Ben UFO: Dubstep Innovator
Is there any genre of music that’s exploded and splintered quite like dubstep? In half a decade, it went from a handful of inner-city youths in U.K. suburbs to domination of the pop charts, co-opted by everyone from Korn to Britney Spears.
So stark has been the transformation from the emotive sub-pressure of dubstep’s original sound into its current festival-filling incarnation, that many of its early pioneers have forged a new sonic identity, where fragments of dubstep blend with traditional house and techno tropes in creative new alloys.
At the forefront has been Ben UFO—aka 26-year-old Ben Thomson—whose trend-setting label Hessle Audio pushed dubstep in new directions when it was launched in 2007. Since co-founding the imprint with college friends Pearson Sound and Pangaea, both forward-thinking producers in their own right, Thomson’s managed to successfully tread that elusive path—the DJ who doesn’t make records.
“I don’t know that it’s becoming more scarce,” he says when asked if he sees himself as a rarity in a world dominated by chart positions and YouTube plays. “I’m lucky in that my development as a DJ has been fairly gradual. When I started, our scene was tiny, but it had a lot of momentum behind it. That helped a lot. I’m not sure I would have been able to break into an already established scene without producing, and without heavy-handed management.”
That independence from the pressures of producing is afforded by the success of Hessle. With over 20 releases from the forerunners of post-dubstep like James Blake, Untold and Objekt, as well as Pangaea and Pearson Sound themselves, it has firmly stamped its mark on modern bass music. With Thomson’s A&R skills at the heart of that, it’s opened doors that might otherwise have been shut to someone who’s “just a DJ.”
Alongside the label, Thomson’s cemented his credentials as a selector on the influentia…