Five Minutes at MUTEK with BNJMN
- Words: Shawn Reynaldo
- Photo: Miguel Legault
As always, this year's edition of MUTEK offered a potentially overwhelming number of shows, parties, workshops, panel discussions, and more. Amidst all the activity, XLR8R also wanted to take the time to sit down with a few of our favorite artists, both to get their impressions of the festival and to check in about what's happening with their music. Before making his North American debut at the festival, UK producer BNJMN spoke about his expectations for America, the difficulty of playing live and translating his music to the dancefloor, and how he manages to juggle his multiple artistic personalities.
XLR8R: Is this your first time in Montreal?
BNJMN: Yup. First time in North America, full stop. I've never been to America before. It was the longest flight I've ever been on, like seven hours. [laughs]
And you're staying after MUTEK and playing a few dates.
Yes, I'm playing Toronto, then Chicago on Thursday, and San Francisco on Sunday.
Is there anything you particularly want to see in America?
To be honest, I'm really excited about California. I'm really into films, and so many of my favorites were filmed there. In San Francisco, there's The Conversation. I love that film and just the way it all looks, the way the buildings look and everything. I'm just really excited to visit there.
Did you know about MUTEK before this?
Yeah, I'd seen videos online of, like, Actress playing. The Métropolis just looks huge, and I thought I'd be playing on that stage. I was quite nervous about it, but it looks like I'll be playing on a slightly smaller stage.
You're still relatively early in your career. Does it feel strange to be on a MUTEK lineup?
Yeah, totally. Being next to Jeff Mills and people I really look up to, it's crazy. I can't get my head around it.
You put out two albums in your first year as an artist. Is that prolific rate something you plan on continuing?
To be honest, for the first album [Plastic World], the material was recorded three years ago, maybe even longer than that. So the first album was already done. Even when I sent the demo to Rush Hour, all that material was already finished. So the first album came out, and by then the second album [Black Square], that material I'd probably been working on for a year. It came out within six months [of the first LP], and everyone said "you must be incredibly prolific." I do work on music all the time, but I don't think I can do two albums in a year again. Saying that, I do have one album coming out this year, but it's under a different name, Singing Statues. I don't know if there will be a BNJMN album this year. If there is, then that will be two albums again. [laughs]
You used to record under another alias as well.
Yeah, Jackhigh. It was kind of hip-hop. I did an EP with Teebs. That was the first stuff I started recording. I was just getting into making music. But after getting into different styles of music, I wanted to try different things.
Do you have a favorite alias?
Well, I don't really work on any kind of hip-hop stuff anymore, so now it's either the BNJMN thing or the Singing Statues thing, which I just started. Even though I've got an album of that coming out this year, the Singing Statues album was recorded a few years ago as well. I've just started getting into making some of that song-based stuff again.
Since all the BNJMN releases started coming out, have you been playing out more?
Yeah. I did my first show in July last year. Now I'm doing five shows this month, I had three shows last month.
Are you playing live or DJing?
This whole tour, I'm doing the live set, but I've been enjoying DJ more recently. The live set can be hit and miss. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn't, but you're kind of stuck with it. You can't really change it, whereas DJing you can play to the crowd. It can be more fun.
The music of BNJMN is dancefloor-based, but it's also quite shadowy and dark. It isn't necessarily "fun." How do you translate that to a club environment?
[laughs] Yeah, that's what I'm saying with the live set. It can be really hard because sometimes it just totally doesn't work. I'm really into dance music, but I'm also into all sorts of different types of music, so I think the BNJMN stuff, even though it's come out on Rush Hour, which is a house/techno label, it's still kind of leftfield. It kind of confuses people.
When you DJ, what kind of records are you going for?
I tend to play more fun music, stuff people would dance to. I mix that in with some weirder stuff as well. I love Efdemin, Theo Parrish, stuff like that, but then mixing it with UK stuff, some more broken-sounding stuff. Actress, I love his music. Even though that's still quite weird, it can work. He did a remix for Panda Bear, and I played it in a club in Leeds a few weeks ago. You could tell it wasn't really a musical crowd, they were just there to get drunk. It was strange because I played that remix and people were loving it. It was the weirdest thing I played in the whole set. You can never tell.
How did you get hooked up with Rush Hour in the first place?
I literally just sent them a demo. They put out a 12" which was in-store only, kind of limited edition. People liked it, so they said, "We'll do the album." By the time that came out, I'd already been working on a lot of new music.
As you work on new material, do you feel additional pressure because of the Rush Hour connection?
Yeah, it does feel different, also because of doing shows. A couple of years ago, all I was doing was sitting in my room every day, just shutting myself off from the world, making music. Now I'm playing shows and I recently moved to London as well, so there are a lot of cool nights going on. I'm finding myself much more distracted these days. My output has suffered a little bit.
Do you feel like it's changed the sound of what you're making?
With every release, I'm always trying to make it sound really different from the last one. I just did a limited-edition 12" on Rush Hour, which is much more dancefloor-oriented than the album. But I might go the other way with the next release and make it completely ambient or something.
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