Ben Sun is about to release his ‘Apex EP’ on Cyphon Recordings. Successfully hitting that sweet spot that straddles the space and time between the two, as far in the future, as it is in feeling the past, with a gravitational pull that draws you in closer with every new element. The talented DJ, producer, and musician has set up his studio down on the Kent coast and has been based in the UK for 20 years now. Having grown up on the other side of the world, we get the chance to put a few questions to him about his new release, what’s going on the Margate scene, and how he feels about British weather.
It’s brilliant to talk to you Ben. I’m a bit of a fan…
Thanks for having me – appreciate it!
Born in Australia. How long have you been in the UK?
I was born in Darwin – far north, in the tropics. But I spent my teenage and university years in Adelaide. I left shortly after that, and I’ve been residing in the UK for 18 years now.
Have you been back to Aus much over the years?
I try to go every year. My beautiful family are still there. My sister’s kids are growing up, so I try to get them into skateboarding and hip hop every summer haha.
What is lacking for you there musically and what makes you stay in the UK?
There’s a lot of talented musicians and DJs there – and many that have come from there. I was just chasing new horizons. I wanted that EU citizenship… which of course is just a lonely British one now, sadly. But I’ve got my own little family here now – my daughter is half Moroccan, so our collective roots run wide.
So the weather doesn’t put you off then?
Haha. These days I try to get up at dawn to get some new sun in my face and shake off the clouds and the cobwebs. Go and gaze at the North Sea, even if it’s blowing a gale.
Do you see yourself returning one day or is the UK forever home?
Nothing is forever… I could see us having a chapter there at some point. Although I still have the hunger for new horizons!
Was hip hop an early love for you and who were your icons?
Definitely. I was mostly into the New York stuff… Nas, Tribe, the Wu, Pete Rock, Mobb Deep… all seemed to have this moody, trippy coldness that was like a whole new world musically.
What made you decide to make the move half way around the world?
I just had to get off the island! We weren’t able to travel internationally when I was a kid, so it was all just stories – I had to go see some of it for myself.
Did you head to the UK alone? Did you have friends here on arrival?
I was with my girlfriend back then. We did the classic traipsing around Europe, eating out of cans. I was lucky to have friends in Amsterdam, who turned me onto the great music scene there, and I spent my last euros at Rush Hour.
What were you first impressions of the London when you arrived?
Everything inside seemed tiny and expensive. But outside it was epic and monumental. It’s a city of many influences and highly multicultural, which is still what makes it great.
How long did you spend living in London?
17 years! Until the great work-from-home revolution released the bond…
Do you think you grew musically/ soaked up the vibes in the city at all?
Absolutely. From Plastic People to the Jazz Cafe, to the distant warehouses. Hanging with soul collectors, dub deejays, classical virtuosos, jazz players – often in the same room. There’s always music playing in the city, and it changes you for sure.
You have since hot footed it out of town down to the Kent coast. What drew you to Margate?
The ocean finally called me back haha… fresh air and white cliffs, somewhere I could stop pouring money into a landlord’s pocket! But it’s still rich in music and creativity, plenty of opportunities to do what I love most.
What’s happening on the music scene down there?
There’s so much love for music here. Places like Where Else or Margate Arts Club host a great range of artists: you’ll see punk, jazz, afrobeat, folk, techno, whatever. Faith in Strangers is a fantastic part of the community, where I’m now involved in a collective called Margate Electronic (@margate.electronics). It’s a platform for live / experimental / improvised stuff, where we can try out new things and share ideas. I’m playing a live show there next Thursday – trying out some new tunes, with my friends Sergio (@sergio_eka) on cello and Gillian (@gilli.jpg) singing. Then DMX Krew is playing on Friday, who I love.
Have you settled there do you think?
For the foreseeable – I fell like there’s a lot I can explore here creatively. And I want my kid to learn to swim in the ocean!
Have you set up your studio, does the Margate studio feel productive?
First thing I did! We’ve got space for it at home which is suits me… I’m focusing on making stuff I can play live, so just a few synths, a drum machine and a sequencer. I’m finding it really beneficial to run through tracks all at once – and try to harness some of that immediate energy, until I get a good take… rather than spending too much time layering and tinkering with details. There’s no wrong way to do it, but this approach feels good right now.
Ben Sun releases have covered quite a lot of ground if we talk about genres. Do you fit into a box or do you try to stay out of them?
In some ways I feel it might be beneficial as an artist to deep-dive into a particular style… but so far that’s just not how it’s been for me. I think it also comes from when I was a youngster buying albums I would love it when there was a range of styles and tempos in one record… but I also hope that, in my own work there is a thread tying it all together – that my touch is recognisable, irrespective of the genre.
Is your label Voyeurhythm still going?
It was never officially disbanded but we haven’t released anything for a long time. But recently there was a reissue complication of my earlier Voyeurhythm stuff that came out on the Rawax sub-label Housewax. It was great to see that come around again, and hopefully connect with a new audience after more than a decade.
How did you hook up with Cyphon Recordings? What can you tell us about the label?
Cyphon was started by Jimpster and Tom Roberts, the guys behind Freerange and Delusions of Grandeur. So I already had a great working relationship with them, having done 5 records with DOG. They were all within the realm of disco and house, with some hip hop leanings… but Cyphon was started as an outlet for electro and techno type stuff – but still with that raw, funky or melodic aspect.
Can you talk us through the vibe and direction of your new release on Cyphon?
In contrast to what I said earlier about genres, this is probably my most single-minded record to date. The defining characteristic is that for this record I’ve used only the pared-down setup I described earlier – 3 synths and a drum machine, with no sampling apart from the voices. So naturally it comes out more techno-oriented. There’s elements of acid and dub (Shores of Mind), lots of arpeggiated melodies (Apex and Tether), and some big pad textures (Self-Other). There’s a couple of FX boxes I use a lot too – the Moog Cluster Flux and the Eventide Space.
I’m getting big UR vibes on Self Other. Were you feeling that too?
Haha yeah I guess that’s my influences shining through. UR has probably had the single biggest impact on me, in terms of this kind of music. I love how they balance that machine-funk techno sound with with rich musicality of their chords progressions and lead intrsuments. So yes, UR is definitely a giant star in my musical galaxy.
What is the biggest challenge you face today in putting out music?
For me it’s all the peripheral stuff – maintaining an online presence, creating a constant stream of content… It’s wonderful talking to people like yourself when a release comes out – as we have a chance to go deeper… but the idea that you have to put out this many records a year, and do that many posts a week, and regular mixes and charts and so on, just to stay relevant… that’s tough when there’s not much funding behind it. I do dream of the days when musicians could concentrate purely on making music and performing.
Who do you think is making great music at the moment?
Yuu Udagawa, my label-mate on Cyphon has some really beautiful stuff. My neighbour plays in a band called Pigeon that do a killer live show in a punk/funk/afro kinda combination – they’ve got a couple awesome records out on Soundway. I’ve found myself listing to a lot of stuff by Al Wootton… also RAMZi for some more dreamy, cerebral vibes.
You did a live at We Out Here. What is the set up, who’s involved?
This was an ambient set where we invited people to lay about on cushions and have some reflective moments with the sound. The music began as part of an art installation but my sister, Heidi Kenyon. We used a device to record the electromagnetic impulses from living mushrooms, and translated that into MIDI sequences. Which may sound completely random, but much like everything in nature, you start to see patterns and themes emerge – it really feels like a glimpse into the life force of the fungi. Alongside that we had me with additional synths and percussion, and my mate Willie Rixon, a super talented jazz player on trumpet. We had the trumpet going through an Eventide Harmonizer for some Jon Hassell type vibes… and visually, we were playing time-lapse footage – of the very same mushrooms growing, as they were in the original installation. It was a very cool experiment, which we are currently making studio recordings of.
Are you still working to develop the live and in what way? Are you planning some gigs with the live that you can share?
Definitely. I know we touched on some of that earlier – but for me it’s all about the live incarnation of the music at the moment. There’s something vital about the energy that is created when people come together to participate in a live music event. Next week at Faith in Strangers, we’ll be perform gin some of the mushroom-based music (with cello instead of trumpet), as well as some more rhythm-based dance/techno type stuff.
What might we find you doing when you’re not in the studio making magic?
Hanging out with my wife and our little baby daughter… coastal bike rides and pints at cosy pubs… soaking up as much art as I can… and my job as a graphic designer keeps the lights on.
Thanks a million Ben.
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to me!