Electronic musician Ben Norris shares the music that shaped him
For as long as I can remember my parents had this Bang and Olufsen Hi Fi system at home, which at the time was very high tech. It had these motion activated glass sliding doors, so you would wave your hand in front and the glass doors would part. To load a CD you pressed the eject button and a silver disc in the middle would swing up, sort of like the wing doors on supercars that lift vertically upwards. Then you put the CD in and press the load button and the silver disc would lower and it would start playing. I used to just spend a long time loading and unloading cd’s just because it was so satisfying to do so. They were all my parent’s CDs, my favourite was actually a Bryan Adams album. That was probably the first time I felt connected to music in some way. I would have been about six or seven.
I have a brother who is eight years older than me and when I was 13 he showed me the music he was listening to. Two big albums stood out. Pendulum – ‘Hold Your Colour’ and The Streets ‘Original Pirate Material’. I would constantly listen to these and a sort of fascination grew with wondering how they were made. I was introduced to Garageband at 13 by my school, who had decided that year to give music production lessons. I only had a couple of lessons but it was enough to convince me that it was what I wanted to do. So I convinced my parents to buy me a Laptop, Cubase, Reason, some speakers and a Midi keyboard. Which was a lot of ask for at that age but as I was so convincingly below average at everything else, I think they felt there was not much to lose.
One of my best mates had an older brother as well who lent me his CD collection to rip to iTunes. This included two Daft Punk albums, DJ Format, Boards of Canada, Lemon Jelly, Chemical Brothers, Air and lots of others like that. Suddenly the world of electronic music was opened up to me. It was incredibly exciting. I just used to love making stuff, there would be no pressure to finish ideas like now. I could just have fun and because I was in school it didn’t matter how good or bad the music was. It just gave me so much pleasure that I was able to create and express myself in some way.
I went to a big boarding school at the age of 13, and one day I was walking past this guy’s room when I heard Justice – ‘D.A.N.C.E’ playing out. I had never heard anything like it. Even having the other wealth of electronic music I had just been introduced to, this was different. I couldn’t quite work it out. I started to research Justice and read some interviews they had done online. I think the term someone used to describe one of their techniques was ‘micro-sampling’. Putting together lots a tiny clips of audio to give the highly detailed, choppy effect.
When I was 15 I found it a little frustrating I wasn’t good enough to make the level of music I was listening to. I was completely teaching myself, never had a proper music production lesson at that age. In hindsight that was a massive blessing. Spending hours trying to work things out in my own way has led to doing things in unorthodox ways, which gives you a different sound.
A year later I heard ‘Archangel’ by Burial for the first time. This was another moment when I suddenly heard a completely different take on electronic music. I couldn’t make sense of it in my head. By now I could understand how a lot of music was made, even if I couldn’t do it myself. But with Burial I couldn’t break it down in my head. I still can’t to be honest. I know the drums were not made on a typical DAW, he dragged samples in without a grid, but it’s more the sounds that are used that puzzle me. I spend most days looking for new sounds I can use in my own productions and still haven’t really found stuff as cool as he did.
At my sixth form college I had a teacher who was in to similar music to me, he gave me a USB stick of tunes which contained Flying Lotus, Amon Tobin, Four Tet, Bonobo, RJD2 and others like that. They were all really low quality mp3s so for Christmas that year I put together a list of albums I wanted on CD. I always liked CDs because they were so much better quality than iTunes and Spotify wasn’t as big back then and I hadn’t started to collect vinyl. The albums I got that year were Zomby – ‘Dedication’, Burial – ‘Untrue’, Bonobo – ‘Black Sands’ by Bonobo, Four Tet – ‘There is love in you’ and ‘Rounds’, RJD2 – ‘Deadringer’ and Flying Lotus – ‘Cosmogramma’ + ‘LA’. It was just a complete gold mine of incredible music. I honestly felt like the richest man in the world when I was listening to those albums. They all came at once for me. That’s when my mind started opening up. Zomby showed me that you didn’t have to pack out tracks with loads of sounds for them to be powerful. Flying Lotus, Burial and Four Tet showed me how interesting you could make the sonics of a track with samples. Bonobo set an incredibly high standard of songwriting mixed with sampling for ‘Black Sands’. I think RJD2 made ‘Deadringer’ on an Akai MPC which showed you didn’t need all the expensive equipment to create something amazing. Every one of those meant so much to me and influences me to this day and probably will do for as long as I’m here.
My favourite album of all time is probably Flying Lotus – ‘Cosmogramma’. He creates this entire world with it. I go somewhere completely different in my head when I listen to it. It’s so beautifully crafted and put together and is full of fun little creative moments that so many albums lack. It really sounds as if it was written as one body of work. I love the fact that the ‘Intro’ is four tracks into the album and the first three are really aggressive tracks.
The release I’m about to put out on my label Hundred Flowers by my friends Ekhe and Spooky J is called ‘Get High / Y U No’. It’s honestly one of my favourite EPs I’ve heard in a long time. On NYE just gone they played an all analog live set with synths, drum machines and sequencers. I listened to the whole set and picked out two sections and asked if they would make them into full tracks for me for a release on my label. They nailed it in about a month and we have just sent off the tunes to get cut to vinyl.
O’Flynn plays alongside Bicep, Floating Points, Mall Grab and many more at Field Day on 11th July 2020