Ben UFO Fabriclive 67
It's an oft-repeated fact that Hessle Audio co-captain Ben UFO (a.k.a. Ben Thomson)—unlike his label cohorts Pearson Sound and Pangaea—doesn't make music. In truth, the distinction has become a central component of his mythology and appeal, as it makes him seem "pure," an artist solely devoted to spinning and selecting. As such, his rise to prominence—more gradual than that of his Hessle accomplices and many of the label's alumni—has been based on his chops as a DJ, and his contribution to the Fabriclive series demonstrates some of his most appealing qualities in that arena. Its tracklist is demanding and challenging, but instead of alienating listeners with an eclectic compilation of radically weird tracks, Thomson manages to entice his audience with avant-garde and seemingly unapproachable sounds.
Opening with Mix Mup's "Dub," the song's yawing waves of low end are the only warm up offered by Fabriclive 67. The mix proves to be a vigorous workout, one that begins with "Feelings," a rashy scorcher from L.I.E.S. up-and-comer Delroy Edwards that spits out fiery blasts of noise and a hail of hi-hats. The track perfectly showcases two of Ben UFO's specialties: arresting percussion and wonky, otherworldly music that populates the the grey areas between techno, house, garage, and dubstep.
Yet even as he moves through fervent and occasionally discordant selections, such as Pearson Sound's sputtering "Clutch" and the blinding industrial stomp of Blawan's "And Both His Sons," Thomson proves to be a trustworthy guide. At times, it feels like he's gone off the deep end, but it's readily apparent that he feels completely at home out there. He maneuvers deftly between thundering bangers and a host of idiosyncratic tunes populated by curious noises—there's quirky squelching on Gesloten Cirkel's "Twisted Balloon," moody and deep melodies on tracks like Juniper's "Jovian Planet," and tribal noodling on a Shackleton-helmed remix of "Mukuba Special," a song by the Congo-based collective Kasai Allstars.
Of course, much of Hessle Audio's output could be described as jarring, intense, or weird, so it comes as little surprise that some of the boldest tunes on Fabriclive 67 are from the label's catalog, including Elgato's grumbling "Zone" and a forthcoming record from Pev & Kowton, "Raw Code," which balances hammering drums with tides of low end and and grainy breakdowns. The non-Hessle songs also play an important role by providing a throughline, both to the greater landscape of music inspired by the label's releases and to those sounds that have done the inspiring. Recent jams from rising stars like Kyle Hall and Jam City are strung together with '90s releases from Herbert and K-Hand.
Ben UFO reaches in a different direction with nearly every transition, but his careful eye for commonalities between songs allows the set to remain coherent and gripping. Even when two songs sound wildly different, Thomson employs clever tricks to make them blend seamlessly. Take the transition from Bandshell's "Perc" and Blawan's "And Both His Sons": the former is hooting, bass-heavy, and deep, while the latter blazes with a headbanging techno stomp, but Ben UFO marries them by playing a loop from the beginning of Blawan's tune throughout the entire duration of "Perc." Bandshell's gooey bassline rises into the rain of splintery synths from "And Both His Sons," and soon melts away once again, at which point Blawan's kick drum comes thundering in to take its place.
The fact that Thomson devotes his creative energy solely to DJing isn't proof that he's an excellent DJ, but his Fabriclive mix most definitely is. It spans a handful of genres and more than two decades, but Ben UFO moves fluidly and intrepidly between them all, guiding listeners through the musical world that surrounds Hessle Audio in the process. And thanks to his savvy techniques and careful placement, his penchant for the far-out fringes of dance music doesn't seem weird at all, but delightfully intriguing.
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