If you haven't seen Ben Andersen out at any Valley clubs lately, it isn't because the house and nu-disco DJ/producer known as Swookie Monster is hiding out at home or anything. In fact, he isn't even in the Valley at all. Although his two-man collaborative project TABS with Tempe's Eric "Speedy Graffiti" Hoss is considered a Phoenix act, the 30-year-old calls Tucson home and regularly spins at such Old Pueblo joints as Club Congress.
This weekend, he's making the two-hour trek to our neck of the woods to reunite with Hoss to perform at the Monarch Theatre on Saturday night. We caught up with Andersen recently in honor of the occasion to learn what he's been brewing up lately on the EDM tip both as a solo artist and with TABS. His creative process occasionally can be a frustrating one, he tells Up on the Sun, which sometimes -- as you'll read in the following interview -- results in an overwhelming desire to destroy his MacBook Pro.
Name: Ben Andersen
AKA: Swookie Monster
Preferred Genres: Progressive house, electro, nu-disco, and indie remixes are my four strongest, but I enjoy elements from all other sorts of subgenres, if you will, and I believe a great set can incorporate a multitude of genres
How did you get into the DJ game? I started spinning CDs on CD turntables at my good friends house in college for house parties. When he needed a break, I'd hop on for like an hour and then again really late at night after he showed me the basics. Really humble beginnings. Shifted to working and practicing with some other friends in all of our free time on a lot of the blog house wave that was coming out of LA in 2006-ish.
Do you have a particular mantra as a DJ? If I don't think I could dance to it, I probably won't play it.
What projects have you been working on lately? We have about 11 tracks written we want to split between two EPs as TABS. Production and fine-tuning on all the tracks as well as working with labels to get them released proves to be quite time-consuming. We're always keeping an eye on the next thing we want to do as TABS. I've also been gigging down here in Tucson and "keeping the skills sharp."
What projects have you been working on lately, either solo or with TABS? We have about 11 tracks written we want to split between two EPs as TABS. Production and fine-tuning on all the tracks as well as working with labels to get them released proves to be quite time consuming. We're always keeping an eye on the next thing we want to do as TABS. I've also been gigging down here in Tucson and "keeping the skills sharp."
Is it a challenge to create new material? Most definitely. Some days it flows easy and sometimes you want to throw your computer against the wall. But for the most part it's somewhere in-between and fun, which is what it should be.
How do you create energy in your mixes? With a live mix, I like to think of it as a journey. I'll sometimes pick where I want to start with a song and what one I'll want to end with, and then navigate the whole middle on the fly. Energy should flow through builds not only in songs but in multiple songs strung together to create a great mix. It's why knowing your song library and building one over years and years can be your biggest strength as a DJ as well as the biggest factor that makes you unique.
How much work do you put into your mixes for your own DJ gigs? I'm pretty extensive with collecting tracks, I like to stay current with music being released and one of my favorite things is getting to expose people to new music for my gigs. I just had a wedding of two good friends that flew me out to Monterey, California, for the occasion. I spent over a month preparing for their wedding since I know them well and I wanted it to be really special for them. When it comes down to set time, minus a few songs, its always picking songs on the fly as I go through my set.
What's your favorite track of the moment? Benoit & Sergio, "New Ships." It's a few months old, but I've still been listening to it a lot lately.
What other artists have you been digging lately? I've been doing a few nu-disco sets down here and always enjoy stuff from Gigamesh, Edwin Van Cleef, The Magician, and Mighty Mouse. It's hard not to dance to all of them. A bit away from the DJ realm -- when I like to take breaks -- Grimes, Chad Valley, Twin Shadow, and Diamond Rings. On the house side I've really enjoyed Calvin Harris' 18 Months and going back over the collection of outstanding tracks he's done in that time with a few new ones thrown in.
What misconceptions do people have about you, if any? That I might still live in Phoenix and just never make it out anymore. But personality-wise? It's hard to be personable to everyone you see out that you know or meet, but I intentionally try hard to be appreciative and genuine to everyone I interact with if I'm playing a gig
What's the key to a good gig? Without getting too out there, I think it's a pretty back and forth relationship between the DJ and the crowd. You need a DJ that knows what they're doing and can read what the crowd is feeling with where to take their set, and at the exact same time, the crowd is looking for the exact same thing from the DJ, to provide a great environment for them to dance and have fun. When those things come together at the right time, any gig can be great.
What's the gig you're doing this weekend with MAJR? We got invited for our first time ever to play at Monarch Theatre. We always love playing Bar Smith so we're excited to be here for our first time. I'd been looking for a gig to invite our friend MAJR who I spin with at Club Congress in Tucson with who is an East Coast native (Baltimore and D.C.) and also is a fantastic DJ. This is the show it all worked out with, and we're super-excited to be playing with Murk and Mad Ladz before us as well.
Are you planning anything special for the performance? We have an hour to play but we'll be starting off the set with 7 unreleased tracks all produced by us as TABS, stuff we're all working on getting released right now and that hasn't been played out live yet so it'll be a great way to debut them. The second half of the set we'll be showcasing some of our favorite new tracks that have come out recently.
What's the craziest shit you've witnessed during a gig? I happened to get backstage at a fairly large event in Scottsdale with quite a few "marquee" DJs in which the green room was absolutely trashed. Meat and cheese tray stuck to the walls, trash everywhere, liquor everywhere. It's not that I was surprised, but it was definitely jacked.
What's been your best experience as a DJ thus far? Getting to open right before The Twelves as TABS. To give an example, with as much hype that surrounds Daft Punk playing Coachella each year, my love for The Twelves is that strong as well. It was a dream come true, completely humbling, and also was a big milestone to feel I was ready to play along side artists of that caliber. A lot of things rolled into one night.
What do you think is in the future for EDM? Tough to say, the massive festivals globally (EDC, Ultra, Tomorrowland, Sensation, etc.) have totally surprised me in taking over what rock and hip-hop used to seem to have a stranglehold on. I know there are still a few like Coachella (and maybe Creamfields abroad) that draw large attention, but it pales into what EDM has accomplished in such a short time. I see a steep road for rock and/or hip-hop to even take back any sort of reputable festivals that compete in any sort of way.
Really? Even Coachella is infused with its own EDM tent, which showcases the best from the previous year. It's all mind blowing how huge it's gotten and how quickly. Something like Lollapalooza seems laughable at this time in music compared to the attendance of these EDM festivals. Where all that is taking EDM? I believe the talent and innovators in the industry will still remain at the top of their game and continue to push the envelope while young creatives will always emerge in all types of genres that challenge even the biggest artist.
C² Presents featuring TABS, MAJR, Murk, and Mad Ladz takes place on Saturday at The Monarch Theatre. Doors open at 10 p.m. Admission is $10.