We chat with 3-part instrumentalist / vocal collective Benin City about their fusion of sounds and new single ‘Bus’.
Acclaimed London collective Benin City introduce a new 5 track EP which sees the trio’s distinctive sound explore new boundaries within their trademark alternative style.
Fusing together up-tempo spoken word with a carefully balanced cohesion of electronica, brass, and hip-hop elements the forthcoming ‘Midnight Malarky’ EP sees Benin City preview a more progressive sound. We’re a massive fan of their chameleon-like wardrobe and vivid clobber so we thought it wise to try and find out a little bit more..
Is there any historical significance to the name ‘Benin City’?
Josh: It’s the name of my parents’ hometown in Nigeria, where I’d lived for a while. Britain has a history with the Edo Kingdom, but in regards to the music it was the best name we could think up at the time; we haven’t ever consciously been inspired by my culture’s music.
What’s the journey – how did the collaboration happen?
J: Tom and I met through a mutual friend; I had a few spoken word ideas I wanted to try out to music, specifically brass, Tom’s a killer tenor sax as well as a musical director/composer. We dabbled a lot in the London afro-ethnic-funk scene for a bit as a purely live-hip hop-ish band/collective but things only really kicked off when we wrote Baby. That was sort of our ‘okay, this is our sound’ moment, and slowly, as we worked on the album, our identity fell into place.
Tom: Maybe in hindsight we should have played the long game, releasing more EPs, but we had this album in us waiting to get out. It was a milestone we wanted to reach so we just went for it.
Were you all involved in solo projects before this project?
J: I was and still am a spoken word artist, but Benin City was my first band.
T: I’m a jobbing musician so before Benin City I was playing all over with different bands and musicians.
Tell us more about the single ‘Bus’? It’s been heavily played on our office radio since we heard it last week!
J:I spent a large part of my life in East London, riding the night bus 38 home from work after bar-tending. I’ve always experienced London’s nightlife from weird angles – either as a worker or an outsider or someone who went clubbing just to dance– and that’s something I’ve often wanted to explore in music. Less cups in the air, more handcuffs by the pavement, so with the new writing came the opportunity.
T: I think it’s a bit more cohesive as a track than some of the things on the last record. Marc Pell from Micachu and The Shapes has produced with us again and Portugal The Man from Alaska were keen to work together on something. Everyone who’s ever lived in or even just been on a night out in London has a night bus story. You might even be someone else’s night bus story and not even know it.
How do you approach the creative process – are there any in-house bust-ups.
J: Tom is technically a zombie. I killed him a while back because he tried to edit my lyrics. But apart from that, naye: It’s very much a ‘every idea must be tried out no matter how stupid’ environment which makes for a lengthier process but has worked pretty well so far.
T: We’re always talking to each other about new music we’re listening to so we can be on the same page when we’re writing together. That helps a lot. Once you know the context of another persons idea, you can start shaping it together.
How do you compromise your overall sound? What happens if one member wishes to take a certain track in a particular direction and the others aren’t feeling it?
J: We nipped that in the bud pretty early. Everyone contributes songs and then we whittle the list down to 10-15. After that, any idea does not conform to the list, however cool, gets dropped. For example, So You Say off the album started out a lot more live-funk/pop than it is now, which did not fit with where we were at the time, so we gutted it.
T: Anyone who listens to music can spot another band’s influences a mile off. The new tracks on Midnight Malarky had such an identity from the off that there was no question what they would sound like.
You guys look incredible – how important do you think fashion and image is to the longevity of a bands career?
J: Getting Kenema on the team has been a real godsend in terms of communicating the band’s vibrancy and idiosyncrasies to the wider public. I think people love to ‘see’ a band make as much effort visually as with the music. Plus I love to dress up. I used to go on stage as a stormtrooper.
T: . As soon as we tied our image together as a group, people just got it. Our sound, our direction. Our culture is so visual. There are so many iconic songs and artists and that just cannot be separated from their videos or even more specifically from an outfit.
Would you say that you’re fashion conscious?
J: I will happily say Tom is. I’d call myself a blind clothes horse.
T: Yeah, I think that is probably me. I don’t throw a lot of money around or anything. I don’t think being into clothes is about buying expensive stuff. London is just so great for fashion and music. You can soak so much up just by being out and about.
What are you favourite labels or brands? Are there any emerging Design / fashion talent that you’re loving that we may not have heard of?
J: I only have eyes for Kenema and Mr Gabe.
T: Kenema make all the African print suits that we wear on stage. They are incredible.
Do you have a favourite social media platform? If so which is it and why?
J: Has to be Whyd. You can make a playlist out of songs that have been posted anywhere on the internet. Soundcloud, Youtube. It Is A Thing.
Do you have any favourite places to shop in London? Whether it is a high-tier boutique or Brick Lane market?
J: Brick Lane. Less tat, more food.
T: I’ve got really in to buying second hand from ebay recently and ASOS is great!
How is the full-length record shaping up? What can we expect from it and who are you working with to create it?
J: Our last album Fires In The Park is out now. We’re still in the preliminary stages with number two with Marc Pell, who we worked with on the first. Expect it to be the audio companion to Toni Morrision’s Beloved and/or Stephen King’s Carrie and/or The Most Successful Harry Potter Book.
Benin City have just announced a 3 week residency at The Social, London which kicked off on the 9th June as part of the venue’s new music night ‘Blackjack’. Find out more here.
Words: Shane Hawkins