Durham’s Lord of the Mic
Mark Tyers talks to ABSORB – the only North East artist that made it onto the MOBO Awards 2015 ‘One’s to watch’ list.
Up-and-coming grime, dub-step and Drum-n-bass rapper Ben Traviss aka ABSORB has had his tracks played on Radio 1Xtra and many other radio stations over the last few years. He’s also brought his high-octane, bass-heavy live shows to stages around the counrtry from Newcastle’s Evolution Emerging Festival to London. He is due to perform in Independent (Holmeside, Sunderland) on Thursday 26 November.
Mark Tyers (MT): In your short career you’ve already supported the likes of Skepta (grime legend – admired by Drake, Kanye West, Pharrell, Ed Sheeran and more) and some of the north-east’s most critically acclaimed rock bands. What’s the best or most memorable gig you’ve ever done and why?
Absorb: Supporting Skepta at The Sage was a big deal for me. I was part of ABSORB VS Sequel at the time, and we’d kind of got the gig very last minute as their line-up had already been confirmed before I’d got in touch with them. We managed to swing it by sending the venue some links to our material and persuading them that we’d give them an actual show rather than just a set. That entire night will live long in the memory.
Legendary grime producer Terror Danjah and UK Dancehall Queen Lady Chann are just two of the people who’ve collaborated with you – are there any collaborations you’ve done which were particularly memorable or that your particularly proud of?
Absorb: The Lady Chann collaboration is still a stand out moment. Not just because of what the track went on to achieve and for the doors it opened for me but it was the fact that Lady Chann took a chance with it. She’s worked with some massive artists and her music has enabled her to perform all over the world, and there was me at the time; an unknown artist from Durham with no real track record reaching out in the hope that she’d just listen to my ideas, let alone say yes. She’s amazing and very humble plus meeting her in person on the set of the video showed me how committed she was to the track. That collaboration enabled me to really get my teeth into the business side of things too.
No Lay (who featured the single Take Me Or Leave Me, the follow up to I’m Done) is also another massive artist who I’ve collaborated with. Not only is she a legend but she has a hardcore fanbase and a lot of supporters have taken to what I’m bringing to the table.
MT: You live in County Durham which is pretty much home of the colliery brass band and quite a few folk acts, it’s hard to think of a more unlikely place for an up-and-coming rapper to be based, so how did you get into grime, dub-step and all that in the first place?
Absorb: I started out as a singer when I first moved to secondary school but it quickly became apparent that maybe that wasn’t the path which was right for me. I’d written so many songs by this point, so rather than ditching everything, I decided that talking my lyrics was an option that I wanted to explore.
Hip-Hop was a big part of my life for a long time but something never really clicked. Boy In Da Corner was a turning point. The rawness, the intensity, the bass, a sound which was born in the UK and something which we could call our own. It was a totally unique sound. Elements of UKG, drum and bass, and reggae dancehall all fused together was something that was very difficult to ignore.
MT: What was the moment (or moments) when you decided you wanted to get serious about MCing and try and make it big? Was it a particular song, gig or something else?
Absorb: I’d been doing music for years. Being chosen as BBC 1Xtra’s Introducing Track Of The Week with my single I’m Done featuring Lady Chann in 2012 was when I knew that it was time to really get into this seriously. I have a lot to thank Nick Roberts for over at BBC Newcastle. He saw the track’s potential and forwarded it onto 1Xtra.
MT: When you were asked to describe the north-east rap scene by The Chronicle (Newcastle’s local paper) you said; “you tend to see the same sets at the same venues in front of the same crowds”. Would you still use those words to describe the NE rap scene today and how do you think the [NE rap] scene could and should develop?
I still stand by that. There are many more rappers who have emerged since that interview but the mindset seems, from personal experience, to be exactly the same.
Knowing about how things work can help a lot when putting together a release and I’d highly recommend artists from the area attending some of Generator’s free seminars.
MT: #PTFAD – what’s that all about?
PTFAD stands for Pull That Face And Die. It was initially created as a label to release my own music under but I now use the hashtag across several social media platforms. I chose ABSORB as my artist name in an era when the Internet was still evolving and ABSORB isn’t exactly the most Google-friendly word these days if you’re trying to find me online, so as well as my website, I use #PTFAD as my brand to and as another way of tracing things back to me.
MT: Your headlining Independent in Sunderland on 26 September – why should people come and see you perform?
Bass. Energy. More bass. Plus two local streetwear companies have kindly donated prizes for a competition which I’ll be running live during my set. A big shout out to I Sunk Your Battleship as well as Port Independent.
Absorb is headlining Independent (Holmeside, Sunderland) on Thursday 26 November with support from respected Newcastle MC Rex Regis. Tickets £6 – Doors open 7.30pm
You can find ABSORB over at www.absorbonline.com as well as following him on Twitter: @thisisABSORB