Ben Westbeech aka Breach is an Englishman who does not sit still. He started off his career as a singer and songwriter with two jazz/house albums under his own name, after which he took on producing dance music under several names. It was with the release of Jack in 2013 that the 33-year old producer exploded sky-high, making Breach the new talk of town, city and web, reaching high positions in commercial charts worldwide. Since then everyone seems to want to work with him, and he’s been gigging all over the world trying to keep up with time. For the last 1,5 years he’s been calling Amsterdam home – a perfect excuse for us to get a cup of coffee with him around the corner, check out his crib, find out how he’s liking our city and see what plans he has for the future.
Photography by: Thierry Vrakking (Television Photography)
So Ben – you’ve been pretty much in every music scene over the last years, with ventures into jazz, house, drum and bass and all sorts of mixtures of the above. How do you manage juggling all your projects?
Well at the moment I’m just concentrating on the Breach project. I’m running my label Naked Naked, I sing every now and then for people, and you know I write songs for other people. I’m pretty much making house and techno full time at the moment. While touring, there’s not a lot of time to do anything else, so I’m just focusing on house and techno. It is my own choice but with music, as it goes, there’s times where you can take opportunities you wouldn’t get at other times. This is my job, so the business side does come in to it at some point. I try and just keep happy with what I’m doing creatively, if I’m not happy I just won’t do a project. I’m not one of those people who takes on every single remix just because I had a big track out. I choose my remixes wisely and just try and concentrate on making music that I can play out in clubs and that makes me happy.
So you’re pretty happy with the way things are going?
Yeah, pretty happy right now. Although I think next year I’m gonna take on a lot less gigs because that part of it is making me tired all the time. There’s a lot of traveling to different countries and timezones and constantly being on the move is just tiring mentally. Since Jack it’s been pretty crazy gig-wise and I took on a lot of stuff because I just wanted to do what I could at that time. After doing that for the last year, I’d like to have a bit more of a chill year next year, try and concentrate more on making music rather than gigging. It gets quite lonely sometimes, and I’m quite a homey person, I like to be at home a lot and close to my studio. I just bought a bunch of synths that I have dreamt of getting and now I have them sitting in my studio and I don’t really have time to use them, you know? I just want to get the balance right. At the moment it’s very much towards gigging – DJing is amazing fun but doing it this constantly, you sometimes lose track of why you were doing it. I’m quite a creative person and if I’m not in the studio or able to let out my creative energy I start going a bit mental. My creativity is fueled by my emotion and it’s important for me to let that out. Some people can make music on a plane, but that’s just not for me. I like to be in my space with all my hardware, that’s really important to me. I got a really nice studio with lots of new toys and I just want to chill in there.
So what have you been working on recently?
I’m doing singles mostly, as Breach. I’m working with Aus Music really closely, had a release with them this year and got another one planned for next year. I’m working with Atlantic as well and my next tune is with Kelis, that’s gonna come out in October.
You’ve stated before that you’ve sometimes had to let go some of your musicality in order to reach the sound you wanted for Breach. Does this constriction upset you?
Not really, no, I think it’s just a different way of looking at things. I can make a lot of different music, I’ve never been a person who does just one thing, I can do quite a few things. You can go really out of the box with house and techno, it doesn’t have to be musical. It can just be a rhythm or a groove and that’s really important, I think. There’s so many elements in different forms of music. Some stuff I’ve just released with Cinnaman is really melodic and is more pushed by melody than groove. It’s just a mix-mash of stuff I guess. When you’re approaching something you can go in different ways. It’s still musical in its own right, but less chords and constructions, it’s more sounds and beeps and different synths. Having a sense of melody is a good thing in any way, of course, because you can hear where things are gonna go. Everyone has completely different brains, that’s the thing about music. Everyone hears things differently and has a different way of approaching things, it changes from person to person. Some sense of melody is hugely important when making music, but in beats as well – it all mixes into one thing, you know?
Your idea of Breach as a more underground thing got a different turn with the huge success of Jack. Are people expecting you to go in a certain direction now?
It’s weird, I don’t think anyone expects anything really. Obviously, Jack came out, and then Everything You Never Had, and they both went top 10 in the UK in the commercial charts, and straight after that I did the DJ-Kicks compilation. I made an EP for Aus Music, which is an underground house/techno/deep house label, so I think I’m sort of walking a very fine line between doing something more commercial and doing super underground things. Of course, running my label, putting tunes out there, it’s something that I do from the heart and it’s not for money at all. Yes, with the commercial stuff, you start getting paid more, playing for thousands of people, but I also go play Panorama Bar and places like that. I come from underground music, that’s never gonna leave me, but if I get the opportunity to make a record with Kelis, I’m not gonna say no. I love Kelis’ work and what she does, and stuff like that doesn’t tend to happen if you’re just underground. It’s just picking and choosing what to do wisely. You don’t sell out to what a record label wants you to do, you just do your own thing and if they like it, they can put it out. If people like it, that’s great, but I don’t go out to sell millions. You just have to keep doing you, and if it works it works. If all the commercial success drops off, I’ll still want to play underground clubs and DJ from my bedroom and mix and get high off making a nice mix.
With the worldwide success of Breach, is this the final project for you, or are you planning some radical changes in the future?
I think I’m gonna do another Ben Westbreech album. I wanna start on that next year, when I slow things down a bit. That’s what I moved to Amsterdam for, to make a Ben Westbreech album, but then Jack happened, and I had to change my plans. I didn’t have to, but you’d be stupid not to. It’s the music business, if something happens, you gotta take those chances. I got a couple of tracks and ideas floating around. If I don’t wanna make house and techno one day, I just start a Ben Westbreech tune, float things about. I want the next one to be a bit different from the other two, so we’ll see what happens.
In your sets you showcase a very versatile taste in house and techno music, with a diverse selection of tracks (see the DJ-Kicks tracklist for an idea). What’s your absolute favorite track of the moment?
That’s probably one that me and Cinnaman have just made. It’s called ‘Liberty’ and it’s gonna be out on my label Naked Naked, it’s gonna be the tenth release. I’m really excited about it, and it’s important for me because I live in Amsterdam, and it’s with Yuri (Cinnaman) who is one of the first people I met here and he’s been really good to me ever since I’ve been here. It’s really nice to make a record with your homeboy and have it sound exactly the way you wanted it too.
And Liberty is what you feel here?
Yeah, kind of. It’s a very liberating place – but it’s also the name of some haze weed from across the road, and we were smoking a lot of that while we were making the record. We called it Liberty about freedom, and it sort of happened that the weed I was smoking was called Liberty as well.
After 15 hours non-stop in the studio, your ears are buzzing and you put on some nice chill out music. What do you play?
I tend not to listen to that much music when I’m at home. I quite like silence, actually! It sounds crazy, but I like to read books. I listen to a lot of mixes, like the RA podcast, and the Trouw mixes on Soundcloud are really great. Red Light Radio is great as well, such a mixture of stuff. And I have a collection of old Japanese hiphop mixes – a friend of mine gave them to me. So I listen to a lot of that stuff – old hiphop, jazz, 80s stuff… But sometimes, I just want it to be silent. Especially if I’ve come home from gigging, my ears are just fucked. It’s nice listening to that church bell (points to Westerkerk), it goes off every hour and plays tunes sometimes. So I just sit and listen to the sound of Amsterdam. Sometimes there’s a guy with a saxophone, and I sit here and put my feet up in the window, watch the world go by, there’s pretty nice sunsets going on sometimes.
Is that what inspires you most about Amsterdam? Life itself?
Yeah, it’s the people, and the clubs. The club culture is amazing- you’ve got Trouw, and Studio 80, and record shops like Rush Hour. It’s an amazing city for music, it’s really forward thinking. It’s all in front of you, and so eclectic as well. That’s what I love about it, it’s not a separatist sort of vibe, you guys take it all the way.
So what’s your favorite club in Amsterdam?
Trouw, for sure. Such a wonderful place. It’s actually part of the reason that I moved here, because of some experiences I had in there before I moved, like playing with Henrik Schwarz, and the Colors guys.
If you would move to any other city in the world, which one would you choose and why?
I’d probably move back to London. I’ve lived there and all my friends are there. It’s a really cool place to live, I miss it sometimes. I don’t miss all the people and buses and traffic but sometimes I do have a feeling like I want to be in London. It’s just not the right time for me to be there, I’ll be here for a few more years I think.
So Amsterdam is growing on you?
Yeah, I had a bit of a wobble after six months, wondering whether I had made the right decision moving here. My career had gone mental and I wanted to be around all my friends and I had to make new friends here. But now I feel pretty much cemented here, and I like hanging around with all my friends here.
Aside from making music yourself, you also run your own record label Naked Naked. What’s your motivation behind this? Which sound are you looking for?
It’s a deep house and techno label. All the records that come out have some sort of emotional buoyancy that I hear in them and go, yeah, I wanna sign that. I’ve got Lorca, who’s really up and coming, and Veer from Leeds is really cool as well. And obviously releasing stuff with people that I‘ve worked with myself, collaborations and music that I make and want to put out. More like an outlet for me and people who I hear a sound with. We’ve started to do label nights, we’ve come up to the tenth release. It’s just starting to grow, I want it to grow slowly, and not push it. We just do white label 180-gram vinyl, very well made – it’s all about the music. Dance stuff that goes somewhere emotionally, I like music that does that.
Obviously you’re a very busy man. What is that one thing that you’ve always wanted to do, but haven’t had the time to do yet?
I’d like to have a family at some point. That would be nice at some time in my life. I’ve had quite a crazy life so I just haven’t had the time to make that happen.
So Straf_Werk is coming up in a few days. What can we expect from your set?
Yeah, that’s my next Dutch gig. I don’t know too much about the festival, so I’m going there pretty blind and I’ll see what happens. I guess it’s gonna be house and techno, from myself. I love playing Amsterdam, I always love the crowds here.
After so many years in the business, what’s the golden lesson you’ve learned that you would like to share with young aspiring musicians?
Stay true to yourself and your sound and why you’re doing it. Always try and feel that sense of nostalgia – I always think about when I heard rave music for the first time and the energy and rush I got from just hearing it on this rave tape. Anything you do, keep that mentality and energy and be a child again. Be experimental, don’t stop your brain from being creative. If you have an idea just try it and see what happens. Mostly just stay true to yourself and your sound, and if it works out it works out, if it doesn’t, keep on trying. That would be my advice to anyone.
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