Ben Nicky Reveals Upcoming Label, Love For Rock, and Dream Collab with Porter Robinson
Ben Nicky has long been a DJ/producer in the trance scene who has stood out due to his über cool persona and ability to curate high paced sets with infusions of trance, psy, techno and hardstyle. He first burst onto the scene in 2012 and has since been labeled as the “bad boy of dance” by Armin van Buuren and “the DJ at the forefront of the new trance movement” by Diplo. 2017 was a big year for the Bristol native as he took to the stages of EDC Las Vegas, Tomorrowland and Creamfields and sold out numerous headlining shows across the globe. With successful records, a one of a kind style and big plans for 2018 under his belt, there are no doubts that Ben Nicky has made his mark on the industry, especially on the younger generation of trance music enthusiasts. We had the privilege of speaking to Ben ahead of his performance at Transmission Festival in Bangkok, Thailand. Read on to find out on his upcoming record label, love for rock music, and dream collaboration with Porter Robinson.
I once read that you really enjoy drumming and the whole rock scene. Rock to trance is a quite a far jump. How did that happen?
My dad was in a rock band for most of his life, until he had me. I obviously dressed it - like a rock star… like a failed rock star, a terrible one. For me, rock music is the foundation of my family. Before trance music, I played drum and bass for a long time. Then I kind of moved to trance, and now I play a bit of everything. Rock has always been in my blood and my family’s blood so I kind of like to fuse that look and image with my trance implements. It’s just kind of a rockstar-looking trance DJ - just like a hybrid of everything.
Was DJ-ing something you’ve always wanted to do?
Yeah, I was really bad at school, and I was one of the worst DJs ever. When I hit 21, I like sat in my basement for two years just practicing, and now I think I'm okay you know so… hahaha!
Definitely more than. On to new music, your remix for Jauz’s “Feel the Volume” dropped recently. I remember when he played it at Tomorrowland last year the response was massive.
Yeah! So I've been making the same kind of music for a long time and I just wanted to do something different. As psy-trance got bigger across a lot of the scenes, I wanted to make something a bit faster, something that’s a big anthem in America - cause I wanted to break the American market a bit more. I did a remix for Jauz just for fun as a bootleg, and we met at Tomorrowland - and he was like dude I wanna drop it today! Afterwards, Diplo got involved and said “I wanna sign it to my label”.
That’s incredible considering you started it out just for fun.
It was a good little bootleg that turned into something bigger. Secretly though I knew that I wanted something to come of it - it’s a tactical remix!
Speaking of psy-trance you've been dubbed as the “don” of the genre.
Wow I don't wanna take credit for it cause psy-trance is a very niche scene, and it’s a very pure scene. I'm by no way a pure psy-trance DJ. There are so many, like Astrix, Freedom Fighters, Coming Soon - I love these guys. That’s more of a pure scene, like the pure psy scene - I'm not like that. I'm just this guy that plays everything and does his own thing. So as much as I do play a lot of psy-trance it’s played in a different way. I play very short tracks.
Hence the Ben Nicky “Headfuck”.
Yeah rather than play nine to ten minutes of a track, I play two minutes and into something, then to another something. People’s attention spans are really short nowadays - the younger teenagers they don't wanna sit here for twenty minutes listening to the same beat. They wanna hear another song, and another song. I think my style is very relevant to young people, with psy trance being one of [the genres]. But I'm no way like the “don” of psy-trance, I'd say Astrix is the number one in that “psy only” genre. But if we’re talking open format, like “trance, psy trance, hardstyle”, then yeah maybe I'd be…
Yeah, well I'm not gonna big myself up! Hahaha I’ll let the ticket sales speak for themselves!
The “Headfuck” brand has grown massively over the years and you've created this really cool persona surrounding you - and your fans adore you for it. Do you think it’s important for aspiring artists to curate their own brand that stands out in addition to having solid production work?
Hundred percent! You don't necessarily need to be an amazing producer to become a big DJ. I've never been the strongest producer in the world. I've had some great help over the years. But if you've got a strong brand and a unique look - I'm lucky cause the trance scene is traditionally an older scene, a lot of the DJs are older. Well I'm not very young, but I'm kind of one of the younger guys and I have a very young fanbase. I kind of stood out a lot. So for me it was a very good scene to succeed in. If I was in EDM, I probably wouldn't be as successful. “Headfuck” is just the way I am. I'm a bit different, and a bit crazy and you either love it or hate it. It’s what stands out for me. In marketing and branding you shouldn’t pretend to be somebody else. Ben Nicky’s “Headfuck” is me and I think people can see that online. I might portray myself as a bit of a crazy guy, but I interact with my fans as much as I can. I think people can see, relate to it and appreciate that as well.
Performing has always been like a second nature to you - was DJ-ing something you learnt before or after you started producing?
I was a big DJ before I even started thinking about making music. DJ-ing was something that I learnt first and I got a lot of shows. I had to catch up with producing. Now I'm on the road so much I can't get into the studio as much so I work on the airplane a lot.
Do you do everything on your own?
I have a co-producer so I'm so lucky! Just like how Armin does and loads of other people.
Tiesto and all those guys do too!
Right, cause it’s not as easy as it sounds. People think that like “Oh I'm gonna sit in the studio for a month”, and I'm like “I've got twenty gigs this month, and I don't get time to see my mum and dad let alone in the studio”. I basically send my ideas back to the studio to the guy I work with, and as soon as I land, I go straight into the studio, and we finish everything together. That for me has worked best. Like Above and Beyond has three guys -
You'd need an extra set of ears to help out.
Yeah! I don't wanna sit in the studio for two straight days - when I've been on the airplane for two days after DJ-ing every night and dealing with jet lag.
Gosh you’d be so done before even starting at that point.
Yeah exactly, and it’s quite difficult to understand unless you're in that situation. A lot of DJs haven't got the busiest schedule, but when you're one of the busiest DJ on the planet right now - me, for example, I did half a million miles in the sky last year - it’s very hard to do both. Financially nowadays producing doesn't really bring in money, but touring does! So obviously that has to be a priority cause that pays my bills… and all my tattoos!
Was there a defining moment in your career where you thought - “okay this is what I want to be doing for the rest of my life”?
Do you know what! I believe in the law of attraction, and so I read a lot of books on positivity and stuff - and I always have a set of goals to hit. This sounds really bad, but I've now hit them all! So I think that now there’s a couple ones that I still want, but my dream was to play Cream Ibiza when I was a young kid -
And you’ve done that!
Yeah! Next one was to sell out my own arena show - and we sold out a big one in Belfast last year with like 6,000 people. And then my dream was to be my own brand without having to be part of something else to make everyone love me, or follow the trend. I wanted to be “Ben”, and I've done that! So really I guess I've done what I wanted to do. If it all ended tomorrow, I’d be happy.
You'd be content with everything you’ve accomplished.
Yeah I’d be content - I’d probably be able to retire soon anyways luckily so. It’s cool, I love it!
Who are some of the artists you’re currently listening to?
A big shock actually is that I don't listen to trance at all out of work - because I listen to it so much. My favorite DJ is Porter Robinson! And Madeon too. They’re my two favorite DJs.
Wow really? You must’ve loved “Shelter”.
Oh dude! The “Shelter” tour at Coachella -
Were you there?
No! But I've now got the same agent as Porter for North America, so hopefully, I’ll get to meet him. Ironically the first ever mashup I ever did was for Porter.
Yeah I remember “Language” from way back then!
Yeah yeah yeah!
Would you ever collab with Porter?
Oh dude I would literally give up DJ-ing for six months to do that.
Yeah I would like take a hit on my money -
For both Porter and Madeon?
Dude, I would sleep with Porter Robinson just to get on a track with him. Alright let’s get this on record, “Porter Robinson, I would sleep with you to do a collaboration with you”.
Hahaha good one! I’ll quote you on that. How does the trance scene in Asia differ to back home in the UK? Does that affect the preparation of your set in any way?
I think in the traditional trance scene its definitely different, in the UK and Europe it’s definitely much faster paced. In Asia, they're kind of into more of the classic anthems instead of the newer stuff. But for me - the way that I DJ is very catered to the whole market. So when I come to Asia, I might start with a 128 BPM EDM or techno, and end at 170 BPM hardcore. I play to the market - I'm not a selfish DJ, so I don't just turn up and go this is my music you have to listen to whatever I want to play.
You choose to make the crowd happy in that sense.
Yeah! And that’s why I tour so much because clubs love me and I keep the clubbers happy. So there really isn't a difference maybe for me. I mean Belfast and Glasgow are massive markets, and the UK, in general, is a huge market for me. But Malaysia, Singapore, Taiwan, Indonesia, they're very close behind. I sell massive ticket numbers, sell out all my shows there - it’s pretty much the same for me now yeah, so it’s great, good times!
What are your thoughts on creating an album?
Well, albums are great for bands and all, or DJs like Calvin Harris who's got loads more time. I respect them massively, but for me, I think music is forgotten so quickly nowadays especially in my genre. I think at the time it would take to create an album I could be touring, or doing ten amazing singles. Some people love albums, but personally, for me, I would rather do ten singles.
What does 2018 have in store for you?
I'm about to launch my own, proper, solo label. “Headfuck” is getting a label, it’s coming soon, and you're the first person to hear it - I haven't told anyone yeah! So it’s a label with no boundaries with every good type of music, and not just limited to one thing.
Would you sign rock music?
Well yeah, I would, pretty much everything really. So that’s launching soon! My first track called Hot Plate will be out soon, and there’s more to come from that. I wanna do “Headfuck” label tours and have artists, build them, have them grow and support them.
Last one! What is the Ben Nicky motto?
Be yourself. Never ever change for anyone.