INTERVIEW: HOMES FOR AMERICA

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A fresh face on the scene, Birmingham boy Ben Galyas who goes by the artist name of Homes for America has been producing mixes and performing sets recently and is soon to start a residency on NTS. He is also an LGBTQ officer at University of the Arts London and has been djing to help raise funds for charity and awareness of the cause.

He has recently produced a mix on vinyl in relation to Black History Month named ‘Outta America’. The mix has features music from artists of  African decent whilst others have been inspired by or sample African Music. Artists include Etta James, Sylvester, Maâlem Mahmoud Guinia and Floating Points, Jay Dee, Willia Onyeabor, Ajukaja, and Kerri Chandler.

I caught up with Ben to talk about his recent mix, about the artists he admires, Music of Black Origin, Plastic People and gender neutral toilets.

L: Hi Ben can you start with telling me a little about yourself?                                                

Ben: So I’m a fine art student at Chelsea, but I’ve been DJing for maybe 8 months now, collecting records for a couple of years and playing on vinyl for about 4 months? I think.

L: Homes for America, can you tell me where you got that name from?                              

B: It’s an artwork by Dan Graham, someone I have a great deal of respect for. He had a reputation of being a jack of all trades, he was an artist, critic, and musician. I really admire that kind of multiplicity. Homes for America was a pretty radical work, it was an image in a magazine along side a short text. As a title too it has some kind of political thrust.

homes for america
copyright © Dan Graham 1966-67

L: So you said you’ve been djing for about 8 months, why did you start?                                

B: (laughing) it probably came from wanting to play songs at parties and it just developed from there. I used to play around on my laptop to make mixes and I’m pretty embarrassed about that now. I always just wanted to play records and i’m lucky to be able to move onto just playing records pretty quickly. It’s an expensive business for a student (laughing again)

L: Everyone has to start somewhere! So what artists do you admire or would you say are your main influences?                          

B: Well a couple of years ago I was lucky enough to spend some time at Plastic People where I saw Kieran (Four Tet) and Sam (Floating Points) on different nights. That was a pretty amazing experience and the guys that played there have been really influential. Theo Parrish too but I didn’t get the chance to see him which is sad. I have a big thing for eclectic DJs, like going to the club and having no idea what you might hear is a lot more exciting than going to listen to 6 hours of house music.

L: Each to their own Ben, I still love my house! Haha. I’ve seen a few of your sets now myself and I can see a sort of pattern emerging with your record choices and vibe, “it’s very Ben” I’d say but would you say you have a certain style?                                                    

B: Hahahaha that’s good I guess. I probably do, I think I play quite a mixture of quite high brow early electronic stuff like musique electronique or John Cage or whatever, and I’ll also play like really raw garage or techno or old bassline. I like the idea that there can be a really weird coherency between them within a DJ set, but if you were going to see them at the time, one would be in the Royal Festival Hall or the Barbican and another would be in a really sweaty basement in Sheffield (continues to laugh).

L: What made you want to make a mix for Black History Month?                                              

B:  I wanted to make the set that would trace back to the origins of a lot of contemporary electronic music, specifically African Origins because I think they’re fundamental. Black people played such an integral role in the development of contemporary electronic music too. You have guys like William Onyeabor and Francis Bebey who’s use of synths still seem really new and amazing. And then you have guys like Carl Craig, Larry Heard, Kerri Chandler. The list is kind of endless.

In that set there are two tracks by Sylvester, who I’m really interested in. He was gay and black at the worst time to be both them things. He was really overt and flamboyant and his music is really amazing. I think he died of AIDs in the late 80s.

L: What was your thought process behind the mix, how did you want to create a collection of music that represented Africa when you are not African yourself? Was this difficult?                                                                                                                                                        

B: Yeah it was. I never feel like I should be speaking for the black community, especially in an industry which is really whitewashed. At the same time, black musicians have really informed the understanding of music I own today. I thought for Black History Month it would be great to celebrate that; which is what I’ve tried to do within the set. I could never claim that this set represents Africa, because so much is missing. It’s a really timeless narrative and I don’t think you could ever put any kind of set together that could claim to do that.

L: Of course, could you tell us a bit more about your campaigning for UAL? I voted for you!                                                                                                                                                                  

B: So I was elected LGBTQ Officer at the beginning of this academic year. We’ve been working hard on improving mental health services across UAL and securing Gender Neutral Bathrooms across all campuses. We’ve also been organising events for LGBTQ history month, which has been a real stress. Next year I’ll be moving to Trustee, which basically means I sit on the board and helping to make decisions on where the budget is spent.

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Double Screen Double Trouble, Ben Galyas, Print medium and Pigment on Canvas, 2016

L: We both attend University of the Arts, would you say being in London makes it easier to be a creative?                                                                                                                                          

B: Definitely! It’s sad that so much of the culture is centralised in the UK. It’s an almost impossible situation for artists, especially early on in their careers where they earn so little and yet they have to live in one of the most expensive cities on the planet to have any chance of being really successful. I’ve had so many opportunities here that I just would not have had if I were still in Birmingham. But as you know that comes with great expense in terms of debt…

L: Finally you’ve got quite a few mixes out but is a track of your own on the way any time soon?                                                                                                                                                    

B: Unfortunately not, I’m trying to raise money to buy this processor which will allow me to sample and loop records easily. I have a few ideas but I feel like most people don’t make great records until they’re in their 30s. I have lots coming up though; I have an exhibition where I’m showing a film I have been working on next month. I’m also playing at a new night called Steady Levels in Camberwell next month and my friend and I are starting a night called Birds. A residency on NTS may be on the cards in the coming weeks which is really exciting.

L: Thank you Ben!

Bring on the Birds!

Catch Homes for America’s extended version of the Africa mix streaming on NTS radio over the next few weeks.

Follow Homes for America on Soundcloud by clicking here