Queue jumping at Berghain, the Melbourne-Manchester connection and Hennessey in the lab with Zed Bias and DRS; all in a day’s work for the half time dnb/beats producer

Ben ‘Safire’ Finocchiaro had spent the day of the infamous Melbourne floods doing mix downs in his studio. ‘After my time away in 2017, we came home to a fallen in roof because of the rains,’ says the Melbourne based producer and Plasma Audio founder.

When it rains it pours. But not always in a bad way. It’s been an epic year for Safire, who wisely took himself on the road for the European summer, in an ambitious global tour that spanned 13 shows across 7 countries. ‘I was lucky enough to get support from VIC-Arts on my tour this year, allowing more time to hang in Europe and open up opportunities for studio time, extra shows and radio appearances.’

If you know anything about Safire’s latest collaborations, you might be able to guess the favourite destination on his tour. ‘For the kind of music I’m making, Manchester has always had a strong influence at the moment. It’s a mad buzz when a whole city is living and breathing what you do. Over here there are pockets of people doing it, but in the UK everyone seems to be in a constant state of creation.

Safire’s tour took him to the arctic realms of the drum and bass stratosphere to Barcelona, Tokyo and Okinawa, where the genre doesn’t have a huge stronghold. In 2017 he also stayed in Berlin for four months, the land of minimal techno, serious haircuts and many other rogue Australian producers on creative gap years. So how does a dnb DJ fair in Techno Town? ‘There’s still some appreciation for it,’ he said, laughing at my stereotype. ‘I’ve played there twice. This year was for a 25 years of Virus show at Club Gretchen. Of course, dnb is not what it’s about over there but there is an amazing vibe in that city for music. It’s a different level of partying.’

Sounds like Berghain to me. And of course, Safire didn’t have to sweet talk any scary doormen to sail straight through the door.

‘A good friend of mine owns ‘Sur Wilde Renate’ in Berlin. I stayed there in 2017, I’ve not met many better people than that crew, a lot of love and professionalism with their approach to the music industry. I am very lucky to have that connection out there, it makes such a difference when you know good people in a foreign city.’

Safire’s got quite a few global connections he can call on, as evidenced by the outstanding collaboration from Manchester MC DRS and Bristol based DJ DLR that Safire released earlier this year. ‘The Last Renegade’ took some time to perfect. But we all know that genius takes time. ‘Me and DLR started a half time tune about three years ago. It was totally different to how it sounds now. ANT TC1 liked the first version and sent it to DRS. He was into it and wrote a verse.’ And thus began a kind of production ping pong sesh. ‘We kept the vocals and completely rewrote the tune on review of the original version. Once the tune was done, I suggested we shoot a video in Melbourne so Ant tee’d it up with everybody. At the time, I’d had not met DRS but we had him booked for a show coming up in Melbourne. We shot the video at an old cotton mill/warehouse in Footscray, just after the Outlook festival launch party we put on in 2017. It was a busy week with the show at the weekend, and video shoot on the Tuesday!

‘The Last Renegade is one of the last men standing from the OG crew,’ says Safire of the video’s concept. ‘While others had chosen new life directions, he’s still there loitering in a warehouse, refusing to call it a night.’ We’ve all been there.

With DRS back in Australia for The DOT, Melbourne’s first drum and bass laneway party on 5 January, it’s a great chance for the pair to work some new magic in the studio, connecting Melbourne with Manchester once again.

Earlier this year, Safire also had a chance to jump in the studio with another Last Renegade, Zed Bias and was interviewed on his Unity radio show in Manchester. ‘Not only is Zed an absolute don, he’s an amazing guy with a lot of love. After the radio show, we went back to his studio and within a few hours, vibes were rolling. DRS rocked up with a bottle of Hennessey and dropped some serious bars, once again.’

On the back of these hookups, Safire has just finished two new tracks with DRS; one written with Skeptical in Melbourne and the other with Zed Bias in Manny. Just before the 2018 tour he released a solo single on his own Plasma Audio imprint. It’s interesting that Safire has built a stronger following overseas than in his home country; through touring, collabs and the kind of music he makes.

‘For some reason, Plasma Audio has more following globally than locally right now. It’s not been my intention… it just naturally happened that way. After this year’s tour, coming back to Melbourne, there’s definitely a buzz around town and the scene seems like a little melting pot at the moment.’

New Year’s resolutions for 2019 include more local presence, as well as 3-4 seasonal BBA events through the year alongside his OG partner in crime and BBA co-founder Dan Finna. While Safire sees the Melbourne spirit as well and truly alive and burning bright, there are still some things that a lot of promoters are looking for.

‘We need a good go-to mid-large size club for the bigger shows, with proper sound and a team we can trust. Having this kind of venue around that understands promoters needs and focuses for attention to detail is so important for good events. We had this relationship with Roxanne back in the day, which helped us make some of our best parties happen.

When I ask Safire what club he would like to teleport to Melbourne, he knows straight away. ‘One of my all-time favourite joints is a place in Toulouse, France. It’s a similar feel to Max Watts (previously HiFi bar), but fully acoustically treated. It sounds like you’re in a big studio. The sound quality is amazing. It’s called Le Bikini.’

I tell him it would only sway me if he says it in a French accent. Unbelievably, he does. We laugh.

From bikinis in France to an old mill in Manchester, Safire’s other benchmark is Hit n Run in Manchester at Hidden. When I used to frequent Hit n Run, it was in some glorious scuzz pit under the rail arches and cost two quid to get in; drinks sloshed into plastic cups. Heaven. Safire was there in September for university fresher’s week. Which is Brit slang for O-week on speed, when all the new university students come to make their mark on their new city, stomping and double dropping in their shiny new raving boots.

‘Hidden is a fucking great venue. It’s dingy AF, but the the sound system is amazing, Void HQ is next door to Hidden so they’ve fitted it out with some of their top line gear. And fuck they get amongst it. It’s a constant state of rowdy. Kids were getting behind the decks, crawling the walls, it felt a bit like a Boiler Room at times, and all the Levelz MCs getting involved.’

‘MCs work really well with the kind of beats I play. Some MCs can detract from the DJ if they don’t give space, but if done well they can make a lot of vibe.’ Safire hints that they might just be booking some of the Manchester MC’s to amp up the rowdy camp in Melbourne next year. It just fits well over the sparser style of drum and bass he makes.

‘Yes, I love the half time stuff,’ he says. I grew up listening to hip hop and was producing hip hop before dnb… so it seems like a natural progression for me. In terms of DJ sets I really like the interest it creates. I imagine my DJ set to be dynamic, like a movie or like life. We experience highs, low points, different rhythms… Some DJs like a continuous hypnotic flow although I like to manoeuvre; play around and experiment.’

Safire has already extended his love of composition to the Melbourne community with a Plasma Audio workshop at the home of Melbourne drum and bass, Grumpy’s, which happened on 1 December, and is something he intends to carry on next year.

‘There are a lot of good drum and bass DJs in Melbourne, a lot of promoters, but not so many producers breaking through just yet. My partner AK Morph and I have planned a workshop series, sharing our knowledge with those who want to turn passion into reality. The aim is to grow the community and uplift aspiring producers. Next year we’ll continue a quarterly series of workshops and which we hope to include local and internationals guest speakers in the future.’

Safire is Melbourne’s first outdoor drum and bass laneway party, along with d-Bridge, Spectrasoul and DRS and many more on 5 January. Get your dnb fix while it’s hawt!

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About the Author

Kate Stephenson's dangerous obsession with music and words has taken her to every corner of the globe in the quest for the filthiest bassline. Heralding from the mean streets of Harrogate in North Yorkshire, England, she earned her raving stripes in the early 2000s at celestial institutions like Back to Basics in Leeds and Bugged Out in Liverpool, standing in queues snaking for hours round the block in freezing February nights before she knew how to hustle a guestie.

Having decamped to (slightly) more clement temperatures, Kate now calls the outstanding city of Melbourne home, feeling oh-so-very-welcome in a place where you are actively encouraged to party from Thursday to Tuesday. Kate stays alive on a strict diet of techno,jungle drum and bass and cheeky garage remixes, smooshed in with a little bit of everything in between. You can either find her with hands in the air, by the front left speaker or typing up a storm in bed drinking Yorkshire Tea by the gallon.