Sepia: Soul-Stirring

📷: Eyediola Photography

From Croydon to Bristol through USA and Vienna, Sepia’s music became an essential part of any dubstep playlist, especially in the the deeper, harmonious end of the spectrum. Known for his detailed percussions and ambient, soul-stirring riffs, this time he takes us on a sombre, gloomy journey of dark solar systems, occultations and distant nostalgia. Theo has been on our radar for a long time, but we chose the occasion of his release on Deep, Dark & Dangerous as a great chance to find out more about his musical persona. Caught between touring, a day job, studio bookings and his social life, he spared some time to tell us about how his relationship with music has changed over time, through different places, people and acoustic perception of electronic sound. He also gave us a recipe for perfect dubstep listening and went into detail of blending Coki with James Blake. If you haven’t yet, meet Theo Bennet, aka Sepia, and his personal and honest insight into the Bristol sound and community.

Hi Theo, thank you for joining me for a chat. It’s been a busy few years for you. The “Eclipse” EP has now been released, Outlook approaching soon, you’re gigging pretty much every weekend. Thank you for finding time. How have you been?

No worries, it’s a pleasure! I’m good, taking it easy for a few weeks, collecting myself. Yeah it’s been a pretty mad time as of late really. Been a real great experience though.

You don’t need an introduction but for those who haven’t seen your career grow, please tell us how it all started. Was it always just dubstep for you?

Well I started out playing acoustic, folk, emo, punk, metal and ska in various projects and bands that never really got anywhere but was a lot of fun when I was growing up. I play drums, bass and guitar. I started messing around producing on FL around 2007. I started DJing around the same time at free parties and pubs where I used to live. I’ve always been into all kinds of music, I’m mainly influenced by bands then electronic producers, though both influence me highly. This whole thing didn’t get serious ’til I moved to Brighton and was DJing with all the heads from 2009 – 2011. I wasn’t really comfortable with my own productions until 2012 when I made “Cornered” and Skream & Benga played it on Radio 1. Until then, I barely played any of my own stuff in my sets. I just uploaded bits to Soundcloud and had the odd nice comment or feedback. I didn’t take producing seriously ’til I was happy with my sound, I was mainly a DJ ’til around 2012.

We can hear the “drummer” in your tunes – your percussions are always so detailed and particular. Do you think it contributed much into how you program and pitch your drums? Do you still play?

Yeah it definitely holds influence in the way I write my drum patterns. Though I would never be able to play my own songs on drums live. I use so much percussion that I’d need at least 3 percussionists and another drummer to recreate the sound as accurately as possible live. It’s a pipe dream for the future though. I wish I still had a set up! The neighbours hate me enough as it is (laughs). I do still play when I go to studios that have kits set up though. Me and my mates usually jam a bit of metal for a laugh and go back to blast beats and double kicks.

Playing at the Trinity Centre, Bristol  📷: Khali Photography

Especially down here in Bristol, you seem to be a familiar face to everyone – you support most events and treat everyone with a smile and respect. It must be hard to keep up with everything going on and in your musical life. Do you ever sleep?

Bristol is a mega friendly place, full of vibes, great community and amazing friends, so that keeps my energy and positivity levels up, which in turn makes it all easier. I don’t sleep enough though. But even if I wasn’t doing music I have major bad trouble sleeping anyway.

Do you think the “music social life” is a big part of building a career?

Yes and no. Before music, I wasn’t the most confident person or very good in social situations apart from with my close friends. So in a sense, yeah the music social life does help build your career a bit. I’ve met so many dope people, and cos we’ve instantly gelled and connected and gotten along, word spreads and it’s easier to meet and be accepted by more people. I guess just being a genuine person helps too, you don’t need to snake around or kiss ass to get places. Just be yourself and share music. In the other sense, you don’t need a music social life to build a career. Look at Burial. He’s a recluse who doesn’t speak to anybody and has an incredible musical career. And look at Zomby for instance. He’s a dickhead to most people in the scene yet his career flourishes. So the answer is “yes” and “no” I think? Depends on the person.

I know you’ve always been into various kinds of music and that your influences are very broad, so I’ll avoid asking about all of them. I am mostly interested in your passion for footwork. How did this fascination come about and can we expect any Sepia experimentations in juke?

Teklife til tha next life! Always. Yeah, footwork is a mad ting. The first time I heard it I was just like “wtf is this?!” It’s SO energetic, and raw, and unapologetic and fun. They don’t give a fuck if beat is off grid and they will make you dance like a lunatic to 160 edits of Stevie Wonder at 6am. What is there not to be fascinated about? Yeah I’ve been making footwork since 2014. There’s some stuff coming on Inform Records (hail up Mo!) sometime in 2018. I’m making more at the moment too.

Your latest EP, “Eclipse” is a mixture of really dark and very emotive sounds – “Sakura” has been a dub for a few years now. Tell us about the tracks you’ve created and how you put the EP together.

All my songs are pretty emo to be honest. I guess, as cheesy as it sounds, I mainly make music to deal with a lot of shit in my head and just left it out. So that’s why most of it has emotive tones. When I’m in a dark place, the sounds become a bit more haunting and dark, which is where the bulk of the “Eclipse” EP was written. I don’t really approach writing music with a certain idea or style, I just sit and let out whatever comes out. “Eclipse” was written in winter 2016, which wasn’t such a good time. “Point Blank” and “Regret” was written before I went to America this year, which was much better time. So I guess in that sense my style is evolving. I’d like to think so anyway. Shit, yeah, “Sakura” was made in 2014 (laughs). I was just pissed off one day and that happened. I didn’t really plan to put this EP together, it kind of just happened. Truth hit me up, and I was listening to these 4 tracks as a collection at the time and it made sense. I think it works as a track list, as it shows Deep, Dark & Dangerous tones.

You’ve been teasing us about working on your own LP for a while now. The cheeky previews we can catch floating around the socials sound like it’s a real “Sepia sound” compilation. Can you share with us anything more about it?

I’ve been trying to write an album since 2014. I did write a whole one. It literally sounded like winter, it was so depressing so I scrapped it. I think Bayfield (GetDarker & Purple City Souffle) is the only person to have it. This time round, I’m not forcing myself to come up with a finished project. I’m taking my time and making sure it all makes sense. I’ve written like 14 tunes for it so far. There’s an album consideration folder on my laptop. Only about 2 of them will 100% go on the final track list. It’s gonna take a while though as I’m working with some other producers and musicians and wanna get it right. Got Alicia Kiah from USA on violins. Got Tailored Sound on sax. My mate Henry on guitars with me. We’re taking our time and I just wanna make it a journey, not a collection of tracks that already exist. And I’m trying to make the album not so emotional and depressing this time, so I gotta wait ’til I’m happier to write the happier songs! What I can tell you though is that it does already have a home to be released on. That’s all I can give at the moment.

We should definitely mention your US tour. It must have been great to finally meet all the faces that you know from their tracks and your collaborations. What were the highlights?

Going to USA for the first time was probably the best experience I have ever had in my life. I’m such a tiny name in this scene, so to even be able to do a full tour around USA was insane to me. My homies over there have been supporting me since 2012 and it was SO good to finally meet everybody I’ve been speaking to online with for years. Also meeting all these new people, seeing the sights, tasting the food, playing all these clubs, headlining a few dates too was surreal! The entire tour was a highlight! Sub.Mission 10 years in Denver, jamming in Philadelphia with Epoch, Jez Innamind and Alicia (shout out Jezze Boya & Boom Room gang too), Tsunami Bass in Brooklyn, jamming in LA with Youngsta & Dre and making a tune with them. Plus all the food! Oh, and chilling with my brother from another, Joe Nice, for a few days and finally doing Sub FM together. Also big up Kansas, Seattle, DC crew too.

Truth, Youngsta & Sepia in LA

Speaking of Joe Nice, you probably get asked about him a lot but could you tell us again about this wonderful legend and what his GourmetBeats label means to you.

Joe is literally one of the nicest, hardest working and incredible people I’ve met and had pleasure of being friends with over the years. He’s like a big brother to me, (as is Quest!). GourmetBeats to me is home. It was my first vinyl release (and Joe has been playing my music since 2012 on Sub FM). It’s been a label that’s paved the way for so many other people too and holds a lot of my close friends and peers on there. Shout out Joe and the GourmetBeats family.

On that note, how about Bristol vs South London? These two worlds are close to your heart, from what I know, both at the same time essential hubs for dubstep and sound system music. Do you think they influenced your music and evolution as a producer?

I’ve spent years in Croydon, I’ve spent years in Bristol. Croydon paved the way. But Bristol is setting the scene right now and has upped the ante. I love both with all my heart though. Yeah, Croydon 100% obviously influenced me and essentially started my love for dubstep and made me do this in the first place. However, Bristol gave me that second wind and enabled me to evolve and carry on and fall in love with it again.

Where is your favourite spot to fully enjoy dubstep?

The Dome, on Vivek‘s system. Hands down. Anybody who hasn’t experienced the sound on THAT system in THAT venue, wouldn’t understand. It was unreal! Obviously there’s many other dope nights and systems too, but those original System nights will resonate with me forever. Nights at Trinity are always unreal here in Bristol too. I’m loving Sinai Sound System a lot, they know what they are doing. Also, wait ’til you hear Firmly Rooted (out to Jake and the Hold Tight Crew). New ting in Bristol for the heads.

Record selecting at Basstrace, Vienna  📷: Andin Gashi

You’re playing with the Deep, Dark & Dangerous crew at Outlook. You must be excited. What are you looking forward to the most when you get out there?

It’s such an honour to finally be invited to play at Outlook, and not just at Outlook, but on a mother fucking boat! Things are gonna get real wavey, there’s so many of us playing on that boat, and there’s a lot of rum. I think the whole DDD crew are gonna turn full pirate. I’ve no idea what to expect, all I know is that it’s gonna be one to remember. I think I’m most looking forward to getting the fuck out of the UK and into the sun with my mates, scuba diving whilst listening to Phaeleh and that (laughs). And losing my mind down the Moat and just having a laugh with my peers, heads and mates.

Will you play your secret weapon: Coki with James Blake…

(Laughs) You’ll have to wait and see! To clarify for those reading, I like to play James Blake’s “Love What Happened Here” and as it’s builds into the organ crescendo, I double it with the drop of Coki’s “Goblin”, taking the low end out of James Blake so just the organs are playing, while the full low end attack of Goblin is up at same time, it really kicks off! Chop that shit up so you got organs, then goblin, then organs. Had so many funny reactions. In the US, people lost their shit. In the UK, people were looking at me as if to say wtf is this? I enjoy it regardless.

I want to touch on some other topical issues with you such as, now that your music is mostly released on vinyl and keeps selling out, how did you feel about seeing one of your records on Discogs for £80?

I didn’t even make that from the release so it pissed me off that TanMushiMushi made that and has the audacity to sell records at those prices. But at the same time, I guess when Mushi is selling your records for extortion means you’ve made it, right? (laughs). If it were up to me, anytime pricks like that do that, I would happily just repress the record or leak the WAVs myself. However, labels own half the rights and I don’t wanna break contracts and shit. I don’t know how to stop people like that. We all need to find a way to eradicate sideman behaviour like that.

People fall in love with the music industry until they experience all the downsides. Are there any you are feeling yourself? You’ve released so many records since 2015, you’re constantly on tour etc.

100%! Depression, lack of social life with your real friends and family. It’s cost me relationships in the past too. It does become a struggle. But even without a music career, you still face those problems, just not as magnified. I love making music and I love touring though so I can’t really complain. Whenever it gets too much for me, I take a break for month or two, delete social media and just kick back with friends or lock myself in my room ’til I’m normal again.

What goals are you setting next for your music? I imagine you have ticked off quite a few from your list already. Is there anyone in particular you would like to work with?

I just wanna visit more countries and tour more and release more records! And eventually, take my sound live! Me, Samba, Chokez, Koma and Rygby started a collective called Chonk Mob. We got some stuff coming up, collabs, gigs and we gonna start the record label next summer too. Me and Foamplate are planning on working on some music together (shout out brother Louie, miss you bro!). Need to finish the collab Truth, Youngsta and I started in LA.

Any new producers you think we should pay attention to?

I been rinsing a lot of Glume, De-Tu, Akcept, Mr K, Oxossi, Muttley, The Greys, Kreed, Khanum, Muttley, Nakes, Invader Spade and others. Obviously all the heads you already know about (Foamplate, Karma, Samba etc).

Playing on the RC1 Sound System at 10 Years of GetDarker  📷: Ben Donoghue

Any final shout outs or comments you would like to include?

Shout out to all my friends, family loved ones, anybody who’s supported me and my music, promoters that have booked me, labels that have signed me and given me opportunity etc. Too many names to mention, I’ve been giving sly shout outs through-out most of my answers anyway (laughs).

Thank you for sharing your time and thoughts with us Theo. I’m sure your EP will do very well and I hope to catch you in the Croatian sun later this year.

A track…

which introduced you to dubstep: Massive Music – Find My Way (Kode9 Remix)
always gets people skanking during your sets:
Samba & Chokez – Ghastly or Benga & Coki – Night (Egoless Version)
you put on at 5 am: Author – After Time (ft. Quark)
you would end your Essential mix with
: Aphex Twin – Rhubarb or Ludvico Enuadi – Walk (Phaeleh Remix)

Eclipse EP is out now and available from Unearthed Sounds, Redeye, White Peach, Juno and the Deep, Dark & Dangerous Store.

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