With over two decades of experience under his belt, Ben Sims has a well-deserved reputation as one of the world’s most in-demand and leading techno DJs and producers – a tight, energetic mixer who skilfully weaves together his own distinctive blend of tough funk and hard grooves.
Sims doesn’t follow trends and is one of those now-rare DJs who takes his skills behind the decks as seriously as DJs used to in the ’80s and ’90s. Ask anyone who matters in the techno world and they will agree: Sims is a no-compromise artist who has constantly evolved while always remaining faithful to the underground sounds of techno. It comes as no surprise to anyone versed in the techno scene that Sims is also widely-known and appreciated for his three-deck wizardry and dexterity, as his now-viral Boiler Room at AVA Festival from earlier this year proves.
As well as carving a reputation as one of the world’s leading techno DJs, Ben has curated many of his own revered labels over the years, and has become a respected producer in his own right amongst peers and fans alike, gaining support from contemporary connoisseurs like Marcel Dettmann, Ben Klock, and the old guard of Dave Clarke, Robert Hood, Rolando and more – proof, then, that Sims is on the form of his life production-wise and has remained at the top of his game for years.
Despite his veteran status in the scene, Sims has always been keen to evolve. Alongside Kirk Degiorgio, he is co-founder and curator of Machine – a brand which focuses on new, unreleased, and upfront music, with editions throughout the most coveted clubs and festivals in Europe. His Run it Red radio show, broadcast via NTSlive and podcasted afterwards, also serves to solely highlight new music and to support emerging artists throughout the world.
One of Sims’ most recent projects is the collab project known as ASSAILANTS, which seems him perform alongside another of techno’s most lauded names: Truncate. The two masters will be bringing the ASSAILANTS project to the United States in the last week of November, with sets scheduled at Obsidian in Phoenix on November 29th, as well as at Observe.06 in Los Angeles on November 30th. These two dates come after a Techno Taco Tuesday solo set in Las Vegas, and a Black Wednesday performance in Seattle for DEPTH at Kremwerk. Full info on his upcoming dates can be found HERE.
Despite an incredibly busy schedule spread across all the aforementioned projects, we were fortunate enough to grab a chat with Sims ahead of his forthcoming North American appearances.
Hello mate, nice chatting with you again. Last time I saw you it was after your last LA set and we were cracking jokes and having a proper laugh after a few drinks. How has 2019 been treating you?
Yeah all good, thanks! The year has been pretty busy tour-wise and probably the most consistent release schedule on my labels for a long time so I’m very happy with how that side of things is going. I’ve knocked the post set drinks behaviour on the head since my last LA trip though – I had to grow up eventually I guess (laughs!)
Your video from the Boiler Room at AVA Festival went viral… that crowd was going mental and your set was insane, both in terms of technicality and just the energy. How was it for you playing that?
It was great, actually. Even though I was right of the middle of it there were barriers around me so I still had space to move and perform without getting too caught up in the carnage.
Obviously I feed off the crowd’s vibe and energy but with Boiler Room it’s not just the crowd you’re playing to. By far the majority of people who’ll check the set aren’t in front of me so I just tried to get in the zone and play what I wanted to play. Feedback has been overwhelmingly positive so I’m pretty happy with how it went (and I’m definitely my own harshest critic)
Does your preparation for a Boiler Room set vary to that of another set?
I’m definitely stricter with the tracks I bring with me, I wouldn’t choose a BR session to test run cuts I’ve never played before and I’ll prepare a tighter playlist with less ‘maybes’ and more things I 100% want to play.
Last night I played in Spain and had about 300 tracks selected for the gig, over 50 fresh cuts new that day and hadn’t even heard ‘loud’ let alone mixed but I wouldn’t do that for a BR session.
I had around 70 selected and played about 40, all of which I was pretty familiar with.
Obviously you want these sets to represent how you play and the music you’re playing. It’s not just a DJ set, it’s an opportunity to really showcase what you’re about.
A lot of people lauded just how good your skills behind the decks were during that set. Do you feel it is strange that your DJ skills are considered somewhat rare in today’s world, and is it something you take pride on?
When I first got obsessed with DJing and the art of mixing it was in the early ’80s and the first wave of Hip-Hop DJs cutting and scratching etc, so it was 100% about skill and that’s just what I’ve always been interested in. I’m not doing Hip-Hop style tricks in my sets, of course, but am still inspired by that way of playing, quick and intense impact mixing as opposed to careful blends and ‘journey’ sets.
It definitely seems like it’s not the way a typical DJ would play these days, certainly not in the techno world anyway with sync buttons and crowd hyping seemingly the norm but I’m happy I do something different. It’s definitely a big reason I’m still on the circuit.
I had a realisation the other day. Back when I started touring in the ’90s if I told someone I was a DJ they might do a little scratching movement with their hand to playfully demonstrate what they thought DJing was. These days they all punch the air!
That’s so true! Is there another DJ whose skills you particularly admire?
In the Techno world Derrick (May) and Jeff (Mills) are still my faves and continue to inspire me decades after I first saw them, I don’t think their unique way of manipulating the music has been improved, to be honest. Copied, yes, but definitely not improved..
Outside of techno, I tend to watch a lot of online clips of Hip-Hop DJs, particularly ones that use 45s. Right now the one to watch is DJ Koco from Japan. He’s fucking incredible – ridiculously talented but still a crowd rocker. I highly recommend checking him out if you haven’t already.
Your Machine parties seem to be on a proper roll and doing great! How have you been enjoying them yourself?
Yeah, I really enjoy the Machine nights and tours, it’s great to be able to curate line ups at different clubs and festivals.
We don’t do it every weekend or even every month but it’s a lot of fun when we do. The current mini-tour finishes next week with Derrick May, Oliver Way and myself in Holland on the Friday and Essan, Cadans live and me again in Spain on the Saturday.
Your set at ADE with DJ Bone was wicked man. You clearly manage to establish some really great b2b relationships that produce some great sets and performances, which isn’t easy to do! What makes a great b2b partner to you?
Thanks, glad you enjoyed it. It’s lots of fun playing with Bone – we work well together, I think, there’s a complimentary energy. In general, I’ve been really enjoying the b2bs, I even had an all-night b2b party running for a while in London (Kabuki). I love the challenge, the not knowing what the other is going to play but at the same time trusting it’s going to be good because you respect their individual sets. It’s the opposite of what I do in my own sets as I always have some kind of goal in mind or think 5 tracks ahead like chess moves but with the b2bs you just gotta go with the flow and be in the moment.
Obviously the b2b partner needs to have their own style (no point doing it if you play all the same music) and ideally a depth of music knowledge so you’re able to drop in and out of different genres without losing the groove but you also need to have good chemistry as people anyway or it won’t flow. Both enjoying it and having fun definitely gets the best results.
Is there anyone you’d like to play b2b with at some point that you haven’t yet?
Derrick May or Jeff Mills (obviously!)
Talking about b2bs, you’re coming back to LA this month for a monster Observe gig as ASSAILAINTS. What has David told you about the party and what do you expect from it?
I just know that Observe is their new event and even though the guys have been a guiding force in the LA party scene over the years, this project is still a relatively new kid on the block so it’s really exciting to get a chance to play as the hype is building and see what it’s all about.
David and I have done our ASSAILANTS all over the place now. Berghain, various Machine nights and even a tour of Colombia but never in LA, so it’s been a long time coming.
What can WE expect from it?
An unmissable masterclass of machine funk from two of the finest mixologists on the mo-fo circuit! ;)
You’re playing other gigs in the States on that tour. What do you look forward to the most when coming to play the States in general, and what are you looking forward to the most for this upcoming one?
Touring the USA is great, I’ve been coming on and off for years but there are so many places I haven’t played or visited.
It’s the birthplace of most of the music I’m obsessed with and even if it’s not the place it’s most celebrated, in Techno’s case at least, it’s definitely understood there and the heads always come out.
This trip I’m playing Vegas and Phoenix, two places I’ve never had a chance to spin before, so really happy to be finally doing my thing in those cities.
Seattle was proper last time – an intense session so it’s great to be going back and LA has been really good every time I’ve been there so it’s all very positive, I can’t wait.
By the way, love your Run It Red series and all the artists you showcase through it, including some very talented up-and-comers. Who right now interests you as a producer and DJ that we should keep an eye and ear open for?
Happy you dig the show, it’s a pleasure to do and it definitely keeps me more informed on new labels and artists than I’ve ever been. It also fuels my labels as I’m now discussing releases with many up and coming artists that I’d originally featured on Run It Red.
Here’s a few names to watch:
Do The Du
Rebecca Delle Piane
Blasha & Allatt
The Lady Machine
Thank you for the tips! You’ve been around spreading the good word of techno for decades now, remaining at the top of your game throughout. What do you feel has kept you going and relevant through all the changes our scene and industry have been through?
At the end of the day, I love what I do and I love the music. I’ve had some amazing times on the dance floor over the years and witnessed many heroes drop game-changing, even life-changing, sets and now I’m in the fortunate position of being up there myself, playing the music I’m passionate about to people all over the world. I’m very lucky to be able to do this and I don’t take it for granted, I work hard and I care about the scene.
I also don’t follow trends or chase fame. I’ve been into this music for long enough to know things go in a cycle so there’s no point getting too involved in the latest fad because they never last. That game is largely for people in the scene for the wrong reasons anyway.
I just play the style I love and how I love to play it and, every now and then, it seems to be closer to what’s currently popular and that’s cool, I get some new blood on the dance floor and get a chance to try and blow their minds like mine was back in the day.
Catch Ben Sims in The United States this month:
26th November – Taco Tuesday, Las Vegas
27th November – Kremwerk, Seattle
29h November – Techno Snobs, Phoenix
30th November – Observe, Los Angeles
Connect with Ben Sims:
Facebook | Instagram | Twitter | SoundCloud
Hard Groove Records | Run it Red |
Photo Credit: Marie Staggat