Ben Rama is a progressive techno producer from Hampton, New Brunswick, Canada. Since his debut in 2010, Ben has been steadily garnering a reputation as a world-class producer, remixer and live act. A proponent of melodic structures within techno music, Ben’s sound is distinctly hypnotic.
Recently, Ben has been working with Alexander Synaptic on forming a new label, Techgnosis Records. This project is a direct continuation of the working relationship these two Canadian artists have established over the years, beginning with Ben’s debut release on Drumlore. Ben Rama has released tracks on the following labels:
- Digital Diamonds
- Zenon Records
- Hypnotic Instincts
- Blind Arc
- Digital Garden
- Jetlag Digital
- Kollektiv Audio Archives
- with upcoming releases on
- Techgnosis Records
- Bassic Records
Techedelic: So I know that your first name is Ben, but I’m curious to know how did the Artist alias Ben Rama come about?
Ben Rama: It’s actually a reference to a character from an obscure comic book by Grant Morrison (look him up).
Tell me about some non-electronic and electronic musical artists that inspired you.
TypeoNegative is a big one, at least their earlier work. The unashamedly haunting and deep melodies, combined with their tongue in cheek approach to storytelling was (and is) a refreshing departure from the self-serious tones in most rock music. Tool is another big one; they know how to use dynamics in songwriting better than most.
For electronic music, there are many, but I will try to be succinct. For DJs, I would have to say Nokturnal and Quivering Virgin are my biggest direct influences. I have seen those guys play more sets over the years than I can count, but every time they leave me with a renewed love and appreciation for underground dance music. As far as producers that inspire me, that one is pretty easy: Stephan Bodzin and Boris Brejcha. Those guys know how to write the best melodies and grooves, respectively. Also, Extrawelt.
I’ve also found myself being quite inspired by some of the talent with whom I’ve been working over the past few months. The Portuguese powerduo Flembaz are massively creative, with a ‘no rules’ approach to techno genres, all while maintaining their own distinct sound. The Toronto-based MYDA (Mitchell Mythrophan and Amir Daana) have been giving me producer envy ever since I was sent some of their first tracks. It’s guys like these that keep reminding me that hard work pays off with better sounding music, and to always be pushing one’s self creatively.
Tell us about the hurdles that you had to jump over when coming out with your first EP.
The biggest hurdle that plagues most producers is the fear of not being ‘good enough’. Luckily, I had some great people helping me along and giving me the confidence I needed to finally put myself out there.
How did the partnership with DJ Basilisk come about?
I knew of DJ Basilisk through Ektoplazm and I was a big fan of his DJ sets from the pre-Facebook era psy forums. When we finally met at a festival in the mid ‘00s, he told me about how he was launching a new techno label, Drumlore. It only took a year but he eventually put enough of a fire under my ass to get him four original tracks, which turned into The Invisible Kingdom. He’s been there since the beginning, and has honestly been one of my biggest supporters.
Do you have a preference for doing DJ sets or Live sets?
Live sets, no question. I’ve played a few DJ sets over the years, but since I put more time and effort into live performance, it’s natural I’d feel that way, I think.
What is the ideal length of a set that you prefer to do when playing at an event?
90 minutes is ideal for a live set. It’s long enough for me to tell a complete ‘story,’ but not so long as to overstay my welcome!
What are your views on the current digital distribution formats available in the music industry?
I think we are due for a massive change here. Beatport used to be the ‘thing’ if your label wasn’t on it, you didn’t have any credibility. While this perception has shifted slightly over the years, that service remains the ‘goto’ for many DJs looking for music and artists/labels wanting to get some recognition.
However, in this day of being able to purchase votes, likes, follows and trickery of that ilk, I don’t put much stock into that model. Ektoplazm has demonstrated that completely free and legal music downloads are an incredibly effective way to reach a target audience (at least in the realm of psymusic culture and adjacent genres). The reasoning behind this is fairly straightforward, since only the ‘big’ guys on Beatport make any decent money, one might as well trade that otherwise meager financial compensation for a massive boost to your visibility as an artist.
In this day and age where anyone with a laptop and some pirated software can produce music, the need to establish a larger mindshare with your audience is always going to be one of the primary goals.
Which were some of your favorite music festivals to play at and why?
Eclipse Festival 2012 was a big one for me, considering I had dreamed of playing that festival since I first attended in 2005. I played a morning set on the beach stage for some of my best friends and perfect strangers, and it was simply magical.
Last summer, I had the pleasure of being invited to Vermont to play for the Fractaltribe at their annual Fractal Fest. To say this was one of the best examples of a community-focused festival I’ve ever encountered would be putting it lightly. That crew is truly exemplary, and is certainly one of the ‘movers and shakers’ in the North American psychedelic underground.
Are you currently working on a studio album or are you focusing more on the remixes?
Both, actually. I am writing and compiling tracks for an upcoming EP, and I’m also doing lots of remixes for Techgnosis Records as well as my label affiliates.
Shed some light on the story of the origins of Techgnosis Records and the intentions you have with the label.
Last year, I took over as label manager for Drumlore while I was putting together the compilation Techgnosis Vol.1. The compilation series was intended as a sub-imprint however I quickly realized it made more sense for me to transfer my energy into an entirely independent label. Alexander Synaptic was very supportive of this move – going so far as to offer his services as a right-hand man. We have developed a great working relationship over the years so it was a natural transition. We each play to our strengths and I think the end result speaks for itself.
My intent with the label is to have fun – the moment this becomes more of a job than a passion project, I don’t think I will be as interested in continuing.
The music you and your contemporary allies are creating is very genre-breaking and genre-fusing at the same time. I feel a strong psychedelic vibe into it, I’m calling it psy-tech (psychedelic techno). If you had to name the genre, what would you call it? (feel free to provide an extended answer, because i realize most musicians hate being bracketed into genres).
‘Psy-tech’ or ‘psychedelic techno’ is absolutely valid. I personally like ‘progressive techno’ — Alexander Synaptic once described this emerging genre as a bastardization of ‘psytrance, progressive house and minimal techno’, which sounds about right to me. Labels are a double-edged sword, as we are working on the presupposition that words like ‘minimal’ or ‘psychedelic’ mean the same thing to everyone, especially when it comes to music which is so incredibly subjective.
Tell us about your ‘work week’ and about your weekends?
It really depends on the season, as far as my days are concerned. In the summer, I help my wife run a gluten-free baking business, so leading up to and including weekends can be very busy – early mornings and long hours in the kitchen. However I enjoy the time spent with my wife because she is also my best friend – we just put on really loud music and we are in our element.
The other nice thing about that is I can take time off for a festival gig when need be; we just give our customers a bit of notice and all is well. In winters, we use a wood stove to keep warm, so that means plenty of chain-sawing, splitting and lugging firewood. It can be hard work, but the rewards are immediate and gratifying — less money given to the energy companies and you can’t beat the feeling of a warm wood fire on a cold winter’s night.
Throughout the year, I usually spend my mornings drinking too much coffee and catching up on emails. And while I would love to relegate music stuff to the early part of the day, I often find that I get my best creative results in late afternoon/early evening. We are also expecting in mid-October, so I’ve been doing a lot of baby-related things like prenatal classes and baby-proofing our apartment.
Have you had any formal training in music?
When I was young, my parents placed me into classical piano/music lessons (since I fucking hated sports and I was constantly listening to vinyl). And by ‘placed’ I mean ‘dragged, kicking and screaming’. I kid you not — I was not impressed with the idea whatsoever and it actually took me a while to get into it. I’m supremely grateful to my parents for pushing me, however. Those early skills have been integral in my development as a music producer.
Have you considered collaborating on a project with the artists that you’ve met on your journey?
I’ve started a couple of straight-up collaborative tracks with artists before, but nothing has really come to fruition yet. Everyone is so busy doing their own thing these days (myself included) that it’s sometimes hard to find the time.
What are your hobbies and where does your mind wander to when it needs a break from music production.
I am a huge comic book nerd, especially when it comes to boundary-pushing works like Transmetropolitan or The Invisibles. I also enjoy the odd video game here and there. I particularly love playing Skyrim in the winter, and Borderlands 2 is a terrific stress-reliever. I’m a big fan of dark comedy and anti-humor so I will often unwind with a random episode of a show like South Park, American Dad or Archer, and I listen to Jim Sterling’s podcasts for the same reason.
Have you yet played a gig in the city of Toronto?
I’ve never had the pleasure! I am sure I will make it up at some point in 2016, but no plans as of yet.
How’s the electronic music scene in New Brunswick and how often are you playing at events/parties?
There is a burgeoning scene here, with several small to larger-sized festivals happening throughout the summer. However it’s almost entirely dominated by bass and house music so bookings are few and far between. I do however get gigs in neighboring provinces Quebec and Nova Scotia, as well as in New England, so I’m quite happy with that.
Any message for your fans in Toronto?
Be excellent to each other!