Name: Noema aka David Benjamin
Occupation: Producer, DJ, label head at THE MAGIC MOVEMENT, MAGIC JAMS and AFRICAN & BRAZILIAN SHAKEDOWN
Current release: Noema just released a new compilation, Mind at large, on his own label The Magic Movement. It contains tracks by, among others, Noema himself, Nat Barrera, Sabda and Acid Pauli [Read our Acid Pauli interview].
Recommendations: “The Doors of Perception” by Aldous Huxley; “Pina” by Wim Wenders
If you enjoyed this Noema interview, visit him on Instagram, Facebook, and Soundcloud.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I started playing the guitar at the age of 6, and also regularly performed with school bands etc. The first time ever I saw somebody DJ was at a breakdance workshop I went to as a teenager. I loved the idea of playing music for people so they can dance, so I started DJing myself in late 1997.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In my case it's a pretty wild mix of influences and parallel developments.
I received a classical music education, first at a music school and later at university, which plays a major role in how I perceive and create music. Especially my time at university in Berlin, where I studied classical guitar and focused on music theory, had a strong impact on me.
One of the most profound take aways from that time was a certain attitude towards art, that even the smallest detail is important and has a value.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
It is impossible for me to detach my identity as a person from me as an artist.
It's not what I do, but who I am. So it's kind of one big beautiful mess.
What were your main creative challenges when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time?
The main challenge was not really a creative one: Since I always liked things which are “different” and followed my own understanding of what I think is good and what's not, I never really followed trends. But there was a time when I moved to Berlin, when I was playing US-House and Disco, while everybody around me played either minimal House or Electro Clash. In that time, people looked at you like you are crazy when you played anything with vocals. Because of that, it was very hard to get any gigs during those years.
Once the trend shifted to playing House Music and the minimal and electro clash DJs also started doing this, things eventually started to get better.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
My first instrument was the guitar, then piano and then the computer. At the end of the day, those are just tools to express your musical ideas and so far those three were enough for me.
Of course I always updated my Ableton versions and got some small helpers like nice mics and synths. But those are all replaceable at the end of the day. What matters is the idea, not the tools.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you perform?
My background as a guitarist definitely has shaped my idea what it actually means to perform on a stage. If you play a concert, and you still have time to check your phone, talk, have drinks etc while you perform, I think you are definitely not giving the best of you.
DJing is a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation. How would you describe your approach to it?
In my definition, a DJ provides the soundtrack for a certain moment in time. That's why my sets can be very different, from Balearic Disco, Ambient and Folk Rock on a Sunday afternoon at the beach to heavy House and weird Techno in a Berlin basement in darkest winter.
I usually play kind of eclectic, going through different genres. I also like to start slow (around 90-100bpm) and then go up to about 120-123bpm.
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? Is there a sense of collaboration between you and the dancers?
For me, the relationship between the DJ and the audience is like a constant feedback loop. That's why I can only bring things to the next level if the audience is open, ready and follows me. I can only play as good as the crowd allows me to.
If people give me a “thank you for the music” after my set I usually reply “thank you for dancing!”. Because what would my set be without the people dancing to it. So the whole thing is definitely a collaboration.
In a song or classical composition, the building blocks are notes, but in a DJ set the building blocks are entire songs and their combinatory potential. Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening and perhaps also, if applicable, your work as a producer?
In the context of DJing, I look at the tracks I play as material of certain emotions which I combine to bigger stories. Like every good story, you have an intro, you have tension, release, some drama here and there that resolves into a conclusion etc.
That is why, when I find new tracks, I first try to fully understand their emotion and imagine in which kind of story and at what point of it I would play them.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Usually, the first thing I do when I get up is meditation for 20 minutes. Then I start my coffee machine and do about 5-10minutes of Yoga. While I have my coffee I answer emails and do office stuff till lunch.
After lunch I usually go to the studio and work on music till about 8pm. About every 2-3 days I teach a class to private students in between.
It's pretty much all about music 24/7.
Can you talk about a breakthrough DJ set or performance in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
I used to be resident DJ at Salon zur wilden Renate in Berlin from about 2009 until 2019, which gave me some good exposure in the local scene.
Besides that I wouldn't say there was a specific “breakthrough” set of mine ... the closest thing to that would maybe be my “Montagssorbet” for Laut&Luise or the recording of my set at my The Magic Movement labelparty at Scorpios/Mykonos from 2016.
For the “Montagssorbet” I just wanted to have a very long intro without a beat and then doing an eclectic downbeat set.
The concept for the set I played at Scorpios was simply to start with downbeat and then very slowly bring the tempo up, to create a dance frenzy with psychedelic dancemusic made for open air parties on the beach.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Nowadays it is a big trend to do “soundhealing” etc, and I think that is fine. Nevertheless, I believe music saved many lives since the beginning of time, by giving hope, help dealing with traumas and processing strong emotions. In this context, every music is healing in one way or another, that's the inherent quality of it.
People are very different, so for one person a Heavy Metal concert can be healing, while for somebody else soundbowls do the trick. Whatever works for you is great!
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
I think it is crucial to be aware of this and do your “homework” when it comes to using anything that is outside of your own cultural sphere. I think it can be highly problematic to use elements of other peoples culture without knowing the context of it and what they actually mean. I can very well understand that this can hurt peoples' feelings.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
For me art and being an artist is a specific way of perceiving the world. Since I can remember, music has always been the center of my life. I don't consider it as something that I do, but who I am.
Art is a very powerful tool to transport values and ideas, for the good and for the bad. Both as an artist or non-artist, I think it is generally a great idea to give a good example in your actions and help spreading values that hopefully will make this world a better place.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music expresses all the millions of different shades of the spectrum in between. So abstract, yet so precise.