DJ Benjamin Cutswell Talks Adele, Tori Amos, Turntablism, Hype Machine, and More
AKA: DJ Benjamin Cutswell
Current gigs: Right now I do a couple of Tuesdays month at Dirty Pretty and every Friday at Airia. I work as the club's marketing and entertainment director.
How did you get into the DJ game? When I was 13, a rich friend of mine was interested in buying a lot of expensive toys, so he bought an expensive turntable set up. The first time I ever saw 'em, he offered to sell for a very cheap price and I thought it was cool. I'd never actually seen anyone DJ until four years later, but I spent all that time scratching in my bedroom, like with the scratch records that he gave me, figuring it out on my own.
Explanation behind his moniker: I used to be really into scratching and was looking for a DJ name. I was working at Swell Records at the time, so I was really into cutting. Cutting plus Swell, Cutswell. It's kinda stupid, but it's where it comes from, honestly. And I always thought that Benjamin Cutswell sounded like a real name. And a lot of people think it is.
What's your professional mantra? Stop sucking.
You've played at practically every club in the Valley, right? Yeah, I've had residencies at about every club in Scottsdale, a few in Phoenix, Chandler now, Tempe, yeah. I've been DJing in Arizona eight years now. Playing out for eight years.
Which club do you miss the most? I don't know if I miss playing anywhere. There's been a lot of places that I've loved playing. I think I miss a time more in DJing than a place -- when it was a little less saturated and you could get away with more music. The economy was good. People were happier and there were more nights. I miss there being four crackin' Tuesdays versus one mediocre Tuesday, ten crackin' Wednesdays versus one mediocre Wednesday. I miss the opportunity to play more nights of all kinds. A lot of things have changed with the scene.
Why is that? I think, sadly, it has a lot to do with the economy. I think when the economy is good, art is fed a little bit more. I think that's pretty obvious. As a result of a bad economy, there's less opportunity. People want more instant gratification. I used to be able to get any night of the week for a weekly gig. I could go into any club and be like, "I think we should do Tuesdays, I think we should do Mondays." And it was like a scam, not really, but we were hoping that it would do good, but we always knew that it wouldn't. And they would pay us to DJ and they would keep it going for six months. Now if doesn't go well after the second week, it's over. So you don't even mess around with those clubs. At the bottom of the totem pole in night clubs, when there's more money coming in, they're willing to take more risks and try more things, and underground music will find its way into more commercial night clubs and they'll be more nights. Plus, people go out more versus...right now Fridays are hit or miss everywhere and Saturdays are great but...I used to do Wednesdays at Pussycat Lounge and we'd open the door and 200 people would show up and we weren't even promoting, and that would never happen now.
What else has been lost in the DJ scene? I don't know if anything has been lost in the DJ scene other than maybe some leadership but I think we've lost definition and direction in where things are heading and I think part of it has to do with music being over saturated. Seemingly a lot of DJ-related club music is taken a lot less seriously and is mass produced a lot quicker... Whatever is going on with music directly relates to DJing. Album sales being down or people not getting paid to make music as much any more I think has affected the quality of music. I think in turn it's affected the quality of DJing. I think in turn with clubs doing not as well as they used to, they're more willing to take on a DJ that is willing to take less money and puts less effort into it. Clubs don't hold onto their DJs as much as they used to and so it's a constant rotation.
Is that because of the quality of the DJs or the quality of the music? No, it's the quality of the economy. Plus, people get bored a lot quicker and as the public has become more educated in the scene, they get bored a lot quicker with people and don't hold as much value. And things are taken advantage of. People don't value things as much as they used to.
What do you think the biggest problem with the local DJ scene is? I don't really think we have a problem. I think the whole point is, being upset with the way anything is a total misdirection. I think that you have to be very realistic, accepting things for how they are and work within the parameters of whatever market you're in and develop based off of that. I think concentrating on there being a problem or even recognizing that there's a problem is misguided. I think it's all about just concentrating on what you do as an individual and where you're headed. There's no problems that are affecting me.
How much work do you put into your own mixes? These days I spend a lot of time downloading music, but I'm kind of at the point where I don't spend too much time coming up with routines. I'm more into getting in the zone and improvising and switching it up. Things are extremely extra, extra commercial these days -- even in the Top 40 clubs, they're worse than ever so you're more limited than ever as to what you can play and what excites people, so for me and the direction I want to go in, it's not so important right now to be coming up with new routines with unusual or unexpected music. It's more about programming and timing what you play and when you play it and keeping momentum going.
What music have you been working into your sets lately? Lately, I've been trying to get away from sets. I've been trying to weave in and out of different genres as smoothly and conducive as possible. Plus, I'm trying to move to the BPM [beats per minute] in ranges significantly more times throughout the night without it being an over-fluctuation in the overall vibe, whether I'm hitting 70 and hitting 120 then hitting 90 and having enough routines to get me in and out of things and go up and down the spectrum and have it still feel like a smooth flow. And that's been getting back to more thinking of what song would be good with this song. The real obvious thought.
You're a fan of Tori Amos and Adele? I'm a huge fan of both of them, actually. I'm a huge fan of female vocalists. Nina Simone is probably my favorite artist of all time. I've been a big Nina fan since I was a young kid. I played piano for a long time; Nina was always it for me. I get stuck on artists and can't get off. I get into 50 songs and that's all I listen to for a month. In that time, I'll download a thousand and I've listened to all of them, actually listen to them, not scanning through them and setting cue points in Serato and determining what tool they are for me, but actually listening to them. Plus, I'm a whore for pop music. I always have been.
What else have you been listening to lately? The Hype Machine's Top 100. Or All the Lights by Kanye West on repeat.
Are you joking? No, not really. What else am I listening to? I don't know, everything. It's been a couple of weeks since I've found anything I've been really amped on. There's been some really good nuero remixes that I've really been into. It's a little bit old now. I was really amped on that Daft Punk/NERD remix. Skrillex is pretty great but it's kind of like ear candy. Porter Robinson I'm into but I'm not seriously.
What's the biggest night you've ever been a part of? The biggest night in my DJ career is probably the biggest night in somebody else's DJ career. The biggest individual night that I could say I did would be the Last Future Primitive in San Francisco with Z Trip and Radar. I don't know where that dude's at, but he was amazing. I wasn't even on the bill I just got to play. I did a little 2x4 routine with Z Trip and that was great. I've gotten to do a little bit of traveling. I've gotten to play with a lot of big name DJs. I played with every big name DJ I've wanted to. That doesn't mean that they were necessarily the biggest nights in my career. I think some of the best nights I've had have been playing with JR, Dirty Pretty. Those are more important to me than anything I could say I did on a resume.
What sites do you use for your music? Google.
What was your last album that you downloaded or purchased? Adele's newest album.
What's the track that's been going through your head lately? I was listening to Robyn's "Dancing on my Own" on repeat for about a week. Not because it's that interesting of a track but as a wanna-be producer I listen to how simple the production is with really light synth arpeggios and a little bit of bass and very simple drum programming and how full it sounds.