Ben Silver Is Back: An Interview With The Third Pillar of Orchard Lounge
ZF: Where are you from and how long have you been Djing?
BS: I grew up in Racine, Wisconsin and then went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Once I graduated college, I moved to Chicago and that was when I started DJ'ing. Hard to believe it was close to sixteen years ago.
ZF: Have you always been a music lover? What were you listening to before you really started Djing?
BS: I have literally been obsessed with music my entire life. My mom has always been a big music lover too, she is actually into electronic music now as well, which I think is really cool considering she's retired. She was a huge Beatles fan. She was also into Sly and the Family Stone, Rolling Stones, Zazz, Motown etc.
I heard quite a bit of that as a kid. I love all the music that she loves too. However what really piqued my interest when I was very young was early electro break-dance music. I may not have been very good at break dancing, (I actually broke my nose doing it one time) but I loved it so much. I have seen Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo so many times I could recite the script. My parents gave me a little Fischer Price tape player and Herbie Hancock's “FutureShock” when I was very young - I listened to “Rockit” constantly. It was very influential on my musical development as I have loved jazz and experimental type music my whole life. Another one was Newcleus “Jam On It". That bassline! I was also into hip-hop at a young age - The Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Kool Moe Dee and other old school rappers.
As I got older I began to get into bands that had electronic elements like New Order, Joy Division, Depechemode, The Cure, Nine Inch Nails. I liked The Pixies and The Smiths for the unique song writing as well. Once I got to college however I got much more into improvisational music. Jazz was always my favorite and I was collecting all sorts of 60's and 70's fusion and jazz guitar albums. That was when I first realized the wonder that is Phish. All through college my crew of friends traveled the country and caught as many shows as we could. Some real magic happened during the mid to late 90s. The time period produced some of the greatest electronic albums of all time. I still view 1998 as one of the most important years for electronic music.
ZF: I know that you used to see the Disco Biscuits a lot during their early days as well, can you tell us how they've influenced your music career?
BS: Back when I was really into Phish, I also discovered the Disco Biscuits. I remember when I heard their brand new CD, Uncivilized Area. I also remember when I first saw them at Wetlands during end of 1998. They played post-Phish in NYC and completely killed it. I loved their sound because it had the electronic elements that I loved so much. I actually booked them in Madison in March of 1999 and soon became friends with them. I was traveling all over the country to see them play, sometimes there would only be 30-40 people at the show. Those were the good old days. 1999 was an amazing year, I'm still close with many of the friends I made at their shows that year. I was always a pretty active member of their fan base online too. I did my best to spread the word about that band because I really thought they were great.
Once I started DJ'ing, I would post DJ mixes I did on their message board and send them around. That eventually lead to OL getting booked at Camp Bisco for the first time. We got to play in front of thousands of people. We ended up playing 8 years in a row and I am extremely grateful because they gave us a big stage to play on. We also played numerous shows with them where we would play during set break, many times segueing into a jam when they would come back out for their second set.
ZF: When and where did Orchard Lounge form?
BS: I moved to Chicago in 2001 after spending the summer in Europe. When I was in Europe going to massive clubs in countries like London and Ibiza, I had a life changing experience. That was when I realized how powerful of an experience a good DJ set could truly be. I was hooked. I had never seen anything like it and I bought turntables right when I arrived in Chicago. Spencer of OL taught me how to DJ. He already was a great DJ so it was nice to have a mentor back then. I used to have a big apartment that was on Orchard Street in Chicago. We were VERY loud and my neighbors probably wanted to kill me. I had a full DJ booth in there and banging tower speakers. We would go to the clubs and see DJ's then the after party was always us spinning all night, usually until the wee hours of the morning. We jokingly called it the “Orchard Lounge” because it was our little hangout. Coincidentally, Bethany actually moved into an apartment a little ways across town and it was also on Orchard Street. Then Spencer and I moved in together to a new apartment that was also on Orchard Street. The name just stuck and the rest is history.
ZF: Does Chicago have a unique electronic music scene?
BS: Chicago is a very special place within electronic music history. It is the birthplace of house music and some of the pioneers of the genre still play shows in Chicago. There are great clubs, lounges, and of course lofts. Great artists from all over the world come to play. I think every house producer wants to play in Chicago due to the history, it's just a great place to be. OL's favorite club, Smartbar, also has a rich history and every time we play there it is magical.
There are all kinds of events in Chicago that rep other styles of electronic music aside from house though, whatever you're looking for is there. There are also some excellent promoters doing their thing in Chicago and I have nothing but respect for them.
ZF: As a DJ/Producer, who are some of the artists that have inspired you the most?
BS: There are so many of them, I don't know how I could possibly mention them all. I'll stick to the few that pop into my head. A lot of the stuff in the 90's still pushes me the way it used to. Most of that was down-tempo music which is something I will always love. I actually started out playing down-tempo and collecting down-tempo. I bought a record at Nick Nice's record shop in Madison that was described to me as “pot jazz”, it was called Kruder and Dorfmeister: The K+D Sessions. I will never get tired of that one. It was a sound that I wasn't familiar with and I fell in love instantly. That early wave of down-tempo was so good. I've made multiple down-tempo DJ mixes with tracks from that era and still play them today. I love the moodiness and vibe it conveys. Another one that influenced me was Metro Area's self titled LP. It was a jazzy, electro, and retro sounding album. It proved that there are electronic albums that can appeal to anybody. That album was actually a staple during Thanksgiving dinners. Their production style was very sparse and I love how every note counts. I was influenced a lot by the house producer Kevin Yost. He is an accomplished jazz musician and you can hear his chops in his music. His first couple albums were big for me. I also play guitar so I've always been interested in ways to incorporate live instruments in tracks while still maintaining the same vibe and not getting too jammed out.
The music I am producing now, especially with my friend David Hammond is very techy, dark, and deep. There are so many recent producers I look up to and countless record labels that have inspired that sound. Some of my all time favorites are Hardfloor, Jeff Bennett, Steve Bug, Booka Shade, Maceo Plex, Lindstrom, pretty much all of Get Physical Music roster, 2020 Vision....
There are just so many, I could go all day, that is just a tiny fraction! I'm also inspired by a lot of the experimental stuff like Flume, Flying Lotus, Boards of Canada, Autechre, Aphex Twin etc.
ZF: Throughout your career, what are some specific shows that have stood out to you?
BS: I loved playing every single show and they were all so different. One that I am especially proud of was at Camp Bisco in 2007. We had a huge timeslot on the main stage during the set break of the Disco Biscuits. We wanted to do something unique for this set because we knew that it would be in front of thousands and thousands of people. Plus we have been to so many festivals and shows and know that sometimes it is cool to actually WATCH something during this kind of situation. We teamed up with my friend Clay Dempsey (who is an amazing video artist) and decided to put up a giant screen on the stage and make the DJ set a live score to video that he was going to put together. My favorite film of all time is 2001: A Space Odyssey and I think Stanley Kubrick is a genius. Clay put together a crazy psychedelic mash-up of different Stanley Kubrick imagery and we played music that started out chill and built up to darker tech house. That set definitely scared some people in the audience but hitting an emotion was the goal.
This is the audio and video from that show:
There have been numerous marathon sets where we've played for 6 or 7 hours. Those are always are favorites. Spencer, Bethany, and I are into so many different styles of music and have always collected a wide range of different sounds. We're able to go way deeper and take it out there further, it's something that we excel in. I think longer sets allow us to dig in and take the dance floor on more of a ride. Especially because the three of us are doing a tag team set and playing off of each other, we can push each other and take it crazy places.
All of the extended Smartbar sets we've done stand out to me. We did a 7 hour “All-Vinyl” set there after Lollapalooza a few years ago and we each dug out records we used to love but hadn't heard in years. Another one of my favorites was at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago where we did an all Space-Disco night, we actually did that a few times. Those were a blast. Honestly though, any time I get to hang with my best friends and play music makes me happy. I always love what Spencer and Bethany play. They are my 2 favorite DJ's (and people).
ZF: After not being able to DJ with Orchard Lounge for a substantial period of time, how does it feel to be back on stage with Spencer and Bethany?
BS: Honestly, words can't even describe it. It was something I thought about constantly. I didn't know what was going to happen. I missed everybody so much and would lie in bed dreaming about what it would be like to be back. Finally, after many long days the time came and I heard that a marathon set was booked at Smartbar post-Lollapalooza. I couldn't have been more excited and also nervous because I really wanted this to go well. I can honestly say I have never practiced and prepped more for a show. For close to a month I practiced countless hours every day and I listened to close to 1000 tracks. I didn't want to just get back to where I was, I wanted to come back as a much better DJ. I feel like I've improved significantly. A big part of that is being sober and that is something I am very proud of. I was partying too much before and now I realize that I can focus and hear the music so much better. I was able to do much longer mixes and try things that I never had before. The music even sounds better to me sober. When the night came, it was magical. We played off of each other like we were never apart. It was just so fun to be back with my friends. We think itwas the best set we have ever played. It was also very exciting because I debuted songs from my new EP that nobody had ever heard, they got a great response from the crowd. I still grin when I think about that night and how happy I was to see everybody. To just hang out and laugh with Spencer and Bethany was amazing.
ZF: What does the future hold for Ben Silver?
BS: Since coming back I have never been so inspired. I don't want to waste anytime and I have a lot that I'm working on. My good friend David Hammond and I have a brand new EP that we are about to release. I am proud of it and I can't wait for you guys to hear it. I have been playing it at all of the recent shows. We also have a bunch of tracks that are finished and have never been released. I'm trying to figure out what to do with them. There will be a lot more releases coming from us. We are also wrapping up our first Soundtrack/Score for a short film that a guy by the name of Tim Mather made. It will hopefully be shown at a film festival later in the month. There will be more DJ mixes and live sets for people to listen to in the near future. I love doing it and sharing the sounds.
I am very excited to be returning to New York with OL on 9/26 where we are playing an extended set as the late night for Brooklyn Comes Alive. This is going to be a blast. There will be other shows with OL and I am also going to be playing solo shows in multiple cities around the country.
It feels really good to create and get back out there. I am doing everything I can to be positive and after being away I will not take anything for granted. I am so grateful for the support I have been given and I can't wait to see everybody again very soon!