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Ben Sims talks Machine, running labels & more

Machine co-founder and techno legend Ben Sims talks Tribology, ASSAILANTS, and his love of radio.

Ben Sims is a true techno legend. Rising to fame in the early 90s after gaining traction in the UK through parties and pirate radio, Sims is involved in every aspect the techno scene. From running renowned labels such as Theory, Hardgroove and Symbolism, to his Run it Red radio show on NTS, working as a prolific producer, throwing Machine parties with Kirk Degiorgio, and playing in world-famous clubs, Sims does it all.

We caught up with Sims ahead of his set at Machine alongside Anthony Parasole, Kirk Degiorgio, Jane Fitz & Jade Seatle, Miles Sagnia, and Grimes Adhesif (live) at Machine on Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Machine is now entering its seventh year, and going from strength to strength with the Tribology release and tour earlier this year. But what was the origins of the party / label? And how did it come to find a regular home at Corsica?

Actually Machine is 8 years young in February but we’ve been largely non committal on the exact start date so we could move it about to suit birthday celebrations over the years 😂

It’s all going really well at the moment. The tour was great, the highlight probably hosting a stage at Dockyard again during ADE, that was crazy. It’s essentially a traveling club night but being able to program a festival line up for 4000 or 5000 peeps and then streaming it to hundreds of thousands via Be At TV/Facebook Live etc was a big deal for us and definitely got us thinking about doing more large scale things.

It’s certainly been quite a journey from our humble beginnings at Metal Works (the basement of Electrowerks) in Islington. The concept remains the same though – a focus on new, upfront music and unreleased music.

On the origins, Kirk approached me with the idea. Initially the focus was to move around different London venues but we ended up staying exclusively at Corsica for a few years and although these days we host parties at other fave venues in London, it would be more than fair to call Corsica our spiritual home. It’s just a great venue, wicked sound and attracts the right kinda crowd and vibe. Nailing all the elements isn’t easy but they’re essential and ensures we keep coming back.

We haven’t really focussed too much on the label, it was just an extension of the parties and an outlet for some of our own material. I doubt the comp will change that to be honest, it just wouldn’t have been right to put out the comp elsewhere really. There’s some cool stuff coming up for the label but the priority is the party for sure.

Ben Sims at Dockyard Festival ADE 2018

This year also saw the debut release from your ASSAILANTS project with Truncate, and the Chase Sequences EP. How did the collaboration come about, and are there any forthcoming releases & tour dates you can share with us?

Funnily enough I’m answering these questions on a flight to the US as ASSAILANTS hit Miami and NYC this weekend. It’s always a pleasure spinning together so I’m really looking forward to it.

The project started pretty naturally to be honest. We got on well from our first chat and hooked up a remix swap, then did a few gigs together on a Japan tour which included an impromptu b2b at an after party in Osaka. This all lead to a free mid week flash mob style b2b at Dalston Superstore and, from there, we started doing it more regularly at various clubs and festivals on the circuit (including the RA Stage at Movement in Detroit, Awakenings in Amsterdam and Machine at Corsica Studios), and began discussions about making music together.

It took a while to get the debut EP together (mainly logistics of getting in the studio, David’s based in LA) and even longer to work out what to call ourselves (this was mainly laziness), but we’re rolling now. The new EP for our ‘Obscurity is Infinite’ label is under construction and aiming to see daylight around spring.

ASSAILANTS – Effort 8

Back to the Tribology compilation, the mix features tracks from a really diverse spectrum of techno artists including up-and-coming artists / producers. How did you approach the mix, and how did you get so many exclusive tracks?

Considering it turned into one of, if not THE biggest release I’ve ever worked on, it actually started out a relatively humble project.

The initial idea was to ask a few regular guests of the parties and some up and coming acts if they had or would be willing to make exclusive tracks for us and aim to put together a cool little compilation of music we’re into to support the tour, say 8-12 cuts, no more. I approached lots of producers expecting (sensibly I thought) that the majority wouldn’t be able to give us anything. Amazingly, hardly anyone said no and many sent multiple tracks so I started thinking maybe I could do a mix of it too, it kinda spiralled from there.

It was a lot of work but it grew pretty organically so wasn’t as stressful as it could have been if the original idea was a 50 exclusive tracks comp and mix. That would be insanity and I doubt it would have come together.

The mix, I did in my studio on 3 CDJs and a Pioneer DJM900. I had a few cracks at it as I knew it was important so predictably kept fucking up the start. I guess I’d started to unconsciously work out some kind of rough order in my head as the tracks came in. I tend to do that when I buy new music or go through promos too, my head just tries to solve the puzzle and work out what goes where and why. It’s difficult to explain but I do it with most genres of music, constantly grouping records together for a set I’ll never do or a mixtape I’ll never make.

Ben Sims pres Tribology

You also run Symbolism which released the SYMLTD001 white label by yourself and Mike Storm in June. How do you go about A&R’ing various big and influential labels, while touring extensively?

It’s the gigs, touring and radio show that tends to lead me to the artists anyway really. Either just by playing a lot of a particular artist and thinking ‘I should approach them for the labels’ or checking demos for the show. I still only really release music I’d play in my sets, so that’s always been my A&R process. It’s great that Symbolism is getting some love at the mo, I’m really proud of the recent releases and have lots of exciting bits ready for 2019.

Hardgroove just put out the Curved EP from Cadans, and the Culture EP from Avision. Both have quite different sounds from the more disco-influenced preceding releases, is the label’s sound changing?

HG has always focused on tough-edged, funk-driven Dj tools. The vibe does tend to shift if I’m playing lots of a particular sound, like the Disco cut up phase a few years ago but for me there’s many different styles that fall under the banner of Hardgroove and I never want it to be just about one sound. I guess the one thing the catalogue has in common is fun. They’re not cuts for moody DJs, they’re for the party rockers and none of the releases are strictly ‘Techno’, well not in today’s usual definition of the word anyway. There’s elements of House, Disco, Funk, Rave, whether sampled or just inspired by, and artists that embrace that are the kind of people (like Cadans and Avision) I want on the label. There’s 3 releases on the go for 2019 already too.

Cadans – Creep

Your Run it Red show has been on NTS since 2014, and you’re a big supporter of new music. What’s you approach to the show, and how do you see the UK radio scene at the moment?

I’ve pretty much had a regular radio show since the 90s. I guess it’s just one of my things. I was obsessed with music long before I was old enough to go to clubs and by the time I was in my mid teens, sneaking into raves in the late 80s, I’d already started submitting demo tapes to radios.

Having a regular show was by far my priority, I did the odd party for friends and a handful of club gigs but radio was my main goal back then and it’s stayed important throughout my whole career.

It’s so good to have a show on NTS, I love what they do; the balance of styles, the many guest stints and monthly residencies (I’m genuinely excited about their new app too 🤓). Being a station that can boast Jeff Mills or Andy Weatherall as contributors while channeling the vibe of a golden era pirate is truly amazing.

I’m very happy Run it Red calls NTS home, the show’s focus is purely new music that I’ve picked up or been sent in the 4 weeks previous to the broadcast, so aside from being a great excuse to track down all the hot new stuff I can find, it puts me in touch with lots of new artists and labels I’d have otherwise possibly missed out on.

Lots of the material for my labels and sets was originally sent in for the show as demos too and it’s the show where I first test it out.

In general, it definitely feels like a good time for radio. There are lots of great shows and stations pushing good music, at present my faves are Josey Rebelles show on Rinse plus Carista and the Athens of the North on Nts, plenty of quality on Mi-Soul, Worldwide fm, and 1BTN too, even Centre Force are back! It’s much like the 80s when I got hooked on radio. It feels like the commercial stations are getting it so wrong and the underground is stepping up with style. It’s not just a case of commercial stations not supporting the underground, it’s the underground not wanting or needing to compromise and doing it better ourselves.

Ben Sims Run it Red November 2018

Can you tell us about your relationship with Night Moves?

Jane, Jade and I are annual residents at the excellent Field Manuevers festival. I’ve hosted a Machine tent a couple of times while they host their ‘Field Moves’ concept every year. I always spend a lot of time at FM checking out their guests or dancing to their sets so it just makes perfect sense to join forces for a special party. It’s kinda surprising we haven’t done something like this already to be honest. It’s a perfect pairing, I can’t wait!

What directions will you be taking Machine in the next year?

World domination! 😂 just joking.

There’s lots of things and events in the pipeline. The comp and tour have really upped our game so, mainly, we’ll be trying to keep the momentum going by working on tour dates for late in the year but also do a few more parties leading up to it too. There’s a couple of remix projects due on the label as well, including one Truncate remix of DJ Deep that’s almost a Machine theme tune now, that’ll no doubt get dropped on the 21st!

Ben Sims plays alongside Anthony Parasole, Kirk Degiorgio, Night Moves, Miles Sagnia, and Grimes Adhesif (live) at Machine on Friday. You can find tickets here.