When a fifteen year old Benji B approached Gilles Peterson and asked to work on his show, a friendship was born that lasts to this day. Starting at Kiss FM and following Gilles as his producer at Radio 1, Benji was eventually offered his own show in 2002 when sister station BBC Radio 1Xtra was launched. Responsible for representing forward-thinking electronic music, Deviation, the show that has become an institution for bass music on the airwaves, is now reaching a wider audience since it moved into Mary Anne Hobbs’ vacant slot on Radio 1.
Radio was an integral part in Benji’s musical upbrining. He remembers ‘pirate radio being amazing. You’d scope everything from early house, roots, funk, rare groove, and the early jungle that became drum and bass. Back in the day, you had things like Cool FM, which was legendary. When I was in school, that was the era of listening to Wu-Tang on the way to the party and listening to Cool FM on the way home. It was influential in the same way that listening to Westwood on Capital FM was very influential. In those days, you got the proper exclusives and hip-hop promos way upfront.’
It’s this culture he believes in preserving, being the first DJ to play Flying Lotus and Sa-Ra in the UK, years before other selectors opened their ears to their futuristic fusion. A glance at his recent play lists reveal a slew of scene starting beat makers rubbing shoulders with as-yet unknown talent. ‘You may see a number of core artists popping up regularly, but that’s nothing to do with favouritism, but with consistency. Ultimately, my radio show is not about hype, it’s a meritocracy. If something’s dope, I’m gonna play it.’
And the same way of thinking applies to the dance floor. His monthly midweek London club night regularly causes a road block and has showcased unforgettable performances from artists as diverse as Mala, Moodymann, Marc Mac and MJ Cole. It was also the first night in Europe where Weekender favourite Dãm-Funk took to the stage.
If Rodigan’s got the heaviest dubs from JA, Benji’s the king of the UK underground. And it’s the youth who fuel this passion. ‘I think there are a lot of people from the older generation for whom their influences are almost baggage: “Oh, this shit sounds like Pete Rock or Premier.” But the beauty for me is that the next set of young people who are coming through in the last two, three years, do not have that baggage and don’t care about those influences. They are sort of healthily disrespectful about those rules. So they are free to do whatever. It doesn’t matter if their snare sound is out of a computer or that they’re using an obvious sample, because they have a beautiful naivety that is pure. Ultimately, the best music has always been the purest and the rawest.’