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  • 1

alias Ben Phaze:
Tunnel Sound

coming soon on CD!

Next step to New Industrial Music
interview by AngieBlack
photographs by Craig Maguire and Heather Clifford (close-up)

In den 80er Jahren gab es Industrial Musik mit Gruppen wie Throbbing Gristle, Coil, Strizzi Rizzi, Nocturnal Emission, Test Dept., Pseudocode, die berühmten Einstürzenden Neubauten, wie sie alle heissen. Auch namhafte Künstler wie Johannes Sistermanns oder Dakota (vormals Die Rasende Leichenbeschauer) experimentierten mit industriellen Klängen. Inzwischen sind wir es beinahe gewohnt ein Kratzen oder Schafen in einer Hip Hop Nummer zu hören. Doch den puren Klang hören wir meist nur in der hohen Kunst, der modernen Klassik oder Audio Art Stücken. Hier nun ist ein Londoner DJ, der sich auf reale Klänge einlässt und zurückbesinnt – oder auch neu entdeckt. Und das ist richtig spannend!

Ben, what is your profession?

Ben:I work for London Underground as a Mechanical Engineer in escalator maintenance.

Where were you born?

Ben:I was born near Manchester.  I moved around a bit but spent most of my childhood in a village called Got Herington in the Cotswold Hills.

What was it like to grow up in that neighborhood?

Ben:There wasn’t much to do in my village.  When I was younger I was employed to put skittles back up on the skittle alley in the local pub and roll the balls back down the chute – it was either that or a paper round if you were a kid in my village. It’s not surprising that I spent a lot of time making music – first the guitar and at 16 I got introduced to DJ-ing.  I saved up for some speaker cabinets that were far too big for my room - I think my mum was very tolerant!

What kind of school did you go to?

Ben: I went to a grammar school where I was really lucky to be introduced to engineering as part of an organized scheme.  I also had a great music teacher who always encouraged me to follow my own ideas and not be afraid to step outside established guidelines.  I was one of only two DJs at my school so we were always called on to do parties.

Since when do you dj and record tunnel sounds?

Ben: I started Tunnels last summer and it’s evolved since then through experiments and collaborations.  I’ve managed to surround myself with creative people, which constantly inspire me with different perspectives and influences.

When did you have the idea to record these sound files in the subway?

Ben:I love using everyday sounds in my production as they are in infinite supply and completely unique, also I get a strange excitement about taking mundane things and putting them into a new context.  When I started working on the Tube I had access to a wealth of sounds, and a lot of them are never heard by anyone apart from the engineers - and the mice!  I like conceptual ideas and an album made from the real sounds of the Underground behind the scenes really appealed to me.

What sounds do you record? What do they sound like? Can you describe them?

Ben: I record a lot of heavy machinery used for track maintenance or in the workshops - I filter it and chop it up to make it fit over the beat. Some of the escalators make a regular clunking sound that works really well as it has a natural rhythm and never goes out of time! I've recorded a lot of metallic clangs and power tools, which sound completely different depending on where they are.  In the tunnels sound reverberates and takes a long time to fade out - this is the effect I am experimenting with at the moment; there are some really unique acoustics on the Underground network. 
I also use a lot of recognisable Tube noises like the trains, passenger announcements and ticket gates. I usually manipulate them a lot using different effects and tune them so that they harmonise or become melodies and use short samples as drum hits.  I lower the pitch of sounds to try to create bass lines with quite a dark feel to them.  Something I try to aim for is a driving energy that really hits you especially when played on a big sound system.
Sometimes I might make my own sounds or play instruments and record the echo.  I recently went to a platform that has been closed to the public for a few years and the ventilation shafts have been closed off which stops sound from escaping - a great place to record vocalists.  I am hoping to do so some live recording sessions down there.

How much time do you spend in the underground?

Ben: I’m always visiting the stations as part of my job but I go down for recording in my own time, usually a couple of times a week.  I’ve been down there a bit more recently as I have some live gigs coming up and I want to make sure the have all the best sounds I can get.  Most of the station staff knows me since my TV appearance and they want to help me out which is great.  If there is any major maintenance going on I will always try and get down there to capture a bit of the heavy machinery.

Are you afraid to go into the underground just by yourself?

Ben: It can be quite eerie walking through stations when all the passengers have gone home but I do actually find it quite inspiring and I try to recreate the uneasy feeling in my music!  You have to make special arrangements to walk along the tunnels and you need to be in at least a pair. Inspectors carry out track-walks at night and I've been out with a few of them - it's often the inspectors who have reported ghostly sightings!

When you do a dj-mix, do you use other sounds? What kind of?

Ben: Some tracks are made from 100% found sounds from the tube but others have additional samples as well as synthesisers and live instruments to create something that I could expect to play as part of a set in a club.  I didn't want to restrict myself to real life samples only for the whole album. 

As a professional DJ – where do you dj and what kind of music do you play in public?

Ben: I really got serious about it when I started at Reading University in 2000.  I found it difficult to get gigs so I was glad to be given a chance to run my own night, Beat Feast, in the student bar and invited other local DJs to spin as well.  This has now grown into a DJ collective and we organize events and perform all over the South of England.  Being based in London now there are parties going on everywhere so I get involved with as many of them as I can and in the last few years the highlights were playing alongside LTJ Bukem, DJ Format and Beardyman.

The music I play is usually driven by heavy beats and bass lines but it’s very eclectic - I mix stuff like reggae, funk, soundtracks and spoken word in to add some variety and there’s always an element of turntable-ism as my introduction to DJ-ing consisted very much of early hip hop.

When you dj, do you only use your own music?

Ben: No I play loads of stuff. There is a DJ mix you can download for free on my Myspace page ( www.myspace.com/beatfeast)

There’s a “Tunnels of Birmingham” video in the web. How do these events get together? Do you organize them?

Ben: This event was hosted by a good friend of mine known on the street as Bass6 the Beatboxer and organized by Boogie Dave who is responsible for Birmingham’s Drop Beats Not Bombs events ( www.dropbeatsnotbombs.co.uk).  I can relate to any promoter who puts thought into the quality of the music and the sound system and creates an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome.  The scene I’m involved with is really cooperative and positive and we all support each other’s events and work together as a community.  I only had two days to get some gig footage for the BBC so I was grateful that they let me hijack the party at the last minute. 

There are more videos with your music. Do you do these films too?

Ben: I have worked on a few of the videos using footage from training videos.  Luckily I know people who are a lot more skilled than me in video editing and they are putting together a visual accompaniment to the live performance, which will be projected onto a big screen.

Did you do any video course of study video production? Where from is the footage you use?

Ben: I used a video that had already been put together by a company called Campaign. They produce training videos for London Underground staff.  They gave me permission to use the footage and I just did some minor editing and put it to music.

What is your next step - maybe - towards a record?

Ben: I have almost finished my album ‘Tunnels’ and am looking for the right kind of label to release it.  I hope the exposure I’ve had will allow me to find the right one.  I have had lots of interest from other artists for collaborations some of which look amazing so it could go anywhere.  I’d love to take Tunnels on tour internationally.  I have recently been discussing other avenues such as a documentary and art installations, which may also appeal to people who aren’t into their dance music.

What is your personal goal in life?

Ben: At the moment I am glad I can balance my work and my music and I can just follow a creative flow rather than having to rely on producing a commercially accessible sound.  I will definitely carry on developing myself as an engineer but take any opportunities I can to further my music. I have taken the view of being optimistic about it and just expecting it to keep moving forward – that way I’ll be open and receptive to what may be available to me. I want to be able to provide opportunities for people I know that deserve to be heard and help to get them where they want to be.  This was one of the reasons I started Beat Feast so the same idea applies, just on a much bigger scale.

There are regular updates on the project and the latest tunes at