Introducing: Ben Hemsley
Introducing: Ben HemsleyMay 2, 2023
Ben Hemsley has come a long way from his hometown in North Shields, just outside Newcastle. Fresh off a stint in Ibiza – where he’s returning this summer for his first White Isle residency at the Ibiza Rocks Hotel – he’s already zipped across to Los Angeles, where he’s playing a handful of stateside gigs before nipping back home for the UK’s festival season.
It’s an expansive tour befitting of his sudden superstardom, which has seen his rave and trance-embossed house productions glean support from the likes of Calvin Harris, Annie Mac, Patrick Topping, and an impending collab with Skream. After breaking out at Creamfields in 2021, he’s now regularly packing thousands-strong venues like Manchester’s Warehouse Project and Newcastle’s Lofts Club – his first headline show, which sold out in 20 minutes, the fastest sellout the venue has ever seen.
Yet, speaking to us over the phone, Hemsley remains remarkably modest. When asked if the cover of his Every Little Thing EP – showing a four-year-old Ben Hemsley toying with a plastic keyboard – is indicative of him composing as a tot, he replies: “I wish I was then, because I’d probably be a lot better than I am now.” His talent for music would emerge later, when he was ten and playing guitar in a band. The group were due to take part in the school talent show, but tragedy struck when they realised who they would be competing against. “Sam Fender was entering, because he was in our school,” Hemsley says. “He made my band members go ‘Fuck it, there’s no point in entering this competition, because Sam’s going to win.’”
Frustrated, Hemsley started looking for ways to make music that weren’t dependent on others. He was already a fan of dance music, and when his mum’s boyfriend told him that it could be produced solo, using nothing but software, that sealed the deal. Ben Hemsley was producing his own tunes by the time he was 12. “It was actually my mum who got us into dance music in the first place,” he says. “I can remember when we used to go on drives along the coast and it would be her playing the Dave Pearce Ministry of Sound trance compilation.”
Shortly after, Hemsley’s older brother showed him a video of Tiësto performing a ten minute mix at the 2005 TMF Awards. “He’s like, ‘I want to be in that crowd. Look how good that is.’ My mum was like, ‘That’s class.’ I was like ‘Fuck that, I want to be Tiesto.’” Decision made, he used up all his savings to buy his first vinyl decks, a model from Ministry of Sound. “They were the worst decks ever,” he says, noting the irony, given his numerous releases on Ministry of Sound Recordings. “Awful things that you could never properly utilise in a club, but I learnt on them.”
Ben Hemsley would get his introduction to raving in a crowd when he turned 16, at a Feed Me party in London and catching deadmau5 in Newcastle. He and his friends began to frequent Electriqa too, who held a residency at the Newcastle club, Digital. “It was very EDM-y, but everyone was into it back then,” he recalls. But Hemsley’s affair with clubbing was short-lived. His young intuition turned out to be correct – by 19, he had retreated from the clubs and pubs, preferring to be at home making music, or a solitary figure behind the decks. On the question of whether he considers himself an introvert, he’s unequivocal: “100%,” he says. “It makes my job a nightmare sometimes, when I turn up and the green room’s busy.”
But he has found one valuable ally in the music industry: Patrick Topping, the tech-house DJ who secured DJ Mag’s Best DJ award in 2022, and also happens to hail from North Shields. “I met him before my career took off, because my brother was in the same friend group,” says Hemsley. “I got introduced to him by a friend who invited us to his birthday party in a bowling alley. I turned up. Patrick introduced himself. He was like, ‘Nice to meet you. Everyone says you make good tunes.’” Afterwards, Topping, Hemsley and their friends trooped back to Topping’s house, where the eminent DJ asked to hear Hemsley’s tunes for the first time. “I was so scared to show him my songs in case he hated them. Luckily he liked them. But he didn’t like them enough to play in his sets. That took another year or two.”
As Hemsley’s name has risen through the dance music ranks, Topping has been there behind him, spurring him on. He was an ardent supporter of Ben Hemsley’s early releases, giving the thumping tech house number “NE29” some of its first outings, and in 2020 signed the EP, King of Darkness, to his label, Trick. But Hemsley says that his support goes far beyond music. “He’s been like a mentor,” he says. “Even stupid stuff, like the other week I was asking what suitcase you take away, because I’m going away for a month.”
Topping was with Hemsley at Creamfields in 2022, when he broke down onstage. Videos show an overwhelmed Hemsley wiping away tears as his mentor wraps him in a bear hug. It was a potently poignant moment for the young artist, who only a few years before had been scraping by on the dole (“I learnt that no matter how much money you’re making, or how successful you are, happiness truly comes from you being happy with yourself,” Hemsley says of his encounters with the job centre). Yet his tears onstage were about more than his career’s explosive trajectory. “Two weeks before Creamfields, I’d lost my grandad,” he says. “I could see my mum down there crying on the right. It sounds stupid and I don’t believe in this shit, but I could feel my grandad there with her.”
Creamfields has played a special role in Ben Hemsley’s DJ career twice now. Only the year before, he surprised dance music fans with a set that was widely touted as the festival’s best. “I was never meant to be playing. The only reason I was is because some European artists couldn’t get to the festival because of COVID restrictions,” he says. “Ten minutes before I went on the stage, there was no one in this 8,000 capacity tent. I’d brought my mum and my mum’s best friend down. I thought, ‘God this is embarrassing.’” But he needn’t have worried. Five minutes before his set, the tent suddenly flooded with ravers all keen to see the maker of “Through 2 You” – his debut record on Ministry of Sound, which had been getting significant airplay on BBC Radio 1.
“I was like, ‘Woah, what’s going on here? That’s mental,’” says Hemsley. “I had this playlist on a USB – like, right, this is the sort of stuff I’ll play. And then I thought ‘You know what? I’m going to just play what I think is going to give them the best time, and me. I really stuck my heart in it. That was the first time I played where the majority of my set was trance.”
Trance, according to Hemsley, is his “first love,” which he’s increasingly leaning into on his productions, as seen in his sundrenched 2022 single, “Erase Me” on Armada Music — a fitting addition to the label’s legendary trance catalog (with more to come). “No matter how powerful your kick drum needs to be on certain speakers, or how sonically compatible with other stuff that needs to be, trance lasts a lifetime because, in a way, the music theory behind a lot of trance is like classical compositions,” he says. “I remember a Denis Sulta set from 2017. He was playing these trance songs in his set. I think the songs that are released today, the majority of them, if we play them in 20 years time, people will go, ‘What is that shit?’ But there’s a reason why trance songs lasted so long. It’s because they’ve got heart and soul.”
With the launch of his own imprint bebé recordings, Hemsley hopes to revive that retro sound he adores by platforming artists that blend trance with other genres, like hard house or techno. “There’s this new kid called Luvstruck. He’s just sent us two new ones. I literally replied and said, ‘Let me sign them now,’” says Hemsley. He also namechecks In Effect and Kyle Starkey, as well as old school names like the Netherlands-based Klubbheads, “who were early inspirations of mine. They’re absolutely unreal. Their stuff is pretty much classed as scouse house, which is donk stuff.” But perhaps the biggest name drop is Yomanda, best remembered for his 1999 hit “Synth & Strings”, which erupted from the house music underground into the top 10 of the UK singles chart. “He’s an unbelievable classic DJ who inspires a lot of my tunes still to this day,” says Hemsley.
For someone who is still a relatively new talent on the dance music circuit, Ben Hemsley already has some immense achievements to look back on. But there’s one accolade that could top them all. Does he feel that he’s made his mum, the one who started it all by helping Hemsley fall in love with dance music, proud? His answer is, once again, clear-cut: “100%. Out of everything I achieve, that’s the best feeling. That’s the most important.”
Becca Inglis is a freelance writer living in Edinburgh, Scotland. Find her on Twitter.