Photo: The Gentleman Amateur

This weekend – January 20-22 – the Bugged Out Weekender descends upon the Butlins resort in Bognor Regis, bringing with it a dazzling array of rave-generating talent, including the likes of Kevin Saunderson, Diplo, SBTRKT, Joy Orbison, 2ManyDJs and Ben UFO.

Ben ‘Ben UFO’ Thomson, as you ought to know by now, co-founded and runs one of the most important and consistently impressive dance labels of the last decade – Hessle Audio – with his old muckers Kevin ‘Pangaea’ McAuley and David ‘Pearson Sound’ Kennedy. He’s also a DJ with few equals, capable of reducing any dancefloor you put in front of him to so much ecstatic rubble.

Though his name is synonymous with bleeding edge house, dubstep and their tributaries, Thomson is a true head, with far-ranging, inquisitive tastes that extend to the cracked drone-folk of The Shadow Ring and the spiritual free jazz of Albert Ayler. We decided to catch up with him ahead of his Bugged Out Weekender appearance to talk outré vinyl, miniature drumkits, real-life wizards and the pitfalls of being a social chameleon. This is what he said.

“I wanted to be a drummer with a sideline in professional tennis.”

The first album I ever bought was…

“I have no idea. Certainly nothing credible or interesting.”

The last record I bought was…

“I have a cool answer to this one. Discogs orders are normally boring in comparison to records bought during afternoons exploring record shops – buyers usually know what they’re looking for, and there’s so much on offer that focusing on specific areas is the only way to navigate it. The other day though I bought an amazing selection from a guy in America who was selling this really small selection of wildly diverse and mostly awesome stuff. I came away with an old Shadow Ring album, ‘Acid Over’ by Tyree, an Albert Ayler LP, something on the 80s label Play House and this beautiful, totally sincere new age record by Patrick O’Hearn which has put loads of the new synth jam stuff into perspective for me. If that seller lived in the UK I’d seek him out and attempt to befriend him.”

The biggest change in my day-to-day since Hessle took off has been…

“Becoming more aware of the way I manage different aspects of my personality, depending on who I’m talking to and the situations I find myself in. It repulses me so I try not to do it.”

If Hessle wasn’t called Hessle, it probably would’ve been named…

“We changed the name of the label at the last possible moment, during the mastering session for the first release. The label was named after a road Kev [Pangaea] and I lived on in Leeds, and we originally planned for it to be called Hessle Avenue. As nice as it would have been to pay homage so directly, I think we made the right decision.”

When I was a kid, I most wanted to be…

“A drummer with a sideline in professional tennis. Having already thrashed our sofa cushions to death I got given a miniature drum kit as a birthday present, and managed to put a stick through the snare drum skin within about half an hour. I didn’t pick up the drums again until I was 16, and for that I blame the Early Learning Centre.”

“Around 1500 people left within the first three minutes and I died a little inside.”

The best gig I’ve ever played was…

“There’s been a lot of great gigs… the first time I played Golden Pudel [in Hamburg] springs to mind immediately, walking in to see Ralph smoking away, playing these soundscape records to a rapt, almost silent audience. That venue is also the only place I’ve ever played records to a wizard. I believe in him completely. The first time we played as a label collective in Glasgow was amazing as well. The front row was all these kids who knew every single record from radio, that was one of the first times I registered that people from all over were listening regularly, and really paying attention.”

The worst gig I’ve ever played was…

“I played on a huge stage at this European festival last summer where the promoters had decided to program it so that I was closing up after two local heroes who’d played 90 minutes of party hip-hop – like a greatest hits of the past ten years. No one else had used turntables that evening and my first record skipped horribly; I think around 1500 people left within the first three minutes and I died a little inside.”

The best piece of advice I’ve ever been given was…

“Second hand. The other day Yuri Cinnaman, who runs the Colors night in Amsterdam, was telling me about an early DJing experience he had when he was kinda drunk. This really well-established DJ came up to him and said, ‘Yuri, you are an excellent DJ, but you should take your job more seriously.’ I think that’s good advice.”

What’s currently screening at Ben UFO’s dream cinema?

UbuWeb is basically my dream library already, so I just need a sound system and a projector. I stumbled across these recently looking through Lovely Music’s discography  – now I just need to put 14 hours aside.”


As told to Tam Gunn. Ben UFO plays the Bugged Out Weekender, January 20-22 at Butlins Bognor Regis Resort, UK. More information and tickets at




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