Jazz-trained music junior pursues EDM

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Jazz-trained music junior pursues EDM

Courtesy of Benjamin Watson

Courtesy of Benjamin Watson

Courtesy of Benjamin Watson

by Julianna Ress, Arts & Culture Editor

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With all styles of music more accessible than ever, it’s common to see artists expand their craft across genres, rather than limiting themselves to one label.

Music junior Benjamin Watson spent the bulk of his music career studying and performing jazz on live instruments before making his foray into EDM and DJing, now producing tracks on computer-based softwares.

Growing up listening to Michael Jackson and the Beatles in a musically-inclined family, Watson had early exposure to various genres.

“Whenever me and my family would all hang out together — grandparents, aunts, uncles — we would all just get together and jam,” Watson said. “Usually just like rock songs, but sometimes jazz.”

He picked up his first instrument, an alto saxophone, in middle school, and eventually found success as one of the top musicians in his high school’s classical and jazz bands. Growing up in the San Fernando Valley, he attended Sherman Oaks Center of Enriched Studies.

He was then selected for the Los Angeles Unified School District’s jazz ensemble.

“That really opened up everything,” he said. “(The other musicians selected) were, like, prodigies. I was the worst one by far. It just made me ten times better, sitting next to them and learning and listening.”

Watson entered San Diego State majoring in jazz studies, but after a friend taught him how to produce EDM tracks with production software Ableton Live, he decided to study music composition instead.

“I’ve always loved EDM and I’ve always wanted to get into it,” he said. “I was getting a lot of ground playing saxophone, but if I was the best saxophonist in the school, that would be really awesome, but I can’t really make full-length tracks or albums just all by myself. Ableton gave me the opportunity to make full-length EP’s, albums, songs just on my computer.”

The musician said jazz’s improvisational nature, which he described as a way of composing music on the spot in real time, informed his transition across genres and methods of creating music.

“It was kind of weird for me going straight to a laptop in my bedroom from performing on stage with my saxophone,” Watson said. “When it came to coming up with melodies for my songs, like chord structure and how to produce and compose music on a computer, it was a little bit easier.”

Though his specific style of music is hard to characterize, he describes his genre as future bass EDM with emphasis on melody and sometimes incorporating elements of trap. Some of his biggest influences are saxophonist Cannonball Adderley and DJ’s San Holo, RL Grime and Droeloe.

“Watson’s music comes from a place of deep positivity,” economics and music junior Matt Guadagno, who’s also one of Watson’s frequent collaborators, said. “A lot of his music serves the purpose of giving the listener more of an overall experience than just a song.”

Watson said he uses samples and collaborates on lyrics with vocalists in order to create a narrative in his projects.

“If you just want to turn off your brain and listen to my music, I want you to have fun and enjoy it,” he said. “But if you want to turn your brain on and think about the tracks and what they mean to each other, I like to have those people who want that extra step.”

He performed at the SDSU vs. UC San Diego DJ battle at House of Blues in April 2018, which led him to a DJing gig at Bassmnt. He can also often be found performing at parties.

Watson has also racked up a significant number of plays on SoundCloud. His most played track, a remix of Alessia Cara’s “Growing Pains,” currently stands at over 10,000 listens.

He said reaching out to people individually to share his music, plus the opportunities he’s encountered as a member of Aztec Music Group, have helped his music reach a wider audience. He said hearing the music he uploads online provides a more accurate snapshot of the kind of artist he is than hearing him DJ live.

“I don’t focus a lot on the art of DJing,” Watson said. “I’d say I’m a producer first. When it comes to performing the music I DJ at these clubs and parties, it’s nowhere near the style of music I produce. That’s the standard — I need to make everybody jump up and down and have fun — but a lot of my music isn’t like that.”

In the future, he said he plans to release an EP and hopes to continue DJing larger venues. He’s opening for the DJ Ghastly at Bassmnt Jan. 26, and his music can be found on SoundCloud. 

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