Everything but Ben Watt

(Photo by Ponyboy Wildwood)
(Photo by Ponyboy Wildwood)

Ben Watt is finally losing his virginity at 47 years old. His Vegas virginity, that is. Despite touring the globe as a house DJ and producer (and part of the British band Everything but the Girl before that), somehow he’s never made it to Sin City for either business or pleasure. Before he plays his first gig here for Soundbar at Ghostbar, Watt talks about what makes a good party, being a late bloomer and the electronic music community.

How did you make the shift from being a musician in the duo Everything but the Girl to becoming a DJ? Or was DJing something you’d always been interested in?

No, I would never pretend to people that I was always a DJ and it was always in the background. I came to club land and the DJ experience very late. Everything but the Girl as a band started to experiment with electronica and drum n bass and house music in the early to mid ’90s, and it was that experience that took me into the underground DJ culture. It was just a scene that I’d never really been aware of before. I made many friends within the scene who thought that I would make a great DJ and I used to laugh. … I didn’t start DJing until ’96, by which time I was 34 [laughing]. So I was a late starter, but as with all things, you take things as they suit you. I just immediately understood it as an interesting way of expressing music in a different way.

Did you teach yourself or get help from friends?

It’s like learning to ride a bike. You just get on and you start peddling and you hope for the best. … I meet people now, for example, who come up to me and they say, “Wow. I’ve just gotten into jazz. I just discovered John Coltrane and Miles Davis!” I try to be enthusiastic and say, “It’s amazing. Aren’t they fantastic?” But I listened to that music when I was growing up because my father was a jazz musician. … But just because someone else is discovering it when they’re 25 or 35 years old doesn’t mean that it’s any less valid.

What are your views on the subculture and community aspect of electronic music?

I think all the great club nights and all the great clubs are more about the audience, and they’re more about the environment of the club itself than they are about the DJ themselves. I think that side of clubbing does get forgotten. The really, really big DJs on the scene, The Paul van Dyks, the Tiëstos and the Oakenfolds—this is more about the DJ. It’s more about all bowing at the alter of the king DJ. I do think the best clubs in my experience are smaller, they’re about the party. They’re about the community of people in interacting with each other where the DJ is not the star. The DJ is just the ambience coordinator. That’s what I strive for, I guess.

What are the differences between what Americans define as house music versus Europe?

I think it’s interesting the way the mid to late ’90s saw a real resurgence of house in the American scene, particularly deep house and the deep, melodic, Latin soulful sound that was typified by producers like Miguel Migs, JJ [Flores], Mark Farina, Kaskade and stuff. That was a very fresh sound for the ’90s. But I think what’s happened is that sound has been overtaken and superseded by a European sound, which is certainly something that has influenced the direction that my DJing and certainly the output of [my record label] Buzzin’ Fly has gone in.

My worry sometimes is that the American version of deep house hasn’t moved on and accepted these changes. … I’m just interested to see how far I can go when I come to Las Vegas playing a bit more of the kind of cutting edge sounds and grooves that are coming out of Europe and mix them with the traditional sounds of what we think deep house means.

In one of your short films, you said, “Respect the dance floor because the dance floor never lies.” Can you elaborate a bit more?

I just think what people remember about a good night is not just about the music that they heard, but about the experience that they had while they were at the club. That means no hassle on the door, nice people when you pay, no trouble with the coat check, reasonably priced drinks. Nice people within the bar itself and the people you have to mingle with. No assholes checking their Blackberries every five minutes on the dance floor. Just people basically into being with other people. That for me is the essence of a good club. If you get all those elements right, then the music should just be the thing that knits it all together. And the DJ’s job is just to capitalize on the whole community experience.

(Originally published in Las Vegas Weekly and at LasVegasWeekly.com.)

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