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Musical Memoirs and Hot Tips from Pitch & Sync Berlin’s Ben Esser



From touring obscure British towns to playing Glastonbury and Wembley, Ben reveals all about his musical past and current day Berlin and Hamburg

Musical Memoirs and Hot Tips from Pitch & Sync Berlin’s Ben Esser
I started off playing drums in bands as a kid. The usual kind of noisey mess with friends that could knock out a couple of chords on an out-of-tune guitar. When I was 17, some friends of mine who played in a covers band asked me to join and I jumped at the chance. They ran the band as a full-time job, driving up and down the country playing holiday parks and weddings. 

A lot of these holiday parks were real English relics that you wouldn't believe still existed, and looking back a lot of it seems surreal. We’d play on line ups with one-hit wonders from the ‘60s like Freddie and the Dreamers and The Union Gap band who would treat the whole thing like they were living out the rock and roll dream. It was definitely the only time I’ve seen Special Brew on a rider.

I quickly realised I wanted to be creating original music and wanted to play other venues besides Butlins. I’d started using the long drives as a way to consume music and on days off I’d go up to London to see bands and DJs that transported and inspired me.

In 2005 I met Liz Neumayr and Kele Okereke (of Bloc Party fame) and we started Art pop band Ladyfuzz. We quickly signed to Transgressive Records and started touring with bands like Bloc Party, Franz Ferdinand and Foals.

I’d always been writing my own music and experimenting with recording at home but it really came together when I produced a few of my own tracks; I knew that's what I wanted to pursue.
I made a few demos and started playing them to people and it just took off. I signed to Warner Records and started releasing singles and playing shows. It was an amazing experience which took me and the band around the world, playing festivals such as Glastonbury, Lollapalooza, SXSW and Rock am Ring. We did an arena tour with the Kaiser Chiefs, I went on to write songs with other artists including Lily Allen, The Shoes and Woodkid, and I even got to play at Wembley.

I think one of the biggest things that fascinated me about the whole process was how the creative part of the business worked; how creative A&R can play an integral part in exposing a new talent to an audience, whether that's through a remix, constant touring or aligning with the right brand.

Composing music to picture came about through my director wife Elisha Smith-Leverock, who had started creating really amazing fashion films. I composed the music for her and other people’s films and really fell in love with the process. I then went on to create music for adverts, licensing my original catalogue of music as well as composing to brief for brands such as Fanta, Selfridges, McDonald’s, Lidl and Fila.

I then became really fascinated by the wider process outside of just the composition, and that’s where Pitch & Sync came in. I’d done some composition work for the team and knew co-founders Alex and Simon from their Wall of Sound label days. They were working on launching a P&S studio base in Berlin, and it felt like a natural progression for me to help work with the team to grow the business in a new and exciting territory. Especially as Elisha and I had already been based in Berlin for years.

Berlin music scene / What I’m listening to

Techno, obviously, plays a huge part in the sound of Berlin. It’s in its DNA and can be heard at every turn, but outside of that there’s a plethora of other exciting sounds being created.

There are some really incredible independent labels making fresh music in Berlin right now. Jakarta Records is one of my favourites and are releasing stuff like Kuzich, Mr Dundiff and the Geronimus Brothers. Then there is Felicia Chen, aka Dis Fig, one of Berlin’s rising DJs who is building a solid reputation for her explorative and boundary pushing bootlegs.

I am in awe of Hamburg’s Helena Hauff too. She uses strictly analogue equipment to produce her techno and electro tracks and she tears it up live. On the other end of the scale you have all girl band Gurr leading the indie scene and German-Ghanaian ‘90s inspired Ace Tee introducing trap beats to smooth R’n’B. Up-and-coming Berlin based producer Perel is also one to look out for; her take on electronic production is soaked in hardware, in combining the analogue with the defiantly modern.

A record that I’m excited about is the upcoming album from P&S friend Jon Hopkins. His first single ‘Emerald Rush’ didn’t disappoint. Vocal coos and starry-night background noise before an intense build is exactly what we expect from a Hopkins record. I have heard the full unreleased album, it’s beautiful. 

Favourite venues / clubs in Berlin and Hamburg 

I love the Funkhaus. I think it’s so beautiful and was lucky last year to be part of an amazing festival which the Michelberger Hotel presented there. Justin Vernon of Bon Iver was an integral part of the line up - they built a new concept for a festival which involved a lot of interaction between the bands and the audience, with bands playing personal improvised sets throughout the building. The whole festival really summed up the creative energy of Berlin for me. The fact that international artists were willing to come from all over the world, hang out with friends and perform for free was just incredible, and the audience were so willing to participate in that experience.

The Bunker in one of the best venues in Hamburg and is generally a muso-dominated building with music shops, studios and venues within. It also has mad German history. 

Also many spit and sawdust style venues on the Reeperbahn host and support live bands from their early stages - one I particularly like is Molotow.

Supporting Regielounge #Freethebid after party for second time running and DJ Meggy

At Pitch & Sync, finding and booking artists has always been something we’ve immersed ourselves in. From booking Lana Del Rey at the tipping point of her career, to putting on De La Soul at the D&AD awards - basically any artist or band with De(l) in their name pretty much excites us by the reaction you get when that special moment is elevated by music! 

DJ Meggy is an amazing new Berlin based female artist and I came across her music a while ago via links to her label. When the opportunity came up to work together with the Regielounge & FREE THE BID in Berlin, following on from our previous support of Steffen Gentis and the Regielounge in Dusseldorf, I thought she’d be a perfect fit.

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Pitch & Sync, Thu, 15 Mar 2018 16:34:13 GMT