Taking the long road
Listen to a musician whose videos went viral, after being a street-performer for years
At the age of 35, married with a wife and child, Benjamin Stanford aka Dub FX feels that he finally has a balanced personality at this stage of his life. But, by his own admission, reaching this state of being has been a bit of a rollercoaster ride. When the Melbourne-born musician first started playing in bands as a teenager, he was more of a people-pleaser, he says. But then, going to the UK in 2006 opened up his ears to all sorts of sounds like drum 'n' bass, garage and grime. He was now armed with a whole new sonic arsenal that helped him form a fresh identity rooted in reggae and dubstep music. That's the avatar he unveiled on the streets of Europe, where he later performed as a busker for six years, living out of a van. And that's when the people-pleaser gradually became more reserved, maybe a little standoffish even, as he admits to us himself.
Dub FX and wife Sahida Apsara
"I was earlier always worried about how I might come across to people and wanted them to like me. And as a result, I wasn't completely genuine all the time because I was seeking validation," Stanford says after headlining Goa Sunsplash, a reggae festival, and ahead of a gig in Mumbai. But he adds that when he started performing on the streets, he was constantly meeting all sorts of people. They could be people who approached him because they liked his music. Or, they could also be detractors who would tell him to get a house and a job. "So, I was exposed to so much that I created a bit of a shell because I was trying to protect myself creatively and even physically, since there were times I had to fend off people trying to steal my things. I developed a sort of warrior-like outlook. And I didn't have to please anyone anymore because people were giving me positive feedback and buying my CDs all the time."
What the fiercely independent musician hadn't accounted for, however, is how a video that a friend shot of him performing on the street in 2008 would eventually go viral, racking up over 27 million YouTube views. Suddenly, Dub FX was hot property. Stanford began touring the world. And his fame reached such heights that he ultimately didn't need to perform on the streets anymore. The musician moved back to Australia, bought a house, found love, had his daughter and now spends roughly six months at home, spending the rest of the year playing concerts all over, including at festivals as big as Coachella.
In other words, the man has no need left to seek any validation at all.
And that can only be a good thing because Stanford comes across as a genuine person making music to create a positive impact on the world. His socially conscious dub tracks — with a healthy dose of beatboxing — talk about ending oppression and spreading love, the root message in most reggae songs. "I don't consider myself to be a reggae musician, because I am a white man. It's not my culture. But I feel that my job is to translate the feelings that reggae music has, which some kids might not necessarily be able to understand or catch. And generally speaking, art is an important tool to communicate the way we feel. So, in my opinion, if you are not spreading positive, conscious content, not only will your music not live forever, it's not helping anyone in anyway either," says the 35-year-old who, despite feeling like a balanced personality, adds that he still has the skills, training and the warrior sense that he got from street-performing and living in a van.
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