While there may be a lot of music obsessives out there, very few will get the call from Kanye West’s team to fly out and play him Larry Heard and Underground Resistance tracks. Such is the authority that Benji B commands, having dedicated his life to seeking out and championing vital electronic music across the board. His Deviation hallmark stretches from radio broadcast to club nights and festival stages, while his DJ career has been on an upward trajectory since he was in his teens. With the launch of the Deviation Music label, we saw an opportunity take stock with one of the hardest working men in electronic music.
1996-1998: Working with Gilles Peterson
In the early to mid 90s Kiss FM in London was killing it. Alongside all the amazing DJs you had Gilles Peterson’s show The Vibrazone. At the age of 14, I used to go to Gilles’ night That’s How It Is on a Monday at Bar Rhumba. I went up to Gilles one day and said, ‘Hi, I think your radio show’s amazing, but I can make it even better.’ To his credit he said, ‘Alright then.’ I remember the day I went to meet him I sat down in the cafe and all my GCSE books fell out of my bag. By the time I was at college I was producing his shows. It was a pretty lethal combo, because Gilles was working heavily in the industry and had access to all the promos and the demos, and I had ‘the street,’ for want of a better word.
“If I walk into a station anywhere in the world and the On Air sign is lit up, that's my home”
1998: Signing up for Something Else
Through my work with Gilles I was headhunted by Jez Nelson, who runs a company called Something Else. On the last day of my A levels, when everyone was signing each other’s shirts and going down the pub, I was getting on the tube to go to my first day of work, and I’ve been working every day since. I did a lot of amazing work in a very short space of time. I went to Lagos in 2000 to make a documentary and spent ten days as a guest of Femi Kuti. I did one with Saul Williams in New York. I’d interview Chuck D or Pharaoh Sanders, heavyweight people. There’s such a positive and negative to the cockiness you have at that age. I had this cavalier attitude and didn’t feel phased by it.
2002: Starting a solo show on BBC Radio 1Xtra
In the same week in 2002, one BBC radio executive called me up asking me if I’d demo for being a DJ on 1Xtra, and another called asking if I’d help them build the station! It felt very natural to be presenting. I’ve been in a live radio studio environment every week of my life since I was 16-years-old. If I walk into a station anywhere in the world and the On Air sign is lit up, that’s my home space. Equally important was when I was asked to join Radio 1. That was something that I’d been waiting for since I was a teenager. I’m from a generation where it doesn’t get bigger than that. I’m very humbled to be there.
2007: The start of the Deviation club residency
I grew up in the 90s with the most amazing, inspiring choices in clubland to go to, and towards the middle of the 2000s it was kind of crap. There was a real lack of amazing nights, and I felt like it was my responsibility to bring something different. We set up Deviation at Gramophone, and it’s since moved to different spaces like XOYO, and last year we hosted a soundsystem at Notting Hill Carnival. In a way Deviation has become its own genre without me trying – obviously it’s pretty much just my taste in music, but it’s more than that because it has quite clear boundaries that are hard to explain.
2017: The launch of Deviation Music with Deviation Volume 1
In the last 10 years of touring the world, there’s one question I get asked more than any other whenever I’m DJing, and that’s ‘where can I buy your CD?’ Next year with Deviation’s 10th anniversary we’re doing a Deviation Classics compilation, but for this compilation I thought it was important to keep it as a reflection of what we are listening to now. When the idea came up, I was asking myself is this a mix CD thing, or is it all the classics, or is it a super contemporary thing? We decided that it could be a bit of both, so there’s two CDs worth of music and a mix by me that will hopefully stand the test of time.
Deviation Volume 1 is out now via Deviation Music