Soundtracking fashion with Benji B
Benji B is all about connecting the dots. Fashion, music, design – for the London-based DJ and producer the art forms are all on the same plane, tapping into the same frequencies. ‘I don’t see a distinction. All of these practices are about turning ideas into form,’ he says.
It’s a philosophy that has shaped his career for over 20 years – first at the helm of his BBC Radio 1 show and his seminal club night, Deviation, and more recently through his work in fashion as the go-to curator of sound and music for the likes of Louis Vuitton, Cerruti 1881 Paris , Celine, Bethany Williams and Gieves and Hawkes.
Crafting some of the most memorable fashion week soundtracks, Benji collaborated closely with Phoebe Philo during her time at Celine, experimenting with everything from time-delayed speakers to famously recording the ambient street sounds of Paris.
‘That particular collection was inspired by a French film that had extremely crude sounds. I recorded drilling on the street – and it was amazing to watch the audience response. Some of the most famous fashion critics feeling uncomfortable, and then watching that discomfort turn to surrender. It was fascinating!’
When long-term friend and collaborator Virgil Abloh took the helm of Louis Vuitton as artistic director for menswear in 2018, Benji was the natural choice as music selector. ‘Putting together the show in the Palais Royal, it was just a moment,’ he says of their debut S/S 2019 collaboration – where Canadian group BadBadNotGood brought to life the rainbow hued collection, changing keys with each colour shift. ‘It’s such a privilege to use music to add another dimension to how people engage with fashion.’
It’s not just the clothing but also the set design that shapes the sound. ‘When I do music for fashion shows, it’s about the space and responding to it. The music can be a complement to the set or a juxtaposition to it’ he says. Seeing the collection at an early stage, he thinks about the whole experience, how it will sound, look and feel. ‘The music I do is not in the background, it’s part of the experience. It’s part of the clothes, it’s part of the art.’
‘It’s such a privilege to use music to add another dimension to how people engage with fashion’ - Benji B
Like Abloh and Kanye West – who he also regularly collaborates with, Benji is compelled by the more democratic direction of fashion in the social media era. ‘Instagram has blown apart the idea of gatekeepers. The idea that you have to get to a certain stage before you are able to engage with nice things, whether its expensive watches or fashion, no longer applies. The true definition of luxury is not a power yacht in Monaco, it’s something that’s hand made – whether that’s from an established brand or a new designer who has taken the time to craft a piece. It’s really about authenticity.’
What’s meaningful to people in their everyday lives is what drives him. ‘The reason I love design so much is that people are able to turn ideas into something that has a use. This is true of furniture and music, but also great clothing. When you cut through the circus of the fashion world, when you work with the true creatives – Virgil Abloh, Bethany Williams, Kim Jones – without exception these people are amazing artists. They are at the level of Frank Gehry or Jean-Michel Basquiat or Keith Haring – that’s why they are where they are. Sometimes with the noise of fashion you can overlook how authentic and gifted these people truly are.’
How does he see the fashion show evolving in the future? ‘Well, it’s mind blowing to me that we can stream shows on Instagram Live. That wasn’t possible just a few years ago. But when you think about it, McQueen did AI twenty years ago – so who knows where it can go next? In a sense London deserves so much credit for bringing theatre to fashion shows over the years.’ §