Friday’s party at Monarch with The Martinez Brother features one of our favorite local DJs, Forward SF and Slinky resident Benjamin Vallery. Benjamin’s been a major contributor to the West Coast and beyond dance community for going on two decades. We’re excited and honored to share with you an exclusive podcast by Vallery and an interview of Benjamin by Sunset Sound System’s Galen Abbott.
Galen Abbott: For those who may not know why don’t you tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? How did you get into electronic music?
Benjamin Vallery: I grew up in Seattle through college and moved to Los Angeles in 1999, which is where the bulk of my DJ career started. Back in high school, I was always the kid with head-phones on walking around the halls in between classes, I always had music playing. Definitely hip hop, r&b and some heavy metal and grunge were in rotation in my Walkman. But as far as getting into electronic and house music, my older brother Dana would hand me down some of the new music he was listening to. I can’t remember exactly which album it was but I think It had something to do with Rotterdam techno. I just sort of became a collector of whatever new music was rolling out on Tuesdays. Raves were just hitting the northwest in the early nineties and I was lucky enough to be a part of the golden era of so many different genres of music. There was an old record store called Orpheum Records on Broadway in Seattle and it was one of my first introductions to vinyl. There was this great guy Rob Green who really listened to me and paid attention to what I bought and gave me great recommendations. There was also Wesley Holmes and Brian Lyons from Flammable to help me get my deep house motivation going.
GA: How has your sound evolved since you started DJing? And are there any producers that you’re really feeling right now?
BV: Well it’s kind of progressed along the same lines as the music has over the years. Used to certainly be a faster a tempo with more breaks, but it has mellowed a bit, which is good. Over the years I’ve had a couple DJ partners in which we did 2 x 4 or even 2 x 4 with additional equipment like drums and drum machines, samplers and mics. Marcus the other founder of BodyRockDJs was instrumental in pushing us forward with new gear and sounds, while I kind of focused on laying the groove out. Since we split up the DJ crew, I’ve had to try to find my own sound which I feel like I’m just coming into with full steam. It’s been great to discover a deeper side but still fun I have no problem dropping a break or some song with big bass. But I still like my solid house grooves, which is why I’m pretty excited to be playing with The Martinez Brothers because I have almost all of their tracks. JT Donaldson just put out a new 88 Days EP that is pretty indicative of what I like right now. “In Our Love” is deep and melodic and “The Depression” is a chugging bassline heater. I threw that one on this mix for AYLI. And of course I love my San Francisco homies both up and coming and the bigger players: Dirtybird, Moulton Studios, Alland Byallo, Blue Soul, 3AM Devices, Roam Recordings. There’s a lot of exciting collaboration happening with this new generation of DJs and artists in San Francisco.
GA: What has been your most memorable DJ gig to date?
BV: There was couple of times I got to go to Japan to DJ for my homies at Numlok. Getting to DJ in Tokyo was extremely high on my bucket list. However one of the other most memorable involved an underground space called the church in Los Angeles playing for F.A.M.I.L.Y. BodyRockDJs were playing downstairs and I started feeling water droplets, then more water and it kept coming out the ceiling until we had to move the mixer and the whole setup . It wasn’t till a little bit later that somebody told us the bathroom upstairs had flooded. We just kept jamming it was a great party. Hopefully it was just the sink.
GA: You have deep roots in house music, what was it like being a part of BodyRockDJs? Wasn’t there also a label at some point?
BV: It was a great time! We hit some pretty tall ceilings in the underground community in Los Angeles. We were fortunate enough to help sustain a warehouse scene for over a decade while being able to travel a bit and start that label (Quietly Freakin’). It was mostly a vehicle for us to put out our own music. I remember the first sunset party we came to, you played the Justin Martin remix of our track for about a thousand people. It was the first time hearing it played out by somebody else. Needless to say we were pretty stoked. Luckily we got a press and distribution for our first release. Unfortunately the timing was pretty bad that’s when the record sales started to decline and I wasn’t too on board with digital yet and it was just funky time personally as well. Plus owning a record label ain’t no joke. I have plans to get in the studio make some stuff for other peoples labels soon!
GA: You’re always such positive beacon on the dance floor and very passionate about the music. Where does this inspiration come from?
BV: I appreciate that! This is a community of like-minded individuals and it’s always had positive aspects of acceptance, activism, and equality. I don’t want to get too corny, but the music changed my life forever. It made me a much better and more compassionate person. I just try and to be a part of this community, so staying positive isn’t too hard when you are surrounded by great folks. Far as being passionate, my friends have nicknamed me Grandma becacause I sometimes get a little cranky and serious about my music. Expect some tracks and remixes from “Grandma” someday.
GA: As someone who appreciates the craft of DJing, how would you say it’s changed and/or stayed the same in the last 10 years?
BV: I’ve always said it’s not about the medium but the message. The only thing I don’t really appreciate with the new technology is people not mixing with this new equipment. There is something extremely valid to learning to beatmatch and playing songs with that extra bit of anticipation and excitement. One of the things I really love is constantly being amazed by somebody with the right heart laying out a well composed mix. That is the best element that hasn’t changed since it began.
GA: You once resided in So Cal but you you’ve been living in Nor Cal for years now. How would you describe the differences in the underground house music scene?
BV: There are such great aspects to both regions. It is really hard to beat a warehouse party in Los Angeles the same way Northern California has a lock on the outdoor parties. But either city can pull off both well. I fell in love with San Francisco and don’t think I’m going back to Los Angeles to live anytime soon. And becoming a resident for Adnan Sharifs Forward parties has also been a blessing because I respect what he’s done in San Francisco before moving back to Brazil. And like I said, there’s a new generation making waves that’s pretty damn cool up here and it’s great to be a part of it.
GA: What genre of music would you be listening to if house music didn’t exist?
BV: That may be impossible to answer. I’ve always searched for new music of all different types. I have a pretty extensive catalog of jazz, rock, classical on my hard drives. I use to do sound design for theater shows so it broadened my scope on a lot of different styles of music. One of the best aspects I learned from that was searching for the right mood more than anything else.
GA: We’re in for an exciting night with the Martinez Brothers. What do you enjoy most about AYLI events?
BV: Jeremy has a great ear and a finger on the pulse on what is hot, but still traditional and respected. It’s not easy to survive as a promoter making bold decisions and he does. Although I don’t know some of the techno artists he brings, he has opened my eyes to some great talent. I also appreciate the fact that he can book house, techno, and forward-thinking music and people trust his vision. The crew at As You Like It works very hard and it shows.
GA: How do you like to unwind after tearing up the decks? Is there a favorite adult beverage that helps?
BV: It’s fairly interesting because I was 100 percent sober up until I was 31 in 2008. Let’s say I’ve had some fun, but I still stay sober for my sets. I’ve tried it a couple times doing it differently and it doesn’t work out. Plus like any DJ, I can be pretty hard on myself, and being selfish and having too good a time is not an excuse to not give people the best I can. I do sometimes drink a pint of beer every now and then, but a lot of times the bar is probably closed when I’m done anyway. But when I get down, I get down. Since I’m opening expect me to be getting down!