We chat to the superstar DJ before he hits the decks at Alpha
Ben Westbeech and I go way back. Well, two years at least. The first time I interviewed him was after he performed a stunning soul set in a dapper black suit at The Big Chill music festival in England. He subsequently spent that day careering around on a quad bike/golf cart hybrid trying not to run over tie-dye-wearing, middle-aged businessmen getting their Woodstock on. The second time I interviewed him was totally different. It was late, dark, and at a London club: he was DJing and I was enjoying the vibe. As a result when I speak to him about his upcoming second gig at Alpha it’s with some respect. In an industry that has an obsession with pigeonholing artists, Ben has managed to run two independent and successful careers, as a singer and as a DJ, in two separate genres. ‘Yeah, I’m a good multi-tasker,’ he laughs. ‘I sing and DJ at the same time! Well, no I don’t literally do that, but I guess I could try…’
Ben isn’t a household name, but his work on the European party and festival circuit over the last few years has earned him the respect of some of the biggest promoters and DJs around. He’s a DJ’s DJ, often appearing alongside the likes of nu-jazz/electronica boys Jazzanova. And it’s largely down to his fine taste in music, which he’ll be showing off in Dubai this week. ‘At the moment I’m playing deep house, soulful stuff, with perhaps a bit of techno later on as things get darker,’ he says. ‘I’m really into these deep-house producers from Frankfurt called Arto Mwambé – they’re amazing.’
As we chat the annoying monotone of a Tannoy system burbles in the background, giving half-heard commands and announcements. ‘You’ve just caught me at the airport,’ Ben says off-handedly. ‘I’m off to play for Jade Jagger at her Jezebel night at Pasha in Moscow.’ He might be able to throw out phrases like that with ease, but Westbeech is not an Ahlan-style celebrity player – nevertheless, he enjoys the travelling and partying his work brings. ‘I’ve been abroad a lot lately, which is great as I love checking out different places and seeing the different scenes and seeing how the parties are in different countries; it’s really interesting.’
Although he’s done well with his DJing, Ben is equally respected as a singer. He signed in 2007 to Brownswood, the label owned by renowned DJ Gilles Peterson, and his debut LP, Welcome To The Best Years OfYour Life, was a mix of soul and jazz with elements of drum ’n’ bass. The album was critically acclaimed, garnering praise not only for Ben’s vocal talents but also for its instrumentation, of which he provided the majority. It’s surprising that he’s done so well in two careers – and testament to his appetite for hard work. Most artists would have picked one talent to stick to, but for Ben that’s not an option. ‘That would be too hard – I couldn’t choose,’ he says when we press him.
Yep, those two careers mean that Ben’s got a busy old life – one that’s not too hard to follow thanks to his Twitter account. But, while he makes use of the zeitgeist-riding site, he sounds a little perturbed when I bring it up. ‘I’m in two minds about it – I’m not a fully fledged twitterer, but I do use it a bit. But does anyone really care what you’re doing? As a marketing tool it’s really interesting but I don’t know overall if having everyone twittering is that healthy for society. We’ve got enough computers and technology as it is – do you really need another thing to update?’ He laughs: ‘But, yes, I still follow Stephen Fry. Doesn’t everyone?’
The Tannoy interrupts again: Westbeech has already checked in, been through security and needs to board. We say our goodbyes and with that he’s off to Moscow. Nice life if you can get it.
Ben Westbeech plays See You Next Friday at Alpha, August 7.