This is no ordinary interview. It’s a very personal conversation, with a whole lot of detail about the behind-the-scenes of ProleteR‘s musical work and his immense passion for many genres of music. When I read the answers Ben sent me, I felt like I was sitting in a café with him and totally at ease talking about his story, the beginnings of his swing hop adventure and his tours. I think you too will feel exactly the same as I do when reading this interview. I present to you 10 questions to… ProleteR!
01. LadyDot: Hi, Ben! You don’t even know how happy I am that you found time in your busy schedule for an interview. I’m also incredibly happy about it because Swing Hop is my favourite kind of Electro Swing. And it was you who contributed to the creation of this musical genre. Please tell us about how you came up with the idea of combining old swing samples with a hip-hop beat?
ProleteR: Hi and thanks so much for having me and your nice words. Actually I didn’t have a breakthrough movie type moment, this sound shaped up gradually and I would say, a bit by accident, I mean it wasn’t a conscious and well thought process. At that time I was making beats for some time, but it was like very random classic hiphop sounding beats, I didn’t really have a sound with much character to it, but finally things started to put themselves together, you know it was a combination of different elements that put together gave me a sense of direction, stuff as random as a few records I picked up from a thrift store that would define incidentally but still pretty remotely a sonic landscape, a foundation for my sound. In the meantime, a few songs that I heard here and there pushed my inspiration in the same direction it’s after I made the tracks Soul key and Faidherbe square, something just clicked in my head, it kinda just hit me that I had put my hands on something different, and that I should dig further into that.
Still, at that point, It was more on a kinda intuitive level that things were happening; and I just remember when I was into the process of making my first album, throwing a lot of material on the way, cause it was just not fitting with this self referenced « signature » my mind was now set to work
with, but once again, when I look back at it, it was one of those moments in life when things just put themselves together and you just act out of pure intuition, you’re driven by something you don’t really understand, you just feel it, it sounds corny but it’s true, planets were just aligning and it was a beautiful moment of self realisation.
02. LadyDot: It’s understandable that swing hop is an important part of your musical world. It makes me wonder: how long have you been involved in music in general and what musical genre were you creating before you decided to do swing hop?
ProleteR: I started music quite early in my life, I first played the guitar like a maniac, my older brother is a drummer, and very young we started a band and made a lot of shows, it was mostly rock and metal stuff, the turning point for me will be around when I turned 20, I started to make some homemade demos, with a synth and a minidisc recorder, and I realised I could be a band by myself ! I liked that idea so much. Soon after that I got into beatmaking and consequently found out about sampling. It was like a second musical birth. I discovered a brand new way to make music, a new perspective on something I was doing for ten years. It felt great and exciting.
Making “Curses from Past Times” was at the same time one of the most exciting, depressing and fulfilling experiences of my entire life ! I had already release Soul key and Faidherbe square which as I told you set the tone for the whole album and the main direction sounding wise, after that I was confident enough, I stopped working for two months exclusively to work on a full length project, my mindset was like: whatever happens next, I need to do this, like something you owe to yourself, I needed to check that box. So I was oscillating between being desperate days when I felt I was going nowhere and just wasting my time, and moments of intense thrill when I would listen to some stuff I made lat eat night after an intense day working, and finally be like surprising myself over what I’ve just done, and realising the project was getting real and consistent, and most all, those listening sessions were giving me a lot of joy. A key moment in my life for sure.
03. LadyDot: I very much regret that I got to know your music so late, as it was only in 2020 – and for many years now that swing hop vibe of yours could light up my day! The first tracks I listened to and to which I often return were ‘April Showers’ (which incidentally reached platinum single status, wow!) and ‘U Can Get It’ (oh, I have a special fondness for the latter track – it motivated me when I started writing my first Electro Swing reviews!) from your 2011 debut album ‘Curses from Past Times’. What was it like working on this album? Did you already have the idea of releasing a swing hop album for a long time? Or was this your fastest produced album? Tell us more about it!
ProleteR: I didn’t plan to release a swing hop album – swing hop at that time wasn’t even a thing, well I had never heard of it somewhat – my only intention was to make an « abstract hiphop » album, and the references I had stuck in my mind for doing this were Rjd2 Deadringer, Dj Shadow Endtroducing, Wax Tailor, Tales of the forgotten melodies, Blockhead Music by Cavelight, so mostly quite dated references, given that I was doing this in 2011, the only recent stuff I was inspired by was Al’Tarba.
04. LadyDot: I hear a bit of influence from Chinese Man, Gramatik and 20syl from Hocus Pocus and C2C in your tracks, do you think I got some right? Who would you add to your list of musical authorities and inspirations?
ProleteR: Yeah you’re right, all those artists you quoted are legends, I am a big fan of their work and they all had an influence on me overtime. The funny thing is, believe me or not, when I made my first album I didn’t even know nothing about Gramatik, Chinese Man I guess I only knew “I’ve got that tune” (but in fairness, this one track definitely had made a mark on me sonically) but most of my references were older as I told you, I was a bit out of dates with the music scene by that time, I really catch up since then, by the way.
05. LadyDot: I love going back to your EPs ‘Feeding the Lions’ and ‘Rookie’. The reason is obvious – I love mixing different genres of music, and there you can find a lot of jazz, funk, swing and hip-hop influences. And what kind of music does ProleteR listen to on a daily basis? Do you have a favourite album or song that you loop often?
ProleteR: Like I said I came from rock first, I listen to a lof of electro, I mean my love for music goes much further than swing or hiphop and beatmaking, so if I had to quote my influences the list could go on and on, I know it sounds corny, but I really am a big fan of music, no matter the genre, I mean my playlist goes from, just to name a few, randomly, Sam Cooke, Arctic Monkeys, Touché Amoré, Boyz Noize, Group Home, Justice, Tyler the Creator, Bicep, Alabama Shakes, Young Thug, French hiphop, Turnstile to The Strokes, you see ? That’s quite the gap hehe.
06. LadyDot: “Bubbles” is definitely your most cheerful EP, full of upbeat melodies and a positive vibe. “What Lana Says”, “Lullaby” and “The Precious Hours” is music for everyone – even my little nieces love it! I feel like you make music for everyone – universal, enjoyable and incredibly melodic. And how do you feel about producing new songs? What message do you want your music to convey to the world?
ProleteR: I think my music is the most positive thing about me, it’s like for some reason all the light I have in me has to go through it. From the start, I was definitely putting away the idea to make those kind of depressed abstract hiphop with sad piano loops and crying violins everyone tended to make back in the days.
I tend to be quite a pessimistic person, kind of a loner, so when I look back at it, I guess I need my music to be very cheerful and positive cause I don’t want to add darkness to the world, you know I want to create this bubble where you feel safe and comfortable cause there is already enough anxiety around. So yes, I apply to that idea of producing light music that anyone can enjoy, kids and grandmas alike hahaha.
About producing new material, it’s always about chasing this feeling of bliss you get when you make music you enjoy, cause first of all, the only truth there is to this, is that you have to be your first fan, before thinking if people might enjoy it, you need to vibe to it yourself, it’ a very childish and selfish impulse. And all artists are going after that moment, so you wanna keep close to your inner child to get in that zone I guess.
07. LadyDot: You have a whole host of fruitful collaborations to your credit – with Too Many T’s, Taskrok, LVDS, Lyre Le Temps, among others, and you also brilliantly remixed Boogie Belgique‘s track ‘Chicago’. Who else would you like to enter into collaborations with?
ProleteR: There’s this French dub singer called Biga Ranx, he’s mad talented and that’s kind of a phantasy to make something with him. I often think that remixing a Caravan Palace song would be very exciting for me. I already made a track with producers Senbeï and Al’Tarba, but if I was given the chance I would like to go further into collaborating with them, and maybe make a full EP.
08. LadyDot: You recently supported Wax Tailor on his tour. That must have been a huge honour and experience for you, so I can’t wait for you to tell us about those gigs. Also, I read somewhere that you also supported Parov Stelar, the creator of Electro Swing and you played on the same stage with Caravan Palace. When was that and how do you recall those tours?
ProleteR: Actually it wasn’t my first time supporting Wax Tailor, I had made a couple of shows on his tour back in 2017, so when he asked me to come over one more time on the tour I was thrilled ! I have such good memories from the first tour, and this time was just everything I could have expected, I mean I get to open for one of the artists that had a huge influence over the artist I turned out to be, and we get along quite well, so I know I’m gonna be comfortable and feel included, this was very great, I was hanging out a lot with the team, and made connections, it felt good, and also the public was responsive to my stuff. After I played every night I would just be standing on the corner of the stage and watched them play, just enjoying myself. Yeah through the years I opened for Deluxe, Caravan Palace, Parov Stelar, Chinese Man, Gramatik, Wax, L’Entourloop… being an opening act is a specific gig, but most of those experiences were very positive to me, and I always see this like great opportunities both on a human level as career wise, I mean one would complain not to be an headline, and sometimes I am haha, but as far as I’m concerned I am definitely grateful I get asked for such gigs, I get to play with great artists in packed beautiful venues, so at the end of the day, it’s a blessing.
09. LadyDot: I found on your website that you played at 89 festivals and won 110 awards. I congratulate you wholeheartedly on this! Please tell us what awards you have won?
ProleteR: I may have played 89 festivals, that sounds quite accurate, but I hate to break it to you but no I didn’t win 110 awards !! Lol. This is fake news haha. Or there’s a lot of them that I don’t know about, in my career run I only got two « awards » if you can call them so, one from YouTube for passing 100K subscribers, and one is a certified platinum disc I got for « April showers », cause it made more than 30M streams.
10. LadyDot: There are so many more questions I would like to ask you, but I think what everyone is most curious about is what your plans are for the coming years? Are you planning to go on a long tour of Europe or maybe even the whole world? I cordially invite you to Poland – I am sure the Poles will love your music as much as I do!
ProleteR: Thanks for the invitation, I never went to Poland to be honest, so I would definitely enjoy playing a few shows over there, most of the countries I went is on behalf of my music, which is a great thing. I have a few stuff in the making, one of them being an EP called Minor Steps that is supposed to drop in early April, it’s typical ProleteR material, I mean it’s very faith full to my swing hop signature sound, I wanted to keep things basic for this one, you know just good samples, a good beat and let the magic happen ! Also all my discography is being pressed as we speak on vinyl, which is great cause all my records are sold out for a while now and for the first time the “Tribute to the Masters” series are gonna be available, so it’s very positive and I very much look forward to this. Regarding tours, well, I don’t think this year will be an intense year of tour, but touring the American continent is on top of my to do list for a long, so I’m working on making that happen.
Thanks again Anna, all the best to everyone reading this and who cares about my music, much love.
Ben – ProleteR
Interview by LadyDot; Date: 2024-01-29