An Interview with Ben of VILL4IN

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VILL4IN is, for my money, one of the better labels in the Vaporwave game today. Sure, there are many labels out there doing what Ben (the founder) does, but not many do it better. I firmly believe that VILL4IN is a cut above in quality of product, customer service, and its active roster of artists.

The label itself has been around for a few years now. In that time, the label has perpetually put out stellar albums, some of which are essential to any Vaporwave collection regardless of which format you collect. Albums from the likes of akiaura, Kuroi Ame, 암호, Sangam, h a z e and MVEJIMV, and more are some of the finest the genre has to offer.

Today, I’ve got Ben, the mastermind behind VILL4IN, with me. If you’d like to learn more about VILL4IN as a label, you can head over to their Bandcamp. Once you’ve done that, give this interview a read. Enjoy.

Andrew:
Ben, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us. How are you holding up?

Ben:
Hey thanks for reaching out. I’m solitary by nature, so I thought I had my emotions in control being alone, but after a year of being on lock-down, it definitely affects you. Still, I got by knowing everyone’s dealing with the same situation.

Andrew:
Tell us about your back story. How did you get into music? What was your musical gateway sort of speak?

Ben:
I was introduced to progressive Classic Rock by my father with bands like Mahavishnu Orchestra, King Crimson, and Yes at a young age. Later with those kinds of imaginations as a kid, I wanted to become a classical guitarist pro after listening to Flamenco and Jazz-Rock like Paco De Lucia, Al Di Meola, and others. I became obsessed with practicing every day and trying my best. My proudest moment as a kid was getting 100% in Guitar Class in high school. Unfourntatelly, my career as a Flamenco Guitarist Super Star didn’t last long as I heard IDM, Jungle, and other unchristian music on Morpheus (an app like Napster back in the day) and that started to ruin my life and I entered the void so to speak.

I later got into making Electronic music, starting with Reason 2.0, had a little Hip-Hop project with a rapper friend, and honestly, the list keeps going on. The breakthrough was when myself and my brother Boris (also known as Project Lazarus) started to dabble in an up-and-coming Drum ‘N’ Bass subgenre called Neurofunk as Eleventh Sun. We ended up making a vinyl release with countless digital releases and later with our own label Darkness Hides. At the height of it, I ended up playing some shows in Colombia, Canada, and Mexico. We later got tired of the product formula and did some really experimental releases infused with slower tempos and even djent-sounding Metal. It became so experimental and crazy we had to take a break from the project.

That time in my life was very important, and I feel it definitely impacted how I view music genres and the venture into Vaporwave. I later had a music scoring, recording, and noise reduction gig for a production ad/film agency NK STUDIO that took a portion of my life. Those were good times as a young adult and changed how I view things in terms of production value. Long story short that ended, I stopped music for a bit, went into marketing, and I then had a period of experimentation that lasted a few years. I got into Synthwave, Bass music, Techno, made weird breakbeat music with me, not really sticking to anything.

Andrew:
In regards to Vaporwave specifically, what opened the door? What drew you in?

Ben:
I probably became the target of the algorithm on YouTube. I always enjoyed listening to music like Biosphere, Aphex Twin and I’m sure that trigged it. I heard the 2814 album later, checking out other material. To me, it was the rebirth of the IDM scene in the way that experimental music had a platform again without there being any set rules. Checking the genre, I was surprised there was a cassette culture with releasing being sold out, which made me more interested in checking it out.

Andrew:
Over the last several years, you’ve released a lot of incredible music under VILL4IN, which has a focus on Vaporwave. How did VILL4IN get started?

Ben:
We originally started as a techno label with the very first vinyl being completely outside of Vaporwave (C1PH3R – TH30RY). We later had an internet podcast show called VILL4IN RADIO with me and my friend GH0ST that we did over 30 episodes exploring different electronic genres with original mixes from DJs and even had one episode dedicated to Vaporwave while we were still running it. Later I stopped releasing music and podcasts altogether on VILL4IN, and I focused on making it a production company. A few friends and I got into making film-like videos. Meanwhile, I would just make aesthetic art pictures with quotes and such that I really enjoyed making; this is how we got a large following on Facebook and Instagram initially. Interesting story, but VOID-002 was never supposed to be an album; they were just a collection of soundtracks of videos we made. Later after I couldn’t help myself anymore, I would later restart releasing music with VOID-001 featuring ANUBIS-XIII. I just kind of posted it on Vaporwave cassette club with no real big expectations and was surprised with the number of people buying that release. It initially was supposed to be a black vinyl with no magazine but I figured because so many people were supporting it I would go all out and do a complete art book with featured art, poetry and try to do the best I can for that release. The Spanish Poet (Y4M4-UB4) who is featured in countless releases by the way is my girlfriend that has been with me since Eleventh Sun, I just have to put that on record.

Andrew:
In my opinion, all of the releases from both VILL4IN are done right. You’ve got an incredible roster of artists, which seems to be growing by the day. You press well. You package well, and you ship well. Where do you press your records? Were there any experiences you had that influenced your decision to pursue the level of quality you have today?

Ben:

I’ve tried basically 4 different pressing plants, and my experience in the majority of them have some sort of flaw, be it timing or quality or something else. The way I work is I need to know every option that is available because I don’t want to make a mistake if I am doing something long-term. We are currently pressing with our long-term partners in Germany, who I feel are fair, and I love dealing with them. I think it’s important to choose your vinyl pressing plant wisely; there are too many factors to consider. Even if you are not getting your pretty design colors and such, there is always some tradeoff.

Andrew:
Two of the biggest issues in the Vaporwave community are FOMO and scalpers. These releases are all so limited, and the prices get insane in the aftermarket. What I love about VILL4IN is that you make all the albums people want readily available and at fair prices to boot. Was there always a conscious effort to try and thwart the scalpers?

Ben:
The first time I’ve experienced FOMO and scalpers (in the music business) was in Vaporwave. I was honestly extremely surprised releases would sell out in hours because if you check any other genre, that is really rare with, let’s say, “super indie” record labels. The scene as a whole is always changing as everything else in this world; I’m seeing more quality releases being put out and reseller value going down, and slower sales (in a good way). I feel MOST people are now mostly buying for listening enjoyment alone now. Back in 2016-2017, it was an interesting time because people would literally buy anything and everything Vaporwave if it was on Vinyl. This has changed a lot since then. I honestly believe the reason this happened is that so many people wanted “Vaporwave’ to be a thing.” I feel it’s definitely a “thing” now. In terms of scalpers, they will always exist if you press a certain amount of records. Unfortunately, it always feels like a gamble with how many you should be pressing. The cost of pressing is so high that if one record fails, you can easily be back to “square one.” On the opposite end of things, scalpers have it much easier; I’ve seen lots of the same people buying the last 10 records on Bandcamp. I am sure it’s the same people all around Bandcamp; they found a niche for themselves. In terms of the future, we have been trying very hard to jump over the next hoop and being able to provide more albums for people sooner, quicker, and in higher volume. I feel we are almost there.

Andrew:
As you probably know, quality control is an issue throughout the vinyl industry. I’ve personally purchased many records through VILL4IN, and the quality is always top-notch. Furthermore, you guys always make it right 100% of the time if there is a rare issue. What are your thoughts on quality control in the industry today, and what’s your QC process like?

Ben:
I will say right away to the labels who have poor pressings: you will spend more time and money rebuilding your reputation than the amount of money you saved by going with a cheaper pressing plant that doesn’t even provide test presses. I am a collector by heart, so I feel like I know what I want, and in turn, this translates to what people want. With that said, it’s hard to have everything in top-notch condition all the time—shipping, customer service, fulfillment, packing, import, and the huge costs of pressing albums. You could want to be the best in QC and still fail sometimes, and that’s the fact of life. All these things take a lot of your time and energy. With the risk of basically losing all your money with one or two undersold album you should be doing it for the love of it. Thankfully (and surprisingly), most people understand that things take time when you do it independently. All of the work is worth it in the end because I truly feel if you are giving art to people to enjoy, you are giving them a form of meaning in entertainment as compared to buying massively produced items that feel empty.

Andrew:
Your label has its own vibe and aesthetic. That said, what do you feel sets VILL4IN apart from other labels?

Ben:
My belief is if you are honest with yourself and people then you will have your own vibe and aesthetic. Ever since I was a teenager I’ve been a fan of underground electronic music and I’ve kept that feeling throughout the label. If you’re a real VILL4IN fan you would know we’ve been all over the place for a long time with multiple genres and we have always kept the same vibe some how.

Andrew:
Shifting gears here, is there anything within the industry you would like to see change for the better? What improvements would you like to see that you feel would benefit us all within the vinyl community and music community in general?

Ben:
That’s a hard question for me. The community as a whole surrounding Vaporwave is in my opinion an improvement to other communities. I’ve seen massive gatekeeping in other genres in my experience. Vaporwave has much less gatekeeping than usual. I say the best would be to continue to go towards that mentality. Anything that has to do with gatekeeping is anti-art in my opinion and I feel it deep in my soul.

Andrew:
Vaporwave is a hard genre to pin down. It’s everchanging, but people always like to put things into boxes. What are your thoughts on that
and the idea of genres in general?

Ben:
I think the confusion between what Vaporwave is or isn’t is what defines this “genre.” In my opinion, it’s just a community for underground experimental Electronic music. Still, of course, people will debate me as with 100s of other opinions of what that genre is or isn’t. I don’t like the idea that some people say Vaporwave needs to be “sampled” music; that’s just a very lazy attempt of defining it since there are endless examples of upsampled albums tagged as that genre.

Andrew:
Vaporwave has existed in digital forms for a long time. What do you think of the rising wave of support for vapor-vinyl over the last few years?

Ben:
I’ve entered this scene at the beginning of Vaporwave vinyl being pressed first just as a collector. I think people just want to be able to “own” Vaporwave physically because there is a sense of value associated with it. That value is that it’s special and different from some massively produced industry record. A world you can live in, maybe. This is why there was and still is such a boom in it, I think. I think the Vaporwave community is changing the way we think about albums and music. A greater appreciation for album artwork and now recently video, and I’m all for it. I also believe this is just the beginning. It is an unstoppable force.

Andrew:
The way I discovered Vaporwave was mostly through Bandcamp and Reddit. What are your thoughts on the importance of both Bandcamp and Reddit for Vaporwave and Indie music in general? There seems to be toxicity that’s creeping in that wasn’t there previously in regards to Reddit. What are your thoughts on the Reddit scene?

Ben:
I discovered the “community” through Vaporwave Cassette Club on Facebook. This is where I would get news about what new Vaporwave vinyl was being made. I feel the communities are important to know what’s going on in the scene because without it; you wouldn’t know if something exists or not. Then again, I long for a time where I could be invisible and just enjoy listening and making music without being “there.” I envy the people who can enjoy a music genre purely for enjoyment as an introvert.

On the subject of toxicity, it is an interesting subject, and it’s not exclusive to Reddit. You see it on Reddit more because it’s anonymous. I feel it all stems from the fact that “Vaporwave is special.” You have people trying to separate from it, trying to become gatekeepers of micro-genres and saying this is supposed to be this or that is supposed to be that. All it is is just noise; the same toxic people are generally not supporting each other. Do you see this happen in other genres like Jungle, Psytrance, or Ambient? Not really. That’s why Vaporwave is special, and the idea of it needs to be protected.

Bandcamp, of course, is essential. This is probably where all the biggest music fans and collectors gravitate towards to find interesting material. Also, it’s not Spotify. Spotify is the worst platform to get immersed to an artist because they are all boxed into playlists, while Bandcamp, you can see the artwork, stories, and much more. Not to mention Spotify has a horrible rate for plays.

Andrew:
Another interesting development in the Vaporwave community has been the sudden resurgence of cassettes. Did you see that coming?

Ben:
I think cassettes were first before vinyl in the vaporwave community. Yes, it’s definitely surprising, and I actually got into collecting cassettes just because of that sub-culture. I definitely did not expect the rebirth of cassettes. Much less minidiscs. MUCH LESS FLOPPY DISKS.

Andrew:
This might be an obvious question, but do you collect vinyl? Tapes? CDs? Or are you all digital now? If so, what are some albums that mean the most to you? Where do you like to shop for music?

Ben:
I was a collector of vinyl for a while now and had quite a collection of many different genres. I personally like collecting 90s ambient and IDM music but I got music like Avro Part and Gorecki as well. I shopped mostly in HHV.DE, Amazon, and Bandcamp. I honestly don’t buy as many physical releases anymore because my expenses have went up so much that I rather just spend all my money on making more releases for VILL4IN. At least I can collect my own material.

Andrew:
What other passions do you have? How do those passions inform your work with VILL4IN, if at all?

Ben:
I like hearing about other people’s struggles and how they overcome them in all walks of life. It helps get my shit together and move on forward. There’s a lot of things going on behind the scene when you try to do something you’re passionate about, and if you do it for years, you will recognize healthy and unhealthy patterns, and with that, the reason to keep on moving forward feels like its changing constantly.

Andrew:
Last question. You’ve always embraced the DIY approach to music and your label. What advice do you have for anyone trying to get their start?

Ben:
Don’t follow the herd and make your own vision is the biggest suggestion I can give to people. You will be happier and more fulfilled and that is always more important than fitting in. Cheers, thanks for the interview.

Dig this interview? Check out the full archives of Vinyl Writer Interviews, by Andrew Daly, here: www.vinylwritermusic.com/interview

Published by Andrew Daly

Since he was a young child growing up on Long Island, NY, Andrew has always loved writing and collecting physical music. Present-day, Andrew is proud to share his love of music with the world through his writing, and the result is nothing short of beautiful: articles and interviews written by a music addict for fellow music addicts. Andrew lives on Long Island and works as a Horticultural Operations Manager by day and runs the Vinyl Writer Music website by night.

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