Getting behind the groove with . . .
“if the drums and bass line don't carry you, nothing will!”
“if the drums and bass line don't carry you, nothing will!”
PREAMBLE: From his early exploits working with production partner Wayne Rollins as Swing 52, to his extensive back catalogue under his own Benji Candelario Monika and countless other AKA’s and aliases, Benji is back once again with forthcoming releases on both his own imprint Tesser Music, and also on of house music's most prolific and highly regarded imprints, the ever present Nervous Records.
It goes without saying then, that we were super excited to have the opportunity to spend some time with Benji rolling back the years and digging into some of his incredible past, and still unfurling career….
BTG: Thank you so much for taking your time out to speak with us today and perhaps you could begin by just giving a brief introduction to yourself?
BC: I'm Benji Candelario from New York. I've been producing music since the early '80's and I plan to be here a lot longer than expected, haha!
BTG: So where do we jump into this story? I've taken it back to the early clubs, with Studio 54 and Paradise Garage, featuring in some of your earlier exploration into New York underground music culture. Can you take us back to that time a little bit? Tell us about some of your early influences and experiences?
BC: Wow. . . Well back then, it was all funk and disco. I guess the Moniker House hadn't come in. But the early clubs were amazing. I started DJing hip hop, believe it or not. And it wasn't hip hop per say, like what everyone knows today, it was more putting together breaks of different records and intros of different records and just trying to keep them going as long as you could and then switching up for the next record. . .
A cousin of mine, he started playing more disco. You know, growing up in the streets, you were used to hearing like, oh you know disco, it's not hardcore, it's not this, it's not that. But he took me to a club and it was called Inferno and that basically opened up my eyes because, in the street we would play beats and people would be break dancing or whatever. But at Inferno, I saw at least 300, 400, 500 people dancing in unison to club music, disco at the time. And I couldn't believe it, I was like whoa, this is different!
From that point on, I started experimenting and using his records and he would do these parties and let me mess around on the turntables. But I think that I started perfecting what I really wanted to do, as far as club music, when these mix shows starting coming on this radio station called WBLS.
BTG: Yeah. It's still going today, right?
BC: yeah, yeah. The station's still going today. And there was DJ there, that at first they weren't even giving him credit, but then later on they started giving him credit and he was the first DJ on the radio, his name was Ted Currier. And I guess that a lot of people that are not from New York won’t be aware, but he was actually the first DJ doing mixed shows on the radio. And his mixes would go for ends, the style was seamless. This guy inspired me to actually start mixing disco records and perfecting the mix because the change between records were like songs, they were seamless, you couldn't tell one from the other, unless you knew the records.
BC: And that was the inspiration. And then from that point on, I started looking for different, other avenues of inspiration, but the club scene was a big deal for me in the early '80's. I think the first club that I went to was Inferno and then the next club that they snuck me in was The Paradise Garage, and that one was like, I couldn't go into that club on a weekly basis. So I went once and then I wouldn't go for a year and then I would go again.
But I think that the biggest club that inspired me was The Funhouse. And there was a DJ there called Jellybean, Jellybean Benitez and I could get into that club every weekend. So I was in there, whether I was supposed to be or not, I was in there watching him play records. So I think, listening to the radio and listening to Jellybean, I I carved myself a way of mixing both styles together, but still keeping my influences of hip hop.
So I was never really big into deep, deep, deep soul house music, like the Jersey sounds that starting come in in the early '90's and stuff like that. I always liked to keep kind of raw. And that's why I think that when house music started coming in from Chicago and Detroit and all that, I basically leaned more to that because those sounds were raw. It was big drums and big bass lines.
And if the drums and the bass line didn't carry you, nothing else was going to carry you, you know.
BTG: So I first became aware of you name actually through Swing 52 as a Monika, which was actually, I believe, a production partnership with Wayne Rollins, specifically with a 1992 cutting tracks release, which was "You keep holding back, (love me)," which is a genuine holy grail deep house cut and it takes pride of place in my collection. It appears to me, still now, to stand the test of time, in terms of product depth and quality. It had this soulful, deep, jazzy kind of dubby hooks and for me and some of my peers, we believe it's a blueprint track for what went on to become known as Deep House. So what can you tell about the making of that track? What did you remember about that time?
BC: I met Wayne when I worked at a record store called Rock and Soul. I had already been dabbling in the studios. I had a couple of records out already. But I met Wayne at Rock and Soul and Wayne had come up to me with some demos and stuff and I liked this one thing and we finished it off and we put it out at Station Q, that special melody on Illegal Records.
And then the "You keep holding back" was supposed the next release on Illegal Records. Wayne started feeling kind a little weird with the guy that was running the label and and on the corner of his office, downstairs, his office, Illegal Records, was on the corner of 52nd Street and 7th Avenue and for some reason or another, 52nd Street is called ‘swing’ and there's a sign on the corners that says ‘Swing 52’ on it.
And the guy that was running the label said, "We should put out the next single as Swing 52 because I really like that name and I've been trying to put something out." So we actually, in a way, kind of stole his name and we went to Cutting Records and released the record.
BTG: Hahah, Oh, that's brilliant.
BC: Yeah, from that point on, we started releasing more records with Aldo because we felt like home there, he had a studio, we can work there all night.
BTG: This is Aldo Marin, right?
BC: Yes, yes, Aldo Marin from Cutting Records. We were happy there, and we put out "You keep holding back," . . . believe it or not, I had a really big record that I took for granted, which was "Nitro Deluxe" that became a huge record in Europe.
BTG: Let's get brutal?
BC: Yeah, so that record was really funny because we did that as basically, just having fun. Aldo at the time, who's a very dear friend of mine, had bought a sampler and we could only sample a half a second or something. I was like the guy that always would run to, to a Lolleatta Halloway Acapella …and I'm playing this acapella over the loop and Aldo, just by chance, sampled ‘Sweet’ off of that acapella and that's the scream you hear in "Nitro Deluxe."
And the actual artist at "Nitro Deluxe" started playing with it and we recorded this ... I don't know, like 15 minute version and we just left it sitting there. And Aldo woke up one day and decided to mix it down and that's the 15 minute or the 13 minute version of "Nitro Deluxe." But was basically just us messing around and not even thinking. When Aldo mixed it down and he played it for me, I was like "Really, we're going to put this out?" Look where it is today, you know.
So we put out three records at Swing 52, then we geared to putting together an album, which was to me, heartbreaking because I got up one day and I was like, yes, what we're going to do is put together a production team and we're going to feature all these artists on this album. That's not unheard of today, but in 1990, no one had ever done it. So I got all these artists together, spent my savings, put this album together that we couldn't sell to no labels, we shopped it to every label in the U.K., everyone said the same thing, they said you have too many artists on it, what happens if we get a hit with this artist and we don't have another record with this artist.
And I said, "Well the artist is Swing 52, we just keep putting out Swing 52 records." But no one figured out the madness of it. And on this album we had Arnold Jarvis, Sabrina Johnson, Kenny Bobbian. So we had all these artists and we couldn't get this album off the ground, which was heartbreaking because no one had ever conceived the concept of having a production group featuring so many artists on an album.
A year and a half later or something, I got up one day and I was in London and I flew back to New York and I walked into Cutting Records and I said "Listen, I want to remix one of the records." And since the Arnold Jarvis was getting so much attention, I said let's remix it now and put it out. So we remixed it and that was "The Color of my Skin."
BTG: Absolutely. I remember buying my copy of "Color of my Skin" in Uptown Records, Soho, London. It’s Still down in the studio right now.
BTG: So the first time I think I recall buying music of yours, which was released as ‘Benji Candelario’, I think it was '94 and was tracks for the "Head" e.p., which I'm holding in my hand right now, still in it's cellophane wrapper.
BC: Oh really?
BTG: Oh yeah. It’s a really edgy, straight up, dubby, tough track... Really reminiscent of the rich vein of house music coming out of the East Coast at the time. And I read somewhere that you created that e.p in a really short space of time? Something I read about using the end of some studio time that, Todd Terry or Masters at Work were having or something, and you put this e.p. together in a real short space of time… What can you tell us about that ?
BC: Well yeah. My closest friend was Todd Terry. We were always running back and forth in the '90's, we were always together. And Todd was always together with Kenny (Kenny Dope) because they grew up together and then Kenny was partners with Louie in Masters at Work.
Masters at Work worked out of a studio called Bass Hit. They would block out time and this particular evening, I was at another session and I always used to walk around with my drum machine, which was MPC 3000. That's why everything so raw because I was still in hip hop mode. And they finished early, I think it was Masters At Work or Todd had the session, I forget what he was mixing down but they finished early and they had about three hours left.
Todd was urging me, because he had started Freeze and I was like, well, what do you want to do and at the time, my good friend Johan, may he rest in piece, Johan Brunkvist, he was a keyboard player for us and he had swung by, because those were the times were everybody was working in the studios and that's how hits were made because people would just stop by and oh wow, can I play on this? And they would just have a beer and play.
And it took so many different collaborations to make those records back then, that's why everybody was always running around with each other. So Johan stopped by and Todd was insisting to me, "Look, I got all this time and you got to record something, make this e.p. now." Because Todd Terry is a beast, he makes four or five records day. And he says to me, "Let's make this record… like now!" And I'm like, "Really."
So I had a couple ideas on the drum machine and that was tracks for the head. We were just like okay, let’s just record.
BTG: I've got a copy of this in my hand right now, and I'm seeing ‘additional keyboards and credits for Johan Brunkvist’, right?
BC: Yeah, that’s it… So Todd (Terry) says, "I need an e.p. now" and we were like, "Really" so Johan says, "Let's do it" and that's what we came up with…
BTG: Wow… Todd Terry and Masters at Work had an insatiable appetite for just churning out music back then right… I mean how many hits were they turning out each week? It's insane.
BC: They were beasts and during those times, they wouldn't even go home. They would bring change of clothes and they would just live in the studio… and since I lived not too far away from them, the studio was on 23rd Street and I lived on 39th… And so, two in the morning when I was jet lagged or something, I knew that they were working so I would just stop by and see what they were working on…
BTG: Oh man!
BC: And it was funny, because if you look at a lot of the Masters at Work records, my name is on a lot of them because I would stop by because I was jet lagged and they'd be like, "Hey, can you edit these ?" And then they would put me in the editing suite and I would just put together the dubs for whatever records that they were mixing. That was what it was all about… people everywhere couldn't understand, they're like how did you guys all work together ... because we basically hung out and it wasn't like a business thing, it was like, "Yo you want to edit this because we can't edit it." you put it together, and we just kept it moving. It wasn't like oh I need my cheque or nothing. No, it was just, I got nothing to do, I'm going to be awake anyway, let me have fun.
BC: And it was all about fun haha!
BTG: So, with so many releases in your Discography, have you got any kind of proudest moments or inspiring people that you've worked with? What's been some of those highlight tracks?
BC: Todd put together ‘The Dream Team’ . . . That started in London and that came about after a particular club night.
BTG: Love is what we need right?
BC: Yeah, that time, everyone seemed to have been there and we were all in town and we just decided to put this whole thing together and it was just the collaboration of like every producer in New York at the time… and Kathy Sledge was there for some reason or another.
And we just dragged her in and started recording her and that whole ensemble of collaboration was a big point to me because it's something that's missing today.
Everyone has a studio, everyone's on their laptops, everyone's alone. No ones actually collaborating with anybody. Everyone's doing their own thing and I think that the magic in those early records was basically just like I was saying, that we just had fun and put it together. And that's a really big factor in making music.
BTG: OK, Let's move on again then to something more recent. This is where for me, the kind of, it started to break down a bit, right? Because since then, you have maintained this solid stream of really consistent releases through what is a vast back catalog of edgy dubs, deep soulful stuff and more recently, I'm kind of fast forwarding through a massive period of time here. I was just calling out one thing there, it's actually a remix I think, which is the ‘Slow motion - Benji Candelario’ remix. . . tell us a bit about that track?
BC: Yeah, that was a fun record to do. My influences are beats, drums and basslines. And I've leaned more now to tech house because it's something I'm familiar with. It's basically just drums and a bassline. What they haven't been able to get is a good song on that kind of vibe. And that's ... I guess that's a possibility with something that I'm experimenting with. But I love all these tech houses records and I never, when people would come to me in the '90's and early 2000's and say "Hey, I would love for you to remix my record." It wasn't an instrumental! And I'd be like, "Yeah for sure, send me the parts and let's work something out." These days it's like, yeah I want you to remix my record, it's an instrumental. And I'm like, "Okay, what's the song?" What's the ... I don't really understand, I could just give you another track and you can say it's a remix. So when they approached me to do the slow motion record, they sent me all the parts and I was sitting there like, okay I really don't seem to understand what I'm going to do. . . haha
So I basically threw it all into the drum machine and I flipped it to the point where I put in my influences, I took their track and put in new drums and new this. But basically, it was just creating a brand new record from scratch. And they loved it. I didn't follow through with the record as I would think and everyone keeps coming up to me, this record and I didn't know it had become such a big record, but every now that I'm checking up on it, it's on every compilation. I was like oh wow, okay, I didn't know that that record did all that.
BTG: It's a really tough, late night track, it's really, really driving.
BC: You know what I mean. the early clubs were basically just basically a sweat box, with sweat coming off the ceiling, there was no glitter to the clubs. I grew up basically where there was just one light and that was the exit light. And that's what endures me to make music, that scene. That blue light, they didn't have enough money for light shows so they had one blue light. I don't know if you remember, there was a couple clubs in London like that too.
BTG: Oh for sure, for sure. Yeah, that's the underground nature of the whole scene. That really kind of sweat dripping the walls like you say, right?
BC: Oh Yeah!
BTG: Just get down there and get into your thing and just get your groove on. That's exactly what it's about.
BTG: Haha.. Ok, so let's get this back on track then, in terms of what's coming next! You just released rework of Atmosphere's 1979 disco funk classic, "Dancing in Outer Space." Bravo. It's a great, great effort.
BC: Basically, I played, I replayed everything on that track! . .
BC: I replayed everything on that and it was, I love that record since I was very young and I don't know, I was on YouTube and I came across it and I was like wow, I completely forget about this record. And I had a drum pattern that resembled the record and in tonality and I was like, oh my god and I just started working on it. And I remember putting the actual original record in the session so I can mimic the parts. And I completely forgot that the record was in the session and it was muted. And after working on what you have now, what I released, I went back and I said, "Oh what is this file?" And I turned it on and I'm like, "Oh my god" and my friend was sitting in the studio with me and he was like, "You know that your record sounds 10 times better than the actual original recording." haha!
I figured, I don't want to do it too musical, so just keep the drums and bass-line and it's been accepted really well. People like yourself didn't know that it wasn't, it was all replayed.
BTG: Well, you played it well. What I found so fantastic about this is I listen to a BBC Six Music show with Gilles Peterson. . .
BC: He's a good friend.
BTG: He did a really interesting Brit funk special, probably six months ago now and they were really celebrating dancing in outer space and Atmosphere album. And then, low and behold, you go and release that and I'm like, oh man I was just listening to this on Charles's show on the Brit funk era. And it's such a ... it's a beautiful tribute to the track right? Because tracks like that don't even need remixing right? They're amazing tracks.
BC: That's what I'm saying haha. . . but you know what, I did the best I could, I didn't ruin it. And that's the thing, because a lot of people try to redo things and it comes out awful. I think that it was a rendition of my appreciation to the record.
BTG: Let's move on then. So your next release is a Tesser release right? And it's under the alias of young symphony? Tell us a little bit about what we can expect from that and when it will be dropping?
BC: Yeah, that's actually the fourth release on Teaser and that should be officially released on the 29th of March. Teaser is an imprint that we put together and it's just a collaboration of several different producers, local producers. So young symphony is a moniker that I just started making up and I actually recorded and did this record like about maybe four or five years ago and I never released it. So I'm putting it out and it's been getting a lot, a lot, of attention and I'm actually grateful because it's a great record. The performance on it was amazing. So it's really funny, because they put you into all these genre's without you knowing and it's an Afro house record now, so I guess now I make Afro House Music now haha!
BTG: Still spanning the genre's man. That's fantastic!
BC: Yeah, exactly! haha!
BTG: Okay cool. And then after that there's another release forthcoming, which is, I believe, on the Nervous Imprint and it's an Urban Strutter's release, right? What can you tell us about that one?
BC: Urban Strutter's is going to be another moniker of mine and basically the Urban Strutter moniker is going to do renditions and mash ups and anything that I feel like I want to put out that is a little bit unorthodox. It's called "Running." It's another rendition of another favorite record of mine by Earth, Wind and Fire. And it's the Brazilian break of Earth, Wind and Fire on the actual record called "Running." And I basically just redid the whole record and it's funny because Nervous doesn't know and when I gave them all the credits, because I don't take credits and they were like, "Why are you giving Earth, Wind and Fire credit?" And I'm like, "Because it's their record." And I flipped it in such a way that you won't know.
Another moniker, haha..
BTG: Fantastic. So Benji Candelario, we just want to say thank you so much for taking the time out to get Behind the Groove with us today and please Benji, keep on doing what you keep on doing.
BC: Thank you. Thank you!