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INTERVIEW: BEN SPALDING



Mister Rya Debuts on PuzzleProjectMusic - The New York-based musician debuted on our sister label HOT GROOVERS in early 2022 with the widely praised, almost cinematic chill-hop cut titled 'The Chills'. This time around he's blessing us with a saxophone-driven dancefloor groove, aptly named 'SAX MONSTER', which gets the remix treatment from label boss Ben Spalding.


As soon as the congas and four-to-the-floor grooves start rolling, there's a distinctly upbeat beat pulsing at the center of this cut. A virtuoso saxophone solo joins the fray in the intro, drawing us into the more rhythmic bass line. The sax takes center stage, keeping the atmosphere buoyant, while Rya keeps things interesting with subtle additions in the background and small changes in energy.


On the other hand, Ben Spalding pays homage to the original with a powerful remix. He trims the low end a bit, changing the intensity of the low end as the arrangement evolves while adding echo effects and a slightly darker, intensified atmosphere.


We have had the pleasure of speaking with Ben and this has been the result.


Can you tell us a little about your experience? Where are you from and how did you get into music?


Hey! - thank you for having me on for a chat. I am from London, UK and currently live in the mountains in Norway, not too far from the Arctic Circle - very close to powerful weather elements!


I got into music from a young age, I grew up on a diet of Motown, soul and disco via my Mum and strictly classical music via my Father. In my early teenage years, I was hooked on the raw power of Hip Hop and Drum’n’Bass, then my late teenage years and all my 20s were all about disco, house and techno. All these flavours coalesce into the eclectic sounds that emerge from my record labels PuzzleProjectsMusic and HOT GROOVERS and soon to launch ANIMAL RECORDINGS.


I used to go to wild raves in the chalk pits of the Sussex downs as a rebellious teenager and experienced some of the most beautiful, hedonistic moments of my life - this without question shaped my feelings, emotions and thoughts about music that over two decades later play such a huge part in the vibe I am trying to share with the world as a DJ, producer and record label owner.



Tell us more about your evolution into music and what you do?

I started DJing when I was a teenager - strictly 12” Vinyl for the first 10 years, I then evolved into digital due to the scope to create stronger vibes via the programming aspect.


I have played in over 40 countries in some wild locations and events, I know it sounds bad, but I didn’t really take it seriously enough early on - gigs in the 2005-2015 period were treated as a form of escapism, a way to party and let off steam from my day job. It was only around 2014 after being booked by Coachella festival in USA for multiple projects including holding a private event off-site for all the festival operators and major LA tastemakers behind the festival, that I started to take it more professional and start to document what I was doing.


As a music producer, I began producing in 2017 with the first release ‘The Ego Death’ EP with Ronald Christoph releases to widespread support in 2020. I have currently chosen to strictly make rave music - I have released 14 original productions and have 5 tracks out in 2023. I love to explore collaborations as I find it fascinating. I been greatly blessed to enjoy powerful and provocative studio collaborations with friends and artists including Ronald, Flavio MP, Dan Ros, RANKA, FunkeeSounds, Fernando Arce and LeftHandSoundSystem and many other talented producers who have been or continue to be a part of my record labels PuzzleProjectsMusic and HOT GROOVERS.


Collaboration is very healthy and a deliberately key part of the culture within the labels - it’s great firstly for me to bond with a co-producer, often through hundreds of hours on a project, but it is also great for both parties to keep the artistic ego in check.


When both producers remove any insecurities or ego trips and push like a team to keep it all about the vibe for the raver and listener within the genre, it’s possible to create something truly memorable, unique, and original that will stand the test of time.



How is your performance and production sound evolving? What genres do you mix as a DJ?


I continue to stick and fiercely believe in the art form of long blended harmonic mixing of songs which I know some people find boring, however I love sustained energy that evolves, I am always trying to story-tell, but many ravers need to be patient to truly connect with this approach right?


I like to layer my sets with unique acapellas recorded either by my own voice or wonderfully talented vocalists such as French artist Marie Berson or British Musician and vocalist Megan Laura. I also like to drop in provocative samples such as war horns or twisted samples that I create and evolve day to day. I am now starting to develop my performance further into using MIDI devices such as the ODDball - who I am working with directly on new software’s, which is great fun - but no extra layers are added for the sake of it, I only add where I feel it adds texture and goosebump moments to the set.


As a producer - my skillset is growing, my sixth sense for what works where in an arrangement is becoming sharper - there is still so much I must learn, but as with everything I do, I continue to follow my ear and the feeling in my stomach. I regularly turn off all the lights in the studio at home and work on music in darkness and I know this sounds stupid, but I also work with sunglasses on hahaha!. I need to get inside those rare moments that hooked me on this and try to re-create them in an original and effective way that I believe in.


As a DJ - I play everything from super rare boogie edits through to nutty driving big room techno - dependant on the show.


My production sound is somewhere between the textures of Tech House, Minimal and Techno music. I am not interested in following the masses and using the same generic sample packs - I search for the obscure, I watch hundreds of hours of documentaries and films each month, if I dig a sentence or section and feel potential, then many months are spent in the studio extracting the magic from it and enhancing to suit the vibe of the arrangement. Sometimes I will sit on it for a year and then one night it clicks.




How do you feel that your music and sets impact its listeners?


On the production front, I can’t speak for my co-producers as they have their own artistic intentions and desires, but for my approach, my sole intention is to channel as much energy whilst achieving as much story and clarity as possible and provoke the same emotive and magical feelings onto listeners and ravers that I have experienced in my life as a raver.


On the DJ front, if it hadn’t been for countless people telling me to start uploading my DJ sets, It’s very likely I wouldn’t of done it.


You can check out all my DJ sets and all of my productions in the links below.






What projects are you working on right now? What can you tell us?!


Big question haha! - a lot!


I am planning final stages of preparation for a 35-date 2023 Autumn tour which will cover 10 countries, starting in Europe and then through all South America and ending in Lofoten, Norway one of the homes of the magical Northern Lights. I am particularly looking forward to return to perform in South America - a continent that was so good to me in my first tour there in 2021 during the pandemic.


I played several raves and what was impressive to see was that many of the same ravers who were on the dancefloor at 9am had been at one of my sets 9pm the night before! In Europe, people often get wasted too quick, in South America it’s a different mentality and love for music and the story, the ravers let you take them into various genres and sub-genres, and they let you do your thing. It’s truly beautiful and a dream for a DJ. One morning set at Lost Beach Club in Ecuador stands out where I went through Disco, House, Minimal, Techno and even some Dubstep.


Aside from my tour plans, I am very busy currently with my record labels PuzzleProjectsMusic and HOT GROOVERS and dedication to the great artists who I partner with, the label team and I are processing the huge amount we did last year and final planning explosive release programs from May to July this year.


We all know that the digital revolution has affected sales, but do you think it has affected creativity?


Firstly, digital royalties are notoriously poor, however, within our project’s creativity has exploded. I am honoured so many artists send me their music (we have released music from artists in 30+ countries in the last few years across both labels) I am sadly turning away a lot of demos, which is hard for me personally as I see potential in all artists in some form, but I also need to press the stop button to re-group.



Can you tell us about your present and future projects?


Of course, but firstly I need to give a highly deserved shout out and hug to my amazing colleagues who work on the labels who have regularly gone over and above for the artists and labels the past years; Sonja, Val, Didi, Seb, Marcus, Conan, Gary, Christian, James, Louis, Ollie, Steve - this crew are the ones that make all release concepts reality with me via excellent copywriting, design, film production, audio engineering, marketing and PR.


There are many more great people I haven’t mentioned, who join us for collaborations now and then.


I will take 9 months off curating any music releases this August for the first time in four years. The purpose of this is to enjoy my tour, reflect on the great work that has been done and develop some sensible goals and ambitions for all projects we are committed to with a view to take effect again on in 2024.


Anyone who runs an independent record label or labels knows it is a lifestyle - you don’t do it as a hobby - it takes over life. I need to re-think and strategize how to give an even better service and support for the Artists I partner with and how to inspire the next level of production, sound and release quality. Time away from my head bubble is needed to realise this.


I am laying strong foundations for 2024 and 2025 with a group of highly committed and driven artists across both labels.


We also have ongoing programs for our guest mix series on PuzzleProjectsMusic and our rave concept PUZZLED Radio showcasing unknown, established or megastar talent.


PuzzleProjectsCreate - our 360 social media, branding and business agency is going from strength to strength with us now working with 12 ongoing clients and around 20 on an ad hoc basis - we are looking after every aspect of branding for artists, record label, property companies, hospitality businesses and many more from seed stage through to full on daily campaigns.


We are in the 2nd year of concept design and planning for the third record label ANIMAL RECORDINGS - a label that will steer away from heavy branding and social media promo circus and dive into raw, expressive dark art form - which I am highly passionate about.


We are also in the 2nd year of plans for our DJ booking agency PuzzleProjectsTalent which will represent a small group of talented and ambitious artists - many from the labels who have been with us for several years.


So much more, but I will be writing all day if I don’t stop haha.


Thank you very much for having me,


Ben



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