20 REASONS TO LOVE BENGA

Words: James Keith

Adegbenga “Benga” Adejumo first appeared on most of our radars in the early-to-mid 2000s as part of the vanguard of South London (and Bristol, of course) producers pushing this weird, new, space-age sound called dubstep. Even in those early, rule-averse days when the definition of dubstep was still being debated and much of the output was gloomy and minimalist, Benga’s productions were always a little more upbeat and a just a little heavier. As we all know, that would end up being taken to an extreme in dubstep’s later years, but newcomers scoping out the sound would have appreciated the bouncier rhythms and chugging mid-range amidst the cavernous dub and caustic drums.

Benga found his way into the music industry by hanging around at Croydon’s Big Apple Records, hoovering up the dark garage sounds of Wookie and the like, eventually befriending Skream, a partnership that would remain close throughout his career. His debut was 2002’s “Skank” 12” on the Big Apple label, followed by his first collaboration with Skream, “The Judgement”, the following year. From there, it was a steady stream of releases that stayed consistently ahead of the curve and, for many, were the definitive blueprint for the balance of dubstep’s dual influences: UK garage and dub (and yes, we know it’s a bit more complicated than that).

Eventually, his underground productions kept building momentum until the release of his debut album, 2006’s Newstep. That album is frustratingly missing from Spotify so gems like “World War 7” and “Electro Musik” are conspicuously absent (along with a lot of the early releases on the likes of Big Apple and Tempa). Though it was an album of largely underground club tracks, it did act as a launchpad for the next couple of years, which would see dubstep launched onto mainstream radio and beyond. Which is where his 2008 follow-up comes in.

Diary Of An Afro Warrior dropped at exactly the right time. Dubstep’s creativity and success were both reaching a crescendo. The sound had burst out of the confines of London and Bristol and was now getting regular attention in every city in the UK. Mary Ann Hobbs’ iconic Warrior Dubz compilation had given the scene an extra boost and now dubstep fans didn’t have to travel to the capital or stay up for the late night specialist radio shows to hear it. Diary Of An Afro Warrior was preceded by its lead single, the now infamous “Night”, co-produced with Coki, and on the strength of that single alone, was an enormous success. “Night” was as ‘steppy’ as dubstep ever got and quickly reached every corner of our consciousness, becoming a mainstay on any and every dance compilation around. Dubstep may have arrived several years earlier, but now it was about to spread far and wide across the globe before being swallowed up by EDM.

It was around this time that Benga started producing and touring as Magnetic Man, alongside Skream and Artwork. The Magnetic Man output was still very much built around a dubstep framework—throbbing bass lines, snappy drums and so on—but it was the beginning of all three producers moving away from the sound they’d cut their teeth on. The trio’s biggest hit to date is still the epic “I Need Air”, which still has that dubby wobble in the background, but it was the soaring vocals of Angela Hunte that were given the spotlight. The same could be said for the rest of the album, too, which included stand-out collabs with Ms. Dynamite (“Fire”), John Legend (“Getting Nowhere”), Katy B (“Perfect Stranger” and “Crossover”), and more. Eventually, at various points in time, all three producers would distance themselves from dubstep, drifting more and more into house and techno.

In 2014, Benga took a hiatus from music, using the time to focus on his own mental health issues, brought on and exacerbated by the music industry and excessive touring. Fortunately, he seems to be in a much better place now and is back to producing music. It’s evolved immeasurably since those early productions made on PlayStation and FruityLoops and is barely comparable to his dubstep years. The first release to come from Benga since his hiatus was the Future Funk EP in 2016. Each of the three tracks felt like a breath of fresh air, fusing acid, house, techno, bass music and funk into a jagged, energetic and rejuvenated sound. There hasn’t been too much since then (besides this year's “Psychosis” 12”), but we can only hope that was the first in a long line of releases from a happy and fully healed Benga.

Here are 20 reasons to love Benga.


Posted on August 08, 2018