never press a button on a laptop and dance around pretending to play live, it has to be real.
How would you best describe the musical journey so far?
It’s been a dream and a pretty wild one. There have been so many highs and lows, great achievements and great disappointments. I’m very happy the journey is still going.
Your most memorable moment, either in making music or playing a live set?
So many… my first international gig in 2010, playing Berghain (Berlin's most exclusivenightclubb) for the first time, running through fields in Ireland to make it to my set in front of 8,000 people, my first Indian tour, and going to Detroit, the home of techno.
Where do you see your music taking you in the future?
I like to live in the moment. Music can be a very uneven journey so it’s not even wise to make very long term plans. I’m writing a new album for R&S [Records] which is maybe a little overdue but I’m happy with how it sounds and I hope others can enjoy it too.
From your debut solo album ‘Heliospere’ to your latest ‘Obsidian’ and your upcoming album to be released on R&S in 2019, how have you evolved over the years?
It’s a very gradual process of learning and evolving. I think I’ve got better at doing things, expressing what’s in my head. When you look back there are always things you would do differently.
The top five songs you are listening to right now on your playlist.
Skeemask - 'Rev8617'
Throbbing Gristle - 'AB/7A'
Blawan - 'Tasser'
Actress and London Contemporary Orchestra - 'Momentum'
Blue Hour - 'Merdian (Truncate Remix)'
Damage is currently on a three-city tour of India courtesy Red Bull Music before he heads to Amsterdam, Paris and Bogota. Give him a listen on his soundcloud.