Before he’d even completed his degree in Classical & Contemporary Music Composition at the Birmingham Conservertoire, Ben Stefanski had already made a name for himself as electronic producer Raffertie.
A prolific remixer, he has also released his own material through labels such as Ninja Tune, Planet Mu and his own Super Recordings, spanning numerous genres. For his debut album, ‘Sleep Of Reason’, he settled at Ninja Tune, and settled on a sound too, which may surprise some of his fans. Not least because it sees Raffertie singing for the first time on record.
With the album due out on 5 Aug, CMU’s Andy Malt caught up with Raffertie to find out more about the album, his new sound, and ‘discovering’ AlunaGeorge.
AM: When did you begin work on the album, and how long did it take to complete?
R: I worked on the album for about two years from when I signed with Ninja Tune in April of 2011. There was a theme for the album which I decided at the beginning, which didn’t change throughout, but musically the sound developed over the course of the writing process and gradually became more and more cohesive.
AM: You’ve delved into various styles of electronic music over the last few years. Do you feel like you’ve found your own ‘sound’ now?
R: ‘Sleep Of Reason’ is a representation of my sound as it stands now. This sound will continue grow and evolve.
AM: What has the response to your new material been like so far?
R: Responses to my new material have been really positive so far. The album has only just gone up to stream on Spotify this week before the general release next Monday so the next few days will be telling in terms of what people think of the album as a whole.
I think people can be open to change. Change is what keeps music fresh for me. I am always excited to listen to artists who take different approaches in their work, so musically speaking I try and live by that with my own music. How those changes are received depends on how convincingly they are executed and whether the listener feels like they have been brought along for the ride or just left to watch.
AM: Did you make the decision to use your own vocals on the album before you began writing? Was it a conscious decision at all?
R: I wanted a vocal element on the album and initially I drew up lists of vocalists I wanted to work with. But an idea for a live set was developing alongside that, and the more I thought about it and planned it out, I began to realise that getting all of those vocalists in one place at one time would be a nightmare. So on a practical level I decided to try and use more of my own voice. On the early demos I sang in rough melody lines to get a feel for how a vocal might sit so I went back to them and developed them further. It felt more genuine using my own voice even if it meant I had to spend a bit longer working out how it fitted.
AM: I imagine the singing has changed the live show quite a bit then?
R: It has changed quite a lot. It’s taken at least five or six shows to really work out what setup works best. We’ve nailed the format now, which is me on vocals, guitars and synths, and a drummer playing a mixture of acoustic drums and electronic triggers. The last show we did felt assured and exciting to play, I’m really looking forward to touring the live show.
AM: For many people, they’re first contact with you would have been as a remixer. How much has that work influenced your own original tracks?
R: Remixing a track is no different from writing one of your own, except that you have a number of pre-existing parts to work with as a starting point. So from that point of view, remixing didn’t really have any particular effect on how I approached my own tracks. Though I did end up ‘remixing’ some early demos at a later stage of compiling the album, so perhaps on some level my experience of remixing helped with that.
AM: You also run your own record label, Super. What led you to set that up, and how do you balance that with the other side of your career?
R: It is a relatively straightforward setup, we keep an ear out for music we love and then put it out. Although some are aware of the connection between myself and Super we are quite individual entities and it works well like that. The label started, as many others do, through a desire to put out music we love.
AM: Earlier this year you launched a sister label, Pavilion. How has that gone so far?
R: It’s going well. I have less to do with Pavilion generally, though, than I do with Super, it’s headed up by a good friend who we have worked with for a while and shares a similar ethos to us.
AM: You’ve released early AlunaGeorge, Bondax and Throwing Snow singles through Super. How did you first discover them, and how has it been seeing their popularity increase?
R: We are immensely proud of how well all of our artists have done over the last couple of years and it’s incredible to have been a part of those early days with them. Some of our artists we have discovered via SoundCloud, some through meeting and sharing music, there’s no set way, everyone has been different.
AM: How did your deal with Ninja Tune come about, and how has that changed things for you?
R: I think I came to the attention of Ninja off of the back of a remix I did for [their imprint] Big Dada. After that they asked to hear more of my work and the rest is history.
AM: How closely did you work with them between the first two EPs for them and your new material? Did they offer advice as you worked, or were they quite hands off?
R: I worked with them very closely throughout all of the records I have put out with them but there was definitely a step up when it came to the album as I was writing a lot of material and it took some fairly intense sifting to work through it all.
AM: Is there more new music planned for this year, or is the plan to focus on the album and live shows now?
R: Album and live shows are the main focus at the moment and there will be at least one more single from the album. I haven’t stopped writing since finishing the record though, so there is new Raffertie material being written all the time. Other than that I have begun working with a few different artists on writing, production and mixing duties, and I have a number of commercial projects that I am working on as well. So I’m keeping nice and busy!