Interview & Mix / Ben Davis / Stubb / Paper Recordings

I fell in love with Ben Davis` recent releases as Stubb. Collaborations helped to shine by the vocals of Jane Weaver and Huw Costin (of Torn Sail). Ben`s now put together this brilliant mix for Ban Ban Ton Ton. While the vibe is one of a “Psychedelic Africa” it proved perfect for a cold, but clear, Sunday morning up here in the Nagano mountains. 

A gentle forest nativity of kalimba and song. Busy lullabies of buzzing metal tongues. Bass-ier tones and strange, stringed things. Woodwinds sucked backwards. Francis Bebey reciting a prayer. Hypnotic rhythms and playing taking you on a tour of the bush of ghosts. Through the birth of Blues hollers. John Lee hooked. Nyabhnigi roots. Chants to the rising and setting sun. Acoustic West African Bottleneck ballads. Kothbiro calls. Tribal drums and sub-bass-lines. Jazz instructions (When they zig, you zag), Modal swing, and morning dances. Choirs and synthesisers. Kora and loops. Funkee organ grinders, and flutes in flight. Syncopated Afrobeat shuffles and effortless grooves. 

Where are you from?

I’m originally from Loughborough, but went to college in Sheffield, then lived in Manchester for about twenty years.

Where are you based?

Hebden Bridge, a hippy town in West Yorkshire, with great pubs, a fantastic venue called the Trades, a cinema, and a lot of rain.

Where do you go to dance?

Not too many places these days as I’ve got a young boy, and that hampers too many late nights. Although I am hankering after losing myself in some loud music somewhere soon.

Where do you go to chill?

I go running on the moors a couple of times a week with my dog, and have been known to frequent various country hostelries. I also get together with some muso and digger mates. We go to my studio and drink unfeasibly strong beer, whilst playing each other records that we find interesting. I’ve had my ears opened to some amazing stuff. We call it the “Craft Ale and Records Society (CARS)”.

Where do you buy your records?

It tends to be Piccadilly Records, and I find myself on Discogs now and again. There is also a really good stall on the Hebden market every Friday. I went down to London a couple of months ago on a record buying pilgrimage and spent a couple of hours in my favourite shop, Honest John`s, as well as Love Vinyl, Flashback and Cosmos Records. I’m still wading through the bag I brought back, and I just did a track based around an old Angolan thing I found.

Can you give me something old and something new that you`ve recently bought? 

On the old front, I’ve been going through my Spacemen 3 collection as I have pretty much everything. I forgot how heavy and psychedelic Sound Of Confusion is and Playing With Fire is contender for my favourite album of all time. Their whole catalogue has aged wonderfully.

The album that has probably had the most rotation this year is Tunng’s Songs You Make At Night which is a real return to form.  The other is the Malian Les Filles de Illighad – there`s  a track of theirs on the mix – which is very simple and hypnotic. I’m also loving the new Tirzah and Cat Power albums. One of the long players I got on my London trip was Very Omby by Damily, which is breakneck Afro Garage Punk, that is mental and pure energy.

As one of the founders of Paper Recordings you`ve been running a label since 1994. What made you start the label in the first place? Did the label spin out of the Hard Times club nights?

Miles (Hollway) and Elliot (Eastwick) were part of Hard Times, and did The Book for their label. When the track was knocked back, we decided to put it out, and Paper Recordings just went from there.

How difficult has it been to keep the label going?

It`s been a massive shift since it started, but we’re still here and celebrate our 25th birthday next year. We ran in to financial difficulties after PAP100, when we put the label on ice and steadily worked the debt down. These days costs are watched carefully as it`s so hard to make anything back on digital. The fact that we’ve got such a big catalogue works in our favour Though, as the whole thing ticks over and makes it just about worthwhile to keep going. From a creative point of view there’s plenty of petrol left in the tank, as we’ve always got loads of ideas and are always looking at new things to do. It`s a cliche but I think the music we put out now is better than it’s ever been.

How long have you been making music? What inspired you to start?

I started off as part of Shaboom, but had more of a DJ input ie. sat at the back of the studio smoking bifters all night.  When Paper had its hiatus, I realised that I wanted to make music on my own, so set myself up in a studio, then spent the next few years bunkered down learning the craft.

How does what you do as Flash Atkins differ from what you do as Stubb?

Flash is generally for dancefloors, and Stubb isn’t. I don’t really listen to House music at home, so I wanted to make music that reflected that.

How did the Stubb collaborations come about? How did you hook up with Jane Weaver, Mike Lindsay, Rachel Foster and Huw Costin?

I knew Jane from being around on the Manchester scene, and she lives round the corner from Pete, my partner in Paper. I had We Are Launching demoed up and sent it over Luckily, she liked it and agreed to sing on it. With Mike, my mate Martin is in Tunng so he put me in touch. Jimmy, a local promoter and friend – and member of CARS – had been chatting to Huw online and introduced me. All my collaborators have been brilliant and brought their A game to my original instrumentals.

What / who do you have lined-up next?

I’ve just finished a track with Charlie Sinclair from Manchester band Sylvette which is a very tripped and cinematic with a killer chorus. We’re getting a three track E.P. together under his own name that we’ll put out on Paper Wave and see where that goes, as he’s unbelievably talented. We collaborated last year on That Hit and have done a cover of Mood II Swing’s All Night Long that will be out next year, and has had Jon Ciafone and Lem Springsteen’s seal of approval.

I’m also trying to get another three tracks together for a Stubb album, and then focus on following up our Northern Disco Lights film. I’ve got great idea, but need to spend some time getting it together. I may also do a live thing with Stubb, but it will depend on where everything else is at.

Do you have any DJ residencies or regular gigs? 

I love going over to Norway, and play there are few times a year, but my DJing tends to come and go. I’m not playing out much at the moment, which is fine by me, but we’re planning some Paper 25 parties for next year, so it’ll all get busy again. We live pretty remotely, on the side of a hill, so I’m enjoying looking after my pigs, chopping wood and making bread. I just nailed my first sourdough which up there in my career highlights!

Can you tell me a little bit about the mix?

It`s been interesting to observe how my music taste has changed over time, and I’ve increasingly gone back to the source, which is Africa. It started with Fela Kuti, who has to be one of the most important artists of modern times, and I have become mildly obsessed with him. There are so many great reissues these days, and an unbelievable amount of amazing music to listen to on labels like Soundway, Strut, Analogue Africa and Awesome Tapes From Africa. It’s a brilliant time to be a music fan. I’m trying to work out how to get over there to see and hear it for myself, and will hopefully be able to manage it next year. But it`s not just old records, as there are some really interesting new acts doing stuff. There are also some really interesting collaborations between Western and African musicians like Ennanga Vision and Msafari Zawose, that is seriously deep, electronic and psychedelic. That kind of stuff was catching my ear, and sits perfectly alongside older artists like Francs Bebey. I’ve been thinking about putting it all in to a mix for a while as a lot music coming out of Mali is naturally hypnotic. Blending it all together, with something more rootsy, it seemed to join a lot of different dots and eras.

You can purchase Stubb vinyl directly from Paper Recordings. Juno have the digital. 

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