Time Flies When You’re Buzzin’: Ben Watt
Back in March Ben Watt announced that he was closing his record label Buzzin’ Fly, in this, it’s 10th anniversary year. Operations will be gradually scaled back, with no new signings or releases, until it becomes archive only. Five retrospective digital anthologies will be released over the course of 2013, encompassing all of the label’s 68 twelve inch releases, with each covering two years of its history.
Named after a Tim Buckley song, the infamous imprint launched the careers of DJs like Justin Martin and Rodamaal, acted as an outlet for Watt’s own house productions and released defining remix work from Radio Slave, John Tejada and Âme. We caught up with Ben over email to cast a nostalgic eye over the label’s output, get the reasons for the closure and find out what’s next.
Sifting through the back catalogue for the digital anthologies must have been interesting, any releases that really stand-out in retrospect; things that define the label or a particular artist/sound?
There is a joyous irreproachability about the very early releases; gladdening and heartfelt records. I always felt Automagic’s ‘Do You Feel?’ was rather overlooked; a vocal classic. Kayot’s ‘Clear Sky’ marked a shift in focus and it ushered in a couple of bulls eye records like Darkmountaingroup’s ‘Lose Control’ and Âme’s remix of ‘Insomnia’ by Rodamaal; both big floor-killers. In the darker corners were truly great unsung remixes from people like John Tejada and Tobias, and rich expressive tracks from Jimpster, Manoo and Francois A. More recently we released stuff that was less aimed at the floor, beautiful crossover—and sometimes experimental—records by people like Flowers and Sea Creatures, Mademoiselle Caro and Franck Garcia, Towards Green. The past year has also seen great stuff by Tevo Howard and Alex Blaxx.
Are there any particular memories or anecdotes that come back to you from the last decade, or anyone involved with the venture you think deserves particular praise?
At its peak the label was always barometrically connected to the club nights. Hot records. Hot nights. Serious pressure. The early days at Cherry Jam escalated to big sell-outs at The End that had some of the best, ritualistic, connected feelings I’ve ever felt in club. Then we downscaled and did two years at Plastic People which was very intense. Away from London, the WMC parties in Miami were always great; hedonistic but full of hope and exuberance. I always felt the audiences were very respectful of what we were trying to do—patient crowds who weren’t always looking for instant gratification—but were happy to let nights build more slowly with less obvious records, and when crescendos were reached you could look around and see people really vibing off each other as if they were saying “you get this style too? Isn’t it great!’ Too often in clubs I feel people dance in their own bubbles and don’t interact with their fellow clubbers.
How has the dance music industry has changed in the last ten years—for better and for worse—and what you think the future holds for other independent labels like Buzzin Fly?
It is much easier to make and distribute music now, which means everyone has a label and the competition is fierce. Coupled with file-sharing, it has driven the value of music into the floor. There is still great stuff out there and it is exciting that so many people want to be involved, but it is hard to make a business out of it. The big aggregator labels who are happy to make endless 40-track digital compilations and pay a team of accountants to add up all the penny streams will continue to thrive, as will the small hobbyist labels who hand stamp their own limited editions, but the middle-ground inventive labels are the ones who will continue to struggle the most. Unable to pay enough staff, and stretched for time and resources.
What do you hope Buzzin Fly’s legacy will be—obviously some of the artists you’ve helped have gone a long way—but is it more than that?
We were just an underground dance label that made a few cool tunes. I don’t think words like ‘legacy’ are for me to use.
A decade’s worth of label work and DJing must have taken its toll, are you looking forward to a bit more personal time and creative space?
In short, yes. It was the right time to make the move. Ten years. Quit while you’re ahead. I want to write more and find some room for my own ideas, I was stuck behind a desk during the week and on planes at weekends.
Can you tell me a bit more about the forthcoming book and your plans for the new studio project?
The book is a portrait of my parents’ marriage—a working-class jazz musician married to a RADA-trained actress—each from different backgrounds, who came together like colliding trains. It is also a book about the post-war years, British jazz and social change, and about how we live with each other for a long time. As for the music, I am back writing again on the guitar. I want to primarily write some good songs but then experiment with new open tunings and echo and delay and perhaps mix it with electronic sound and find a new music template. It’s just great to have the time to do it. I am in America at the moment on a road trip with a friend, writing music and getting inspired. I did a free gig in his record shop this week just to road test some ideas in front of a small crowd; it was very liberating.
I’m glad you’re planning to stick with your 6Music residency; will you continue to DJ?
In clubs, no. But on radio, yes, for time being. To be honest I am being drawn away from electronic music in its pure form and towards acoustic/electric hybrids. If 6Music want me to carry on that basis I will stay on air.
Buzzin’ Fly Anthology, Volume 1, 2003-2004 is out now and a free download of the label’s first release, Ben Watt’s ‘Lone Cat’ is available below for a limited time.