Ben Rau talks us through his career and new vinyl-only imprint META

Ben Rau had a stellar 2017, playing gigs worldwide as well as standout releases on his own INKAL imprint, including the massive ‘Work Hard’ and ‘Don’t You Know’, which were picked up and played by some of the scene’s best selectors collectively, including Apollonia, YAYA, Enzo Siragusa and Archie Hamilton, while ‘Don’t You Know’ was used to soundtrack Ibiza party institution Circoloco’s summer promo video. Here I caught up with him to discuss the inspiration behind his new label META, and what 2018 holds for the Berlin talent.

I think we have to start from the beginning, what are your first experiences of dance music?

My Dad was a music lover and so was my Mum, and I think my earliest memory of dancing was to the theme of Shaft. My Dad used to put that on, and it was a really funky piece by Isaac Hayes we used to put on every morning before Kindergarten. When it comes to electronic music and clubbing, I was exposed to tapes very early on because my Brother is a music head too and he started getting into clubbing way before me at Sven Vath’s Omen Club. My brother bought all those early house records, Inner City, Frankie Knuckles, Masters at Work, and so I was counting the days till I was old enough to go clubbing myself.

Quite early on I started having ideas about making music. Once we went out to see Larry Heard play in Hamburg, not many people were there so we got talking, he told me to get a synth and a drum machine and get started. But I didn’t do it, in a way I refused my calling because I had doubts whether I was going to be any good, basically refusing to even try, I didn’t have the confidence then to just start.

You lived in the UK for 13 years, how did that affect you musically?

I was already a raver by the time I moved to the UK but I’d kind of fallen out of love with it I guess, and then just being a consumer wasn’t enough anymore. At uni my friend Chris taught me how to DJ and that reignited the fire. One day I told a friend that I wanted to do this for a living and he said if anyone can do it, it’s you.

I remember everyone leaving for Easter, I stayed put and practiced on the decks every day. At uni I got exposed to UK tech house and UK garage was also huge. I then moved to London and got my first residency which was in Hamburg, as a DJ I learned my craft there often playing all night, but I couldn’t really get any gigs in London as nobody wanted to give me a chance to play. On top of that I worked a dead end job in a call centre doing market research for £7.50 an hour, it was soul destroying work. DJing was always my way out, something that gave me a sense of hope.

In Germany minimal had started to become big, I went to Ibiza in 2003 and Circoloco was the place where the workers went and the music was weird and German. Ricardo Villalobos, Tania Vulcano and the residents really pushed a different sound and I took that with me back to the UK. I entered a DJ competition with IDJ Mag called Raw Talent and won it. Nobody played that sound at the time, but the mix cd from that competition somehow ended up in Enzo Siragusa’s hands and he invited me to come down to one of his parties and play, and he was like ‘You’re my new resident’ and the rest is history. I’ve been a resident for FUSE ever since.

FUSE has obviously had a big impact on your career, tell me more?

FUSE has been and still is an incredible platform. It has given people that initial interest in me as an artist, and the chance for them to say I wonder what this guy is about. It has allowed me to reach a wider audience and to be associated with a sound and some really amazing artists like Enzo, Archie, Seb and Rich.

What do you think was the tipping point?

Well in 2011 due to family circumstances I moved back to Berlin to be with the family. It was a really difficult time and for two years not much happened in my DJing career, by 2012 I had built a studio but still lacked discipline and vision. One night I basically woke up and realized if I want my dreams to come true I had to apply myself to making music with a kind of warrior ethos, no excuses, show up every day and keep working on my craft and the rewards will come.

I had zero gigs in 2012 but I was happy because I knew I had turned a corner. The Replicant EP was the first thing I was really proud of, and from then on creating just got easier. To finish a lot of music of a high quality is incredibly hard, most people never get there. Two years ago I really noticed that I reached a new level and that was the foundation of INKAL, INKAL is the tipping point of my career.

What then made you want to start your own label?

I felt that I had learnt enough as an artist to empower myself to be able to release my music whenever I want, to not have somebody pick tracks and make decisions of what comes out and what doesn’t. I came to a point where I had the confidence in saying I can decide what’s good and what isn’t, hardly anything isn’t (laughs). And that’s the best decision I ever made.

After all those struggles believing in myself and my ability to do this on a high level was the biggest reward, I gained that confidence from the many hours of working in the studio alone and from the reaction of the crowd when I play my tracks.

The first three INKAL’S did incredibly well, what do you attribute to the initial demand?

I think it’s dangerous to make assumptions to why this happened, all I know is I try to write the best music I can and when it resonates that’s great. Success is a by-product of the work, sure I want to be successful, but I don’t write a track thinking this will reach No.1. Having said that INKAL003 just went to No.1 again and that’s a hat trick (laughs). I try to make EP’s for the dancefloor, music where people at the end of the night can say “do you remember the track that went like this.”

You have INKAL for your own releases, you’re starting META which is a platform for pushing new artists. Is that something you feel strongly about in your career?

Absolutely, it’s a responsibility that when you reach a certain point in your career it’s time to start supporting the people around you. That may be new talent or already established talent but the key is to all support each other in staying successful in the game.

This industry is about building relationships, but don’t ever come empty handed, it’s one of my mantras. If you make contact make sure you have something to offer, don’t just be one of those guys that wants something for nothing.

What is the ethos of META?

The ethos of META is essentially the same as INKAL, they are vehicles for my self-empowerment, so I can create my life how I see fit and maybe even inspire others to do the same. That might sound a bit high brow but it really is what I believe.

What do you look for in a new artist that is looking to release on META?

I look for a couple of things beyond just great music. They need to be hungry and already established in the scene, and I need to see that they already have a profile and are playing out. If they have their own party and promote then that’s great. I look for people who have an all-round experience of the industry already, people who promote, people who are releasing, people who are already developing themselves. If I can see that someone is really committed to making it in this industry, which is incredibly tough, it really is much easier to take them that much further. Personal relationships play a big role as well.

Aside from production, what does 2018 hold gig wise? I know you’ve just returned from Australia, how was that?

Australia was fantastic, I love it over there and I have a lot of friends in Sydney so it feels great coming back. I’m going to be in Amsterdam, Liverpool, Gran Canaria and South America again in the next two months. It’s been a really great start to the year and I look forward to seeing where else it will take me. Thanks Ben!

META001 is out now, grab a copy NOW.