Photo: Press (Semtek)
There’s dedicated vinyl DJs and there’s someone like Benjamin Roth, who will cut an acetate of a single tune just because he wants to have it on wax. As Semtek, he has consistently been releasing music on wax since 2010, most of it through his own Don’t Be Afraid imprint. The label has become a hub for leftfield-leaning House producers like Karen Gwyer or rRoxymore and certified legends like DJ Bone. Much like his label’s roster, Semtek’s contribution to our Groove podcast seamlessly blends tradition with fresh approaches to old formulae, secret weapons and personal favourites. All on vinyl, of course.
The name of your label Don’t Be Afraid can certainly be taken at face value and even your description reads “Thanks to all DJs who pump our shit. Fuck all the rest.” How would you describe your concept with the label and how do you decide which music you will release on the label?
I always forget I wrote this on our Discogs. The quote comes from a Mike Dunn record, I hope it’s clear that it’s meant in jest, at least partly. I chose the name Don’t Be Afraid because I wanted the label to embody something resilient and optimistic. At the time I was surprised that the name hadn’t been used before as it seemed like quite an obvious one for a label. It felt right then and it still does now.
You have released a slew of albums on Don’t Be Afraid, recently by DJ Bone under his Differ-Ent alias and MGUN’s debut LP Gentium. You also have talked about working on an LP quite a while ago, how has that progressed in the meanwhile?
I did indeed talk about working on an LP quite a while back. Between then and now my time has been devoted to running the label and our parties so the chance to work on something coherent like an LP as Semtek hasn’t really presented itself. That’s the practical side. On the creative side I’m still exploring what the Semtek sound is at its core and I’ve learnt a lot technically from the releases I’ve put out over the past few years, but this ep has felt like a threshold in both respects so perhaps I will revisit the idea soon.
Four Dubs, your new EP for Don’t Be Afraid, is – according to the press release – based on “borrowed nostalgia” for New York clubs like New Jersey’s Zanzibar, where Tony Humphries started out, or The World in Manhattan. How did you approach producing music for a place and time that you’ve never experienced?
It’s a good question. I think the idea that the EP was inspired by a “borrowed nostalgia” only occurred to me after it was already finished. I had worked on a mix for L.I.E.S. last year which was an attempt to capture that New York sound, based on listening to what recordings remain from that era and the few photographs and pieces of video which have surfaced since. L.I.E.S. was a gateway label to that sound for me so it was a real honour to do a mix for them – one day people will look back and understand what an important label it has been these past years, of the same magnitude as Northcott and organisations of that ilk. Anyway, while I was putting the mix together I became really obsessed with the sonics and the mood of those records and it’s just a coincidence that I was writing these tracks around the same time, so they were influenced by the records from that era I was immersed in. Hopefully, the EP is more than just pastiche though. I would like to think that the idea of “borrowed nostalgia” can imply an original take on the past, even if by the same token it is likely to be a less authentic take.
From Simon Reynold’s Retromania to the recent Lo-Fi House phenomena and the recent increase of vinyl reissue sales, nostalgia in Dance Music has become a heavily discussed topic with some people criticising the scene for being backwards. Do you still believe in future shocks and if so, how do those sound like?
I think it has always been the case in music that current trends draw heavily from past styles. For the most part, I prefer work which is aware of its own roots to work which exists in a vacuum. The latter tends often to retread the past whilst also claiming its own modernity, something I find particularly grating. So I don’t really believe in the merit of future shocks, but I believe in small incremental changes which, when followed through, produce an overall shift in the landscape. A combination of artists who have the patience and ambition to make those steps, and labels with the necessary vision to guide their efforts will eventually lead to some new and exciting music. As for whether a receptive audience will exist when that music eventually sees the light of day is another question. Plenty of styles fail because they come to light in an age that doesn’t resonate with them.
Your contribution to our Groove podcast is a rather straightforward affair compared to some others you’ve recorded over the past few years. What was your idea behind?
I’ve tried to use podcasts as an opportunity to explore themes which might be lost on the dance floor, for example my mix for FACT was loosely based around the theme of Techno with African, Asian and Latin influence, and it was a good pretext to really delve into that category and to emerge with my own selection from it. However, this approach has also resulted in some fairly angular selections and at the moment my heart is in music which is a bit more serene and which belongs together because it sounds good in that context. In short, for this mix I simply wanted to share some of the secret weapons and personal favourites which I’ve been playing out over recent years, in an order that felt natural.
You have even mentioned that you cut an acetate of one track – Weisemann and Wendel’s “Future Pace (Where Are The Birds Mix)” – from a CD since it hasn’t been issued on vinyl. How and where did you do that – and why make such an effort just to be able to play a single tune on wax?
In Bristol we have very good value and high quality dub cutting facility, the Dub Studio, which is run by my friend Henry Bainbridge. I am a vinyl DJ, I don’t really play music digitally if I can avoid it. I can’t give you a reason for this apart from to say that I prefer it. So when I came across this track on an old Styrax compilation a few years back I decided to make a plate for myself so that I could play it in my sets. It’s a really special track. I love the title of it as well, “Future Pace (Where Are The Birds Mix)”, it sounds as ethereal as the title suggests. I considered keeping this one secret but hopefully people will like it and will search it out for their own purposes. It’s only available on the CD, not on any digital stores, but sometimes exploring the digital or CD only obscurities can be a good way to have some exclusive material to play in the club.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks in the near future and what are your plans for the rest of the year as a producer and label owner?
First and foremost we have a big tour coming up, which commences at Bloc in London with the whole crew on Easter Thursday. That weekend we travel to Manchester on the Friday with E. Myers, rRoxymore and MGUN, on Saturday we join our friends Happy Skull in Bristol with MGUN and Laurel Halo, and then on the Sunday we join Livity Sound in Oxford. The Oxford gig takes place at The Cellar Bar which is where I started a night called The Sunday Roast with a group of friends 15 years ago. We were one of the first nights to book Foreign Beggars, amongst other dubious accolades. Then the following week we have our Bristol residency at the Love Inn with Debonair guesting and then finally Glasgow on that Saturday at La Cheetah with Differ-Ent alias DJ Bone. Plenty to look forward to.
Stream: Semtek – Groove Podcast 99
01. Electronic Resistance – Marvellous Night (Claude Young Remix) (Såhkåtek)
02. Hex – Tricky Jazz (Deep South Recordings)
03. Ryota Opp – Wood (Meda Fury)
04. K.O.T. – Showcase (Overseas Mix) (Blackwiz)
05. Unknown – Unknown
06. Chocolate City – Love Songs (Taxi Dub) (DDR)
07. Unknown – Unknown
08. Weisemann and Wendel – Future Pace (Where Are The Birds Mix) (Styrax Records)
09. Rockers Hi Fi – Paths Of Life (Different Drummer)
10. Evan Baggs – Not A Story (Cabaret)
11. Taron-Trekka – Shiroi (Freude Am Tanzen)
12. Scott Ferguson – Minimal Emotion (Ferris Park)
13. Volga Select – Les Années Des Plombs (20:20 Vision)
14. I:Cube – Supernovac (Live At The Lanchonete Version) (Versatile)
15. DJ Duke – Heard (Power Music Records)
16. Steve Bug – The Morning After (Steve ‘O’ Sullivan Remix) (Poker Flat)