- Wed, 2008-09-03 09:29
The Rogue Element is award-winning producer and DJ Ben Medcalf. He released his debut album Rogue Rock in 2005 on Exceptional Records and has a whole host of singles and remixes stored away in his heavy duty DJ utility belt. Having pounded a vast number of dancefloors across the globe into submission with his no nonsense heavy style of beats and bass, The Rogue Element has perhaps become most well known for his collaborations with Tom Real. With a sound predominantly based in breaks, the duo won the Best Remix award at the 2007 Annual Breakbeat Awards, Breakspoll, for their remix of Gutterpump by Noisia. The Rogue Element also won Best Break Through Producer at the awards in 2005.
Tom Real and The Rogue Element are currently the force behind Disco of Doom, a project that began on internet radio station Samuri FM. I Like Music caught up with Ben to chat about the project and his plans with Tom Real to move it forward, his favourite clubs to play and his opinions on the state of modern society.
"I Like Music because… it puts things into expression that you can't in words.” Ben Medcalf, The Rogue Element
ILM: What is Disco of Doom all about?
Ben: Me and Tom have been working together for quite a while under a different name. A couple of years ago Tom became friends with the guy that runs Samuri FM which is quite a big internet radio station. He asked us to do an online show, so we started doing it, decided on the name Disco of Doom, got a logo designed and all that sort of thing. To begin with we liked the whole corny horror imagery. After a while doing the show we decided to turn it into a project. Tom Real and The Rogue Element is a bit of a mouthful for people. The ethos of the show has always been that we play what we like, there is nothing genre-specific about it. Anything will get on the show. We decided to carry that forward into the project. One of the problems with Tom Real and The Rogue Element is that it is very much associated with breakbeat. We want to expand beyond that. Obviously incorporating breaks but also giving ourselves the chance to spread our wings.
ILM: So what will happen to the Tom Real and Rogue Element set up? Will you keep that going?
Ben: I don't think so. We're going to stop doing that and everything we do together will be under the Disco of Doom name.
ILM: So what kind of music can we expect from Disco of Doom? Have you and Tom sat down and discussed the type of tunes you're going to play?
Ben: We have but not in the sense of exactly what our music is going to sound like. I think that the minute you start going We're going to write fidget house, because that's what everyone is doing at the moment then you just limit yourself. The worst thing you can do when you're being creative in the studio is come up with a set of parameters of what you can't do.
ILM: How do you guys work in the studio?
Ben: I rarely work with anyone else because I find it quite difficult. I usually sit there coming out with ideas. Before we start we will say OK, we'll do something that feels a bit like this So we'll have some kind of idea. Either that or Tom will have dug out a sample that we can base a track around and I'll sit there and fly out ideas about it and he'll say Yes or no as well as coming up with ideas himself. Also, Tom's only recently learnt some engineering. So now he can get properly hands on with it. Historically it's always been me at the controls, but he is starting to move quite fast and is catching up.
ILM: Do you guys have a studio?
Ben: Tom doesn't. I rent a studio in West Ham but I'm at home at the moment. I kind of just work wherever I feel like it.
ILM: You have some live dates coming up, what can we expect if we come to see you?
Ben: We don't play minimal techno or anything like that. What we do is quite energetic but we like to try and vary the energy levels a bit within that. There will be everything from techno to electro, probably some breakbeat!
ILM: Do you plan your sets?
Ben: [Laughs] We don't really! Now and again we'll get together, it depends. A lot of the time we play very similar stuff to each other. Most of the tunes we're playing we play when we DJ on our own. If we have suddenly got hold of a load of new stuff then we will get together and have a practice.
ILM: Do you get nervous before you play?
Ben: Um...I don't know if nervous is the right word. I certainly get a degree of apprehension. I think that if you don't get that then you're not doing the right job. It is that kind of performance-adrenalin kind of thing. I think for very big gigs we get nervous, I certainly do. If there is more than six or seven hundred people there then definitely.
ILM: Do you have a favourite place/venue/club/soundsystem to play on?
Ben: I often really enjoy playing at The End. That's always good. In England Blow Pop in Bristol, I always love playing there. We had a really good gig at Stealth in Nottingham. We'll be going back there in the next few months. It depends. Some places we go and it is always good. A lot of it is dependent on different factors. Sometimes you can go to a place where you've been and everytime before you've smashed it but then, for whatever reason, the numbers are down a bit or something. You can't really say. You just have to approach the gigs hoping for the best really.
ILM: How do you find all of the travelling?
Ben: I'm very much used to it. I've been doing it for, approximately, the last three years. It's more fun when you've got someone else with you. That's one of the reasons behind pushing the stuff with Tom a bit more. It's just a lot more fun when you are DJing or travelling with someone. Not that it isn't fun when you are doing it on your own but the sitting in airports, sitting on planes bit is a lot more interesting with someone else there.
ILM: What advice would you give to someone wanting to get into the music industry?
Ben: The thing about DJing now is that you have to make your own music, you can't just play other peoples stuff. You have to be extremely good to get gigs, especially internationally, if you don't make your own music. It's because people just don't hear about it. You really have to make music. In terms of producing, the main thing that I've encountered that seperates people on a professional level and everyone else is actually finishing tracks. There are a lot of people that are very, very good who don't actually finish anything. It doesn't matter how good you are, if you don't finish it, even if it is the best thing in the world, no-one is going to hear it.
vILM: Do you think that comes from being pernickity and finding it hard to put a full stop on the end of something?
Ben: Absolutley. An element of that is crucial to being a producer. You have to be kind of subjective about it. There will always be a point with a track when you're sick of it and you think it is rubbish because you have heard it so many times, more times than anyone else is ever going to hear it. The trick is pushing through that barrier.
ILM: How do you cope with that? Do you play it to your mates?
Ben: No. I never play anything to anyone until it's finished. Well, apart from maybe Tom now and again. You just have to do it. Get it done. Just finish it.
ILM: What have been some of the stand out moments in your career so far?
Ben: The reception I got amongst the breakbeat community was great. Originally I started out writing for house music. I decided to have a quick bash at breakbeat because I was really excited by what was coming out sort of early 2000. It was great. The response I got and winning awards. Tom and I also won awards as a duo.
Also, the first time I headlined at The End in the main room. That was the first club I went to when I moved to London as a very green, self-concious teenager. I consistently went there every week or every other week all through my early twenties, so actually getting to play there in the main room was amazing. Obviously I was absolutley terrified!
ILM: You spoke about how yourself and Tom are going to move away from the breaks. What do you think of breaks at the moment?
Ben: The problem is that it isn't just breakbeat, myself and Tom are trying to avoid being pigeon holed in any kind of genre. It is hard to kind of identify the problems without sounding disparaging to the scene as a whole, which isn't the intent. What I think has happened in terms of breakbeat is that what gets categorised as breakbeat has become quite a narrow set of parameters. It has a certain kind of sound, a certain kind of feel, it does certain things. As a result there is a lot of very exciting stuff that isn't really breaks, techno, or house and it just gets called something else. So it doesn't get picked up. What then happens is that breakbeat gets a reputation for just being so. Which isn't necessarily true. It will come back round again, definitely, the same sort of thing happened with techno.
ILM: What music have you been listening to recently?
Ben: Well, recently I've been doing the music for a show about cats. A seperate thing I do is write scores for TV. I've been listening to lots and lots of film scores to get some ideas. They are looking for something quite dramatic, a classical composed film score.
ILM: Do you approach that process in a different way?
Ben: Oh totally. When you're writing music as an artist the idea is that the music is the sole focus of peoples attention. When you are writing for picture the picture is supposed to be the main focus of attention and the music is supposed to augment it. If people are listening to the music too much then it is not working. You have to be a lot more subtle. It is a completely different approach. It's not loop based. You don't just go Right, let's just bang that out for another four or 16 bars You literally work to what is happening in the picture.
ILM: Do you enjoy that as much as creating dance floor tunes?
Ben: I enjoy both. Some of the cats stuff I'm doing is a little bit too twee and comedy. I struggle writing that kind of stuff but other bits of it are really good fun. Also, the TV people can be extremely fussy and just send stuff back without knowing what they really want to be different.
ILM: That must be difficult to combat?
Ben: Yeah. Sometimes you can send it back without changing anything and they like it. That has happened many a time! I've been doing it for a few years now.
ILM: I wondered what your feelings are towards the internet and the illegal download debate? Obviously it is a big part of what you do, with Samuri Fm and your online community?
Ben: Hmmm....my personal feelings toward the internet? Well, in terms of the file sharing I'm ambivalent because A) there's very little you can do about it, and B) although there may be millions of people all around the world stealing my music, if they weren't I probably wouldn't be able to go abroad and play in the palces that I do. Especially looking at the less developed areas of the world, it is a lot of money to them. You can't condone it, but it is one of those things that you have to put up with.
I do try to limit my use of the internet. The problem I have with it is that everyone can have an opinion on there and it is not necessarily the most valid or rational of opinions. You have to be careful where you get your information from. Tom is trying to get me into the whole blog thing. It's not that I don't understand the principal of it, it's just that I spend enough time staring at a computer screen each day anyway.
ILM: If you could change one thing about modern society at the moment what would it be?
Ben: [Laughs] Oh dear, how long have you got? I feel strongly about lots of things.
Um...I would definitely ask questions about the cult of celebrity. I know it's not particularly original...but there is a Tesco's at the bottom of my block of flats and I go in there most days to get my dinner. Everytime I'm queing up I'm faced with these horrible, garish magazines with all this stuff plastered on the front about God knows what, with people that are idiots. I know I'm not interested in them, but why is anyone interested in them and their personal life? People have a fixation with all of this stuff. When you begin to look at the more pressing problems around then you start to realise that there is something quite seriously wrong if people are so obsessive about this ridiculous media fixation.
It damages the individual. There is no single individual you can point out for culpability, but it's the machinery of it that chews people up. If you look at the instance of Britney Spears as an obvious example. It is a disturbing hounding of someone quite young.
ILM: Building people up and then watching them fall down...
Ben: That's been around for a while, that's a very British tradition. I think it has developed in to something a bit more sinister now. It used to belimited to peoples work. Music for example, people would have hits and then not sell anything and it was just Oh You're rubbish now But now it has transgressed into people's personal affairs, with their children on the front of magazines and things like that. It is just very unsavoury I think.