Decoding Dub Fx
You know you’re special when a corner of Camden market craves your presence just as badly as a Coachella lineup. When your vocal chords alone allow you to completely transfigure the image of that crazy dude with cymbals perched on his knees and a harmonica slung around his neck; the out-dated euphemism for a one-man band. Or when you can live out an anarchist philosophy with your work ethic, yet still stay relevant to millions of fans who thrive in codification. Simply put–you know you’re special when you’re Benjamin Stanford, sonically revered as Dub FX.
He’s set up an unusual camp in Mumbai (a sparsely furnished room atJohnny-B’s bachelor pad) for an artist of his stature, wearing all the idiosyncrasies of a man who needs little to survive contentedly. Yet his mannerisms are devoid of the battered form that shacks up with the tour-weary. Because if anyone deserves weariness it’s Stanford; it comes with the relentless-spanning-of-the-globe territory that he’s claimed for himself over the last seven years. Then again, maybe living in a treehouse with a flower fairy excuses you from formulaic stereotyping.
“Hey these wrinkles between my eyebrows are permanent,” he protests but the inherent mellow-ness in his nature is easily decipherable by everything that precedes or follows. Either way, you can break it down for yourself.
Third time lucky for us, it’s good to have you back. Some insight into your musical background?
Thanks, it’s good to be back. I started playing the guitar when I was about 17-18, but the musical background spans many genres. I started off real heavy with this punk-rock band, channeling RATM, Korn and what not, I really used to love that stuff. Then I got into jazz and reggae in a big way, moving into a more soulful space. Now I hardly ever listen to the heavier, distorted stuff. Now it’s all about anything with soul – reggae, hip-hop, liquid dub – especially all the rubik records stuff.
And the transition from street to stage, was it always the goal?
Actually it’s funny because I started off playing in proper venues with my metal outfit or jazz outfits, I even used to MC a bit with DJs at clubs. I was just trying to soak it all in but then I decided I wanted to go overseas so I thought i’ll busk my way through just to make a bit of coin along my way. I thought maybe once all of it was over, I’d have the inspiration, a record deal, and maybe even become famous. Instead, it happened while I was on the road.
Funny that you mention the record label bit because you’re considered something of an anarchist within the scene. What’s kept you from signing?
Well, no one’s approached me so that’s one reason. But honestly, I’ve just had so much freedom with this approach to do whatever I want. If you’re clever, you can make money in music. It’s a misconception that you need a record label to do it.
What is it you’re doing differently?
Street performing comes first because it allows me to go out and be interactive with my audience. Of course in India it would be another thing altogether but in Europe things are a little more organised, you don’t have to worry about the chaos. What really helped is being super flexible, I literally mould myself to the situation. That I’d say is my real talent, the fact that I can adapt.
And it’s that spontaneity that’s become your music’s trademark. Though I have to ask, your lyrics are both profound and powerful, largely pre-written. How do you mould them to suit so many different genres?
It’s interesting that you ask that because sure, it’s hugely spontaneous stuff and I freestyle lyrics often enough but largely, they’re more pre-meditated. Most of the songs I sing were originally composed on the guitar. I thought they were going to be how I first conceived them but then I’d go out in the streets and because of the crowd that surrounded me I’d make it dubstep or hip-hop or reggae. Make them malleable. For example I’ll take into account that Italians prefer melodic reggae sounds but in England they want heavier. It’s funny because it’s happened that the audience doesn’t even realize that i’ve just played the song they were requesting all along because i play it so differently every time.
You’ve surrounded yourself with your fiancé (flower fairy) and best friend (CAde) professionally, do you believe it’s made for a more successful career?100%. I always surround myself with good people. In fact, I’m pretty cut-throat when it comes to making friends. If someone’s sucking energy from me I’m not going to open myself up to them. As a result, I’ve got some awesome groups of friends.
I suppose that would make your connection with India pretty amazing then. This is your 3rd tour in three years, what keeps you coming back?
I love coming here. I love the colours, the food, the people, it’s a wicked place. And it’s so fucking different from the rest of the world. I’ve travelled a lot, especially in Europe but at some point you sort of realise every place is just cloning itself. It’s difficult to find actual culture, especially in the cities and India’s got more than its fair share.
You’ve lived a nomadic existence, on the road, constant touring. Did you ever tire of it?
Interestingly enough, that stage of my life has actually come to an end now. We did so much touring, living in a van and what not, we ended up saving enough money to buy a house. It’s a tree house in the forest in Australia and it’s just so amazing – best air, best energy…I’m really happy. So now we do 6 months at home and 6 months of touring.
Sounds incredibly idyllic. Any dream tour destinations left?
I’d love to see South America. It’s one of the few places I haven’t explored and parts of Africa. Other than those i’ve seen almost everything i’ve wanted to see from Europe, Asia, America and Russia of course. Russia practically paid for my house!
Really, Russia?[laughs] Yeah it’s bizarre, Russia’s probably my biggest market, I could be Justin Timberlake there! I don’t know how or why but I’ve got to hand it to the promoters, they really do their job.
In a totally different vein, you’re a huge graphic novel buff (as are we). Tell us about this comic book dream of yours?
I really do love comics. I’ll devour literally anything by Alan More [recommends about 30 for me to check out]. Mine’s actually pretty secretive but I’ll tell you a little bit about it. I’m writing a script for a comic book but I can’t draw at all so I’ll have to find an artist. It’s called Living in Lucidity. It sort of explores the human spirit showing how we’ve both evolved and devolved over time. Basically, the protagonist is traveling through all these different times, he’s a bit lost. Ultimately the message is essentially ‘it’s not where you’re coming from or where you’re going…it’s about where you are.’
Can’t wait. In fact, I’m going to have to wrap this up just to ponder on all of that. So what’s next?
[Laughs] The comic book! And this new album that should hopefully drop by the end of this year, then more tours and more albums.
Check out Dub FX and Flower Fairy in their element in Goa:
and in previous collaborations with indian artists:
Dub Fx will be playing his last two Indian dates in New Delhi at Rang Festival on 27 March and Kitty Su on 29 March.
written by Mandovi Menon