There is a chance that had Benjamin Roth not been so determined his Don’t Be Afraid label would never have gotten off the ground. When LWE first spoke to Roth just over a year ago for the podcast he did for the site, he disclosed that he had been sending out his tracks for three years before the advent of DBA, with not one response. Despite the lack of encouragement — or perhaps because of it — Roth set up his own label to release a number of his own EPs under the name Semtek. Realizing he was entering a competitive market as an unknown artist on an unknown label, he enlisted the talents of people like Mr. G and Neville Watson to remix some of his tracks. Although the names would have helped gain the label a small amount of attention, it was the later Mr. Beatnick records that really set the label on course. More recently EPs by MGUN and Disco Nihilist have furthered the label’s credentials, with DBA and its two off-shoot labels nearing towards 20 releases. We got in touch with Roth to talk about creating a successful label, where he discovered some of the new talent on DBA, and telling your heroes that you don’t like their work. New signing to the DBA Special Editions imprint, Disco Nihilist, was the man in charge of mixing our 18th Talking Shopcast podcast. Worth the wait, its 80 minutes are composed almost entirely of the American producer’s own edits of disco, funk, techno, and house favorites.
Why did you set up DBA? Was it essentially to release your own records or did you always have the view of it being for other artists as well?
Benjamin: If I’m honest, I can’t really remember. The first few releases were my own tunes, but they didn’t do well, not at all. The first one, DBA001, did OK but 002 and 003 were disastrous, sales-wise. I think if I hadn’t had it in mind to do the Beatnick releases at that point I would have given up, but I knew those had to see the light of day and I felt as though I had a good idea of how to do them. I have also to thank a few people like Neville Watson, who remixed my third EP, Andy Blake, and Mr. G all of whom offered ceaseless advice and encouragement throughout the process. In fact Neville’s remix of “Lotos Eaters,” which is one of the best tracks we have ever put out, was a turning point in that it was the first to be licensed and the first to really validate what we were doing. I still play that track today, regularly.
You haven’t released on DBA yourself for a little while. Do you have anything coming up?
I’m not sure. I have some tracks in the works which will come out somewhere but I’m not sure where exactly yet. I still feel quite uneasy about releasing my own music; it takes a certain single-mindedness, but the way I work these days is anathema to that approach. Any of the artists who have recorded on our label would tell you that I am a hardliner when it comes to the contents of the EPs we put out. That has definitely gotten in the way of my own work as a producer because I ask myself the same questions I ask of anyone who releases on our label throughout the creative process. It has made me a better DJ though, I have a much clearer idea these days of what makes a track work for me, and of what works in a club.
What sets DBA Dubs and DBA Special Editions apart from the main label?
I guess DBA DUBS is about more soulful, melodic house jams. Dixon played the Kelpe 10″ in his recent Essential Mix, and that’s exactly the kind of DJ I would expect to be playing them. Both the DUBS releases so far have done really well on account of the fact they’re soulful and club-friendly at the same time. There’s also a strong boogie edge to both of them which is a happy accident really, but something I intend to maintain throughout the series. The Special Editions imprint was created as a kind of Club Constructions deal — it’s reserved for much more straightforward club cuts.
You’ve been very busy since we last spoke, ramping up the exposure of DBA and doing more high-profile parties. Tell us a bit about the parties and what your plans for them are.
I have been putting on parties since I was 15 years old, and it has always been the plan to have a Don’t Be Afraid label party which offers a physical presence for the label. The first party I ever did was at Po Na Na in Cambridge. We had MC Det, Dave Stone (then owner of Emotif Recordings, quite a big deal), and Ed Solo down to play, but by the time they arrived the club had realized that we were under-age and chucked us all out. So we ended up sat on a Cambridge street corner in mid-summer explaining to MC Det, who had come from London and encountered some unexpected trouble on the way, that he wouldn’t be able to step on the mic because none of us were allowed back in the club. I should add that Det was unbelievably sound about the whole thing, given what had come to pass. To be honest it’s been downhill ever since, but putting on raves is second nature to me, I’ll most likely be doing it until the day I die.
Your Spargel Trax series continued this year with another two EPs for record store day. Is this going to be an annual fixture from now on? Can you give us any clues on the identities of the producers?
Spargel Trax has been received really well, so we do plan to continue with it, yes. I can’t really say anything about who is behind the records, except that we have used it on occasion as a way to introduce artists to the label. In fact we have gone on to work with almost all of the artists who appeared on Spargel Trax.
Can you tell us about some of the newer signings to the labels? How did you come across people like MGUN, Kelpe, and Claws For?
I saw MGUN on a lineup for a party in Detroit with Rick Wilhite and a few others. At the time I was just curious to see who he was, and this was before the Wild Oats release had dropped even. I Googled him and came upon his Soundcloud. Kelpe is someone who Mr. Beatnick put me on to. Kel is an old friend of Nick’s and he’s a talented producer, for sure. I have a special interest in trying to get people who are used to working at slower speeds into making techno. Claws For? is an old friend who I’ve know for 15 years or so. It has always been obvious that he’s an amazing producer, although his talent for taking apart pieces of equipment that were otherwise functioning has proved an impediment over the years. In all seriousness though, he is a very clever guy who is destined for big things, musically. Watch out for his new project, “The Whole Truth” which features Errol Bellot.
As a label owner, there are various pitfalls that inevitably pop up along the way. Did you have anyone to mentor you or give you some advice on the labels when you first got going with them? Or was it a matter of trial and error?
I mentioned earlier a couple of guys: Andy Blake, Mr. G, Neville Watson, all of whom have helped out since the start and offered invaluable advice. Other than that it has been trial and error all the way. The greatest pitfall for me has been trying to find the balance between guiding artists to achieve their potential and becoming too invested emotionally in their music. I have a background in sound engineering and in production, but also as a musician, so I have very strong views as to how a track should sound. It’s not easy though telling one of your heroes that you aren’t into the track he or she has just sent you. That sucks, hard.
Apart from the essential aspect of getting the music right, what do you feel is one of the major factors in securing success for a label?
You’d have to ask someone who has managed to secure success for their label first. We’re a minor deal compared to some of the names that have been around since the 90′s, like Clone, Delsin, Rush Hour. Let’s see where it goes.
What can we expect from DBA and its side-arms over the next year?
We have records on the way from our new signing, Halvtrak, from Neville Watson, from MGUN and also our first CD release which is a compiled version of Mr. Beatnick’s outstanding Synthetes Trilogy, alongside four new tracks.
Download Talking Shopcast 18: Disco Nihilist (79:58)
01. Elaine & Ellen, “Fill Me Up” (DN Edit) [Ovation Records]
02. Jackie Moore, “This Time Baby” (DN Edit) [Columbia]
03. Escort, “Love In Indigo” [Escort]
04. The Quick, “Zulu” [Pavillion/CBS]
05. Konk, “Your Life” (DN Edit) [Sleeping Bag]
06. Aleem, “Release Yourself” (DN Edit) [NIA]
07. Saundra Williams, “Free Girl” (DN Edit) [Stolen Records]
08. J.M. Silk, “Let the Music Take Control” (DN Edit) [RCA]
09. Colonel Abrams, “Music Is The Answer” (DN Edit) [Streetwise]
10. Rickster, “Night Moves” (DN Edit) [Sound Pak]
11. Mark Imperial, “J’adore Danser” (DN Edit) [DJ International]
12. Mista-E, “Don’t Believe The Hype” (DN Edit) [Polydor Urban]
13. J.M. Silk, “I Can’t Turn Around” (DN Edit) [RCA]
14. Nexus 6, “Take Me Higher” (DN Edit) [AKA Music]
15. The Vision, “Sharde” (DN Edit) [Nu Groove Records]
16. Da Posse Feat. Martell, “Searching Hard” (DN Edit) [Dance Mania]
17. 2 Puerto Ricans, a Black Man and a Dominican, “Do It Properly!” (DN Edit) [Fierce Records]
18. Colm III, “You Take Me Higher” [Elusive Records]
19. 808 State, “Flow Coma” (DN Edit) [Rephlex]
20. Underground Resistance, “Back Road to Nirvana”
21. Prince & The New Power Generation, “Money Don’t Matter 2 Night” [Paisley Park]
01. Chicago Skyway, “Pink Donut”
[Altered Moods Recordings] (buy)
Sean Hernandez has a habit of making his fans wait good and long between Chicago Skyway releases. While that’s almost certainly the result of being a dayjobbing father rather than a plot to keep people hungry for more, the Chicago born and based producer is doing a solid job at both. So it’s with great eagerness that I absorbed Thunder, his new EP for Altered Mood Recordings. While Chicago house is starting to wear out its welcome as the trendy sound, my favorite cut on the record — the curiously titled “Pink Donut” — reminds us that the city’s own denizens often do a better job with it than any bandwagon riders could manage. Skyway’s chunky, jacking 707 toms have real impact as the underpinning for the gorgeous, thoughtfully paired organ chords drifting into focus, but really it’s the latter ingredient which steals the show. After making way for syncopated synth string stabs, the reunion of melodic elements is a bit breathtaking, not least because the deliberate sequencing makes you crave the combination in advance. The mild 120ish tempo gives the tune some versatility as well, slotting nicely into warm up, day party, and afterparty sets without a hitch. Hats off to Hernandez for waiting until this one was fully realized before releasing it into the world.
02. Shwet Musali, “All Fucking Night”
[Don't Be Afraid] (buy)
Various artist comps are tricky things. With no one person or group who is wholly responsible for their contents, even V/A EPs featuring some recognizable names often get overlooked by reviewers and the buying public. That is, unless they’re part of series which happens to be well known. Don’t Be Afraid made a bold but lighthearted move by putting forth the Spargel Trax series, an audio costume party of sorts where the various artists take on asparagus-related monikers. With this semi-mysterious angle as the hook, the music itself ends up being appreciated on its own merits. The lead cut from Spargel Trax Vol. 3 by Shwet Musali is an immediate standout from the group. From the moment listeners ramp up into its deliberate, bass-led groove, “All Fucking Night” is a track which just keep providing reasons to love it. Its delayed chord changes are perfectly suited to the deep house atmosphere, which like the vintage sounding drums manage not to sound rote. The space provided for the titular line to be declared by a confident man is a beautiful thing — a moment of absence worth celebrating. Only its 4:45 run-time leaves me wanting, which is a good position to be in. Ben Semtek and his DBA crew are not only proving adept in the V/A department, but in finding still more fresh recruits worth listening to.
03. Virginia, “Loch & Hill”
[Ostgut Ton] (buy)
To be honest, I didn’t realize Virginia had been active in dance music long before providing vocals for Steffi’s instant classic, “Yours,” in 2010. In fact, the Munich-based artist has been active since the late 90s, collaborating with Butch and Abe Duque, releasing an album on Rough Trade, and making rounds on the DJ circuit. You can tell that Virginia is no newcomer on Loch & Hill her solo debut on Ostgut Ton which actually features her first solo productions. While certainly influenced by some classic sounds, the title track reveals a fully realized point of view that’s unique to her. Coming on like a Detroit electro track, all flowing synths and stop-start patterns of kicks and rimshots, the tune gradually fills in house shapes. A squishy 303 bass line adds a good natured warmth which is taken even further by somewhat blurry sax runs. This unexpected sound rendered as to be only partially recognizable gives the whole track a pleasant jolt. This welcome combination of tones, patterns, and genres recalls times when the boundaries between them were undefined. If you were ignorant about Virginia before, don’t wait to get familiar.
04. Royal Crown of Sweden, “Vänern”
There’s something to appreciate in a young producer willing to adopt a new nom de plume so early in the game. Cleaving one’s music into different sonic personalities not only suggests musical depth but clears the way for exploration to go on unabated by concerns of coherence. Huerco S. has three releases to date which have showcased a bitcrushed, woozy take on house with clear promise.The Kansas City-based producer has already taken the scenic route around one particular strain of his sound by becoming Royal Crown of Sweden, the debut artist of pal Anthony Naples’ spanking new Prohibito label. “Vänern,” offers an even more blunted expression of Huerco’s aesthetic. Familiar synth chords jutting out from the narcotic pads crashing forward call to mind the work of native Swedes — Jonsson/Alter — without biting their sound. As the bass starts to unspool and somewhat reveal its stringed nature, the tune rises from its knees, prodded by slappy claps and faraway synth leads that remind dancers this head trip is still going somewhere. Although he’s likely to write better in the many years potentially still to come, “Vänern” will likely be seen as a self identified turning point in Huerco S.’s discography.
05. Doc Daneeka, “Day By Day”
[2020 Midnight Visions] (buy)
Doc Daneeka has done well in his relatively short career to find sensible, established homes for his tracks. His distinct brand of UK funky influenced house is of a piece with the catalogs of Ten Thousand Yen, Roska Kicks & Snares, and Ramp Recordings and its sublabel Pattern. That the Sketches Of You EP arrives on 2020 Midnight Visions is telling; like many of his peers, Doc (nee Mial Watkins) has embraced more straight ahead house music, and the record’s four tracks make sense on a 20:20 Vision offshoot. Although the whole record is enjoyable, “Day By Day” makes the strongest case for his aesthetic shift. His choice of drums — loose, swinging kit-work which meshes so well with the plucked guitar lines — stands out from the start, setting the stage for charismatic, strutting vocal samples like a proper backing band might (if it was triggered by a computer). But it’s the feathered string stabs which do most of the heavy lifting, their euphoric tones commanding attention without being the least bit pushy or corny. Perhaps it’s this easy, lived in feeling which sets this tune (and the whole EP) apart from legions of also-rans, which so often read like a checklist of influences rather than the result of someone committing feelings to music. Count me as curious to what’s next from Doc Daneeka.
06. Murat Tepeli, “The Jazz Funk” [ava.] (buy)
07. KMFH, “Crushed” [Wild Oats] (buy)
08. DJ Sotofett Feat. Madteo, “There’s Gotta Be a Way” (Vision of Love Club Mix) [Wania] (buy)
09. Mr. Beatnick, “Symbiosis” [Don't Be Afraid] (buy)
10. Omar-S, “It’s Money In The ‘D’” [FXHE Records] (buy)
01. Bonobo, “Emkay” [Ninja Tune]
02. Iron Curtis, “Horses” (Move D Remix) [Mirau]
03. Minilogue, “Atoms With Curiosity That Looks At Itself and Wonders Why It Wonders” [Cocoon Recordings]
04. Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald, “Electric Garden” [Tresor]
05. Vedomir, “Music Suprematism” (Marcel Dettmann Remix) [Dekmantel]
06. Big Strick, “Hayday” [Ostgut Ton]
07. Neville Watson, “Songs to Elevate Pure Hearts” [Crème Organization]
08. Move D, “To the Disco ’77″ [Electric Minds]
09. Tommy Finger Jr., “Into You” (Kotzilla Remix) [Ethereal Sound]
10. John Roberts, “Fences” [Dial]
01. Hard Ton, “Food of Love” (DJ Sprinkles Deeperama Remix) [Toy Tonics]
02. Mr. Beatnick, “Blue Dream” [Don't Be Afraid]
03. Pharaohs, “Everything” [100% Silk]
04. Djrum, “Honey” [2nd Drop Records]
05. Omar-S, “Thank U 4 Letting Me Be Myself” [FXHE Records]
06. John Roberts, “Blanket” [Dial]
07. Elizabeth Merrick-Jefferson, “Astronomical Twilight” [Argot]
08. µ-ziq, “XT” [Planet Mu]
09. James Welsh, “Craven” [Futureboogie Recordings]
10. Move D, “To the Disco ’77″ [Electric Minds]
01. Ashley Paul, “You’re a Feeling” [R.E.L. Records]
02. October, “Unstable Phenomenon” (Joey Anderson Remix) [Voodoo Down Records]
03. Elgato, “We Dream Electric” [Elgato]
04. MGUN, “Tritan” [Don't Be Afraid]
05. Vester Koza, “Beauty” [Maslo]
06. Mike Cooper, “Night Flower Tapu” [Room40]
07. Co La, “Suspicious Sandman Fix” [Software Records]
08. Sensate Focus, “X” [Sensate Focus]
09. Graham Lambkin & Jason Lescalleet, “Listen, the Snow Is Falling” [Esrtwhile Records]
10. Cosmin TRG, “New Structures for Loving” [50Weapons]
01. VernoN, “Body Fluids” [Night Gallery]
02. Dendren, “Stacy Waves Her Hand” [Untangle]
03. Lord of the Isles, “Elgol” [Shevchenko]
04. DJ Sotofett Feat. Madteo, “There’s Gotta Be a Way” (Vision of Love Club Mix) [Wania]
05. Rocky Jones, “The Choice of a New Generation” [Soul Jazz Records]
06. Africaine 808, “Tummy, Tummy” [W.T. Records]
07. Heatsick, “Dream Tennis” (Young Marco Remix) [CockTail d'Amore Music]
08. Slazenger’s People, “Britney’s Spear” [Don't Be Afraid]
09. Bande Apartment, “Lubricating Rita” [Apartment Records]
10. Ike Release, “(Ode) To My Own” [Machining Dreams]
01. R-Zone, “Houz Nation” [R-Zone]
02. The Cyclist, “Mangel” [Leaving Records]
03. V.I.V.E.K., “Asteroids” [System Music]
04. Mr. Beatnick, “Savannah” [Don't Be Afraid]
05. MMM, “Casio Dub” [MMM]
06. Wareika Hill Sounds, “No More War” [Honest Jon's Records]
07. RP Boo, “Speakers R4 (Sounds)” [Planet Mu]
08. Man Tear, “Outside Amore” (12″ Dub Version) [DFA]
09. Joy Orbison, “Donell” [white]
10. Demdike Stare, “Collision” [Modern Love]
01. Demdike Stare, “Primitive Equations” [Modern Love]
02. Juan Atkins & Moritz von Oswald, “Electric Dub” [Tresor]
03. Lord Kitchener, “Cricket Umpires” [Honest Jon's]
04. Elizabeth Merrick-Jefferson, “Go Home” [Argot]
05. Wareika Hill Sounds, “No More War” [Honest Jon's Records]
06. John Roberts, “Palace” [Dial]
07. Minilogue, “Everything Is All You’ve Got” [Cocoon]
08. Juju & Jordash, “A Stab In The Dark” [Ostgut Ton]
09. Omar-S, “It’s Money In The ‘D’” [FXHE Records]
10. G-String, “Ghoul” [Echovolt Records]
Michael C. Walsh
01. Demdike Stare, “Primitive Equations” [Modern Love]
02. Moiré, “I Don’t Get It” [Rush Hour Recordings]
03. Vedomir, “Dreams” (Marcel Dettmann Remix) [Dekmantel]
04. Huerco S., “Apheleia’s Theme” [Future Times]
05. Thundercat, “Heartbreak + Setbacks” [Brainfeeder]
06. Laurel Halo, “Throw” [Hyperdub]
07. Locust, “Just Want You” [Editions Mego]
08. Kode9, “Zingfu Lu” [Hyperdub]
09. MGUN, “Tritan” [Don't Be Afraid]
10. Legowelt, “Dimension of an Ancient Bird Race” [Gilga]
01. Xosar, “The Calling” [Rush Hour Recordings]
02. John Roberts, “Palace” [Dial]
03. Omar-S, “Thank U 4 Letting Me Be Myself” [FXHE Records]
04. Moiré, “Real Special” [Rush Hour Recordings]
05. RP Boo, “Sentimental” [Planet Mu]
06. Elgato, “We Dream Electric” [Elgato]
07. Omar-S, “It’s Money In The ‘D’” [FXHE Records]
08. Mr. Beatnick, “Parallax Scroll” [Don't Be Afraid]
09. Perseus Traxx, “Take You to the Land” [Got2go Records]
10. Slazenger’s People, “Britney’s Spear” [Don't Be Afraid]
[Don't Be Afraid]
Heard from the distance imposed by habit or fatigue, Mr. Beatnick’s music just sounds like deep house. Get closer and it’s plain other forces are at work, and I’m not merely indicating traces of non-house influences. There’s a rarer, minor-key quality to the Savannah EP that accounts for its disproportionate replay value, and is the kind of thing more likely to flourish in low-pressure environments. It is the uncomplicated and perhaps unproducerly attitude that a 4/4 foundation provides lots of nice cubbies that other production styles can help fill. Savannah completes Mr. Beatnick’s Synthetes EP trilogy maintaining the mellow, memorable note the London musician hit by embedding hip-hop fragments, mosaic-like, between well-spaced kick drums.
Savannah possesses a tangible calm. The hip-hop influences create a dusty afterglow without the hints of futuristic sampledelia lurking in the work of Beatnick’s Detroit influences. The pilgrim’s progress of “Symbiosis”‘s bass line is a summary tour through Mr. Beatnick’s style. Emerging initially with a smooth emptiness that suggests the flappy undulations of a sky dancer, or that the Londoner shares DJ Sprinkles’ taste in pawn-shop synths, it bows out after a bit to make room for the gauzy hustle of buttered strings and sloppy claps. It reduxes amid humid jazz-fusion chords before Beatnick translates it up the scale, transforming it into a briskly tongued sax riff. Savannah is a plain teeming with this kind of excursion, gradual but significant shifts that support a consistent vibe. This gives the producer plenty of lead to toy around with hardcore techno motifs on “Parallax Scroll” without losing the plot. Although none of the hooks are as memorable as Sun Goddess‘s “Shifting Sands,” Mr. Beatnick isn’t the type to force things. His tracks give the appearance of finding themselves as they go along, regardless of how carefully he manages the details.]]>
A label launching its website is usually a humdrum occasion marked by a few supportive clicks and quickly closed tabs. Keenly aware of this fact, the UK based Don’t Be Afraid imprint run by Benji “Semtek” Roth rewards curious visitors with a chance to download free, unreleased DBA tunes from the label’s roster. DBA Unreleased Vol. 1 kicks off with the elegant hip-hop instrumental “Magic Message” by Claws For? followed by the atmospheric jungle jaunt Mr. Beatnick’s “A Momentary Escape.” Semtek is next with “To Be Continued,” a spare yet engaging house stepper wracked with a variety of bass timbres. The comp concludes on its heaviest note, Photonz’s “Hashishin,” a deeply swinging hip-hop instrumental where grumbling lows and eerie highs intertwine around clipped beats. Suffice it to say this could have easily have been sold for a few quid without anyone batting an eye. As such, we offer our thanks to Roth and his crew for making this available for free.
You can stream and download the tracks here. Be sure to check the DBA website, as well.]]>
[Don't Be Afraid]
Up until last year, Mr. Beatnick had been keeping a low profile — flipping hip-hop and future-jazz beats or the occasional soul edit — but the Synthetes release on Don’t Be Afraid became a sort of coming-out party for him. Drawing comparisons to Floating Points with more bump, it got picked up for big-time mix CDs from Deetron, Scuba, and Gilles Peterson. A wide appeal to say the least, but to my ears a liberal use of samples was too distracting to allow me to sink my teeth completely. By comparison, Mr. Beatnick’s Sun Goddess EP (also for Don’t Be Afraid) uses some of the same tricks without allowing them to overshadow his production.
The EP is made up of four deep dance tracks, bathed in dappled sunlight that reaches back to early UK ambient techno bliss-outs. Amid the bouncy modulated bass, silky Rhodes and skittery synth textures of the title track, the sampled organ and a signature bass slap (is that Ultramarine’s “Skyclad” I hear?) blend smoothly. “Beneath The Reef” employs squelchy snares and faint, prismatic vocoder to frame emotive pads, funky bass-line runs and a string arrangement that attains a level of sophistication. On “Shifting Sands” a series of synth vamps and curling bass verge on the innocuous for what is the least noteworthy of the bunch. It ends on a buoyant note with the arpeggio driven techno of “Savoir Faire.” Pairing fluttering hi-hats, glowing pads and mellifluous synth lines, Mr. Beatnick works simple elements into harmonious perfection. It’s the sort of track you don’t see coming, but once you do you don’t want to let it go.]]>