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Reconnecting with Bensley

In 2015, Canadian producer Bensley released Fandango on RAM Records, acting as the first single of his aptly named debut album Next Generation. As a debut release, this was an entrance into the drum and bass scene that is rarely seen and a testament to his wholly unique vision of the genre.

Six years down the line and two albums later, we are continuing to see the still-young producer spread his wings, while pushing for the North American drum and bass scene to unite, flourish and dissolve boundaries. We say drum and bass, but his attempts at cross-genre explorations have been at the forefront of what he does since his debut. Tunes like To the Moon and Hard Times (featuring Emer Dineen) allowed him to delve deep into a myriad of inspirations from his classical upbringing, while moving away from a more pigeonholed approach and carving his own unique space.

In 2020 we saw Bensley back in home territory with a string of singles on Canadian label Monstercat, which, as he explains to us, was a first step in bringing his sound back to a North American audience. We decided to catch up with him to delve more into the reasoning behind this as we move further into 2021, as well as chatting about his latest single That Feeling, released on Pilot. Check out our full chat below.

Hey! How have things been in Canada?

Hey! Lockdowns are still going strong, but I’ve been hiding away and making the most of it in the studio.

How has the pandemic affected your music over the last year?

I sort of like what it’s done for me. When I was doing shows more, I felt pressure to tailor my music towards what would get a crowd reaction and what would stand up best in a club environment. Since shows stopped, I’ve been able to just make whatever sounds good and whatever is fun to listen to at home. I think that’s happened to a lot of artists across drum and bass! For me, it’s allowed me to be a lot more free with what I do.

You just released That Feeling on Pilot, which is a wicked tune. How has the reception been for you?

Thanks, I think the feedback has been really positive! This is my first solo release with Pilot/UKF. I’ve been a fan of both labels for a long time, so it’s been really cool to get involved in this way! Their audience is really receptive to this sort of music and I’m glad I had a tune that they felt was suitable for it.

Can you tell us a bit more about the idea behind it?

It started out as just the chord progression – the ravey stabs that you hear throughout the tune. It was initially a house idea, inspired by the anthems of acts like Faithless and Darude. It was a bit of a love letter to the shows I’m missing, and I found it translated well into a drum and bass tempo. It came together pretty seamlessly to have a house part in the middle – and we have recently dropped the full house edit as well. The track is also part of an effort to diversify my catalogue – I’ve never done a house tune before so I wanted to introduce people to that side of my sound with this tune!

It’s refreshing to hear. What is it that draws you towards doing so?

I’ve always wanted to release all sorts of genres, but I had to cement my place as a drum and bass artist first. This limitation would sometimes force me to be extra creative with my song writing. For example, I would sneak in other genres by doing these little switch-up sections or just taking influences from all over the place and trying to make a fusion. Like the jazz section in Hard Times, or the trap section in Slither!

Are there any areas of music that you want to explore that you haven’t yet? 

I’ve been working on a lot of chill, lower tempo music… I don’t know how to describe it. It’s not any one genre but it’s melodic, bassy, and I’m putting together an EP of that style for a label later in the year. I’m really trying to branch out and tap into my influences a bit more. I listen to all sorts of music like Jamie XX, Phaeleh and those kinds of artists. I’ve always wanted to release a body of work along those lines so I’m finally going to do that.

What else are you listening to at the moment that’s inspiring you? 

Lots of Burial. He put out a tune late last year called ‘Chemz’ and I’ve had that on repeat for ages. Lots of video game soundtracks as well – I recently dived into the Minecraft world again. I forgot how amazing the soundtrack to that game was, it’s just some of the best ambient music I’ve ever heard so I listen to that quite a bit these days. I also love Tame Impala.

I enjoyed the edit you did of their tune It Might Be Time, what made you do that?

Thanks! When I heard that tune for the first time, I just thought the bassline was so chunky and powerful that it would translate really well into drum and bass tempo. It was pretty difficult to isolate the stems for, but once I managed to get the vocal & keys on their own, the rest fell into place pretty quickly!

What is your opinion on bootleg culture in general? 

I hear a lot of bootlegs which feel they didn’t really need to happen but they exist just so people can drop them in a set. It’s basically like the original song but at 174bpm. I think you have to put some of yourself into it if it’s going to be worth doing. It’s a tough mark to hit because obviously you’ve got to stay true to the original as well. I think the Urbandawn bootleg of Come Together is a perfect example of one that strikes that balance. If you can infuse your own style into it rather than just making a bootleg that could have been any drum and bass artist, then you’ve done a good job.

You’ve spoke before about your musical background, playing in jazz bands, playing saxophone etc. Does this experience play a part in how you approach making music today?

Definitely! It changes the way I write the ideas in the beginning. I feel like having that classical upbringing makes writing chord progressions and melodies a lot more effortless. I can’t quite place it though, because I don’t really use music theory… certain things just sound right. I feel really lucky to have had that experience behind me before I came into the music industry.

You debuted on Monstercat last year with three singles. That must feel almost like a homecoming for you working with a fellow Canadian label?

Yeah, that was something I’ve wanted to do for a long time. I’ve been friends with the guys on there for a while, and it was so nice being able to finally work with them! That was the first step in an effort on my part to bring my sound to a North American audience. They’re doing a great job introducing young NA fans to drum and bass, and I’m really happy that I can be a part of that.

Is there going to be more in the works with Monstercat?

Yeah, I’ve got one or two things coming out with them this year!

Are there any other North American labels that you want to work with?

I recently sent a demo to Mau5trap – I know they release the occasional bit of drum and bass, so I’d love to work with them! I think more and more North American labels are starting to show their love for our music. It seems like everyone loves it, and it’s becoming more acceptable for them to promote it to their audiences.

I think with the last year and everything moving online, it feels like some barriers are coming down and it’s allowing people to pop up from anywhere which is great. 

Yeah, we’re also seeing big artists supporting it when they couldn’t do it before. One thing that comes to mind was a virtual DJ set that Dillon Francis did that was entirely drum and bass. You just wouldn’t have seen that before COVID.

Are there any North American artists you want to shout out?

Justin Hawkes, Zeal, Boxplot, Ownglow, René LaVice, Audioscribe, Stranjah to name a few. I think a number of these names have released with UKF actually, so you guys are doing great things for the NA scene! I hope I’m not forgetting anyone, there’s a ton of good North American talent. A lot of new artists are beginning to pop up which is good to see.

It’s been six years since you released your debut album on RAM. What have you learnt about your own approach to music in this time? 

I would say the more I learn, the more I realise I don’t know. That keeps things exciting as there’s always this hunger to learn more and consume more knowledge, and to train my ears better. There’s always something you can do to further your sound and your style. That keeps it really interesting for me.

In that time, you have experimented a lot with your style while still having that signature sound throughout. Is there any advice you would give to newcomers when it comes to finding their sound?

Definitely find out what your influences are and make sure they are varied and come from all sorts of avenues of music. All these things come together when you’re making your tunes and whether you even try or not, those influences will come out. You develop those influences just by listening to music, so you can’t find your own sound unless you’re actively seeking out new and interesting music, and just spending lots of time listening to something outside of your main genre.

100%, I feel like that is definitely how a genre can otherwise become stale. 

Yeah, if you’re just looking to your peers and seeing what they’re doing, then that’s what your stuff is going to end up sounding like.

It’s funny, you’ve kind of done it in reverse to how a lot of producers would with the albums first and then singles to follow. I guess they both require two entirely different mind-frames.

They do yeah, that even caused me problems in the beginning. Drum and bass is very ‘single’ based music – for example, an artist will put out a hit and that will be their ticket to getting festival bookings in the summer. I was more comfortable with writing more understated tunes that formed a body of work. Now, my challenge has been focusing on writing those big singles. It is interesting how it’s happened in reverse as you said!

What has your relationship with RAM been like over the years? They must have played a vital part in your progression as an artist.

Yeah, in the beginning they were definitely super important in giving me a spotlight and a solid foundation to the career. I’m super grateful for the experience I had with them. It showed me a lot about the drum and bass scene that I wasn’t initially immersed in, so it gave me a whole new level of respect for the genre that I may not have experienced otherwise!

Have live DJ sets always been a big thing for you?

Yeah, I absolutely love shows. Initially I dreaded DJing in front of people because I had such bad performance anxiety. It’s crazy for me looking back on that, because I can’t think of anything I’d rather be doing right now! There’s nothing better than hearing your own tunes on a gigantic sound system, and I’m starting to forget what that feels like. Can’t wait to get back to it!

What’s next for you?

Lots of new music coming later in the summer. Not sure how much I can say just yet, but you can expect that EP I mentioned earlier!

Looking forward to hearing that! Is there anything else you wanted to add?

I’d encourage people to check out That Feeling! I’m really proud of it and I hope you like it too. Also, get the vaccine and wear your masks. We’ll be back to the dancefloors soon, that’s what keeps me looking forward the future!

Bensley – That Feeling is out now on Pilot

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