Benji B is the reason that fashion sounds so good

Benji B has just stepped off a plane from Bangkok, following four consecutive flights via London, Korea, Hong Kong and Shanghai.

"I feel like I've just stepped out of a very violent tumble drier," he laughs. "I've played four cities in four days and it becomes a game of survival: you start looking scientifically at where you can snatch a couple of hours of sleep, get a bit of food or try to have a rest."

Such is the globetrotting life of Benji B, fashion's most in-demand DJ who Virgil Abloh, artistic director at Louis Vuitton menswear, refers to as the "Anna Wintour of club music."

Fashionable beats

Benji B – who performs under the name Benji B – arrived in Sydney to play at a Mulberry party as part of his mission to reimagine the sound of fashion runways.

In addition to hosting a popular BBC Radio 1 show and producing Kanye West's album Life of Pablo and soundtracks for David Attenborough documentaries including Blue Planet 2, the musical auteur is a frequent collaborator with fashion's top creative directors.

He has produced soundtracks for everyone from Phoebe Philo at Celine to Yiqing Yin at Poiret and also acted as a sound designer for Cerruti, Oszald Boateng and Gieves & Hawkes on Savile Row. For fashion designers who take music as seriously as they do their clothes, Benji B is the gold standard, but right now he's just tired – not that you'd know it.

Breaking beats

"Music can make or break a show," says Benji B.

"It plays a huge role in your experience of the collection, whether consciously or subconsciously, but ultimately the job of music is really simple: it's there to support the work and it should have a symbiotic relationship with it that helps you focus on looking at the clothes in the best possible light."

For Abloh's Louis Vuitton debut in Paris in June, he commissioned the Toronto group BadBadNotGood, classically trained musicians with a love of hip-hop, to create an original score that shifted tracks for every colour change in the collection. In Sydney he is planning a mix to complement the sunset rooftop backdrop to his Mulberry DJ set, for which he has brought crates of records to select from.

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"My approach is to present music in a meaningful way with a flow that responds directly to the environments and events I play," says Benji B. "It's about finding a balance between what's in your record box and the right moments to play the right things."

 
 
 
 
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The big time

It was four years earlier that he first made his mark in fashion after Celine's Phoebe Philo hired him from 2015 until her swansong collection for the house in 2018. It took months of discussion to perfect the 12 minutes of runway music he curated each season, including one track for which he made a recording by hanging a boom mic from the window of his Paris apartment.

"I've got nothing but respect for that woman: she is phenomenal," he says of Philo. "In the list of all the people I've ever collaborated with in any field, be it pop music, film scoring or production, she is up there with the absolute best."

Today his relationship with Abloh, who he has known for a decade, is more fluid and founded in an enduring friendship.

"Virgil and I were texting yesterday about ideas for the June show," he says. "We have a sort of musical chat room on WhatsApp and it's like texting a friend because he is my friend."

A musical background

The son of a composer and a dancer, Benji B juggled high school with producing DJ Gilles Peterson's show for London's Kiss FM, a popular mainstream radio station. Four years later the musical prodigy went to work for the BBC as a Radio 1Xtra DJ, leading to his current slot on a Wednesday night on Radio 1.

"BBC1 is the keystone of my activity and the medium I've dedicated my whole life to," he says. "In some fields sitting in a classroom or theorising gives you knowledge but through radio I learned that there is no substitute for the experience of being in the room when the red light goes on that says 'on air' and having to do everything yourself from scratch."

He now applies that experience to fashion, where he approaches every commission as a blank slate.

"The reason working in style is interesting to me is because it requires me to step out of my own record collection...Who is the boy or the girl this season, where do they go, what do they like doing? I make music for that person, and also to reflect the musical taste of the creative director, because to me the most important thing is make them feel that what we've found musically is as satisfying as their creations are on the models."

From decks to decks

Later this year Benji B will debut a collection of clothing at Dover Street Market in London as an ode to Deviation, the London club night he founded in 2007. As a participant in street culture from the '90s, he has watched the rise of streetwear from skate parks to high fashion runways, and predicts in 2019 its byword will become authenticity.

"When it comes to the streetwear conversation in 2019 the frequency I respond to is authenticity. When you're passionate about a particular type of trainer or a particular type of streetwear you'll find the pendulum of popular taste will sometimes swing toward you and you'll be the hottest thing since sliced bread... then it will often swing away again. But the important thing is I'm still over here doing it, and there are other people who want to swing with it too."

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