Lucas Benjamin, The Smoothest Walking Man In Music Business (Netherlands, 2020)
Dear logbook, the year is 2020 and we are sitting down in a coffee-shop in Amsterdam, with smooth jazz music in the background, a cup of coffee and I was just about to roll up a joint before I would fire away my questions to the guy across from me. The place was buzzing but relaxed, at least that’s what I was imagining while writing down my questions for Lucas Benjamin, a friend of mine from the Netherlands who I got to know many years back on one of my trips to a b-boy jam called World Bboy Classics in Rotterdam 2009. It was a short encounter back then which would turn out to have a big impact on my life and work to this day, but that’s a different story for a different day.
Due to the CoVid-19 pandemic the world is pretty much under quarantine and so I have no other choice than to set the surroundings for this conversation myself and continued rolling while my speakers were doing its thing at home.
M: First things first, what is your full name?
L: Lucas Benjamin Tijhof.
M: And your DJ Name?
L: Lucas Benjamin, previously known as Lu-Chi’sz until 2014.
M: When and where were you born?
L: August 8th, 1987 in Enschede, the Netherlands. A small city in the east of the country, really close to the German border.
So far I believed him and took a sip of my coffee and sparked up my joint. The interrogation could continue …
M: Describe your first encounter with music please.
L: My troubled youth probably clouded my memory, therefore I cannot remember a ‘first encounter’ but I can tell you this: My father has always been a huge collector of all kinds of music and DJ-ed in his teenage years, played several instruments in multiple bands and projects throughout his life. So my first memories definitely involve his selections in genres like rock, reggae and electronic music. Through this phase I mostly listened to all kinds of rock/metal for a few years until I discovered the hip hop culture and started dancing. My music journey quickly went into the sound hiphop was build upon: funk, soul and jazz. These are still the main styles I listen to today, but the journey didn’t stop there. I developed a huge love for African and Brazilian music in the last ten years, but also dig highly experimental electronic sounds. So when I play somewhere it’s usually a blend of all of the above.
M: How did you get into breaking and DJ-ing?
L: I started breaking, a dance most people know as breakdance, when I was twelve years old. It was September of 1999 and the new school year just started. In that first week our school did a school-party, that was the first time I’ve seen someone break in front of my eyes! I was captivated and it sparked something huge. The next day I went to the kids that were dancing the night before and asked if they could teach me a few moves. They did, and that’s how it began for me. I started practicing in the school auditorium corners on every occasion I had in between and after classes. I even deliberately let the teachers kick me out of the class so I could dance by myself. I finally felt a direction in my life that I strongly needed, even though I was messing up my grades that year haha.
The question how I got into DJ-ing is harder to answer for me, because it was never really a decision.
When I started to dance it was natural for me to learn the history of breaking and hiphop as a culture right away. I watched all the documentaries I could get my hands on, read books, read forums online, asked questions to the old school heads in my surrounding. So I really studied the music history, and black history as well and started to go to record-stores and listen to a whole lot of music. I didn’t buy the records or CD’s yet, I only studied them because the little money I had went into travelling to dance battles and practise sessions. I did start to copy CD’s for practice sessions really early on, as download programs started to emerge and became a new thing. I guess that was my first sign of ‘becoming a DJ’, by being the selector in many practise sessions.
This went on for a couple of years until Joey (aka Nobunaga) and I started to buy vinyl records together. Still, when I had those records I wasn’t playing them anywhere but in my little room. I didn’t even have proper turntables yet. First it was just this little stereo pickup with a record player on top and I couldn’t mix or scratch with it. I could just listen. I knew an old school Bboy, called Martin, who had a turntable set in his house and wasn’t really using it a lot. So Nobunaga and I went to his place and started to learn the basics there. Shortly after that he did lend me the DJ set so I could practise more by myself at home. At this point the DJ career definitely began and in that year we did our first gigs as “Bomb Collectors”.
M: Who is Joey, aka DJ Nobunaga?
L: Joey is like a brother to me, but more. We’re like two sides of the same intergalactic coin. We are so deeply connected through all those years of digging and playing music together that our emotional bond has developed really strong. Of course the practising, battling and traveling with EXG is part of this same journey that’s been going on in total for about twenty years now. He was also the first person I called when I was in a tsunami-situation in Hawaii, but that’s another story.
M: Tell us about EXG, the concept and what made EXG so special?
L: EXG stands for Extraordinary Gentlemen and started as a Bboy crew back in 2004. At that time I was still dancing with a crew called “Oneofakind”, and the two crews kind of merged and became one new thing. We all went through personal changes and growth and the new form of EXG was the perfect way for us to explore and express ourselves to the fullest. This ‘dance crew’ quickly became more of a movement, as most of us were doing other creative endeavors next to dancing like DJ-ing, producing music, writing, playing instruments, painting, photography/videography and more. Also the place I was living in at the time became what we called the “EXG Temple”, so it really was a special place for all of us. We did so many crazy house-party’s there, it’s incredible we didn’t get kicked out of the apartment haha!
What made EXG so special was that it was purely about expression, originality and honesty, plus we loved to intertwine our inspirations and exchange ideas a lot. We felt different than the average Bboy and weren’t afraid of showing that.
EXG was constantly evolving and as we started to travel more internationally, we also added more global members to the family, such as yourself. This went on for me until mid 2011, where I dislocated my elbow in a competition in Bordeaux. I had to recover for about six months and in those months I went through all kinds of phases such as being really depressed. During that period I listened to A LOT of new music, which re-shaped my taste and ideas as a DJ. For example, I started the “Music Is What Feelings Sound Like” – series which focused on storylines in the mix and on the melodies instead of the funky break-mixes I used to do before. I also decided I was done with doing competitions every week and practising every day. I really re-discovered myself and chose a slightly different path and I guess this was the moment where I fully went into DJ-ing as before it was a thing on the side for me.
M: How did you get your DJ career started?
L: I never really thought about starting a DJ career, it just happened naturally. Joey (DJ Nobunaga) and I started to play at some local events and because we were so deep into the breaking and hiphop scene already as dancers, it was fairly easy to play at our first dance battles. Because we were so driven and kept on hyping each other, our musical knowledge grew rapidly and we found plenty of music other DJs weren’t playing yet in the scene. That’s how we stood out with our own sound since the start. From the breaking scene we developed into playing for other dance styles and also into clubs. Around 2012 I got interested in theatre shows and radio as well, as that brings a whole new world of possibilities as a selector. I love the variety and that’s the reason why I love doing this twenty-four seven basically.
I didn’t mind hearing about it. I love myself a good story and besides that I could always roll a second one if needed, so let’s continue …
M: Describe your move from a small dutch village to a global hotspot like Amsterdam.
L: This was something I wanted to do since I was pretty young actually, but my activity within EXG and my girlfriend at the time kept me in the east of the country. In 2014 I finally made the move to Amsterdam and honestly it was exactly what I needed. These past six years have been wonderful to me and the countless experiences are priceless. I need to have a city with plenty of new things happening all the time around me, it helps with continuous inspiration I believe.
M: I know you as a musicologist and you are always busy somewhere with something. Can you tell us about MORE BOUNCE and how did you get involved?
L: “MORE BOUNCE” is a platform focused on all kinds of Funk music and was started by four DJs: Lee Funksta, Rob Manga, Dean High and myself. Immanuel de Jong did all the artwork. We started as a monthly club night in 2016 and later added a radio show. Additionally we released two compilations with artists from all over the globe called “Feeding U New Knocks” Volume 1 & 2. After three and a half years we decided to quit our club events, even though the online platform still exists and I still keep on posting about today’s contemporary Funk-related artists on there.
M: What is Wicked Jazz Sounds and how did you get involved?
L: WJS started as a weekly club night on every Sunday back in 2002 in Amsterdam and the concept has always been DJs that play a large variety of genres with multiple musicians improvising live on the spot. The club night evolved from a radio show by DJ Phil Horneman where he already used this very name. He then partnered with Manne van der Zee and from there on they’ve build an empire of DJs, musicians, dancers and people who really love music.
My involvement starts with a pivotal life-changing moment back in 2009. I had heard about Wicked Jazz, but because I still lived in Enschede and Hengelo it was hard for me to go to Amsterdam on a Sunday night. On this particular Sunday somewhere in January 2009 there was the very first Juste Debout Holland qualifier, a dance competition in Amsterdam. I was playing in another room for DutchBboy in the same building so the Bboys and Bgirls could jam all day long. When I finished playing I went upstairs and heard DJ Leroy Rey play for the first time. I was instantly hooked by his selections, energetic delivery and knowledge of details in the music. It reminded me so much of myself but a more mature version. For the rest of the day I was fully enjoying everything he was playing while dancing in the corners. When my crew members were leaving to catch the last train back home to the east, my gut feeling told me to stay, even though I had to dance at 9am for a jury the next day at school as I was still going to a dance academy back then.
I lit up the second joint, this could take a while …
L: So everyone left and I stayed solo and when the event was over I sat outside contemplating where I would go for the night. Leroy walked out and started a conversation with me. He asked me where I was heading and while I had no idea where to go yet he invited me to join him for Wicked Jazz Sounds, as he had to play there right after. I joined him and had an unforgettable night of pure joy!
All the music that was played, the atmosphere, the live musicians, it just resonated so heavily with me. That night an important seed got planted in my existence and I had no idea where that would take me. Let’s fast forward to 2014 when it was the first time I played at a party with Leroy Rey called Super Funk! The instant connection was there and he knew I had to be part of Wicked Jazz Sounds. The next day he called Phil and said I should get booked at Wicked Jazz. Soon after I had my first guest DJ set, which got followed by a few more until I became a resident DJ. It was an empowering feeling of joy and felt like a real acknowledgement of being on the right path for me.
Till this point in my career I was mostly playing at dance battles, so to get booked at Wicked Jazz meant I could finally play all those other kinds of music I’ve learned to love. This evolved into becoming part of the heart of the organisation in the years to follow until today.
If it wasn’t for the current Corona-virus situation we would have celebrate eighteen years of Wicked Jazz Sounds in May this year. Unfortunately now we’re on an obligated break. But we’ll be back as soon as the air clears again, that’s for sure!
Yes, I had the pleasure to visit two of the famous Wicked Jazz Sounds nights and it’s an experience, one hundred percent! If you love music and don’t walk out with goosebumps that night, there is something wrong with you. It is a different level.
Talking about different levels … where were we?
M: What about Red Light Radio?
L: Red Light Radio is a small radio-station right in the heart of the Red Light District in Amsterdam. You can listen to it online twenty-four seven. If it isn’t someone playing live you’ll always be able to find pre-recorded sets or playlists as well. You can always tune in and hear something out of the ordinary in the broadest sense possible. They have always been pushing unheard, “hard to find music” and highlight niche-cultures. I got involved through Phil Horneman, one of the Wicked Jazz Sounds founders. He was already doing a weekly radio show and then we started to do it together till today. The frequency has been changed to one show per month.
M: Let me hit you with a classic DJ question! Rough estimation, how many records do you have and do you still remember your first one?
L: I’m really bad at this and didn’t count for years, but I would say about three thousand. Unfortunately I don’t remember the very first one, because I think I bought several cheap ones for fifty cents on the same day. They weren’t very mind-blowing records though haha.
M: How would you describe what music means to you to a stranger?
L: To me it means the best representation of life through sound, it is all the cliches and more. Every moment has a certain soundtrack and it is my sub-conscious mind that always fills that spot with something. If I’m not playing a track, I’m probably humming, clicking or beatboxing. Or I just hear it in my head. It soothes me, it empowers me, it touches me, it uplifts me and it saddens me. It’s all the emotions of life and I couldn’t live without it.
M: Tell us about your daily/weekly routine, on a normal none corona day or week.
L: I start the day with cereal + nuts/fruits and coffee. Then I check up on my several email accounts and reply while listening to the new releases of that day. Every time I hear something that I like I’ll dive into it a little deeper by doing some instant research and place the song into a new folder. This folder then becomes the new update for our ‘Tip44” – playlist on Spotify, which we update every Monday. You follow it already, you know it’s worth it haha
After this is done I’ll do my weekly yoga routines in the living room, something I try to do one or two times a week, but in the Corona-era it turned into four or five times a week. What’s next depends on the activities I want to have finished that week. It could be preparing for an upcoming gig for a few hours by listening to a specific sound or artist. If I feel like playing piano I’ll jump behind that and learn something new. Same for producing in Ableton.
Every week I’m visiting a few record stores in Amsterdam to dig for new releases, pickup pre-orders and check up on the sold records of our label. Additionally I go to the Wicked Jazz office once a week to help in promoting and planning our next events. Even when I don’t work I like to go to concerts a lot and occasionally check out some local jam sessions.
But I also really enjoy spending time at our cozy place with my lovely significant other Charayda.
M: Where did you find your piano and how did you get it up on the seventh floor where you live?
L: Technically it’s not my piano, but of a dear friend of mine, vocalist Jackie Lou who also is a part of the WJS family. She got it from her former teacher but had no way to get it to her place, as she lives on the top floor in an apartment with a way to narrow staircase and window, so she asked if I wanted to ‘piano-sit’ this historic beauty. Of course I said “I’d love to!”.
Getting it to my place on the 7th floor was a real struggle though. This piano was made before the second World War and is insanely heavy. I needed three strong friends for this job and we were super lucky to fit in our elevator and through my door. If it would have been an inch or two bigger I would have to play outside haha.
M: Can u tell me about the piano at the station around the corner from where you live.
L: The Netherlands started to place old piano’s on many train stations throughout the country and this turned out to be the best thing they ever did! There’s pretty much always someone playing, people are connecting, jamming and having fun with it. I’ve had wonderful moments, playing early in the morning before catching a flight or getting back home at night from a gig. Playing on one of those piano’s was also the firs time I played in public when I just started out, so they’re definitely special to me.
M: U also have a small keyboard for making beats. What’s up with you and the keys?
L: Yes, thats a MIDI keyboard. You can connect it to your laptop and a program like Ableton and through VST’s (Virtual Studio Technology) you can play pretty much all kinds of sounds with it. So instead of having all the really expensive synthesizers, keyboards and piano’s, I use this one instead. But I can also play many other instruments in this way. It’s not the same as having the real ones of course, but it will have to do for now.
I developed a true love for playing the keys in the past five years. There’s something about the warm feeling of chords, multiple notes in harmony, that soothes me deeply. Also I can easily zone out for hours once I start playing, imagine if I’ll ever get to a proper level haha!
That would probably mean a third joint haha
M: Describe working with me and keep it honest. Weird or strange at times?
L: It’s honestly very easy-going, fun and explorative. It’s never forced and mostly happens in the moment. You’re one of the few that truly captures the real me I believe.
M: Any final words to our readers?
L: Thank you for your precious time! I hope you enjoyed reading parts of my life story and that my words or actions inspired you in any way. The only advice I’d like to give you is to never stop exploring the depths of your creative soul, because there can be an idea that may change the world forever.
You couldn’t wirte a better ending! Thank you for sharing some of your journey with us.
Additional Information and tunes
Wicked Jazz Sounds:
‘Tip44’ playlist on Spotify: