Used to sing the blues, now plays to his own tune

Ben Alla is a walking, talking iPod. Music is a vital part of his life. It has allowed him to experience unforgettable moments and has offered him a shoulder to lean on during his darkest hours.

Buried within an unassuming residential home, lies a chef plying his magical trade. His ingredients consist of; drums, bass, kicks, and synth. The essential ingredients needed to craft a palatable meal- digestible via the ear.

DJ Ben Alla is six hours into a prolonged session at his work bench. A makeshift studio which devours most of the space in his bedroom. The blinds drawn and the door locked, a sense of captivity is certainly present within the room. Ben is held captive by his obsession, an obsession which fuels him to produce in the face of fatigue.

“I don’t need coffee-I’m just hooked in,” said Ben, without ungluing his saucier-like eyes from his computer screen.

At 20 years of age, Ben is a DJ and music producer who is a self-admitted music addict. Listening to music every day, Ben recalls a time where his laptop and iPhone were taken in for repair. Inhibiting him for accessing his playlists.”It was terrible, I walked around the house like a bloody zombie”, Ben chuckled, as he reflected on that harrowing experience.

Music even follows him to his day job. Ben is a third-year apprentice metal fitter and machinist. At work, the sound of heavy machinery is usually the only music Ben gets to hear, but not always. “At work, I sneak music in, if the boss is around the corner I will pull my phone out and just crouch behind a tool station, have a quick listen, then put my phone away quickly”, said Ben through an impish grin.

Ben was exposed to music at a very young age. His father, Geoff, played guitar in a band and loves rock ‘n’ roll. The roaring guitar riffs of Guns ‘n’ Roses were a constant in the Alla household but did little to influence Ben’s own music taste. Instead, Ben gravitated towards electronic music, more specifically, house music. “You just don’t feel inspired anymore, I used to listen to pop and r&b but then I discovered all these different sounds and genres,” said Ben regarding his change of taste. “House music just makes me feel better, the unique sounds and lyrics really speak to me”.

Ben is on a never ending quest to discover new sounds.”All I want to do as a producer is to make something different, not this mainstream bullshit”. Once a discovery is made, Ben has been known to channel his excitement,” in the studio, if I make something different I just get up and dance”. As Ben danced, an interesting question arose. What would Ben do if he one day woke up deaf?.”I would probably kill myself” said Ben, he wasn’t kidding.”I would just be bored, forever” Ben continued, letting out a gentle laugh.

Music is not simply a source of enjoyment for Ben. It grants him comfort. During hard times in Ben’s life, music has been in most cases, his only ally. From years seven to nine Ben attended Edmund Rice College. “. His years at the all-boys school would prove to be very tough. “I felt at Edmund Rice I didn’t have anyone in my corner, no one had my back”. While attending Edmund Rice, Ben was targeted by a gang of bullies who verbally and physically abused him.

Matthew Hunt attended Edmund Rice College with Ben and witnessed the bullying first hand. “He was an easy target, Ben was a shy kid, didn’t want any problems, but they were just constant with their put downs”. Matthew also recalls how Ben would attempt to drown out the hate. ” Be it recess or lunch, Ben would always have an earphone in, always listening to music, and I think it helped in a way”.

Music acts a numbing agent for Ben. “Listening to music pulls me away-It distracts me from the real world”.

As the bullying continued it began to take a toll on Ben. The constant name calling and put downs sapped his confidence and self-esteem.  “Life was frustrating-I would just come home and cry”.  “When I was younger I was small and not very aggressive”. Ben’s placid nature made way for anger as he hit a growth spurt. After years of bullying, Ben reached his breaking point and began to stand up for himself.

“I wanted to rip people’s heads off” spat Ben through a sneer. It was a change in attitude that saw Ben get into a number of fights. Matthew Hunt was present the day Ben’s soccer ball was kicked over a fence. “Ben kind of snapped-I could sense his frustration, and he balled up his fist and just throw one”.

“It was a weak punch,” said Ben, still lamenting his missed opportunity. “It was that day that I said I hated this school and I don’t want to go here anymore”. Ben left Edmund Rice at the end of year nine and enrolled at Figtree High, reuniting with his childhood friend Isaac. The bullying ceased, and Ben finally was able to enjoy high school life. “I was actually treated with some respect, and had friends who would actually stand up for me”.

“It was the end of year 9 and I was at JB HI FI. I saw a little DJ set and thought to myself, I might buy that”.  As the bullying was at its worst,  Ben was able to channel his frustration into creativity. “When I listen to and produce music I feel like I can think clearly”.  Ben began DJing and producing music at the age of 15, securing a job at Subway to fund his passion. After years of toiling away at his craft, Ben is now signed to ‘House Heavy Records’. The independent record label consists of eight DJ’s, in which Ben is one. The label is currently looking to release some of Ben’s music. One song, in particular, Ben has worked on for 3 months. “I’m very proud of it, it feels good to have your music out there”.

Ben has worked hard on improving his skills as a DJ and producer, performing at house parties and clubs. Ben recalls his worst gig being a house party in Dapto. “I was just sitting there…blaring the music and there was like 10 people standing around”. It seemed that there was a miscommunication between Ben and the organiser, it was not a party but rather a gathering. “I felt so out of place,” said Ben as he reflected on his awkward experience.

On the other hand, Ben has had some awesome experiences at live events. “It was a house party in Figtree and there was like 200 people there. It was just going off- people were just frothing”. It is shows like that that leave Ben feeling elated. “When people are just vibing to your music there is no better feeling in the world”.

Ben finds pleasure in both DJing and producing, but places a special emphasis on producing music. “I don’t know what it is, sometimes ideas just pop into my head”. On one occasion, a little birdie whispered into his ear. “I was walking in a forest and this bird was chirping this really cool little melody-so I recorded it and put it in my song”.

Ben’s creative philosophy revolves around one simple idea. “I want to make good music that no one has ever heard of before”.  Ben prides himself on being different.”I don’t want to be like anyone, I want to have my own style”. He is also quite critical of the current DJ scene, speaking on the politics involved in getting your music heard. ” I want to get booked on the quality of my work, not because of who I know”.

Looking forward, Ben is unsure of what the future holds. In five years time, he will be a qualified fitter and machinist but that isn’t his dream. “I really, really want to be in the music industry- my dream is to travel the world and DJ. Make music and do what I love, there’s nothing better than that”.

As Ben speaks about his dreams with great emotion, it is easy to understand what drives him. An eight-hour session at a work bench would tire even the most seasoned workers. Not Ben, he possesses a powerful remedy for negativity and fatigue. An unmitigated passion for his first true love, music.

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