Using burning synths and dusty guitar licks, Ben Khan taps into an aesthetic that is at once both futuristic and soulful. His latest instalment to his Crimson EP series, Crimson GEN2, is inspired by the time he has spent living in LA, documenting his experience of the “lonely sprawl of the megacity”. GEN2 oozes like candle wax, as Ben's reverb-soaked vocals melt into a swirling fusion of indie electronica, alt R&B, funk and Pakistani hip-hop.
In addition to GEN2, Ben has treated us to a Texture Tape that completely envelopes the listener in a thick, gorgeous haze. Filled with an array of serene string pieces and other glistening ambient oddities, the mix feels like a twinkling lullaby sitting beneath those weird echoes of sentences that ring in your head as you drift to sleep. Goodnight.
Your Crimson project features “three generations of music, each reflecting a phase of life in a city around the world.” How would you characterise GEN2’s phase? How does it compare to GEN1’s?
It's not just a phase of life as associated to a city, although that is an externalised part of it. For me I see it more about transient internal stages past a big re-working of my headspace, and the learning process of that. GEN1 feels like shadow work and integration, and GEN2 feels a bit more playful. A contraction followed by an expansion.
Ideas of identity and belonging seem to be prominent in your work. What is it about these themes that you find compelling?
It might be a cheap way out ha, but can I revert to a quote in the foreword from In Praise of Shadows here…
‘One of the basic human requirements is the need to dwell, and one of the central human acts is the act of inhabiting, of connection ourselves, however temporarily, with a place on the planet which belongs to us, and to which we belong’ - Charles Moore
How easy or difficult do you find it to embody the feeling of a city in your music?
I think environment always plays a part in people's creativity, habits, sense of self. I enjoy moving around for that reason. I don't consider it too much when I’m actually writing or producing. I think that happens by proxy of new inputs outside of the studio. Maybe I’ll say it's easier just because of the new senses and emotions you feel in new/different cities.
Tell us more about your More Human Systems project. You speak about the impact that your five pillars of living, or Five Ethers, have had on your life outlook. How have these informed your approach to art and music?
More Human Systems was just a line that sounded right to me. For me it makes me think about a solarpunk future, communalism, eco forward design solutions, pro human futures and internal revolutions. We all know the feeling of being dwarfed by gigantic conglomerative power structures, and in my mind ‘more human systems’ is a thought process of moving away from that, and focusing on the sanctity of the individual. The Five Ethers system was part 1 of 2 of a personal guideline for staying on track… a kind of personalised Maslow’s theory of self actualization.
I think it's changing my approach quite drastically, I’m beginning to see music and art as my strongest possible route to that self actualization process and as a potential beacon for others to see that light in themselves. It's deepened my drive and connection.
How about the reverse of this – how has your artistry and creativity influenced your perspective on the world and yourself?
I think it boosts my self esteem and helps me look at the world in a more romantic way. It feels as if there are lots of de-humanising forces out there – especially lately, and art for me is a belief in human potential.
Your art seems to explore the roles of both spirituality and technology in our lives. How do these aspects of ourselves and the world around us interact with each other?
I guess if you’re saying spirituality and technology, we could say the death of religion to science? I dislike the type of scientific mindset that seeks to replace religion. I think they’re entirely different functions. Religion to me is about the realm of the metaphysical and creating abstractional truths that can only exist in metaphor. Whereas science is about explaining the world of the physical / matter / space based. For me, no matter how technologically proficient or scientific our society might become, as long as we are human beings, we will have a need for symbols and metaphors and artistic abstractions that technical language struggles to define. We probably shouldn't ever commit to a single ideology, rather accept and integrate chaos and complexity.
What were your ideas or plans going into the mix?
Create a resonant energy balloon.
What have been your favourite recent releases?
That new OPN album.. jeeez
Also this year Help by Duval Timothy
2 Jay Electronica albums
Overmono new ep
New Yves Tumor
Have your listening habits changed since the pandemic started and clubs and venues have closed? Are there any styles you’ve been listening to more or less?
Had some solo morning raves in my old basement studio, have to let that out sometimes. Sometimes it's more about volume.
What’s the music scene like where you’re from?
I think I mostly grew up on the internet… I was a homebody and stoner just discovering music off youtube and blogs with a small group of friends. Maybe not the most opportunistic since I’ve been in London since 12… but I haven’t really spent time in club scenes.
Your dancefloor saver?
Lanark Artefax - Touch Absence
Is there a show you would love to go back in time and experience again?
Prince when I was 16, maybe D’Angelo at the Apollo also… I think those were two of the most mesmerizing experiences of live music. More I think about the simple moments when music has hit me really hard for the first time that I’d love to re-experience.
A track you've always wanted to play out but never had the chance?
Wild Ambitions – Yellow Magic Orchestra needs to go out to all the people, very loud
The soundtrack to your funeral?
No music please, shove me in the ground under a tree. Or flush me down the toilet.
And on a lighter note, the tune you'll still be listening to in 50 years?
Bobby Caldwell – Open your eyes, beaming straight into my mind from my Neuralink 10.
Lastly, any upcoming projects we should keep an eye out for?
Yes, Gen3 – the final in the series.
Stream and buy Ben Khan's second instalment of his Crimson EP series, Crimson GEN2, here.
Aiwan - And Found
Terry Riley & Kronos Quartet - One Earth, One People, One Love
Oskar Sala - Capr./Glissando Caprice
Johann Johannsson - Sapir-Whorf
Oskar Sala - Improvisation on Magnetic Tape, No. 4
Boards Of Canada - The Color Of The Fire
Mary Lattimore - Silver Ladders
Leila - Norwegian Wood (Feat. Luca Santucci)
Vangelis - Rêve
Johann Johannsson - Mandy Love Theme
Kazumi Watanabe – Ti-Fa-Let
Hinako Omori - Teleport
Mica Levi - Everlast
Nils Frahm - My Friend the Forest
Jon Hassel and Brian Eno - Delta Rain Dream
Ryuichi Sakamoto - Solari
Bibio - ‘CAPEL CELYN’