A Q&A with Dub FX
by Josh Spiro (Information Science/Business), published October 30th 2014
photos by Josh Spiro
Last month, the Middle East welcomed Benjamin Standford – otherwise known as looping wizard and street performer Dub FX. Tastemakers caught up with Standford to discuss destiny, fast food and the merits of being an elephant.
Tastemakers Magazine (TMM): So how exactly did you get your start as a street performer?
Benjamin Standford (BS): Well you don’t really get your start as a street performer – you just go out and do it. I had always wanted to do it since I was a child, I saw lots of people doing it, and I decided that was something I wanted to try out. So when I left Australia when I was 26 years old, I went out and tried it – and that was it.
TMM: Were there any obstacles you faced when you were starting out?
BS: The main obstacles that anyone needs to overcome are obstacles within their own minds. A lot of people put – I call them roadblocks. They’ve come up with excuses for why they can’t do certain things. They blame the exterior world when it all comes from inside. I’m a big believer in the way the Buddhists think, which is to create your own destiny; if there are any obstacles in front of you, just remove them. And that was something that I did, if I found myself in a place where I couldn’t street perform because I needed a permit, I just went out and did it anyway, until they told me to stop. I haven’t been shut down by police many times. I’ve probably street performed about 1,000 times, I’d say, and the majority of the time – like 80% of the time or 90% of the time – I was fine, even in places where I needed a permit.
It all comes down to how you present yourself. You know, if you’re making people happy, usually the police don’t want to fuck with you – unless you’re in like New York City or something. There are some countries that are really by the book, and other countries aren’t not so much. But as long as you don’t piss people off, you’re going to be alright. And [as long as] you’re not too loud as well. And you also have to be nice – when the police [officer] comes over and tells you to stop, if you act like a dick, then they’re going to fuck you up every time they see you. Whereas if you’re really polite, the next time you see them they might not shoot you down.
TMM: So when did you first realize you were becoming more than just a street-performing act, and were becoming this known and recognized artist?
BS: Well, I was playing club shows and festivals from the beginning. The street performing is how I sort of practiced and paid the bills. But at least twice, three times a month I had a show in a club, so I was not just a street act ever. The street is where I sort of got creative and, I guess you could say workshopped my ideas and refined my skills as a musician and an artist. But I was always – I mean, I was playing clubs long before I was a street performer with different bands. I was in reggae bands, heavy metal bands, jazz bands, I was singing and rapping with DJs – so I was always doing a lot of stuff in clubs. And then when I started street performing, that was literally when I just started doing Dub FX. And the looping, and the street, I guess you could say chiseled all the fun away from what I was trying to create. Because when I was really practicing in my bedroom, and then you present that in a club, you’re coming from a very different place. You don’t know whether it’s going to go down right. But when you practice on the street, you already know by the time you perform it in a club what’s going to work and what’s not going to work – because the audience have told you so. And people tell you if they do like it or if they don’t like it. They won’t throw bottles at you if they like it! They won’t scream at you from across the street. And people stop and buy a CD if they like what you’re doing. So you get a really strong repertoire of what works and what doesn’t work. And the people on the street represent the world, whereas the people in a club don’t – because some of those people are there to see the next band, some are there to get laid, and some of those people are just getting smashed. And obviously, the more popular you become and when you start headlining your own shows, then the people are there for you as well – by that point you’ve already built up a really strong repertoire.
TMM: Between festivals, club shows and street performing, what’s your favorite type of show to play?
BS: Obviously between the street, the club and festivals, I like playing all three. My favorite I’d have to say is probably festivals, because it’s outdoor. It’s kind of the best of both worlds – in the street we’re trying to stop people and make them buy a CD, and we’re also practicing ideas. Whereas in a club, you’ve gotta bring a refined sound and show to the club, and you’ve gotta make people dance. In a festival, you’ve got to draw people in like you do in the street, and also you’ve got to give them a slick show, so it’s a good combination of the two. So I prefer festivals probably the most.
TMM: In 2009, you recorded and released your first studio album, Everythinks a Ripple. What was it like to transition from having this raw, live material but then going into the studio and actually recording it?
BS: It was a really strong learning experience for me, because in my head the way I visualize all my music is the way I produced it on that record. I did it all myself in my bedroom, I didn’t go into a studio. And that’s how I visualized those songs in my head. What I didn’t realize was that people wanted to hear the raw kind of live sound that I have, because that’s what people fell in love with. So on my new album, Theory of Harmony, I tried to use a lot more of the live sounds that I use on the street, sample that, which is what I’m known for, and add that to the polished sound of a record. I’m not very happy with the Everythinks a Ripple album sound, I think the songs are good and they’re strong songs the way they were; I might even re-record them one day, to see what happens. I’ve recorded all my albums. I’ve actually recorded about five albums today – two for others artists, two for myself, plus I did A Crossworlds with another DJ/producer [Sirius], which is a dubstep album, very instrumental sounding. And I’ve also recorded one for Flower Fairy, so three for other artists, actually.
TMM: What are your favorite and least favorite things about touring in the United States?
BS: Well, my favorite and least favorite things about this country are food – I hate fast food, and this country’s full of it. But at the same time, there’s a lot of really good places. Like in New York, I just went to a place called Bare Burger, which is all organic burgers, and it’s all grass-fed beef, or elk, or – what do they have? There’s bison, there’s elk, there’s all sorts of stuff. That was delicious, you know, so that’s for sure one thing that I love and hate about the country, is the food.
TMM: Is there anything you’ve observed in how the culture or the people here are different?
BS: I feel like this country, just like my own country Australia, is very brainwashed, and spoon-fed. Compared to Europe, where people think for themselves more – they know what they like, they know what they don’t like. And I’m talking about music here, I’m not talking about anything else. I’m talking about the music scene. People in this country are kind of spoon-fed what they like. They don’t really think for themselves, just like Australia – we’re idiots as well. There’s still an amazing amount of talent, and really good producers in this country and Australia, but people don’t seem to appreciate it because they don’t know what they like or why they like it. Compared to Europe, where you can ask someone what they like, and they’ll tell you their favorite labels – reggae labels, soul music labels, or drum-and-bass labels. They know what they like, and they can even talk to you about it. I speak to people in Europe about music as though they’re producers – people that are not producers. They told me, they’re like, “Yeah, I really like the way they EQ’d that sorta sound and that track.” The way they describe things is like, “Fuck, man, are you a producer?” and they’re like, “No no no, I just like music!” So that’s something that I’m turned on by.
But then at the same time, there’s other things in this country that it’s a pioneer of. And it’s the same with Australia. I mean, the food in Australia is amazing, and the fashion in Australia is amazing. But the music scene is terrible in Australia, compared to Europe. People need to learn to think for themselves, and start reading tweets instead of just tweeting, you know what I mean? [laughs] There’s a bit too much of that, “Look at me, listen to me, blah blah blah” – that’s this country and Australia ‘to the t,’ basically. Australia is exactly like America, just if you were to take out the lower class – that’s Australia. Just take away all the poor people, and that’s Australia.
TMM: If you could become a chimpanzee, an elephant or a lion, which would you be and why?
BS: Lion, chimp or elephant – to me, all three are ridiculously good animals, but I’d probably go with elephant, just because of how rock solid they are, and how intelligent they are, and how… they’re fucking cool, man, I like them all. Chimps are cheeky, lions are fucking gangsters and elephants are just fucking humble, soulful animals. But they’re built tough, that’s what makes them so chill. So I’d probably go elephant.