WORDS: NICK GORDON BROWN
There are few better feelings than hearing an inspired piece of music for the first time. Often this can happen completely by chance – a DJ drops an unexpected curveball in a set, or a friend says “have you heard this…?" and your soul soars. In 2019, it is easier than ever before to stumble across new music – inhabiting as it does millions of internet nooks and crannies. Put your headphones on and see where the swipes or clicks take you, goosebumps on a permanent state of alert. However, once an artist or label starts to get a reputation, there is a subtle change to this process. For both creator and fan alike, it’s a mix of expectation, excitement and nerves, and this is the environment in which the true originals not only survive but thrive, barriers knocked down as a matter of routine.
All of which brings us to The Vision. The eagle-eyed and -eared amongst you will already have been watching out for this one… back in January the name was flagged up in our Ones To Watch In 2019, with an intriguing promise of “a mix of soul, funk and disco, with a focus on live instrumentation, obscure sampling and a collective of featured vocalists”. A 12” stamped with a distinctive The Vision logo circulated recently with captivating remixes of Mike Dunn’s house standard God Made Me Phunky, and some early 00s r’n’b.
A double-header single is imminent, with a pre-release buzz on both sides – the funky, uptempo Heaven and the chilled, soulful vibe of Home.
What makes The Vision project so enticing is the identity of its core members, and their respective track records...
Ben Westbeech has been making groundbreaking music for over a decade now, from the release of his startlingly diverse and mature debut album Welcome to the Best Years of Your Life for Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood label – a signing Peterson made almost instantly on receiving a demo CD from a mutual friend:
2011’s There’s More To Life Than This on Strictly Rhythm showcased a housier vibe while still defying easy classification:
The Strictly album featured an impressive roster of collaborators, including Motor City Drum Ensemble, Soul Clap and Henrik Schwarz, and such was the enviable reputation Ben was building as vocalist, producer, musician and DJ, he was himself a sought after guest, working with artists as diverse as Jazzanova and DJ Marky.
Never one to rest on his laurels, 2013 saw him unveil the Breach moniker and hit the top ten:
One of those seeking Ben out was KON. Along with his partner in crime Amir, KON had already established himself a formidable reputation as a crate digger extraordinaire. Their self-released On Track compilations, and subsequent Off Track series for BBE were veritable goldmines, earning them props from Mark Ronson, Dr Dre and many more, as they exposed hundreds of mostly forgotten tracks to a new audience.
KON’s reputation was only elevated more when he showcased his skills as an editor on some of his finds:
…and it wasn’t only rarities that benefitted from KON’s disco scissors. He could breathe new life into classics too (some released under the superb Kon & The Gang handle):
In 2013, with his hard-earned reputation as DJ, editor and digger still sky high, KON made the next logical step, producing the On My Way album for long time label home BBE. One of the lead cuts, You Don’t Know (I’ve Been Looking For You), featured Ben on vocal duties:
This was a meeting of like minds that had been several years in the making. “We met at the Southport weekender,” Ben told us.“I was singing with Jazzanova and I believe KON was there eating fish & chips with Moodymann and Gilles Peterson watching the show.”
KON takes up the story: “It had to have been around 6 am and I was walking to the exit with Amir and we heard this voice shouting ‘KON, Amir!’ I knew who Ben was but was puzzled as to how this singer from the UK knew who two super underground guys were.”
“I told them of course I knew who they were ‘cause I was a soul boy! I’d been schooled on their Off Track compilations by DJ Die when I was in Bristol,” explains Ben. KON, however, remained taken aback: “Ben wanted a photo with us, imagine that… we were humbled. Ben seemed a bit shocked that I knew who he was as well.”
A connection made, the two kept in touch. “We kicked it a few times while I was in London,” says KON; Ben adding, “We always talked about making a record together one day.” And now that record is close to seeing the light of day, what can we expect? Is the Heaven / Home single reflective of the direction of the album?
“We wanted to make an album that you listen to that makes sense as a whole, like albums used to be made. In an age of streaming singles and EPs, it was important for us to approach this record as something that flows from every song and mood into another. We have some really great interludes planned,” says Ben.
It is refreshing to come across a project that refuses to let itself be restricted. “Music is either good or bad and I have songs I like from every ‘genre’ out there. I think this LP represents everything that has influenced us up until this point. 70s singer songwriters, r&b, soul, 80s pop, disco, house etc.” notes KON.
Both have had to face down those who like to keep their artists in boxes. Ben notes, “I’ve never been easily pigeon-holed which I thrive upon, but it can sometimes be a disadvantage as people tend to expect the same thing from artists. I really noticed this with my Breach project, and it made me back away from it the past few years.” KON faced similar episodes when DJing: “I personally have already dealt with this, going back to the 90s On Track series, where fans would assume I was going to play moody samples, loops and drum breaks for a DJ set. It happened again with the Off Track series, where I broke a lot of rare and obscure disco, and at the time these records were relatively unknown to most outside of niche circles and I would catch hell for playing more anthemic records that I actually grew up on!”
Ben and KON are both known for being masters of many styles – the process of editing down ideas must be hard enough when working solo, how do they work it as a duo?
“We both are usually 99% on the same page musically, knowing what Ben likes, I play him demo tracks that I think resonate with him. For the most part it’s been instantaneous, he gets amped and those inspire melody,” KON says.
Ben adds, “We made about 20 tracks for the album over a long period, and we had to cut a lot of stuff off the record. Things that didn’t quite make the cut. Or we just disagreed on. It’s a tough process and we have to be pretty blunt with each other in the studio.”
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The album also reflects the diversity you can expect when either KON or Ben is DJing: "I’ve never been able to play one genre or tempo all the time as it just doesn’t make me happy. In an age where everything is synched to a certain tempo, I look for more movement and excitement, playing sets that meander through a plethora of styles and emotion,” states Ben.
Prior to its digital release, Heaven / Home is released on a 7” single. KON: “I love dance music on 7" for travelling purposes and the flip is on some 90s r&b boom bap so it was a no brainer for me.” Fans of the 7" can check our history of the format HERE.
The 12” remix release and upcoming single have already frustrated those whose job is to try to pre-package music into easily digestible genres, with disco, soul, house, balearic, funk, club and nu-disco all bandied around. However, as KON bluntly states, “genres don't mean a thing to me.” This is music from a world beyond genre simplification. The Vision happily take on board old school values, but the music very much takes the pulse of the here and now, an album created, passionately and tirelessly, by two master craftsmen – let’s leave the final words to them:
KON: “Expect honest, soulful music with depth and more passion than fashion. No gimmicks.”
Ben: “It took three years to make. A lot of emotion’s gone into it and it’s been a hell of a ride and we have some very tight features. That’s all I’m gonna say… I’m sure all will be revealed soon!”