If you happened to Google search “who’s up next,” a picture of Benji Robot is likely to pop up. Rightfully named “the bot that can’t be stopped” this Michigan-based mind-bender has been tirelessly putting in work and has situated himself as a pillar within the underground.
The first weekend of 2020, Benji made a name for himself by taking on the Tipper & Friends stage in New Orleans. Once life got a little twisted by a global pandemic, he maintained momentum by releasing his Sedona LP, following up later on in the year with his Kutz EP. Electric Hawk got the pleasure of (virtually) sitting down with the man himself to break down how 2021 is about to shape up and how Benji Roman became Benji Robot.
Corie Odom, Electric Hawk: For those who may not know, introduce Benji Robot
Benji Robot: I’m a music producer/DJ from metro Detroit that specializes in electronica, that sort of genre-bending, experimental deep dive into sounds, as well as DJing turntables.
Turning the dark times into art
CO: Disregarding the pandemic completely, I feel like you’ve been leveling up like crazy as an artist this year. What has the past year been like with no shows and extra down time?
BR: It’s been weird. Especially coming out of playing in New Orleans with Tipper. I started strong and had a whole tour lined up and a whole festival season booked that got canceled. I just sat there and produced a new album out of it and this new EP I’m rolling out. Got a little darker with my new record because obviously, things have been pretty gloomy this year. Taking time to put out darker tones and work on more ambient stuff. I’m just taking the time, to take time.
Also, on the Mean Mug side of things, Kyle (Hoffman) and I have been honing in on the infrastructure, pretty much from the ground up.
CO: Just a few days ago, you dropped “Psychoespionage,” It has a drum and bass feel we aren’t entirely used to from you. You said it’s one of the heaviest songs you’ve ever made. Can we expect more of this on the Cherry Blossom EP?
BR: So there’s one more track on the EP that’s yet to be released. I rolled this EP out as an experimentation with Soundcloud to see how their algorithms reacted differently. With my last EP, I dropped the preview track “Imprint” like a month prior, and the algorithms picked it up and made it way bigger than I thought. This time around, I wanted to scatter the releases and see how Soundcloud works. Depending on batch upload or single upload, basically a social experiment.
As far as sound and drum and bass, I tried to go in that direction a lot in my project’s earlier stages. A lot of DNB I’ve done is unreleased. It’s a huge part of my electronic journey, but it’s a different expression than the expression I use in my full-length downtempo records. DNB is the easiest to dance to, so it’s my favorite in that way. I enjoy making it. I like trying to push boundaries if I can of the genre I respect dearly and wouldn’t mind having a hand in pioneering.
Benji Robot showcases his range
CO: Tell us more about the forthcoming Cherry Blossom EP, any specific inspirations?
BR: “Psychoespionage” was the first track that came to me and initially was going to be on the full-length record, but it’s a little too in your face. I figured doing a more heavy EP release would mix things up a bit. Show people I’m not just downtempo Tipper and Friends kind of feel, I can do other things. I wanted to do genre-fusing here. If you listen to the single “Cherry Blossom,” it’s got a psytrance ish feel, but also halftime, DNB, and glitch. With “Psychoespionage,” you get hints of DNB, industrial glitch, neuro, and halftime. The final track, “Like Da Kaboom,” is indescribable. It’s just playing with sound design, doing fun things, and playing with space. It’s also a heavier tune, the vibe of the EP.
CO: So there’s an LP coming?
BR: Yeah, for later this year. It’s pretty much done. Just have to fine-tune, but it’s coming this year.
CO: Compare this upcoming LP to your past two projects Sedona and Kutz
BR: A continuation of that sound, but weirder and darker, as I take a deeper dive into my psyche. Sedona and Kutz were really about me dealing with love and loss. This new record is stepping away from that and looking more into my head. Sedona and Kutz were more of a somber look. This LP is more in your face “this is what’s happening to you and through you.” It’s more melancholy.
CO: Favorite project to date?
BR: I did a lot outside of Benji Robot before 2017. There’s an album I made junior year of high school called Juniors (fitting name), and it was my first ever passion project. I hadn’t felt that way again until I produced Sedona. I’d have to say that process really was refreshing, and all the feedback and love were perfect, honestly.
“Something about that song embodies the hope I have”
CO: Introduce yourself by one of your tracks
BR: “The Little Things.” That track is just it. When I made it, I was like yeah, this is it. Either I wanted to open or close the Tipper set with it. I ended up closing with it. I wanted to leave people with I’ve been Benji Robot, here’s “The Little Things” something about that song embodies the hope I have, the happiness I can be.
CO: Your first release of 2021 was The American Dream Mix, give us a little glimpse in the mix making process
BR: I toy around like I’m building a set. Sitting at my computer, it’s easy to rip anything I hear. Like at the beginning of Sedona with the Joe Rogan sample. I couldn’t tell you what episode that’s from I just heard it and knew I needed it.
The beginning of The American Dream is from an HBO original movie, “Recount,” about the 2020 presidential recount. A member of Bush’s team speaks on being thankful there are no tanks on the streets, and this was a peaceful transition of power. While making the mix, I was hoping man, I really don’t want these words to bite me in the ass. There could be tanks on the streets. It could not be peaceful. I was ready not even to release it, but I really wanted to say something musically that hasn’t been said in a while in our circle. I felt it was the right time.
CO: You’re playing a stream for Electric Hawk this week, what will we be hearing?
BR: More of the EP, some friend’s music, my own music, and inspirational music. It’s not going to be very mellow. It’s a showcase of faster music, not uptempo, but it’s hype. Bass. Dub. Glitch. This set is going to be cool.
Benji Robot x Mean Mug, the ultimate collab.
Benji Robot found his home within the Mean Mug Mafia back when friend Kateri Baker (who did the album artwork for Sedona) introduced Benji to Kyle Hoffman.
So she sent him my music, and he was impressed and eagerly wanted me to join in on what they had going. Which I didn’t know what that was, and I don’t think they did either. They were just running small shows at a not even 200 cap local bar, probably not even 20 people showing up.Benji Robot
Benji, a typical lone wolf in music, was reluctant at first but eventually gave them a shot.
As time went by and stuff kept building, we realized we might actually have something here, we started to sign artists and be a part of fests, and the ball started rolling. At that point, I was like, okay, I can be a part of this for a while.Benji Robot
Over the past year, Kyle and Benji have put in a lot of time to make Mean Mug a well-cogged machine. Dailing in and deciding everyone’s place, where everyone is going, and how to move forward.
CO: Where do you see Mean Mug and Benji Robot in five years?
BR: I see us being part of major festivals. As far as music, no one knows where our music is going. It’s wherever the universe takes us. We really want to get into producing our own events and having the independence of operations, and setting a good example.
For Benji Robot specifically, I just want to play music in cool places for cool people. That’s always been the goal. For me, it’s always been music first.
Some things just don’t mix, like Benji Robot and boundaries
CO: What made you want to get into music? Who were major influences?
BR: I’ve been a musician for as long as I can remember. It was never really a question for me as far as a career, I always knew it was music. After the first time recording in an at-home studio, I became obsessed with home studio gear and audio engineering. I ended up going to school for it. I always produced beats but didn’t have a direction until I met my best friend, Ethan.
He was from Michigan too, just got back from Electric Forest and really wanted to show me sometime. I was into experimental electronic music but knew nothing about the culture or festivals outside of the major Bonnaroo, Lolla, Coachella types.
Despite being from Michigan and knowing of Electric Forest, at this point Benji had never been, this was in 2015.
The first artist that really changed the way I heard sound was Dave Tipper. My fascination with his music grew over time, and he was a huge inspiration for me. I hadn’t heard soundscapes or stereo fields like that, ever. I said, okay, the boundaries can really be pushed, and there’s a lot of really cool stuff to be made. It launched me into a whole different mindset. After the first time attending a Tipper and Friends event, I started committing and really making music.
“Wow this is happening, something is really going on here”
CO: What was your first wow-moment as an artist
BR: I don’t know the exact first, but probably Tipper and Friends. When I got off stage and Tipper told me he liked my music and to keep making downtempo because “you got it.” I was like, okay, that’s wow. Then going out into the crowd and everyone was like, “omg, there’s that kid” for me going from a long-time audience member to an artist people knew in an instant was jarring. So, that was the first “wow, this is happening, something is really going on here.”
CO: If I could see your “most played track of 2021 so far” what would it be?
BR: easy, two songs – same album “Home At Last” and “Josie” by Steely Dan. Highly recommend.
CO: What are some post-COVID venue or festival must-plays
BR: I want to get my headlining Black Box show rescheduled, priority number one. I want to play Shady Park in Arizona, back to playing Magic Stick here at home. For festivals, I want to play them where they got them. But really, Electric Forest, I think any Michigan artist wants to play EF. That’s the pinnacle.
CO: Finally, the track off of Cherry Blossom you’re most excited to play live?
BR: “Psychoespionage.” But, I’m concerned. It’ll be fun, but I’m actually a little concerned.
We’ll happily sit back, relax, and watch Benji Robot take this scene by storm. Stay locked in for the last single off Cherry Blossom “Like Da Kaboom” to drop, and for any updates on that new LP in the works.
You can also check out Benji Robot on our new livestream series Talon Thursday, he’ll be taking over your living room sound system at 9 PM CST on the Electric Hawk Twitch channel. But, if the livestream leaves you wanting more, Benji just announced a socially distanced showcase in Chicago on March 13th, if you’re looking to take some Funktion One’s to the dome, look into that more here.
Until all of the Cherry Blossom EP is out, enjoy the madness of “Psychoespionage” below!
Looking for new music? Keep up with our weekly Spotify Playlist, Fresh Hunts. Updated every Friday with all the latest releases. Whether it’s the newest drops from Benji Robot, your favorite artists, some old-school, or underground…we just want you to hear it.
February is Black History Month. A time to celebrate the triumphs and also educate yourself of African Americans’ struggles in the United States. If you’re looking for organizations that work to promote black health, education, rights, and community you can do that here.