Sam Binga

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Sep 18

Prior to his show with Bass Music China at XXX – part of his Wasted Days Asia tour – uptempo bassologist Sam Binga speaks to Anderson Muth about his Asian experiences, just-released album Wasted Days, process with frequent vocal collaborator Redders and plenty more in an in-depth interview. Curious about his views on steamed buns and Krautrock? Read on!

What are your thoughts and views on coming to Asia? Have you spoken with other artists who have made the trip over here like Chimpo or Om Unit?

You know what, I'm super stoked. Before I went to university, I taught English for a few months in Shanghai at an aviation college, then travelled around afterwards and had the best time of my life. It's great to be able to head back to this part of the world. And of course, everyone I know that's played out here has come back with nothing but good things to say about it – actually, just a few minutes ago I had [drum and bass DJ] Alix Perez singing Taipei's praises to me!

For those less familiar, or unfamiliar, with your work: what are some good tunes to start with? And how is your sound best presented/explained?

I'd say probably look at the tunes with Redders – AYO, Lef Dem, and Tek Nuh Chat – as they’re a pretty good representation of what I'm about. They’ve got that mix of heavy bass, hip-hop feel, dancehall influence and hints of jungle and footwork as well. In terms of how to experience it, well, like all dance music all you need is a dark room full of open-minded people and a good soundsystem.

Why do you think bass music from the UK, and more specifically Bristol, is so varied and powerful? Is it still connecting back to Jamaica and soundsystem culture at this point?

Yeah, I think we do still have that connection. Britain, and Bristol, has a large population with Afro-Caribbean roots. That love of soundsystem culture, toasting and reloads continues to be a major part of pretty much all bass-led dance music over here. It is always amazing though, how for such a small country, there's always been so many distinct scenes with fiercely loyal followings. Think of how speed garage moved from London to Sheffield, got harder and faster, and gradually became its own scene, with a huge following in places like Birmingham, Leicester, Nottingham – completely under the radar of the mainstream, until T2 hit it big with Heartbreaker. And this is in a country where if you drive for an hour in any direction, you'll probably hit a major city.

You started 2015 off by dropping Tek Nuh Chat featuring Redders. Big tune! You’ve done a few tracks together, so how would you describe that relationship and creative process?

I've worked with Redders for a few years now, so I think we have a pretty good understanding of what our tracks need. I'm always looking for something catchy, with a cheeky element and a bit of a twist, and he's great at delivering that. Often, he'll come to the studio while I've only got the early outline of a beat and it's quite a collaborative process from there on. The bones of the tune will inspire him to go in a certain direction, and then I'll react to that as I'm developing the track. Plus there's so much character in his voice that I can leave a lot of space in what I'm doing knowing he'll more than fill it up! 

Your new LP Wasted Days should be out this weekend… Given the label and guests, this is looking to be a major release for you. What has the process been like – aside from some wasted days, I assume – and which tracks are you most proud of?

I always find the process of writing music a weird curve. That initial moment of inspiration when you realise that you've got something good is one of the best feelings in the world. Then as you spend longer and longer trying to turn that idea into a fully-realised piece of music, the enjoyment level sinks and sinks until you’re pretty much convinced you’re absolutely useless and you’ve no idea how you ever managed to do this in the past. 

And then gradually something clicks and you realise – hang on, this is nearly finished now… And it sounds pretty good! Suddenly the world starts to become enjoyable again. So the whole thing is a big roller-coaster of emotions, repeated over and over again as you create an album, and then it's followed by the general sense of going mad as you start to mix it and get it all sounding good! 

I'm really proud of all the tracks, but it's been good to see that people have responded well to Run The Dance with Slick Don. I was really trying to bring a lo-fi, grime aesthetic into a faster tempo with that one, and I felt like that was quite a risk to take. 

I'm also really happy with Badman Skin, just ‘cause the beat is so weird, and also because it was one of the few times where I had an idea and then managed to execute it pretty much as I intended to, without getting derailed or sidetracked! Plus I love Redders' first line – “Crème brûlée of the crème, already told them I'm a ten!”

Overall, do you prefer the club or the studio? Or are they both just parts of the same thing?

I think you need both. Without an understanding of how your music works on the dancefloor, you can get disconnected from a big part of this music. And equally, if I don't get a chance to get into the studio and work on ideas I've had while DJing, or even just experiment and mess around with sounds, I get frustrated, not to mention annoyed that I don't have any new tunes for my sets!

For you as a producer, what’s the primary appeal of the post-dnb 160/170bpm framework?

Jungle and D&B was a big part of my life growing up, but I’ve always felt that I didn’t have anything I could add to the music. I think the exciting thing recently is that has changed, and a few of us have been able to take a different approach to the same tempo range, while still being able to be accepted within that world. I think that the influence of footwork on this has been massive as well – it really got people excited about faster tempo music again and brought in fresh people and fresh approaches, which are vital!

Bao means a steamed bun in Chinese cooking, but I assume Baobinga had a different meaning for you? Now, do you feel more comfortable as Sam Binga, or is there intrigue lurking beneath the surface which caused the name change?

Ha! I think this was a misheard bad translation on my part! While I definitely do love steamed buns – team #XiaoLongBao over here – what I was trying to refer to was a kind of pineapple slush puppy I had in Shanghai once… Now Google tells me that pineapple is ‘boluo’, and I think ‘binga’ is ice – shaved ice perhaps – so maybe it was that? Or maybe I was hearing ‘baobing’ (Chinese: 刨冰)? - whatever it was, I spent a lot of time correcting spellings and pronunciations of a name which it looks like I had got completely wrong anyway! Sigh.

The name change just felt like the right thing to do at that point. I'd switched the sound up, and didn't want it to be approached with too much baggage or preconceptions. Looking at it now, it’s only two letters different, but it’s taken a long time for people to see the connection, so I think it worked fairly well...

You’ve received a lot of support from FACT Magazine in particular – with so much music easily accessible nowadays, how important is support from online written media? And does coverage by a physical magazine still matter with social media so dominant?

Yeah, I'm very lucky that FACT have been onboard with what I'm doing. They're one of a handful of online publications that has a solid level of respect and can do decent quality features, while having a wide reach. I think that, just like with music, the sheer amount of information out there means people depend on ‘gatekeepers’ or trusted curators more than ever, so this kind of support is definitely important.

Physical media still has a place though. Just like releasing a physical record carries a certain weight, so I think a feature in a printed magazine can reach beyond the online echo chamber, as well as showing that someone believes enough in what you’re doing to dedicate paper and ink to your work! 

Ignoring the excesses of EDM, is electronic/bass music in a healthy place right now?

I think so. People seem much more open-minded than back in the day, and there's lots of space for multi-genre cross-pollination, which always keeps things interesting. If anything, the main issues facing dance music at the moment are not the music, but more socially related – like the ongoing battles to keep venues open in the face of gentrification and the danger that increased mainstream acceptance could reduce the chances of underground music serving as a safe haven for freaks and weirdoes…

And finally, what artists are inspiring and motivating you right now?

Recently, I've been listening to a lot of Krautrock – Can, Neu – just because Chris at Idle Hands got a bunch of their classic records in on wax and I thought I should educate myself about it a bit. It's great! 

Sam Binga Sep 18, XXX, Sheung Wan. Tickets: $150 (adv), $180 (door);



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