Robots With No Soul

Ben Watkins is one of the new rising stars of techno, a producer who’s music has been billed as ‘a personal exploration into the possibilities of sound’. Legends Dense & Pika jumped on the Robots skyrocket early doors, and with new music coming out of his Cotswolds studio every week, we thought it about time to get the lowdown from the man himself…

Ben a huge welcome to DMCWORLD, where on Planet Earth are you right now?

Thank you Dan, it’s great to be here. Right now I am currently sat basking in the Sunshine outside of my studio in the Cotwolds. 

What is the best piece of new music you have heard this week?

I was actually sent a wicked EP by an artist called Mattr by my friend Bonnie which is due out soon. Atmospheric progressive breakbeat with some really cool drum detail. My friend Candy also sent me a wicked ambient album by an artist called Loscil. I’m in the process of picking some tracks for a mix im doing for our Bristol friends at “Empathy” for Stu Wilkinson and I’ve found some lovely driving hypnotic prog which im really into right now. Any producers reading this that is making stuff like that? Please send me some as im loving it!

It has been an exciting few weeks in the Robots studio thanks to your new single ‘Gintare’ swinging our way via your great friends at Kneaded Pains. Talk us through the sound and history of the track…

Yeah I had some great feedback on that release, having artists like Laurent Garnier comment on it is really amazing and pushes me to write more. The brief for this was quite simple, was asked to make two rollers designed for the clubs. I’ve played both tracks out and they work very nicely!

There is a lovely back story to your relationship with Dense & Pika’s Kneaded Pains label which stretches back to a difficult time of your life a few years ago. 2018 saw you met with a lot of change in your personal life which saw you build your own studio and start creating an album, part of which you sent to Alex at the label for a listen. Please tell us the story…

Yeah the past four years have been pretty life changing in all honesty. I mean, this project (RWNS) only began back in 2018 after spending years working on music that I wasn’t really connecting with on an emotional level. I spent 4 years working with a very talented guy called Sean Williams as “Bakkos” making more housey stuff on labels like Elrow and Ramon Tapia’s amazing Say What records. I had some really happy moments during this time and I learnt a lot from Sean in terms of how to produce. I’ll always be grateful for that. The first tracks I wrote on my own felt different, which was exciting. Another friend of mine Pete (Transistor Rhythms) approached me at the beginning of 2018 and asked for a few production tips so I suggested we wrote a track instead as a learning exercise. The track “One Way Traffic” turned out to be a bit of a banger so I sent it to Nick Harris who happened to be the label manager for Kneaded Pains (I didn’t realise this at the time), and within a few hours the track had been signed. It felt like we had really pushed some boundaries with this track and the feedback was immense.

A big quote from you: “The process of creating an album seemed to correspond well to planning a DJ set in some way.” Discuss.

When I listen to an album, I like to be taken somewhere. Each track forms it’s own part of the story, like chapters in a book I guess. This is no different to the type of sets I like to listen to and perform. An album full of tracks that all sound the same I find a bit boring, the same can be said for DJ sets, however minimal or explosive. Variety is everything so let’s go on a journey! It’s how I’ve always enjoyed music. 

I was thinking about this a bit recently and I remember my mum playing a lot of Queen albums when I was really young. There aren’t many better examples of how to tell a story within a song or album than those guys.

Part of this strange few years of your life saw you also renovate a bus to live in. To some that sounds like a dream, to others a nightmare. How was it for you? Did you freeze your nuts off in winter?

To be completely honest, it was by far the most challenging moment of my life. As I began to mention earlier 2018 threw somewhat of a curveball at me so I saw that as an opportunity to drastically change things up a bit. I had been previously sharing a studio space with some other artists in Bristol.  Sadly the dynamic had become more, recreational, let’s say than productive.. It had always been my dream to have my own studio so I thought, let’s do it. Anyone who rents a space knows it’s not cheap, and when you add the cost of owning or renting a house too this can add up a bit and kill the dream. So in my infinite wisdom I bought a clapped out old bus and using my skills as a carpenter, built myself a home in it. The plan was to park it up near my new studio in the Cotwolds, keeping my costs down. Stupidly I did all this stuff at the same time which frankly didn’t work. I suppose what drove me on was the belief that my music had taken a bit of a jump forward and I was started to really discover what my “sound” was. This is and will be an ongoing process. I like to think that the year or so it took me to build the studio and the bus pushed me firmly out of my comfort zone, which we all need from time to time. I did have the bus parked next to this stunning lake for a few months during the summer of 2019 which was such a lush experience. It was the first time I had experienced proper peace for a long time, which was really beginning to translate in the studio. Living off grid, surrounded by nature is something I had always dreamt of, as many do. Coming from a busy place like Bristol I’ve become so used to noise and the relentless speed of life. This was a new way of living for me which is now who I am. Not e be ruined can sack off their current lives and do what I did, I was kind of forced into that. But there is way more to life than doing a job you hate just to pay for a house you’re never in.

What are the big 3 tracks in your box this weekend?

Mattr – Lando 

Krankbrother – All Her Lonliness 

Anything by Temudo. His tracks are my cup of tea. 

What is coming out next from you studio wise?

A lot of work has been happening recently in the studio. I’m working on a follow up to my EP on Sasha’s Last Night On Earth label, plus I’m working on a couple of albums. I was due to put a second album out on Kneaded Pains last year but in the end we decided to wait. My sound has really moved on since then so those tracks don’t really represent me anymore. I’m hoping to have these albums finished by the summer and hopefully out before the end of the year. 

Okay let’s rewind and see where this musical adventure began. What is your earliest memory of music growing up?

Watching my mum get her style on out in our old kitchen. Motown and soul was very much the order of the day. She can also play the recorder through her nose so it’s fair to say we are a family of maestros.. 

Word on the grapevine is you have a penchant for Abba? True or false?

Very much true. 

Early musical influences?

For me personally anything with a beat and some synths got me going. I was never really a fan of traditional bands. It always had to be a new sound that caught my ear, and is still the case today. 

Was music always going to be your choice of life career or was there ever something else you could have fallen into?

As I mentioned before I’m a carpenter by trade. My mum works in the construction industry too and I felt that following on from her was the “right” thing to do. With the greatest respect no one in my family has a career they love, so there wasn’t really the encouragement to pursue music as a career, more of a hobby. I don’t really see music as ever being a “career” as such. I live and breathe it. I can’t live in a world without it. A career to me is something you can put down. 

Best piece of advice you have ever been given in the music industry?

Don’t bother. 😂

But be patient too. Wait until you’re ready to release quality music, same goes for djing. If you can’t mix, keep practicing until you can. Too many “djs” car crashing their way through sets that just sounds shit. It’s ok to be ambitious, but wait until you’re ready. 

Sunday May 1st sees you play again at the mighty Scream at Lost Horizon in Bristol. Scream was one of the super clubs in the zeroes and helped launch the career of Eats Everything and Waifs & Stray, and you too starred on the fanous stage?

Yes I too shared a residency back in the early days (as BS2) with Dan and Amos (EE & W&S) who have now become very good friends of mine. I’m sure every city has its network of aspiring artists, and once upon a time those two you mentioned were exactly that. Through years and years of relentless gigging across the country they caught their break and went on to have global success which they both thoroughly deserved. I think they’d both agree that having a regular spot at Scream which was always full, usually a couple of thousand people a week, made them the djs they are today. It was a special time that holds amazing memories for me personally, I think a lot of the old crowd will be down for this event as it’s been a long time now. I’ll be digging into the archives to find some music everyone will remember as well as a good blast of the modern sound. Whatever happens it’s going to be a magical event and I really cannot wait to be with everyone again. 

Lost Horizon is the venue on everyone’s lips at the moment – it’s causing some serious ripples? 

I’ve not been yet but it looks wicked. 

And finally, we ask all our Scream superstars this question! What makes you scream…?

A naked cuddle with Dan Pearce.