Halloween weekend will be an extravaganza to remember for Ben Jenkins, a University of Memphis math graduate student and techno DJ.
Jenkins will begin his party binge Thursday, Oct. 31, at Mollie Fontaine Lounge and end at Mollies on Saturday around 3 a.m.
Jenkins began his DJ vocation in 2008 after seeing some electronic music DJs play live at Voodoo Festival in New Orleans.
“I went to Voodoo fest to see Rage Against the Machine, and I saw a couple of DJs there and kind of liked it,” Jenkins said. “My friends and I started researching electronic music and eventually I started discovering a bunch of underground artists I really liked.”
Jenkins’ favorite type of techno music is house, which he says has a softer melody than other derivatives like dubstep and trance.
“All of the electro genres, dubstep, trance, house, are derived from techno, which originated from disco,” Jenkins said. “Trance has a faster tempo and uplifting chords, and dubstep is basically a meditation on base.”
Jenkins is one of the few DJs in Memphis that uses vinyl during his shows. He estimates his record collection to be worth more than $10,000. Since Jenkins can only take a certain amount of records with him for a show, he tends to be more selective and prepare more for a vinyl set.
“Vinyl is more rewarding for me, when DJs play using software, they usually stare at a laptop the whole time,” Jenkins said. “With software, there are less chances of messing up on a track, but the idea that I can mess up makes it unpredictable and thrilling, which I like.”
Carter Chappell, University of Memphis Communications Technology Alum ’11, has seen Jenkins go from playing for four people in a church basement to a packed venue with hundreds of people.
“Ben has maintained a passion and commitment to revitalizing a struggling dance scene while simultaneously staying true to the roots of electro and going 100 percent vinyl in an era where kids with a MacBook and headphones are calling themselves DJs,” Chappell said. “Ben has brought about a resurgence in Memphis of people starting to play actual records versus relying on playlists and mp3s.”
A nostalgia for vinyl has been re-emerging among the hipster crowd. Jenkins said he attributes this resurgence to a longing for quality over quantity and the “sentimental value” of owning a record.
“All a digital file is a bunch of numbers. They are great because they are cheaper to download, but there is something cool about a vinyl record,” Jenkins said.
Jenkins has traveled all over DJing, from Philadelphia to Detroit to Nashville. He hopes to travel to Club Berghain in Germany one day where the electronic music scene is bigger.
“Club Berghain is the biggest techno club in the world, people completely let loose because there are no photographs allowed,” he said. “I like it because it is completely dark. I feel like all of lasers take away from the original focus which is the music.”
One of Jenkins’ favorite places to book a show so far has been Detroit, where he said the electronic music movement began.
“I loved Detroit because there was a huge electro festival downtown, 50,000 people showed to a dark room with a gigantic sound system,” he said.
Along with booking live shows at local pubs, Jenkins also had a spot on LFO radio, a Memphis based online electronic music radio station, for close to two years where he showcased his own tracks. Listeners tuned in from as far away as Germany and England.
“I got to the point where I was sick of the same old artists and tracks, so instead of complaining I decided to do something about it,” Jenkins said. “I felt it was my time to contribute to the electro community.”
Cote Overman ,a student at Desoto Central High, tuned into Jenkins’ regularly and even exchanged some tracks with him.
“I definitely like how diverse his taste is, one week he might spin some disco sounding stuff, and the next he might spin something completely different,” Overman said.
Jenkins may be considered an anomaly in the electronic community because he is completely sober during all of his parties. He said to able to effectively preside over his tracks and equipment, and getting inebriated might compromise that.
“I get as much as a high off of the music as anything,” Jenkins said. “The repetitive nature of house music is like meditation for me, it puts me in the moment.”
Kevin Cranford, a DJ who goes by the stage name “Kevin C”, helped Jenkins start up the event P.U.R.E. Dance, a alcohol and drug free party. This simulated rave retained a following for two years at Club Odessa, First Congregational Church, and Optimum Studio. The event was also covered by the Commercial Appeal.
“Electronic music has long been associated with drugs and drug culture, we start this event with the intent of exposing a new generation to that type of music, and to show that you can listen to and enjoy it without having to be under the influence,” Cranford said.
Although Jenkins said he dreams of selling out arenas at internationally acclaimed music festivals, he still has a soft spot for the seedy dive bars he started his DJ career in.
“I like doing parties in bars where people lose all inhibitions and put their cigarette out on the carpet, when you play in a shithole, everyone adapts to the scuzzy surrondings,” Jenkins said. “The party becomes about nothing else but the music.”