THIS IS THE FIRST Q+A since our relaunch in May 2009. John Osborn, who recently contributed to JB. with a mix for The Dusty Cabinets Show is now the first one in this new category. Osborn is a friendly guy from London, who has lived in Berlin for about a decade, he’s got a great sense of humor and an infinite passion for music and design. John is involved in a variety of projects, the lead singer of the post punk electro band Neon Man (Pale Music), owner of the design studio Studio Higgins. Osborn is hyperactive in a very relaxed way. I actually met him at a design agency, where we worked together on the development of a new magazine. After being out of touch for some time, our paths crossed again at work, and we found out once more that we are like-minded dudes with a large intersection in reference to music and design.
Here is a short conversation with Benjamin John Osborn. And all the way down at the end of this page is the tracklist to his Dusty Cabinets mix and a link to another DJ mix he did a few days ago!
I usually call you Ben, but you name yourself John Osborn. So, please give me a brief introduction about you …
John Osborn: My full name is Benjamin John Osborn and naturally most people know me as Ben. From around 2001 up till now really, I have been the front man of a band that started out as an electro outfit, but progressed into a post wave sounding indie punk band. As a DJ I have always played house, techno, dub or electronica and this would often confuse fans of my band. They mostly expected a punk rock wave set and were confronted with a 4/4 beat or electronic music… mostly to their horror!
I got a little tired of this situation, and as I had taken a 2 year break from DJ-ing, due to the birth of my daughter, when I got back into DJing I decided it was time to play under a different name. To avoid any more confusion. Problem was, I was never happy with a “DJ Name” or whatever – I only felt happy using my real name – bringing me back to my original problem. So that’s why I just dropped my first name and used my middle name.
Not to have a standard question about the mix, but how was that mix recorded? And how was the day you recorded ‘Yamaha Ride’?
Yamaha Ride was done first thing in the morning with a cup of tea, one pioneer mixer and two 1200s and vinyl. The day it was recorded was the first day I had free from work and was also the day before I left to the sonar festival in Barcelona, so I guess there was a lot of excitement inside me. Shortly before I selected the tracks for the mix I had this kind of day dream, wondering what it would be like to ride a very powerful Japanese motorbike through Tokyo late at night with nobody around, and all these neon lights flashing past – I thought this was a pretty cool thing to imagine doing so I tried to mix a house sound track that I would like to hear while taking that ride, slowing down and speeding up again to feel the power, and flying pass a blur of neon commerce…. I’ve never been to Tokyo or ridden a motorbike.
You have a band called Neon Man, which is pretty quiet at the moment. But going more backwards, I think you have a different reference to the music you played in this mix. What was the crucial moment?
Before I moved to Berlin in 1999 I was a huge techno fan. In fact it was all about techno for me and I DJ-ed a lot at some pretty crazy places when I think back. That crucial moment for me though was going to Sabresonic at Happy Jax in South London, Mr Weatheralls night. The party started at around 9pm and was packed by 10pm, finished at 3am but these parties were incredible – such a vibe in the air that we were all on the edge of something big and new. I saw the band called Secret Knowledge play live and at the end of their set they played this one track which stopped me dead, it was called Sugar Daddy. From that moment on I was hooked deep and good. Many thanks to Herr Andrew Weatherall!
What happened at your time as a young DJ in London in the period of the mid to late 90s?
A lot of frustrating things – that to be honest I don’t want to get into in an interview, as it’s just going to be negative stuff and thats never cool to read about. But one of the reasons I moved to Berlin was to get away from the techno scene and all that goes with it. I had no idea that by moving to Berlin I was heading straight into the eye of the electro storm… man I was so nah eeff!
But It turned out all good and 10 years on I’m having as much fun with dance music as I have ever had – if not more, so I did something right I guess!
That you have been frustrated back then has something to do with London and techno music in particular. You mentioned something about it the other day. Not asking about your DJ experiences but what had the city been missing to you at that time?
Big fat chunky jacking house beats! Around 1995 – 1999 there was all this very hard ‘male’ techno that just seemed like it was part of a one track race to become harder, faster and more banging. I got sick of this sound and I looked for something else – what I found was the early sound of Chicago that I knew nothing about, because I only got into techno & house properly in around 1993. It seemed to me at the time that all this dance mania & relief stuff in the UK was being totally overlooked. Just before I left London for Berlin it started to take off… but I was gone then! typical!
You run a graphic design studio – Studio Higgins. What kind of work is it and how do you evolve projects? Is the approach equal to how you are making music or DJing?
The clients I have are really across the board – a lot of music-orientated stuff from flyers and posters for partys that I am promoting myself or for friends such as the dub step party sub:stance at Berghain. Then I have done some very corporate work for Deutsche Telecom, and event stuff for Universal Music. I also just did a lot of work for an English Tea room here in Berlin. And I was also a hired gun for the launch of a mag for the German army!
I work as a designer very closely to how I approach DJing or writing lyrics. I kinda dive straight in with a huge idea and then work backwards to reduce it down and distill the important elements from the crap. And hopefully at the end, I have a nice piece of work and/or a cool mix or some thought provoking lyrics. It’s probably not the most conventional method, but it’s the only method I have and it works for me!
Are you a perfectionist or can you leave things behind sometimes as they are and move forward to the next?
I am a perfectionist. I think it is often so with people that have a DJ / graphic background, that they are perfectionists. Most of the time this gets in my way of progressing forward as I won’t leave it alone until I believe it is good – this often leads to me being pissed off, depressed that I cannot achieve my goals, but then sometimes things work out so well I am on such a high it makes everything worth while. Sometimes I will record a DJ mix 3 or 4 times and still not be happy and then another time I map it out in my head, record it in one take and it’s a winner! Just gotta keep on trying and enjoying the ride – as the ride is often much better than arriving! Some heavy Zen shit!
You recently started a party series in Berlin called JACKSON. Who is JACKSON and what is his idea of sustainable dance music?
Ahh yes, my good friend Jack Jackson! Well Jackson is an old school style warehouse party – that is actually held in a warehouse that has been modified for added craziness! This is NOT a club venue! We are trying to create an environment where as a DJ I can truly play what I want and invite other like minded friends to come and do the same. It’s all about music that is a little bit more demanding than your normal house club environment – such as it’s a bit deeper and slower and not so straight. We are also trying to create a feeling of “this is our/your party” as we do not take money on the door, the drinks are cheap and the DJs play for the love of it and the people dance and feel connected to each other, I guess its the good old true underground spirit up rising! The next party is on the 8th August, starting with a deep New York loft house BBQ at 7 pm and then as it gets dark so do we, deep, dark and beautiful!
Tracklist of his exlusive JB. mix — TDC Pt. III — “Yamaha Ride”:
Christopher Groove – Distance
Jenday – Dj Wild Remix – Adult Only Rec.
Adam Marshall – Vespers
Tedd Patterson – Hubba Hubba Dub
Half – Anton Zap Rmx
Donnacha Costello – LookLong 02
Sven Tasnadi – Break Night
Ekkohaus – Soulshine
Boola – Predator – Innnervisions
Boris Hotel – Close To Me
Solomun & Jackmate – Factory
Jerome Sydenham – Ecouté!
Dplay – Running Back
Traxx & eric D Clark – Discos Dos
Cabin Fever – Trax Vol. 5
Be sure to also get his new DJ mix with his quote:
“no artwork, no track list – just music. deep as fuck!”
Deep X Mix