It’s been a big year for Clive Davis freshman Ben Shirken, better known by his stage name Beshken. Since moving from his home in LA to New York for school, the producer has played several shows in Brooklyn, released an EP and even had a music video premiered by Noisey. WSN sat down with Shirken to discuss the Brooklyn music scene and life as a bicoastal artist.
WSN: How has being in college changed your experience as an artist?
Ben Shirken: I think it’s thrown a brick at me. If I didn’t come to school, I probably wouldn’t be doing what I’m doing now. Especially just meeting a lot of people in the scene, meeting kids who are similar to me, but have different tastes. One of my really good friends listens to a lot of experimental electronic music — before I came here, I thought I was listening to experimental electronic music, but I wasn’t. I’ve really opened up my mind to what’s good and what’s bad, and it’s become harder for me to define what’s good or bad. Being in the scene in Brooklyn, that’s changed me a lot, just seeing everyone who’s doing it professionally, and having a good time. You can literally play whatever kind of music you want and people will still get down to it here, whereas in LA, people have a specific taste, unless you go to a certain area. And it’s so spread out there, so you can’t always access those places; Brooklyn’s right here.
WSN: So you prefer Brooklyn’s music scene to LA’s?
BS: Yeah, part of it is because I’m older now. I can be invested in the scene, and it’s just more accessible. Also, I think [Brooklyn] is better for upcoming artists; I think that’s why artists move to LA after they’ve done stuff, because they can play bigger shows and have a more commercial audience there. For me, Brooklyn’s been helpful.
WSN: Playing live shows as a producer involves a different kind of stage presence as playing live instruments. How do you ensure that you make a connection with your audience when you’re playing live shows?
BS: That was one of my biggest issues with DJing. I played three shows last semester, but I had to play songs that were already completed. I couldn’t do anything live besides transitions and effects between songs. There is an audience for DJing, but I wanted to expand it, so now I’m doing live instrumentation during my shows. Depending on which show it is, and depending on the vibe, I can do a DJ set or a live set. I did a show at Knitting Factory in February, and I played guitar live. I have Ableton Push, which is an 8×8 pad that controls Ableton. I take apart all of my songs, and then I can take parts out and edit certain effects, so that way I’m live remixing. I can do that while playing the guitar parts, and my friend plays bass. That’s how I’m making it more interactive — I can take breaks between songs, and talk to the audience. That’s what I want to develop as an electronic artist, to not be a DJ but to be more of an acoustic-electronic combination.
WSN: What’s one goal you have as a musician that you want to achieve this year?
BS: I want to put out another project. This summer, my goal is to put out another EP on a label, like FOF (Friends of Friends) or HW&W (Huh, What & Where), possibly. I also want to build a website — I want to make something interactive that you can mess around with. I have a friend who does coding, and I want to so something that moves around when you enter it. I also want to do more multimedia stuff this year, like delving into stuff that’s not just music but also visual; in shows, having stuff that’s more interactive. Expanding me from just music.
See Beshken perform live at Palisades on May 13.
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 25 print edition. Email Mandy Freebairn at [email protected]