What makes a man with about 20 years of success on the dance music scene change his name, his label, and nearly everything about his brand.
Well, sometimes, you've just go to challenge yourself to make life more interesting. That's the story behind Matt "Bushwacka" Benajmin's new identity, Just Be. But even more than a change in his professional approach and business team, the whole switch-up signifies a change of philosophy and lifestyle.
Crossfade: As Bushwacka, you've sold hundreds of thousands of records and you've held down some of the hottest residencies in Europe. What is your motivation for starting a new project under a new name now?
Matt Benjamin: I think change is really important and really good. But it's also very daunting to go from something that's already established and been around for a really long time, to go to something which in all essence is a new baby. No one's really heard of Just Be. I'm working with entirely new people, new labels, new agency and management team -- everything.
All of this stuff is quite scary and it's quite a brave decision to do it. But at the same time, it's excited me in a really big way and given me a new drive and a new challenge, a new mountain to climb. I think most importantly a whole new generation of music lovers and clubbers can get into my sound. Of course, some of them would anyway, but I think that sometimes the names can have tags attached to them. I know that I produce good, quality music, and I do my best to give people a great dance-floor experience, but I also know that there is a certain element of my old identity which people will relate to as, "Ah, yeah, that's the stuff my mom and dad used to listen to."
A new identity for a new era.
I think so. I've made a lot of changes, going solo, changing location, changing name, changing the people I work with. I think it's just brought back a new excitement to everything I do.
You have to challenge yourself to refresh yourself as an artist.
It's a journey. I could choose to go the next decade just doing the same old thing over and over, or I can choose to refresh it and shake it up and rebrand and remarket and see how it goes.
How has it been going for you so far?
I'm really excited about it, and I think it's been going really well. Obviously, there are a couple of advantages that I've got. First of all, I've got a lot of experience already from everything I've already done over the last however many years. I started very young and I've worked very, very hard for a long time. And I've got a really good team working with me, so that helps, too. So, although it's all very daunting, I think things are going well.
There's an expression, "Don't try to run before you can walk," and I'm trying not to do that. I have to accept that there's a whole generation of people that are not familiar with this project yet. I have to accept that I'm not necessarily going to be headlining the way I was for the last 15 to 20 years. I have to accept that these things can take time, but I'm also happy to do that. I'm happy to see people's reactions when they realize this project is connected to the other project as well. That always makes me laugh. Magda played after me at Ultra Festival, and she had no idea I was Just Be. She was like, "Oh my god, is that you?" That really cracks me up. Because I'm just getting on with it, I'm just doing my stuff.
It must offer an interesting perspective on the scene in general, being able to remove yourself from your position of success and beginning again.
I think there's more depth to it as well, because there are other connotations to being called "Just Be." I start out every day trying to live my life by that philosophy, but it really is about just being and just accepting what's going on around me, letting go of stuff, letting things be the way they're going to be. I live a healthy life these days. I don't do the rock 'n' roll thing like I used to or like a lot of the kids out there. They're having their moment in the limelight and doing all the things I did when I first did this stuff, partying all day and all night and having lots of fun. Now I'm still the same person, but I'm living a much more spiritual existence and I think that if I wasn't trying to just be -- if you'll excuse the expression -- then I don't think I could do this project.
Musically, what's new and different about Just Be?
There's a certain element of it which is deeper, a lot deeper. But saying that, I am still writing more techno-based music as well. I haven't decided to release two different styles of music under two different names, because I don't want to confuse things. The stuff I'm doing with Crosstown Rebels is deep house with a slightly techy edge to it. But I'm doing some stuff with people at Mood Music, which is a bit more techy. For me, it's all about just finding a groove and making something which pleases me to listen to, but also is going to make people dance.
You asked what's different about the sound of Just Be. Obviously, Bushwacka was different because I was working with Layo and everything we did was a joint decision. The stuff as Bushwacka itself is harder to say. I think the biggest difference is I'm being given direction to a certain degree by the labels I'm working with. It's not just me putting music out and saying, "Right, I like this song, I'm putting it out." They have to like it, they have to approve it, and sometimes they want me to change it. It's like being 16 years old again and sending music to people. It's quite humbling and also slightly depressing. [Laughs] Frustrating is a better word. Sometimes, I've written a tune and I play it and everyone is going crazy when I play it, but they don't want to put it out because it didn't match with the other things that they're releasing. I have to deal with that stuff. So to a certain degree, I have to be quite particular about what I send to whom.
In the States, a lot of kids are really excited about big crazy bangers. But it seems people are starting to get into deeper, techno sounds. Do you see that?
I think the positive thing to come out of EDM is that for the more commercial, mainstream electronic dance music, which in the States has become something quite big now, there is going to be a percentage of people who look for something more challenging musically after they've had their introduction to the scene. I think that some of those people are going to start hearing our music and crossing over. It's healthy that people have gotten their entry from one world into another like that.
You were just here for WMC. And you're going to be coming back to play Treehouse tonight. What do you think is special about Miami?
I think Treehouse is one of the best venues in Miami. I think it's so real. It's just so down to Earth. It's not about mad light shows and crazy stuff. I think the people at the door are friendly, the security are friendly, the people programming are getting good acts, the people in the crowd are good music people. I'm really hoping that this Thursday will be good. Everybody keeps telling me there's some basketball game going on that could affect everything, but I'm hoping that that's going to affect us in a good way.
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Do you have anything you can say about how you're going to approach your set?
I'll be playing my new releases and some stuff from Get Physical, some Crosstown Rebels. I'll be playing a lot of my own music. All I can really say is come down and dance and be happy and share the love and have a great night.
Just Be with Thunderpony. Thursday, June 20. Treehouse, 323 23rd St., Miami Beach. The party starts at 11 p.m. and tickets cost $10 plus fees via residentadvisor.com. Ages 21 and up. Call 305-674-4478 or visit treehousemiami.com.