EXCLUSIVE: Interview With Benjha

..If you read this blog, you’re probably aware of Benjha, the project of Nikos Vezanis, a very talented up-and-coming Greek producer. After taking his first musical steps as a drummer for various Athenian bands, Nikos started producing electronic music (with a strong element of rythmic experimentation) as Benjha. His latest official release is "Gravity", a single that appears on "Trust" compilation, the debut release of Nicolas Jaar‘s subscription label Other People. In anticipation to his next releases, we asked him to talk about himself, his musical influences, and his future plans. Read our interview and listen to his brand new track, Frames, below. He’s definitely a producer worth keeping an eye on..

Zac: What is your background? Tell us how you first got into electronic music.

Benjha: I grew up in Athens, a city with a vibrant youth music scene. Loads of bands would do shows in universities, cultural spaces, or small clubs. In high school, my friends and I got into organizing small shows in the city’s center. I started off as a drummer because I liked rhythm and didn’t have any formal music training. We’d mostly play punk, which I think has influenced my own music’s obsession with energy and rhythm. When I left Athens to study abroad, I no longer had access to a band, and was all out of musical outlets – so when a friend introduced me to FL Studio, I immediately got hooked. It was a very new thing for me: with software, I had no practical limitations; and without bandmates, I had 100% creative control. And so began the steady and fruitful love affair between my PC and I, now responsible for the birth of hundreds of weird soundchildren.

Zac: What’s the story behind your name?

Benjha: I am very bad at picking names and sticking to them, which is why it seemed right for me to pick a name that was picked by others instead. A long time ago, when I was in 8th grade, I was nicknamed by my classmates after the Belgian footballer Émile Mpenza, because his last name sounded like the first two syllables of my own last name (I like to tell myself it is also because I had some pretty serious soccer skills, so lets say so too). Mpenza became “Benja” due to greek accentuation, but that name was taken by a few other artists. A couple of years ago, after seeing the band Wooden Shjips perform live, I decided that an arbitrary silent letter would be the perfect solution to my problem. It would distinguish me from other “Benjas” and simultaneously connote a sense of exoticism and profoundness I could have never achieved otherwise. Joking aside though, I like the way it looks.

Zac: Can you tell us a few things about your latest releases? How did you come into working with Nicolas Jaar and Other People?

Benjha: My latest (and debut physical) release is a track called Gravity. It is part of a compilation release called Trust, which is also the debut release of the label Other People. I met Nico before one of his shows in San Francisco, and proceeded to send him some of my tracks via email. He listened to them and liked them, so he asked me to be part of his label, then called Clown and Sunset.

Zac: Which is the ideal place to listen to your music?

Benjha: Outside in any city with your headphones on. Most preferably during a heat wave, or in sub-zero winter.

Zac: What is your source of inspiration?

Benjha: I’d say we all have external and internal sources of inspiration. Externally, I am inspired by movies with good soundtracks and music concerts– because both invite you to interact with music in a very engaging way. Internally, I think nostalgia is a strong source. I’ve moved around a good amount and left people and places behind, often not voluntarily. This has made me develop a relationship with nostalgia. Not to say I am a sad person, quite the contrary. I just think I have taught myself to appreciate nostalgia, and to leverage its power for productive purposes.

Zac: Which city inspires you most?

Benjha: I’d say the Greek countryside or islands are the most inspiring, but paradoxically the hardest to make music once there. Who wants to stay in and veg when there’s so much beauty outside? When you do, however, it comes out well.

Zac: Which are your favorite tracks/artists at the moment?

Benjha: Tough one! I like listening to albums instead of single tracks, so I’ll answer by listing the albums stored in my phone right now: "DJ Koze – Amygdala", "Miles Davis – Bitches Brew", "Fleet Foxes – Helplessness Blues", "Young Montana? – Limerence", "Chance The Rapper – Acid Rap", and this amazing afrobeat/funk collection called "Ghana Soundz". In the general electronic sphere, I’m especially enjoying Lapalux, fLako and Jai Paul.

Zac: What is your favorite sound?

Benjha: Probably some crisp percussion drums over the crackling sound of vinyl. Personally, I love the dialogues that develop between two sounds, rather than the monologue of each sound alone. For instance, a lushly textured atmosphere will make a percussion or melody feel different than without it, just like a carpet underneath a piece of furniture, or a frame around a picture. I don’t think you can rationalize the effects of such a relationship as clearly as you would the relationship between melody and mood. They are a bit more obscure and maybe that’s their intrigue.

Zac: How do you chill out?

Benjha: Routinely, my chill session involves having drinks and making a fool out of myself on the dance floor. But my special, annual Chill session – with a capital C – involves camping on an isolated beach with a good group of friends.

Zac: Which is the latest book you read?

Benjha: ‘Galápagos’ by Kurt Vonnegut. I recommend it, along with most of his other books. The man is brilliant.

Zac: What are you most excited about right now?

Benjha: I just moved back to Athens. So I’m excited about 2 things. Eating more Greek food and seeing the seasons change. Basically, I’m an old man.

Zac: What are your plans for the future?

Benjha: Hopefully I’ll be releasing new music sometime soon in the form of an LP. But it’s still a project in the making for now, so this is a very loose announcement. I will also be releasing an EP of recent works through a Canadian label called Blenheim and Celtic, as well as my first EP Atáxia, which will be pre-released on my Bandcamp page, hopefully by the end of the month. (www.benjha.bandcamp.com)

Zac: How do you see today’s Greek electronic scene?

Benjha: I am still discovering, but so far I’ve met people in Greece who are doing really great things. And there are more and more events and festivals that showcase new, original music. I am also grateful to have found it pretty welcoming so far, as I have already been invited to do a few Dj/live set appearances in the near future.

Thank you!

Benjha’s Gravity is out now on Other-People. Check out a live set for a Silent Disco event in Bordeaux (7th June 2013), performed by Benjha on synths and pads + David Sampethai on the mic and guitar. Visit his soundcloud page for more.

Posted on October 14, 2013, in stream and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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