The artist formerly known as Bushwacka!, Matthew Benjamin talks new musical directions, parting ways with long-term collaborator Layo and why tech-house shouldn’t be a dirty word.
Attack: Most musical partnerships tend to self-destruct in spectacular fashion or peter out with a bit of a whimper. The planned break-up, announced in advance, is quite rare. Your dissolution of Layo & Bushwacka! seems to have been quite amicable and thoughtfully considered – can you tell us a bit about why you decided to part ways? How difficult was it to make the decision?
Just Be: It came for me over a long period of time – it is amicable and has been considered very thoughtfully. To cut a long story short, I felt that we’d done so much together both production-wise and touring – at a top level for so long – and have had so many amazing experiences, but to keep things fresh new challenges were really important. And I think it’s better to stop on a high than to continue doing the same thing over and over again – it was a difficult decision but I feel the right one. And Layo and I remain the closest of friends and always will do.
“I didn't play Layo any of the solo music while we were writing the album so as to keep the two projects totally different.”
Rising and Falling was a fitting way to put an end to your recorded output. Had you already decided you were going to separate while you were working on the album? Did that motivate you more?
When we write music together it’s so different to when I write alone, and the four artist albums have all been such journeys for us – and all very special and emotional. We hadn’t made this decision while writing the album, but I had decided to push the new project as Just Be too during this period. I didn’t play Layo any of the solo music while we were writing the album so as to keep the two projects totally different – this was a mutual decision. My motivation was the same. My belief in the record industry as a whole was very different to years ago. I never thought it would sell loads – it’s a transitional period for music and how it’s passed around. We make, and I make, music because we love it and we want people to enjoy it. Anything else is a bonus.
So now the focus is on your solo career as Just Be. Did you see this as a good opportunity to make a clean break? Has the Bushwacka! alias been retired for good now?
The Bushwacka! alias is still a reference point especially for gigs in places that need to make the connection, but as time progresses Just Be is the focus and I imagine the tag will be used less and less. I may still do some production under that name at some point – never say never!
Is this also a good opportunity to take a slight change of musical direction? Where are you planning to go musically with your upcoming Just Be releases?
A lot of deep music. But it’s still me underneath – I cant write music that doesn’t sound like me to a certain degree… But let’s see where the music takes me. At the moment because I’ve relocated to Ibiza I’ve built another studio here and I’m inspired creatively in a totally different way to when I’m in London. So I’m curious where it will lead music wise. So far it feels great.
“Let's face it: tech-house went from being our thing to being a dirty word... Now I go out and hear so much music that sounds like the sound we were playing in 2000-2001. It's gone full circle.”
Have you had a chance to reflect on what you’ve achieved so far and think about Layo & Bushwacka!’s legacy? Your output was quite eclectic – from acid to breakbeat and various other sounds along the way – but you were also instrumental in shaping tech-house. Tech-house eventually became a bit of a dirty word to some people. Do you think that reputation’s justified? How will tech-house go down in history?
Lets face it: tech-house went from being our thing to being a dirty word, to pretty much now what you’re hearing the biggest and best DJs on our scene playing all night long – Dice, Marco, Dubfire, etc. That music is the same shit we were pushing back then – just better produced and there’s lots more of it nowadays… but that’s a different story!
I listened to a bit of music from our Night Works album and from Feels Closer the other day via YouTube while searching for one of our tracks for reference, and I’d forgotten just how eclectic we’ve been. I’m so proud of the body of work that Layo and I produced together – it’s just great music for music’s sake. I think by the time 2006 came along we’d singled ourselves out as untaggable, so that confused the audiences and the minimal explosion was in full swing. Now I go out and hear so much music that sounds like the sound we were playing in 2000-2001. It’s gone full circle.
You recently decided to end your Shake It warehouse parties, which you began running after The End closed. Do you have any temptation to start putting on nights again? Are there any gaps in London’s club scene which you think need filling or is it saturated at the moment?
I like putting on one-off events in great little places – from pirate ships to caves to bars to fields… whatever, wherever – just special events. I wouldn’t want to be a promoter again for the most part; I just want to be the guy who plays the music and every now and again the guy that throws the party.