Heavily influenced by Brazilian pop, vintage acid house and Baby Fords London label Trelik, Semtek is the DJ/ Producer/ record-label owner who wrote his first four releases alone in the French Alps.
Fidgety, reverberated soundscapes with profound vocals layered over a meaty bass backbone weave rhythmically through Semtek’s finger tapping trip-techno. Working under the radar as opposed to establishing himself upon it, Benjamin Roth, the lad and label owner who works under the alias of Semtek and founded Don’t Be Afraid records has been doing his thing, not particularly noticed, until now. Cue posts over the last few days from music blog heavyweights XLR8R and Hypemachine, racking up over triple the hits Semtek’s website is used to.
This Cambridge born, SE1 based artist’s recently released standout tracks TBC and Pizza push the boundaries, breaking away from the incessant techno tinges he unforgivably adores and moving further into more experimental, ambient beats. Clean, fresh and pretty addictive, i-D online been listening non-stop lately and caught up with Ben to find out what he’s been doing differently and which direction he’s heading in.
You juggle your releases under your house music alias Semtek with the work at the record label, how do you balance the two? Ten years ago it was possible to be just a producer if you were making dance music. Today it’s still possible, but it’s much more difficult. Personally I enjoy the business side of music and I get on with the partners and third-party suppliers I work with. I also enjoy having first-person contact with the DJs that we send our releases to, the bloggers and the press. I don’t really combine this with my production work as such though, when I go into the studio I set aside at least a few months, usually more, and try to put the business out of my head as much as possible during that time.
Your first four releases were written in the French Alps, what were you up to over there and why was this location the inspiration for the material? I had been working in a 9-5 job and producing in my spare time but none of the material I was coming up with sounded fully formed. I was also finding it very difficult to afford a space in London where I could have a studio, and eventually the frustration got to me so I decided to move away for a year and give myself time to focus. To be honest it was as much having the time and a space where I could work as it was being in that particular place that inspired the tracks. I think that tracks like East Acyd Shelter and Goons which are very simple and stripped down definitely benefitted from working in a very quiet place where I could really appreciate and enjoy the individual components. In general when I try to write in London I end up piling in too many elements, and I’m sure that comes from the constant intrusion of different influences.
You are currently involved with Mr. Beatnick, how did this collaboration come about? Nick (Mr. Beatnick) came and played at our Lostbahnhof parties a few times and I was always really impressed by the breadth and depth of his knowledge. He’s a great DJ as well as a great producer. As soon as he played me his house tracks it was clear they were going to be very very good, and I had no hesitation in inviting him to release them on the label from the start. He is only going to go from strength to strength and I fully expect him to be one of the most important producers of the next ten years.
What advice would you give to other aspiring house artists? Listen to David Morales’ Red-Zone dubs. If they don’t literally move you to tears you probably shouldn’t be making house music.
Tell us more about Clause Four? Clause Four is an artist I’m excited about. He was originally signed to DC recordings and released a very well-received 12” which was years ahead of its time when it came out in 2007. Since then he has put out a number of edits on his Modern Soul imprint which again underlines the high standards he works to. I’ve heard demo versions of the tracks he’s doing for us and all I can say is that these are going to blow people away. No one else sounds quite like him.
How do you define good music? There’s good music and there are good tracks. Good music isn’t always what makes you want to dance. Good tracks aren’t always very ‘musical’. Most of the time the best music is the stuff that does something very simple and does it very well.
What are your top five essential survival techniques for a night spent enjoying happy hardcore? It depends who’s DJing, if it’s Hixxy and Sharky you’re in for an uplifting ride, if it’s Slipmatt things will get dirty. Personally I prefer gabba producers like Marc Acardipane to the current happy hardcore crop. I was always too young to get into the classic Milton Keynes happy hardcore events back in 1994 but make no mistake I tuned into Dream FM like everyone else. Liquid – Sweet Harmony is still one of my favourite tracks of all time and it definitely falls in the happy hardcore bracket.