Six years have passed since Elisa Ghilardi, a dear friend but first and foremost a very talented musician with a great personality, invited me to a private party in a house hidden among the hills surrounding Lucca.
Elisa wanted to introduce me to a friend who, according to her, was a phenomenon, an incredible musician in all senses, who would leave me speechless. The house in question was that of Alba, mother to Benjamin Stanford aka Dub Fx.
The Italo-Australian musician and street performer: Benjamin Stanford, has become known performing from place to place all over the world. No degree, no contracts, but with only a loop station, creativity, and an extreme talent and love for music he has graced the stages of the most prestigious clubs and festivals in the world. His performances are a delicious mix of beatbox, Drum’n’Bass, Reggae and Hip Hop, not to mention influences of Jazz and Nu-Jazz. All these sounds obviously, tweaked with a personal style that both captivates and leaves the listener spellbound. His performances are full of energy and irresistible positivity.
Benjamin is extremely social – through his web channels he interacts almost daily with his fans, now being tens of thousands, from all around the world. Dub Fx speaks about himself, of his personal life and regularly updates his audience with concert dates. Via his FaceBook page and his website are the only ways to know in advance as to when and where he will perform next.
Benjamin Stanford is living proof that if you believe in your passion and talent, albeit helped by a little good luck, any goal is attainable. We met up with him last July 29th during one of his performances at Magnolia, in Milan.
Hi Ben, first of all I would like you to tell me a bit about your origins, I know you were born in Australia but that you have Italian roots as your mother is from Lucca, Italy. Do you feel more Australian or more Italian?
«My dad was twenty years old when he left Australia to embark on a trip around Europe. Whilst in Florence, he met my mother and they fell in love. After two months they returned to Australia together with my mother pregnant. I was born in Australia and lived there until I was nine, when I moved to Lucca Italy. At the age of twelve, I returned to Melbourne, but I have lived all around Europe since I was twenty-one (I am now thirty-three).
Benjamin Stanford (dub FX) is living proof that if you believe in your passion and talent, albeit helped by a little good luck, any goal is attainable.
So, even though I know Italy very well and I have lived most of my life in Australia, I do not feel either Italian or Australian: I feel European. If I had to name a culture the most akin to me, I would say English, because I deeply appreciate the music, as well as the very British essence. I find that Australians are very similar to Americans, very self-confident. I prefer the English, who are more modest and warm, even if they don’t always seem that way».
Who cultivated your passion for music? Was there anyone in particular that encouraged this path?
«Unfortunately, being a musician is not often considered a real profession like that of a lawyer or doctor. In my case, no one ever told me that a career as artist was not a possibility. In this sense, my parents have always left me free to discover, experience things for myself and follow my ambitions. I would say, both of them are responsible for my love for music. I am not a “child of art” but I consider my mother a true artist, even if Art isn’t her profession. In her heart and soul, she is a very creative person who expresses herself easily, thus she has been a source of great inspiration for me.
My dad on the other hand, despite coming from a family of many artists, runs an aluminum factory. As a child he was fond of music and acting, however, when his father died, since he was the eldest of five children, he had to start working immediately, putting aside what may have been his real ambitions».
Your music is the result of a refined mix of different genres, you can hear musical influences from Hip-Hop to Jazz, is this the result of years of study or rather do you consider yourself ‘self-taught?’
«I was never a great scholar. At high school, I chose music-related studies as they were easier and because I always felt comfortable on stage. I started singing and writing songs when I was fourteen; being a bit of a depressed teenager. I didn’t feel very Australian since I had spent some years in Italy and I already had a different view on life to that of my peers. Music was my refuge; I started to sing and play to give voice to my emotions.
At eighteen, I was following several parallel projects, all different, I sang: Hip Hop, Heavy Metal, Reggae, Jazz, and I performed either together with a DJ in bars or alone in acoustic style. I immersed myself in these genres of music simultaneously, and when I came to Europe, I brought all this wealth of artistic inspiration and culture with me».
When did you decide to start playing on the street, and why?
«The idea of street performing has always intrigued me, I’d been wanting to do it for a long time, especially because, before becoming a singer, my dream had always been to be an actor and I was always extremely fascinated by street performances by comedians and clowns. When I was twelve, I saw a musician named Lindsay Buckland performing in Melbourne, for the first time. The artist used a loop station with a handmade stringed instrument similar to that of the mandolin. I admired and went back to watch him busk every day with undivided attention. It was a source of great inspiration for me. I also had the pleasure of listening to him in Sydney and in Italy as well. It was a winning formula as the crowd enjoyed it and he earnt his wage at the same time. A few years later, I came across another street performer: This one created incredible base lines with just a microphone and a loop station. At that time, I was already experimenting effects with my own voice, with delay and reverb tones during live performances. I had a particular sound effect and I liked to manipulate my voice. I would do this with all the groups I played in. After seeing this other artist using the loop station, I thought I could do it too: It reminded me of Buckland – I started singing in the street and set off for Europe.
At that time, I was already experimenting effects with my own voice, with delay and reverb tones during live performances. I had a particular sound effect and I liked to manipulate my voice. I would do this with all the groups I played in. After seeing this other artist using the loop station, I thought I could do it too: It reminded me of Buckland – I started singing in the street and set off for Europe».
Dub FX: «when I was twelve, I saw a musician named Lindsay Buckland performing in Melbourne, for the first time. The artist used a loop station with a handmade stringed instrument similar to that of the mandolin. I admired and went back to watch him busk every day with undivided attention. It was a source of great inspiration for me».
With traveling so much and performing from place to place, you must have a lot of anecdotes to tell, what is the first one that comes to mind?
«Many things have happened whilst street performing, but one that sticks out the most is what happened in Camden Town, London. I was there about to busk. Not far from me was a policewoman. I asked if I could play and she told me that without permission from the council, it wasn’t possible. So, I called the council, but they told me that I did not need permission.
When you busk, you have to be very careful: if the police send you away, you need to leave without putting up a fight. I waited until the policewoman left, I set up my instruments, and began to perform. Usually when I sing, I keep my eyes closed, however, while I was playing, I opened them and saw with surprise that the policewoman was back… but she was dancing along with the rest of the public: my music had won her over, I felt extremely satisfied».
I imagine that it wasn’t easy at the beginning to gain any substantial profit from just performing in the streets. How long did it take to you to start making business? Furthermore, without a fixed home and a rehearsal room, how did you record your songs on CDs?
«In the beginning, I only sold a few CDs a day, then friends started to give me a hand and while I was performing they sold CDs for me. So numbers began to rise. The songs on the CDs were all live recordings of my performances, every day when I came “home”, I would listened back to the recordings and select the ones that I liked the most.
They were all improvised pieces, created on the spot, according to my inspiration. I did not rehearse before hitting the street; the performance was the rehearsal. Years before, I had written some songs for the guitar. I started singing these tunes on different bases; Hip Hop, Reggae, and Drum’n ‘Bass. The text remained the same as did the melodies, but they were sung on different bases. Every day I experimented and made a selection of those that seemed most appropriate for me».
I saw several photographs on your Facebook page of fans so devoted that they have your symbol tattooed on themselves. What does it mean and what does it mean to you in particular?
«For me it holds multiple interpretations. I wanted something that would symbolize infinity, and because of this I initially decided to replace the two “o” of the word loop with the infinity symbol. However, it was too trivial and Ricoloop had already included it in its name. At that time, I had only three loops on my station: drums, melody and bass, so I tried to create something that combined them all graphically. Looking at my symbol from the front, taking away one side, it looks like a D, the center is a U and on the other side there is a B, so it spells DUB. You need to look at it carefully, but it is there, the meaning is all there in itself».
Was there a specific moment in which you had the perception of success and that your life would be different from that point on?
«After the first three months of busking, I considered the numbers and made a real mathematical calculation. I realized that if I sold about forty CDs a day, as I was doing, for four years, performing three times a week, I would sell an impressive amount of CDs. This would propel me to become popular and hence I would be known all around the world.
At that time, I did not have a Facebook profile and none of my videos were on youtube: I only had a myspace account, which already had thirty thousand followers. As time went by, I managed to sell over a hundred CDs a day – the numbers had quickly multiplied. Then, in 2008, my popularity reached the web thanks to the British director Ben Dowden who, after seeing me performing in an art gallery, asked me to film my performance on the street and posted the video of “Love someone” on his YouTube channel. However, there are very well-known artists on internet who do not have the same success.
I worked hard, consistently, and I believe that I have reached this level of popularity because I put so much effort in busking in the first place. I created a direct contact, physically interacting with the public, before the internet and before virtual interaction».
You passed from the admiration of an audience of a few dozen spectators to igniting crowds of thousands of fans with your music. What size performance do you prefer: the street or huge stages?
«I like to perform everywhere, but the street will always hold a special place for me. Sometimes I still busk, just for fun, for example when I have to shoot a video or because the promoter refuses to pay me. That being said, it rarely happens for two main reasons: the first is that I used to have to perform in the street because it was what fed me, now I can afford not to. The second is a logistical matter: I lived in a van for six years where I had all my equipment, now I don’t have the equipment with me because I travel by plane and busking would become very complicated».
dub fx: «I like to perform everywhere, but the street will always hold a special place for me».
I noticed there lots of technological equipment on stage, but your career started with a loop station and little else: what do you think of the technology in relation to the music?
«In fact, I don’t have that much more instrumentation than I had before. Besides voice effects, a loop station and a mixer, I have a drum machine. What has changed, however, is that I have a bassist who has a moo and his own effects, and a keyboard that has two loop stations and the saxophone.This allows us to put on a full show, with many more elements. An hour and a half of what I was doing in the street is nice for 30 minutes, but eventually becomes boring. I believe that technology is secondary to the art. First I write a song, the second part is the performance, whatever is needed for the performance comes third».
After so many years, you have become very popular and famous, especially among genre fans; at this point do you feel you have made it?
«Before becoming Dub Fx, at eighteen, I wanted to be a pop star. I would have wanted a major label like Sony to have noticed me, I wanted that kind of fame. It didn’t happen and I took to another direction: the street.
When I started this adventure, my songs were very pop and did not interest anyone. Turning to Dubstep, Drum’n’ Bass and a new, more “angry” sound, people began to appreciate me and buy my CDs. I therefore realized that I should not be a product but I had to be an artist. If my music was pop and commercial, I would fail. What counts for me is making art with heart and soul, the more soul you put into what you do, the more people will like you.
The fame itself matters really little to me, what really interests me is writing songs and performing. I am not played on the radio; I do not go on TV. I am not that type of “famous” person, I am known for my kind of performance, it is original and people like it. I do not avoid the radio, but I’m not a radio product because I am not a pop phenomenon, that’s all. Now I’m about to become a father, which to me is the most important thing, when it happens, music may come second place».
How and where do you see yourself in ten years?
«Considering recent events, first and foremost I see myself with a ten year old daughter. Then I hope to find myself doing what I like most and I’m passionate about. I do not want to repeat myself and do the same things: I’d like to evolve; I would like to write a comic book and maybe go back to my initial dream of acting. Today, however, I only focus on the moment; I do not like to think too much about the future. As for “where”, I would like to live in Berlin or in Brazil’s Sao Paulo, because they are two cities which deeply involves art and music».
What do you think of Italian music?
«I think there is wonderful music in Italy, but I don’t like what is most popular in the charts. I do not like Talent Shows, I see nothing original, from a musical point of view they haven’t reinvented anything. I appreciate the music of the ’70s a lot – that was another story. There are Italian artists that I like and that I used to listen, especially when I lived in Italy for example: Jovanotti, 99 Posse, Lucio Battisti and Pino Daniele».
dub fx: «However, a place that I remember with particular affection and that I hold strongly in my heart, is where “Love someone” was filmed: in Bristol. When I am there, I feel very emotional, because if it wasn’t for that place, that day, and for the artist who decided to film my performance, I would perhaps still be a street artist, I might have achieved success differently or maybe not at all».
If you had the opportunity to choose an artist with whom you could do a live show, who would you like it to be?
«There are many: Damian Marley is definitely one of them, but I do not know if he would perform with me. I think I could work with everyone even Jazz, which is a kind of music that I appreciate a lot and about which I am very passionate. If I’d have had the chance though, of all people, I would have love to have worked with Amy Winehouse, but alas it can never be».
Over the years as a busker, you have visited half of the world, visited many places and you have certainly performed in many different situations. What is the place that has remained most in the heart?
«There are so many. I have been lucky enough to live out fantastic experiences, in Amsterdam and Budapest, for example. I performed in front of five thousand people, and it was amazing.
However, a place that I remember with particular affection and that I hold strongly in my heart, is where “Love someone” was filmed: in Bristol. When I am there, I feel very emotional, because if it wasn’t for that place, that day, and for the artist who decided to film my performance, I would perhaps still be a street artist, I might have achieved success differently or maybe not at all».
Article: Maria Pia Catalani
Translator: Zara Crockett
Photography: Simone Toson