A chat with Ben Buitendijk
In a country where the ravy end of the techno spectrum often prevails, Ben Buitendijk’s deeper, experimental sound has earned him a solid following. Based in Rotterdam, the Netherlands, Ben has found success with a string of releases on Dutch labels ESHU and Ogun Records, plus the inclusion of his track Colourblind on a collection from Field Records. This year, he took the step of founding his own label, a move that will give him the creative space he craves to release his unique productions.
You can get a taste of Ben’s sound at the Patterns of Perception party at OHM Berlin next week, where he will play along with fellow Dutch artist Tom Liem. In the lead up, Ben takes us on a journey through the Dutch techno scene and explains why storytelling is essential to his music.
Hailing from the Netherlands, a country with such an ingrained culture around electronic music, it must be easy to fall into the techno world. How did you discover the art of DJing and producing music?
Actually it’s kind of a weird story. I’ve always liked electronic music – obviously it’s really big in Holland and there’s dance music and house on the radio everywhere. My parents were already listening to house but it was mainstream top 40 house. In high school, some friends sent me some music – some EDM at the time – and I went to my first party. I liked it so I went again the next month and I heard the exact same set. That was when I started to look a little bit deeper and after awhile I ended up here. At the beginning it was just about collecting music but slowly it just grew more serious: more gigs, better gigs, nice labels to release on.
You’ve described your sound as having “no boundaries for genres or styles”. With such a wide ranging palette, what is your production process like?
It’s always different. Sometimes I don’t have any ideas and I just jam something and see what happens. Sometimes I have an idea for a beat and start with that and then hopefully ideas for the rest come along. Sometimes I start with a sound or even a technical idea. My productions use a lot of effects and processing, but for example normally you would use a compressor during the mixdown. I can use it in the wrong way but it still gives an interesting sound for me. That’s also where ideas and inspiration come from: what if I put this setting like this? It shouldn’t work like that, but somehow it does sound cool. That’s usually what gets my flow going. In my productions, there are really no boundaries for anything. I do whatever I feel like and then if I like the sound, why not? I keep it.
Does a similar idea of breaking the boundaries of different genres and music styles apply to your DJ sets? What do you look for when selecting music for a set?
In theory, yes. I buy records from any genre and any style as long as I like them. But if I’m playing a techno party, I might bring a house record but I’m not going to bring house house. As a DJ, I try to limit everything I do to whatever suits the party, the crowd and the club. I think every record has its time and place, where it will work and where it will fit. Those are the things you have to keep in mind when you’re packing your bag. Even then you sometimes have surprises and you wish you had taken different records, but that’s part of the job.
In the end, it’s not about the tracks you play. You can play banger after banger after banger, but after three of them there is no rush anymore. You can play really deep for three records then you just put a little more energy, and suddenly, although the track isn’t a banger at all, it becomes a banger because of the order you play it in. It’s more about the story you tell. Every record is like a tool and if you structure them the right way, you can build something that’s more than just a few records mixed together.
You play primarily on vinyl. What does this format give you that digital doesn’t?
Every type of equipment has good DJs and bad DJs. But I notice for DJs who play digitally, they focus more on sound and less on storytelling because they can make every track fit perfectly. For vinyl DJs, you can’t play that tight so you need to tell more of a story. It’s a limitation but you have to solve it or do something else to make up for it. You can have two tracks that are totally different styles but they still work together and they create something extra. Playing with records, I become more concentrated because it requires more concentration, and that’s what I really like about it.
It differs for each remix and each track. For Janeret, I really like his music and his originals so it was nice to work with his samples and try something out. With Abstract Division, I heard the original and I heard the synths that I use mainly in the remix and right away I thought, about what I could do with it. So when they asked me for a remix for their album, it was really easy to decide. It’s interesting to hear the same sounds and bring to it a different vibe or different output. I don’t like to do remixes that are completely different from the original. You might as well just do an original then, you know? Or sometimes you have a remix that is more or less the same but just with a different kick. There should be some recognisable parts but it should be different. That’s also the fun part of it.
You started your own label, Oblique Music, earlier this year. What was behind that decision? How do you know it’s the right time to start a label? Basically I had some tracks ready. I’m still in contact with some labels but the tracks didn’t fit the label or the guys who ran the label wanted something different. So I had the music but I didn’t have a place to release them. I work at a distributor called Triple Vision and my boss suggested I start a label. So some of those tracks are really old, even from 2012. But I will say that I take my time to release them. It’s the advice that I give to anyone who is starting out: patience is the most important thing.
What has starting the label taught you about the music business? Does it give you a new perspective on your own productions and the music you make?
It’s really different running a label to making music. Normally I wouldn’t think about that side of things myself but now I’ve really learnt to think about how to build an EP. You can throw four tracks together but it’s important to think about what people are actually going to buy. But when producing I try not to think about it this way. Someone told me recently that I should try to make music with this in mind but I like to have the freedom just to let the creativity flow in whatever direction it goes. At the moment, I don’t really aim for a label or certain sounds when I make something. In the moment, if I feel like making this, that’s the direction I go.
With this rich texture and spacey atmosphere we find in your tracks, where do you think that your music can be best appreciated? What is an ideal place to hear your music? Every track has its own place and time. Let’s take the tracks from my EP for example, because they’re all really different. The first one was this kind of dark and hypnotic techno track. That one has to be in some dark club, not too big, with a good sound system. Just some place where you get separated from the outside world. The second one is more dubby, more groovy. Actually I would like to hear it on the beach. At a beach party, outdoors, with good weather.
What can you tell us about the crowd in the Netherlands and the sound in general? What are the best clubs that you’ve played at lately? For me, I would say that I play a little bit deeper than what’s popular in Holland but we do have a pretty good scene focusing on the more harder to listen to sounds. There is a healthy scene below the big clubs and the big parties. With regards to clubs, Radion in Amsterdam had a weekender in March. I was playing from 7 in the morning until 10. It was perfect for me because it was the afterparty vibe and people were having a lot fun. It was a crazy vibe, one of the most fun gigs I’ve played anywhere. To be honest, before that happened, I didn’t expect that in Holland. It’s also possible here, you just need to find the right moment.
Earlier this year, you released a split EP on ESHU Records with Tom Liem, who will also play at Patterns of Perception. How did you start working with the ESHU guys? It actually just grew from something really silly like a comment on SoundCloud and a message. I put a track on Soundcloud and someone commented on it, suggesting the ESHU guys. I looked them up and was completely blown away by what I heard. I was favoriting every track and commenting on everything. I wanted to send them a demo but I didn’t dare! After awhile, I got a message from them that they liked my music, then I went to see their first live show and met them there. We started to hang out together and make music. To get that feedback from them at that point already, it was a great boost of motivation for sure.
Lastly, have you and Tom played on the same bill before? What can people expect from hearing you both at Patterns of Perception?
I have played with Tom before once, as Dilated Pupils together with Ivano Tetelepta and Jocelyn Abell (from ESHU Records) as well. Other than that, I’ve heard him play quite a few times and I know his music so in that sense I know him pretty well. With the whole ESHU crew, I notice when I play back-to-back with anyone, it’s like someone else is playing with my bag and I know every record. It’s really easy to play together because we have the same taste and style. It will be nice to play with Tom this time.
Ben Buitendijk plays at Patterns of Perception at OHM Berlin on December 2