Benji Candelario is a longstanding underground electronic artist and veteran of the New York club scene. Heavily influenced by the sounds of his 70s and 80s Manhatten upbringing, his soulful signature brand of house is usually accompanied with original gospel vocals and characterised by intricate melodies, deep, thumping basslines and sophisticated layers of percussion, and has found a home on a huge array of leading labels such as Defected, Nervous, Dopewax and King Street.
Benji’s introduction to the world of house music was as a DJ in the late 80s and early 90s, performing at clubs and house parties and spinning a wide variety of music. Since those early beginnings his talents have taken him around the world and saw him bring joy to endless crowds of party-goers in a variety of settings including many of the world’s biggest and most famous clubs, including Studio 54 in New York and Ministry in London, serving stints as a resident at both.
Here we caught up with him for a chat about the past, present and how vocals in house music will live forever.
Welcome to DMC… where in the world are you today?
Hi DMCWORLD!!! I’m just home in the studio sorting out ideas for my upcoming releases and remixes on Nervous Records, Love Vibration Nation, and Tesser Music.
You’ve been DJing and making music since the early 90s… tell us about what first got you hooked on house music?
I think house music just became part of the journey I was already on. At a young age my first influences in music were disco, funk and soul. As house music first came on the scene in the late 80’s and early 90’s it was just another form of what I already knew and loved but with more of an underground feel. And that unorthodox feel is what led me to embrace it.
The US scene at that time was thriving, perhaps more than any other time in its history – did it feel like you were part of something special?
It was a very special time for all of us!!! There were so many scenes coming up and growing on their own, New York, Chicago. Detroit. So many Dj’s and producers coming into theirs and we were all united in the same cause. Seeing the history unfold and the memories we were creating for each other and around the world was very inspiring and humbling at the same time. It was a community brought together by music that made us family and that fascinated the rest of the world.
You were one of the first US DJs to ever perform at Ministry of Sound, how did that come about?
Before I started playing out in clubs my ambition was to do the weekend mix-shows on NY radio. So in the late 80’s I started making monthly mix cassettes and selling them out of my friends’ local record shop. My cassettes started selling beyond belief. Being heard in cars and stores all over NY City. The cassettes somehow ended up in the UK being sold in Brixton London Market by a guy named Dez O’Neal. Dez had somehow gotten one or two of my cassettes and was duplicating them there. Dez finally tracked me down in NY and we formed a partnership for the cassettes. In return he got me on a local Brixton radio station ChoiceFM doing the Friday Night Mix show. The Mix show became one of the most tuned in and sort after mix shows at the time, capturing the ears of Justin Berkman and Bert Bevans two of the early pioneers of the Ministry. Bert reached out to the station and the next thing I know I’m in London playing the Ministry of Sound having it only been opened a month prior
Do you still get the same thrill DJing today as you did back in 90s NYC?
I still have the same desire today that I had when I first started DJing. I still get excited, nervous, and anxious… a bundle of different feelings and I’m happy for them. Without all those feelings I wouldn’t push harder in this craft.
You had a fantastic year in 2018 with release on some amazing labels… what were your personal highlights?
Yes indeed 2018 did end with a bang for me. Having my release Good For My Soul featuring Nina Lares on Love Vibration Nation/Sony UK reach #1 on the Kiss FM Australia chart. That’s always a good feeling seeing your work get accepted at that level.
How does the US scene today compare to when you were playing at places like Studio 54?
Today the scene in the US is smaller than what it was. Though it’s still thriving not one party can sustain a weekly event and because of that I feel the connection with the club and DJ has been lost. Back then you would feel this sense of belonging a bond you would develop like the club was your home. It was like if the DJ was just playing for you and everyone around you was your guest, which to me was what New York was about. You still get unbelievable parties out there but that unity and that family bond is missing in my opinion.
What are some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced in your career?
Being in this for as long as I have and still having fun at it is a blessing and a challenge in itself. But a big challenge for me has been embracing the digital world and staying current with all the platforms out there you need to know to promote yourself with. I’ve always been that guy behind the scenes that would let his work speak for himself. But today along with creating and staying current with the music you need to also stay on top of your social media, which to me is a full time job.
You’ve always been known for making music on the more soulful side, with a real focus on vocals. It seems to us after a few years in the wilderness, that style of music is having another renaissance. Do you think that’s fair? Or has it always been there?
Every genre has its hay day and it really never goes away. It just falls back to give way to the next. Vocals are now being more recognized by younger producers as it’s giving them a step forward to create something with a bit more of a challenge than just an instrumental. DJs are also starting to notice that their dance floors are more united when they play a vocal song. So now you see more and more Djs looking for more acappella to play over instrumentals as their dance floor is actually singing along. So because of this soulful and vocal house is being recognized again but it was never gone.
Tell us what you have coming up for the next few months?
Over the last few months I’ve been collaborating with several upcoming and new producers as DA Kidz, BennStarr and artist like Nina Lares, and DBM. It’s been great seeing our ideas develop, grow and take form. I’ve signed several of the projects to labels like Defected, Nervous, Love Vibration Nation, Tesser Music and few others in the works. All the releases express the many different sides of my music personality bring the one element everyone expects from me pure beats and bass-lines over a great vocals.
Who are some artists we might not have heard of that we should be keeping an eye on?
A must for your box… DA Kidz, Benn Star, DBM, Urban Strutters, Young Symphony, New Heights Ensemble, Co Creators, Nina Lares, they are all about to or already are bringing heat!!!
Anything else you’d like to tell us about…?
Just to keep an ear out for the upcoming releases Young Symphony “Beautiful” on Tesser Music and Urban Strutters “Runnin” on Nervous Records and a very special Thank You in advance for the support!!