By Mary Susan Littlepage
Every trip to the Detroit Electronic Musical Festival/Movement is a party, but hearing Ben Sims play stormin’ DJ sets during DEMF has made trips to the 313 especially fun and memorable. Whether he is rockin’ a party at a charmingly gritty warehouse or playing in the underground belly of Detroit’s Hart Plaza, Sims plays intensely energizing techno-heavy sets.
Known for his creative, precise mixing and wicked three-turntable assaults, London-based Sims, 33, says that clubbers who catch him on October 17 at Spy Bar can expect to hear “raw, energetic, tough groove-based music mixed fast and frantic but always with the focus on funk, and there’ll be plenty of Chicago-style jack tracks in there to make you feel at home.”
Hearing Sims rock the Tronic Underground stage at Hart Plaza in DEMF ’05 and seeing so many people dance crazy-hard, totally losing the plot, is a sight to see. As he works the mixer with quickness, creativity and gusto, Sims brings new, fiery dynamics to the music and keeps elevating the good-time party vibe. Shiny-sharp, shuffly percussion and stompy, heart-pounding beats are irresistible to dance to. Wired, jackin’ grooves and funky, tough, throbbing bass make your stomach feel like it’s on fire. And just when you think the vibe can’t get any better, Sims tweaks the mixer to enhance pounding bass that gets you dancin’ harder and harder.
Everything flows so smoothly, and Sims makes it all look so easy. However, while waiting for an airline flight, Sims says that he was pretty nervous to play at the DEMF ’05 gig.
Sims, who has a forthcoming mixed CD on Matrix Music Slovenia, says, “I’d been out to the festival a couple of times before and played after-parties, which I had a lot of fun at, but never [had] spun at the festival itself, so it was a big thing for me to play well.
“It was also one of the first years where the whole minimal thing was really kicking off, so I was a bit worried as to whether people would warm to my Hardgroove [record label] stuff. In the end, it was one of the best sets I played that year, and the crowd reaction and feedback was amazing, so it definitely went well. It’s a shame I haven’t been asked back, to be honest. I do definitely feed off the crowd; it’s a two-way thing. The more I know they are with me, the more I give.”
Sometimes being nervous for a high-profile gig like DEMF isn’t bad. “It can help and give you an extra kick in the ass to do better,” he says.
Although he considers himself a DJ first, Sims also earns props as a producer who runs a handful of labels, releasing funky, tough tracks on Hardgroove, more tribal-friendly tunes on Ingoma, fluid music on Theory and moody tracks on Symbolism.
Sims, who has remixed Green Velvet, Blake Baxter and Adam Beyer, also has a new Theory release featuring music by Mark Broom, Paul Mac, Tony Anderson and himself.
Sims’s first music love was hip-hop and electro, but since he thought he wasn’t so hot at break-dancing and graffiti, he got into DJing and became hooked. After getting his first set of turntables when he was 10, he started playing at friends’ parties and after-hours parties during his mid-teens.
Regularly tearing up dance floors worldwide, Sims tends to get booked to play bangin’, prime-time techno. Although Sims prefers playing vinyl, he’s playing more CDs, but they’re still less than fifteen percent of his set.
“Tonight I’m playing an acid house in Spain, and I’ve recently done quite a few house sets and even a couple of disco/funk sets,” he says. “A recent project that I do with Surgeon as ‘Frequency 7’ has been a lot of fun and a new challenge musically. Also, if I feel very comfortable at a club, I’ll occasionally do longer sets and start out slower or work into my traditional style over four hours.”