Perhaps the biggest and most impactful street performer of our time, Benjamin Stanford – known to you and I as DUB FX – is an artist who paved his own way entirely.
Having made waves across the streets of Europe and the internet alike, for his stunning, multi-layered loop-pedal sets and soulful, energizing performances, starting way back in 2006, DUB FX returns with a powerful new single, comic book, upcoming album, and big plans for 2020.
We were blessed with an in-depth interview to find out more about the music, how things have changed in recent years, and what his hopes are going forwards. Here’s how it went.
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Hey – thanks so much for the chat, and congrats on the new single! What can you tell us about Fire Every Day?
Fire Everyday is the first single off my new album Roots. It’s a funky reggae style track with a catchy, meaningful hook and socially aware lyrics that point out the hypocrisy of our times.
What inspired you guys to put together a comic to release with the new music?
We live in a digital age where we can read, watch or listen to anything we want on our phones, so I wanted to make something physical and timeless you can pick up and read. I’ve always wanted to write my own comic since I started reading them when I was a teenager. My original idea was to write a story first and then come up with the music around that, but I ended up doing it the other way around. I started with the songs and then came up with short stories to match the songs.
You’ve always been an advocate for building real connections, embracing nature, spirituality and togetherness. This track leans in that direction all the more so, with lines like Put your phone away, let’s look each other in the eyes. Do you think people are starting to turn back towards being present and in the moment, to being global citizens, or do you worry that things are only getting worse; more divided, more distant?
When you put it like that I sound like a crusty hippy lol. I could write a whole book on this, but to keep it simple I’ll say this: I think that although technology is dividing us and making us more narcissistic, it’s also the only tool we have to spread the message of consciousness and mindfulness. If corporate interest wasn’t in the hands of sociopaths who only care about profit and squashing any competition, there would be no reason for fake news or algorithms that favour antisocial behaviour. Social media wouldn’t be used as a tool to divide us but instead as a tool to help us grow as a society into something strong and positive.
How different does it feel to perform as Dub FX and the Convoy Unlimited when compared to your solo looping shows?
When I perform solo I can do whatever I want, however I like within the confines of my technical abilities, but it can get boring and very tiring after a while. All the focus is on me so I need to be “on” 100% of the time. These days when I get booked on my own I bring Woodnote along to play saxophone and keys. We have been working together since 2008 and he features on my most popular YouTube video Flow which has now reached over 32 million views.
With a band it’s a lot easier because they help with the energy load of keeping people entertained, plus you bounce off of each other and you can do things that you can’t do with a loop station. They are two totally different shows and both have their own merits. I’m super lucky that I can go between the two.
There’s a new project coming in January, the Roots album – what does this title and collection mean to you, and what do you hope people take away from it?
I called my new album Roots because it’s indicative of my own personal roots and the kind of music that inspired me while growing up. The music on this record is quite rootsy, with a modern feel and production. Personally I feel like this album captures my true essence more than any album I’ve ever made.
You’ve stood by your sound and style throughout the years, beautifully recognisable and offering good vibes, optimism – escapism that uplifts and energizes. Have you noticed things changing over time, audiences reacting differently, or do you think music will always be a constant source of calm in an ever-shifting world?
Good music and art reflects the times while pushing things forward. I’ve always tried to be representative of my own surroundings while using technology in ways it wasn’t necessarily designed to be used. This album definitely speaks of what we as a culture are going through.
I can’t say audiences are really that different to when I began, except for the fact that technology has changed the way we consume music. But as far as a live audience is concerned, they still let go and enjoy a good show like ever before.
Do you ever struggle to maintain your positivity and optimism, and if so, how do you overcome this?
Not really, I’m a very optimistic person by nature but I’m also very skeptical. I question everything I read, see or hear. Sometimes too much so, but I don’t let it bring me down. I’ve had a super lucky and privileged sequence of events that defined my path.
Of course I had many obstacles along the way, but I’m quick on my feet when it comes to making important decisions. I don’t let small things bring me down and over the years I’ve learned to cut off people in my life who brought me down.
What would you say are the main differences between an impromptu street show and a pre-arranged, ticketed event, and do you cater your approach differently in each case?
The first main difference is people who paid to see you know who you are, are pumped for the show and they want to be there. I always laugh at street performers who complain about randoms yelling abuse at them. If you put your self in the line of fire, you need to be prepared. It’s like a comedian who doesn’t want to be heckled but asks someone in the front row where they are from. You are inviting all kinds of crazy people into your performance, whether you like it or not. It can be scary, tough, or unbelievably magical.
When I was street performing, my main goal was to sell as many CDs as I possibly could. In order to do this I realised I needed to make their jaws drop over and over until they handed me their money. I would start off by beatboxing and looping a huge fat funky beat, which got people turning their heads and walking over, then I would layer some harmonies on the beat which is a transparent way of showing people what I’m doing with the loop station. I may even loop a simple silly phrase like “I am not a terrorist” over the beat, which got people laughing and interested in the gear I was using. Then I would introduce myself and explain a little bit about the FX pedals and looper at my feet. I would then loop a warm melodic baseline over the funky beat and harmonies, then start singing a catchy melodic hook over the groove and rap in two different voices by pitching my voice up and down on the fly using a pitch shifter. Then I would go back into singing the hook again, which happened to also have a positive message.
I would stop the track and do it all over again incase they missed the start and didn’t realise I had made the beat with my mouth. I also had all kinds of songs in my bag of tricks which I knew appealed to certain demographics depending on where I was. Needles to say – I sold a lot of CDs.
When I perform to my fans it’s very different, instead of showing off skills I work on giving them a show that takes them on a musical journey – plus, I’m trying to make them dance.
What’s been your most memorable live experience to date?
Performing with my wife and our baby has been super fun. My daughter Sahara sits on the stage, waves to the audience and steels the show. A huge turning point in my career was a street performance I did in Budapest where over 4000 people showed up with only 24 hours notice (you can look it up on YouTube, it was unbelievable).
In what ways has becoming a father changed your view of the world, and has it affected your writing style or your feelings towards touring?
I definitely want to tour less, and be at home with my family more, but I was expecting that, so I’m definitely more strategic with the way I structure my time.
My view of the world or writing style isn’t that different though. I wanted to be a father since I was a kid, so I’ve been preparing myself for this since I can remember.
What are your main aspirations right now?
My main aspirations are to continue to travel the world, make music, and have a family. I’ve achieved all those things and they are ongoing. My only goal now is to make sure I stay present and enjoy what all my hard work has achieved.
If you could change one thing about the music industry, what would it be, and why?
The main problems with the music industry stem from capitalism. The music industry mainly focuses on creating music which is a product rather than art. Most people can’t even tell the difference anymore.
What’s the best advice you were ever given as an artist?
Be authentic, regardless of what people think.
If you could sit down to lunch with anyone at all, past or present, who would you choose, and what would you ask them about?
I believe Bob Marley is the closest thing we have had to a living Messiah… I have no idea what I would ask him though…
What are your main hopes going forwards for 2020 and beyond?
2020 is going to be huge. I’m releasing my new album Roots, but I’ll also release an experimental project called Branches straight after, on all streaming platforms. Branches is literally me branching out into different genres and trying new things. I’ll also spend the whole year touring all over the world. As far as beyond is concerned, I just want to keep making art that means something.
Is there anything else you’d like to say?
Plenty, but it’s better if I put it into song.
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A massive thank you to Ben for his time & insight. Download the new single Fire Every Day & get a free copy of the comic via Bandcamp. Find & follow him on Facebook & Instagram or visit his Website to stay updated. Grab tickets for the 2020 tour here.