Behind The Beat | Ben Gold Talks Collaboration and Keeping Sets Fresh

I recently had the opportunity to sit down and interview Ben Gold for nearly half an hour before his set at Foundation Nightclub in Seattle, and it really didn’t even feel like an interview as much as just a great chat with a really personable artist. Ben has a lot of love for his fans and a ton of knowledge about the music industry as a whole.

After I turned on my recorder and kicked back on the couch, half an hour was gone before I even realized it and I found myself wondering if I’d even covered all my talking points because I was just having fun. The good news is that we did cover a lot of great material that is written up below so you can take a peek at what Ben’s got in store for this year as well.

OTB: How was that six-hour set in Montreal?

Ben: I could have gone on longer! I wanted to go on longer, but it was a good time to finish. It was still packed by 10 a.m. ‘cause I’d sold it out and there were still like 1,200 people in there. It was so packed I couldn’t believe it. I was physically knackered and hungry. I can’t wait to do it again.

OTB: That’s what we love though – when we get to see an artist for more than two hours.

Ben: That’s my favorite. Two hour sets are standard.  Anything less, then you get into festival territory. You don’t have enough time, so then you cram everything in, which means you edit everything just to become impact records- a minute of beats- straight into the breakdown, build-up, impact and then a minute of outro.

OTB: And with trance music, you guys aren’t house DJs- you don’t play just one drop, next song.

Ben: When I play festivals I do play trance. I don’t step into that electro scene. The big kick drum stuff like Mark Sixma is great, you can still put that into “impact-y” edits but it’s still better to play a six minute record.

OTB: When I go to see an artist I love, it’s because I love their productions but in my mind I’m going to see someone who is a good DJ as well- and a good DJ has a really deep music library. If I get to see you for two hours I know I’ll only get the surface but if I get five hours I’m gonna get stuff I’ve never heard before and it will all be shit that I love.

Ben: To play to a crowd that is ready and wants a five hour set is even better because they don’t need those big hands in the air moments every record. I was playing techno at one point! Not like dirty dirty techno but it was still rocking. No real melodies just heads-down, good suspense, and good impacts.

OTB: I really appreciate when I see artists do that these days.

Ben: It’s good when a DJ surprises you. Nowadays a lot of it is our festival sets. It’s the hour. It’s quite easy to play that hour, maybe their sets don’t even change too much, but it’d be interesting to hear these guys do a three, four, five hour extended set. Could they do it? A DJ and a producer are two different things. It often gets distorted. Is there really a separation or not? I think there is and you can really tell the DJs from the producers.

OTB: I hear it a lot from artists like you that you have to be both DJ and producer, but that they’re completely different. One will make you money, but you need productions to get booked- and if you aren’t touring you aren’t making money.

Ben: It’s exactly that. You’ve gotta have the records to get the gigs but if you aren’t doing gigs you aren’t making money. You don’t make money out of music anymore. It’s not what it used to be, DJing. I’m not that old and I’m not really talking from experience but when you look at Carl Cox, Sasha, Digweed, these guys, Paul Oakenfold, these guys are DJs man. Maybe they added the production to their arsenal as they needed to but they started off as DJs and you can really hear that in their sets. I witnessed a portion of a nine hour set [John Digweed] did in Montreal in October with one of my friends, and I was there for three to four hours and it was just amazing.

OTB: It’s still new here, you get a mix. You get people who want to come party but you also have people out here who remember buying Tranceport in 1998.

Ben: It’s a bit of a balance man, and you can get the balance right. When I play a five hour set there are no expectations and I know I’m gonna have the freedom to do what I want. I played here last year in August (My birthday actually!) and it was good. I didn’t have to play anything!  When I play in the US, I always take a folder that is up-to-date with all the music that everyone else is playing in case you come across some crowd that maybe doesn’t want as much trance as you initially hoped but when I came here last I didn’t have to touch that folder at all- so a couple here and there but nothing I wouldn’t normally play anyway.

OTB: How do you keep your set fresh but still maintain your sound? How do you balance the pressure to play mainstream stuff against your own sound?

Ben: It’s hard. The hard part is to keep DJing every weekend (sometimes two or three shows a week) to keep your set fresh and different is hard because not much comes out in between gigs. You kind of have to rely on what you’re making and a producer circle of other friends who are producers who can give you up front stuff. I’ve found that over 2013, it’s easy to keep sets up-front by listening to everything and going through Beatport every week but I don’t pull too much out of it. Maybe two or three songs that might go into the set but they won’t always work on the dance floors that you’re playing that weekend so again- as you said earlier on- it’s about having that deep record collection where I would prefer to play a record that is 12 months or 18 months old that will fit into the set that will mix it up a little bit instead of just putting a new record in because it’s new.

OTB: What we were talking about, I think it’s because I’m here 2-3 times per week and I see dozens of DJs but it’s really awesome when you go see someone and you’re shocked because that show was amazing. There’s a lot of material that gets shared between DJs but I really like that love for those songs that are like 12-18 months old, like you say, but that were just golden and got dropped out of peoples’ sets for whatever reason. That’s exciting right now when someone plays a track like that, I love it! It was a hit but somehow it kind of vanished and reappeared again.

Ben: D-Mad– I think he’s from Russia, he has a couple records and I have some of those tracks or some of the early Eximinds stuff, it’s really good music and it never really gets the attention and the shelf-life, I’m not sure why. You could argue it’s the quick turn-around in music all the time, that’s probably the main reason but I keep these records because they’re quite easy to just pull out and they will definitely fit into what I play, they’re only five minutes and for someone who doesn’t know, it could be a brand new record for them. It’s really hard to write those records that stay in peoples’ sets and when you get tracks into the sets of these guys they tend to stay there for a while.

OTB: I know that “Fall with Me” has been getting play time on the dance floors. So how do you go about that? Do you try to make a song that’s going to hit the dance floors or stick in everyone’s set?

Ben: I don’t know really, I don’t really sit down to write a hit. I don’t really think too much about what I’m doing. If it sounds good to my ears and I can see it working on the dance floor then I’ll finish it but there are certain records that I’ve made that have done better than others like the “Tokyo” remix I did for Gareth or the “Platinum” remake that I did. I’ve done a couple more that are like 132 trance: a bit gritty, a bit aggressive, but it is trance. I kind of went off on one recently a little bit and just tried something new with “Mesocyclone” and “Kinetic.” I like these records and I play them every set.

Ben: The output this year for me will be a lot better. Last year I was on tour so much. I think I went on three 6-week tours where you just don’t even go home and it’s just really hard to write music in that time.

OTB: Producing isn’t just writing though you need to have time to sit down and actually engineer sounds right?

Ben: Well everyone is different but I need to get into the zone. I’ve worked out that the way that I produce best is when I don’t have any distractions, I don’t have anything else going on aside from what I’m putting on the screen and I’m going back to London now. I’ll be in the studio for two and a half months and I’m going to be locked away for a bit. I really love making music, I really do. It’s equally as good as DJing.

OTB: How much music do you write that just never sees the light of day? Are you playing around with other genres that really interest you?

Ben: Not really genres, I have a lot of records that are like 50 or 60 percent done that I work on and I forget. Well- not forget- but I get bored of them. I think [the record] doesn’t have anything that will really stick, as we said earlier. I need to go through these, because there may be some good ones in there, but I have to feel it. If I don’t feel it I just lose interest sort of naturally, really. I can’t force stuff to happen.

OTB: I just think that even with the ear fatigue, if I don’t like what I’m making, if I’ve heard it 1,000 times, I’m just really not going to like it at that point. It’s the situation where you learned a lot from this track but you’re just not going to finish it.

Ben: Well if you can take what you’ve done and put it into the next track, then what you’ve done has not just been a waste of time. I get it sounding good- it’s got dynamics, the balance is good, it’s got anticipation, suspense, but I don’t know- it just doesn’t quite have that magic which I need to put in my records in order to release them. There was a follow-up to “Where Life Takes Us” that I was working on and it just didn’t have that magic and I showed it to Gareth and he was like, “Well are you gonna finish this, or what?” and to me it just didn’t have that but sometimes you just need that second set of ears in order to hear that magic.

OTB: Is there anyone that you’re really looking forward to collaborating with in the future?

Ben: Well, I’m just in the process of working on and talking to some guys about making some tracks and it’s all positive stuff, but I’ve always thought it’s good to talk about a collab when the track is done and it’s gonna be played on ASOT. But beforehand, if you talk about it and it never materializes or you don’t have enough time to get it done it’s always like people are like “Well it’s not done, where is it?” So when you have the product and it’s done and it’s there- shout about it! That’s what I did with Tritonal, we kept it all offline until we had it done and then we went out with it and people bought it.

OTB: You’re getting a lot of studio time soon have you ever thought to yourself that you’d like to make a full-length EP sometime with your own tracks?

Ben: Like an album?

OTB: Yes.

Ben: Yeah, what I have right now I think if I added two or three new records to that pile, then I think we’d have an album there but it’s whether we’re going to go tour again and package it as an album or do new EP releases? I think with an album I’d like to do it just to say “This is me, this is what I do” but at the same time with the limited studio time that I do have, if I’m gonna do it then you need to be able to take it on tour and sell out 1,000 capacity clubs all around the world just to make it worth the time. Honestly, I think it’s gonna take a year by the time you audition vocals then take it back into the studio, tweak it and get contracts done you know. Those will be the big records, the vocals, and these things take time with the videos and the remixes and the promo campaign and PR and stuff. It would be a year and I just think my next tour will be better spent releasing solid, underground EPs of one or two tracks, and then putting out a couple of vocal records this year.

OTB: So you got to play ASOT 600 at Koala Lumpur and Den Bosch. What was that like?

Ben: It’s a great opportunity to premiere all your new music. You’re not just playing to the crowd in front of you, because the whole world is tuned in globally and that’s what’s good about these events. They are the biggest trance events in the world and you have to be a part of them really. Considering I’m not an Armada artist and I’ve never been an Armada artist I’m really pleased that I’ve got four years on the spin. It’s the best opportunity to broadcast and premiere your new sounds. I remember, I had all these new premieres and new Garuda music in my set and I remember reading the tweets afterward, “What’s this, what’s this?” It was good because I played like, half ID’s and no one knew what they were.

OTB: I just love that and I hate it at the same time because I’m like “this is awesome” and I’m feeling like “I have to have it” but I can’t.

Ben: I know, I am the same with who’s playing what and what’s new? If I know them, can I send them a message and say “Can I have this?” I enjoy having these records, I love it. The earlier it comes out, the better for me and I find that when it finally comes out, I just stop playing it. Maybe that’s just me. There was a W&W record I had in my set in Den Bosch that’s still not out and it still doesn’t have a name, this is what’s so good about it and I play it every set and I just have it as a number for what they gave me, that’s the best part.

OTB: I know when it finally comes out you’re not going to even know what it’s called.

Ben: Yeah exactly because once it comes out I’m like “Ah yes, that’s what they’ve called it now”.

OTB: So you’re doing a master mix in celebration of 40,000 likes on Facebook- are you getting a lot of good feedback on that?

Ben: Yeah, it was just a bit of an idea I’d had. The feedback’s been great! I think last count, we had 14 different records and that’s what I’d been aiming for I think, that figure is around an hour’s worth of music. It’s coming together really well and it’s been growing really well, really quickly. I think the goal I have had in place with the all-organic votes is really great. It’s going to be a Ben Gold mega mix, really. There were a few votes coming in for some of my really early stuff which I wasn’t expecting but I’m going to fit it all in, as I said.

Make sure you take the opportunity to catch a live set from the man himself next time he’s in your neck of the woods. Ben’s sets never fail to deliver on the dance floor.

Tony Apfelbeck
I grew up listening to BT, Armin Van Buuren, Paul Oakenfold, Paul Van Dyk and Tiësto. Trance and House music are my religion and I've got church every Friday and Saturday night.
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