Back To Basics
by Joshua P. Ferguson
Originally published in Time Out Chicago magazine | 10.22.09
In the ’80s and ’90s, Londoners Ben Watt and his wife, Tracey Thorn, had a hugely successful career as the alternative-pop act Everything But the Girl. But after losing interest in the spotlight, the couple started to wind down the project in 2000. Thorn focused on raising the couple’s family—before launching a solo career— while Watt returned to his indie roots and an increased focus on electronic music.
“Everybody wants fame, but it’s not all it’s cracked up to be,” Watt says by phone from his London studio. “We’d had an extraordinary comeback in the early ’90s and reinvented our sound. But we also felt like hamsters on a wheel. We’ve never been that comfortable being too popular.”
Although Watt insists EBTG was “extremely independent” creatively, “the thing that always used to depress me was at the point of delivery—when you gave your record to the record company—you then just went into an established process which was exactly the same for everyone,” he says. “You had the same promotional activities, the same shit TV shows you had to go on, and still you had that feeling that whatever you sold, it was never enough. That is one of the great failings of the record industry.”
Having left behind the major-label rat race, Watt now calls his own shots thanks to his deep house and techno label Buzzin’ Fly—while traveling the world as a highly respected DJ, which brings him to Smart Bar on Saturday 24. “I love the looseness and the ability to act spontaneously that underground scenes give you,” he says. “The fact that it’s totally democratic and not mediated by boardrooms and overpaid A&R people that don’t have their finger on the pulse: These are the things that started to inspire me in the late ’90s. Buzzin’ Fly came out of that.”
The 47-year-old recalls a deeply musical youth: “There wasn’t a room in the house where music wasn’t playing when I was growing up.” While his father, prominent jazz musician Tommy Watt, listened to the Count Basie Orchestra and Charlie Parker, his brothers and sisters played Santana, Steely Dan “and more middle-of-the-road stuff,” he says. It wasn’t until the mid-’90s, when EBTG was reinventing itself, that Watt started focusing on electronic music. “I was getting more and more into drum ’n’ bass and deep house and a whole new world I’d only just discovered, which was strange for a guy in his thirties. That’s normally something you discover when you’re 16.”