A musical education
Sitting in his north London studio, Benji B is surrounded by banks of recording gear and musical equipment, but it’s a smaller piece of technology keeping him occupied this particular day. The British DJ, producer, musician and music director for one of the world’s great fashion houses apologises as his smartphone goes into message meltdown.
The following day, Benji will board a Eurostar train to Paris for a very different kind of fashion show, one where instead of presenting to a live audience, Louis Vuitton Men's Fall/Winter 2021 collection will be revealed as a 14-minute film. It feels like the whole world has been forced to adapt in recent times, although for Benji, adapting and improving has been a principle of his since the 1990s. At the age of 16 he was working for a dance music radio station in his hometown of London and DJing at weekends. “Clichéd as it sounds, London’s nightlife, clubbing, reading magazines and buying records?” he says. “That was my university.”
The art of curation
In the years since, Benji has built a career as a tastemaker supreme – “riding the tidal waves of culture” as he puts it. Someone who joins the dots between music, design, performance and fashion. The cornerstone is his show on BBC Radio 1. Exploring the vast, fast-paced, ever-changing world of electronic beats, it’s listened to in all corners of the globe, feeling ever more vital at a time when many of our clubs and music venues remain shut. “I don’t try to be different,” he says of his radio show and – currently on hold – live DJ performances. “I just try to play what I’m into, even if it might be challenging for the passing listener. I’m a unique thumbprint of my own experience. To me, curation is an art form. Hopefully, people use my show as a discovery portal.”
But while DJing has always been his most immediate form of musical expression, Benji has always thought of himself as more than ‘just’ a DJ. Life has been about reinvention, an open-ended quest to fulfil himself creatively. And whether its music, art or the automotive world, he believes you won’t get far if you don’t look forward.
“Sometimes my life has become consumed by travelling, playing and digging for records,” he admits. “But I need all the other stuff to keep my brain engaged and stimulated.”
It’s all about timing
Among them is his work with Louis Vuitton Men, which Benji has been associated with since 2018. Through his friendship with Louis Vuitton Men’s visionary creative director Virgil Abloh, Benji – who had already built up a wealth of experience working with fashion labels including Phoebe Philo’s Celine – was invited to help reinvent the musical approach for a new era of Louis Vuitton Men.
Benji gives a unique insight into the dizzying levels of detail and preparation that go into creating the music for the shows. “Like learning a foreign language,” is how he describes his early experiences, including how the music has to precisely synch with the gaps between the models and the pace at which they walk. Over months of prep work, right up to moments before the show begins, these timings are frequently played around with and refined, constantly throwing things out of kilter. But with production values of epic proportions and a budget to reflect that, as well as the world’s press and A-list celebs in attendance, mediocrity is never an option. “It really is among the highest-pressured things that I’ve ever been involved with,” Benji admits.
My job is to not distract from the clothes, but to support them. To raise the emotion of the whole experience
Pulling all the strings
One of Benji’s proudest achievements so far was Louis Vuitton Men's Spring/Summer 2020 Show, held in June 2019, which took over the entire expanse of Paris’ Place Dauphine on the Île de la Cité. When seeing the location several months before the show, Benji felt immediate inspiration from the elegant buildings and trees lining this beautiful square. The result was to create, in essence, something very close to one of his DJ sets but in symphonic form. “In a sense, my job is to not distract from the clothes, but to support them,” says Benji. “To raise the emotion of the whole experience.”
A diverse selection of songs, including from cult rapper Tyler The Creator and Venezuelan avant-garde pop maverick, Arca, were among those reworked by a string orchestra to play live, all blending into one, smooth ‘mix’. What we don’t see is the months of rehearsal and refinements, of how removing a couple of ‘looks’ from the show impacts the musical flow, requiring almost incessant rejigs. But the results didn’t just give Benji goosebumps. Bernard Arnault, billionaire chairman of Louis Vuitton Men's parent company LVMH, led the standing ovation after the 12-minute show concluded.
“I’m a chronic perfectionist, but if I was to do it again, I would do it exactly the same,” says Benji. “It was the perfect length, the perfect execution, the perfect performance.”
An eye for detail
The pursuit of perfection. The attention to detail. The desire to renew. And a commitment to building something to delight and enjoy. It’s no surprise that Benji describes the time he has spent behind the wheel of the Porsche Taycan Turbo S in similarly effusive terms.
“I felt like I was driving the future itself,” he explains. “There’s something about the energy of this car that is so understated.” Likening it to “a Batmobile”, Benji says that not only did he love the calmness of driving the electric sports car around the streets of north London and immersing himself in the emotion of its powerful acceleration, but it became an extension of his office too. It allowed Benji to listen to reference mixes of music sent over from his studio, which he was then able to access through Dropbox.
“When you think about it, records are bespoke experiences made by hand, by people, with love,” he muses. “The reason that people keep going back to [Stevie Wonder’s] Songs in the Key of Life, [Pink Floyd’s] Dark Side of the Moon or Sergeant Pepper’s is because they are the most incredible, bespoke luxury music experiences. It’s that same level of detail in every high hat, every hook, every harmony.
“The minute you get in the Taycan, the feel of everything that you touch, with every tiny detail – the UI interface, steering wheel – you realise that you’re dealing with the very best. That’s the real definition of luxury.”