“Voices in my house/Won’t go away”
Maverick London-based songwriter, artist & producer Benbo is also, according to Eddy Temple Morris, ‘the best cartoonist in the world’* – a reputation he’s been building since 2012, during which he published a new drawing every single day.
Having completed that challenge, in 2013 the self-styled ‘human man with studio’ got back to making music. It was what he was supposed to be doing, given that he was by that point three years late on delivering the indie rock album he’d signed to Cooking Vinyl in 2009. But the slow, solipsistic process of recording, performing and mixing almost everything himself (the deal wasn’t a lucrative one) had become a massive drag. A procrastinatory distraction was needed – preferably one that involved working with other musicians.
Enter ‘project #AIEEE.’ The rules of project #AIEEE were simple: finish one new original collaboration every week of the year – no covers, no samples, no repeats of personnel. But making it work was far from simple. He moved a bed into his studio in Hastings and called everyone he knew for referrals. He started working with people who’d never made music before, and people who had trained to the highest levels. Musicians turned up at his door because they’d heard about project #AIEEE from a friend; vocals and guitar parts arrived in his inbox from Oakland and Dubai, lyrics from Grimsby and Worthing, backing tracks from Melbourne and North Carolina. Genres came and went – future bass, garage rock, avant-garde improvisation – depending on who he was working with. Legendary house label Black Vinyl signed the fifth collaboration; Gilles Peterson played the first; Dimitri from Paris the third.
By the end of the year, he’d crashed and burned. But he’d débuted 35 tracks, with more under way thanks to artists from New York and Cape Town. Plus, he had a new family of fellow project #AIEEE artists. And in the middle of it all, he’d moved to Brixton.
Licking his wounds and thinking about the next step, it seemed obvious – the #AIEEE family needed an organisation. One that could help everyone take the next step beyond simply finishing tracks, toward releasing them as part of a single, EP or album good enough to buy. Thus, Pink Lizard Music was born: an alternative music industry infrastructure to serve the needs of these unique independent artists. Global agreements were signed, plans were laid, and project #AIEEE went full circle – back to the first collaboration, which became a clear vinyl 10″ Record Store Day Exclusive in 2015, picking up national radio plays in South Africa, Australia and the UK.
Working with so many new people had brought some unexpected benefits. One was an introduction to Strokes producer Gordon Raphael, who agreed to mix some tracks for Benbo’s solo album. The first of these, album opener ‘If You Feel Emotional,’ premiered on Indie Shuffle in August 2015 and swiftly dislodged Foals from the top of the Indie Rock chart, going on to become a Pigeons & Planes ‘download right now’ recommendation. Cassette copies featured a selection of home demo extra tracks which were compiled on his 2015 Bundle, along with ‘wonderfully surreal’ weird jazzy instrumental follow-up ‘Nurvel Durd,’ which introduced him to audiences on BBC 6 Music and BBC Radio 3.
Meanwhile over in project #AIEEE land, what had begun as a simple project to make single tracks was now spiralling in dozens of directions – a full-scale live music show broadcast from the UK’s Fountain Studios, home of the X Factor; a series of re-releases of ambient classics; the soundtrack to a Viennese latex-fetish personality. ‘I learned pretty quickly from doing project #AIEEE to give myself up to the process. Whenever something surprising turned up in my inbox, even if my first instinct was “I don’t understand this”, I’d just accept it, start working with it, and we’d end up somewhere amazing.’
As we entered 2017, an #AIEEE spinout with EJ von LYRIK (one of Chuck D’s ‘all-time top five female MCs ever’) was spending its seventh consecutive week on the official chart of South Africa’s Good Hope FM, having risen to #4 on New Year’s Eve.
Back in the studio, Benbo is readying his next single. In fact, it’s been in the can for nine months. ‘I’ve been working on this particular song for eleven years. It’s not a bad thing to take six months away from it once you think it’s finished – if you can still enjoy it by that point, it’s probably worth other people’s listening time.’ The track has been mixed and co-produced by the rapidly-rising Marta Salogni (Frank Ocean/Shura), who Benbo has also been able to bring in on other upcoming Pink Lizard Music releases by project #AIEEE alumni – notably, Detroit’s Mother Cyborg, his final collaborator of the #AIEEE year in December 2013, whose début album will arrive on this April, 7/8ths co-produced by Benbo.
And so the circle continues. But with all this time devoted to collaborations, will we ever get to hear his solo album? ‘I’m working at a rate of about one Benbo song every two years,’ he laughs. ‘So maybe 2028…’
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