Few music platforms can boast as many fruitful endeavours as Melbourne’s Crown Ruler. Since launching in 2000 the event production company, touring agency, booking roster and now record label have set out to educate, move and unite Australian audiences through soulful underground music.
The man at the helm is one Jamie Bennett who has played an integral role in developing Aus’ underground music scene. A youth saturated in hip hop started his love affair with the genres that they sampled, and his deep dive into soul, funk and jazz went on to become the foundations for the music and artists Crown Ruler champion.
This summer he heads over to Europe with some of the Crown Ruler roster to play various dates across the Europe. Ahead of this we chatted to him about a lifetime spent collecting records, alongside a vinyl-only mix to soundtrack the trips he’ll (eventually) take in the black 1995 BMW 525i wagon that he’s trying to restore.
Jamie Bennett plays We Out Here, Gilles Peterson’s first UK festival, on 15th-18th August.
DJs and producers often mention their musical education came through their family’s record collection. Was this the case for you? Can you pick out any pivotal records from your upbringing that informed your musical journey?
My folks were massive music lovers and both had their own individual flavour but the only records that were up for inheritance were my fathers LPs. These consisted of the Eagles, Chicago, Creedence Clear Water Revival and a run of other classic 70s rock titles. I definitely leant towards my mother’s taste which was all on cassette; she was feeling The Commodores, then Lionel Richie, Billy Ocean, Whitney Houston, Aretha and all that good stuff. None of these items are still in my possession but I fondly remember the Krix sound system that used to shake my family living room back in Adelaide, the dinner parties and the dancing. Music was ALWAYS popping at home.
People buy records for a multiple of reasons. What first drew you to collecting records and what motivates you to continue digging after all these years?
I caught the bug by simply being immersed in hip hop culture growing up. Searching for samples lead me into the 60s and 70s black American soul, jazz, funk sounds and from there it just took over. The next waves came from wanting to be a DJ, frequenting all the great dance music parties that Adelaide had to offer in the 90s and somehow this is still my life. DJing on the regular and having this craft a part of what I still do day to day keeps me buying and searching for new music on the regular.
Where do you store your records and how do you file them?
I store them at home and in no real particular order. Admittedly it’s complete chaos but I strangely know where everything is. If I were to maintain the skeleton system that exists in my shelves it’d simply come down to format, 7″s, 10″s, 12″s, LPs and a spot for compilations. Then I’d break it into genre, and if the genres become too broad I’d create sections for country of origin. Something like that. My favourite section is the mixed lollies zone which is a part of my forever rotating record bag that I kick around town.
What are your favourite spots to go digging and why?
All my favourite spots are overseas and it’s mainly because they have a geographical advantage over local Australian stores for what I am searching for. Tokyo, Osaka, New York, Chicago, Detroit, Amsterdam and London is where I can get real silly buying music and have found some of my favourite records.
Digging isn’t just about the records you find, but the people who help you find them. Who are some of the colourful characters you’ve met on your travels in record stores round the world? Any unsung heroes you’d like to shout out?
Not exactly unsung but probably the most colourful, Calypso Steve at Red Light Records. I really love that dude. A lot.
Is there a record (or records), that has continued to be illusive over the years?
Theres about 4 million items in my Discogs wants list and I am not really one to obsess over tangible items. But if there was one buy on sight record miraculously sitting on the wall somewhere it’d be Cleo McNett – ‘Let The Music Guide You’.
Do you prefer record shopping as a solitary process or with friends to nerd out with and search or strange sounds together? If the latter, who do you like to go digging with?
Yes I definitely prefer the process on my own and ideally not hungover. Coffee is my most welcomed compadre.
Walking into a record shop can be quite a daunting experience. Do you have a digging process that helps you hone in on what you’re after?
To settle in I generally just people watch for a while, eavesdrop on the conversations between the staff and existing clientele and once I am done with being a creep I’ll go to the “New / Just In” section, check out the wall and then slowly make my way through the rest of the store.
How big a role does album artwork play in your digging?
For LPs it’s massive. When I don’t know a record (which is all the time) and it doesn’t have much other information I will rarely take it to the listening station if it doesn’t have cover art that’s speaking to me.
Could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
Well, I have a weekly Thursday night music session called Magnetic City that I run with Jnett, Lori & Sophie McAlister. Its kinda bound by 80s and 90s soul, hip hop, funk, r&b sounds and I’ve never done a mix of this music even though I play it every week. I also had this idea about making a mixtape for the car that I am trying to restore. Its a black 1995 BMW 525i wagon which is currently off the road with a cracked radiator. So its also a bit of a dedication/motivation in getting this baby back up and running and fitted out with a nice sound system. Hopefully some kind of narrative comes through. Ideally a sleazy one.
Any standouts in the mix you’d like to mention?
Not really. There’s loads of common cuts in the mix and I’ve tried to present the whole thing as one. It’s been a while since I’ve DJ’d in my living room so I spent most the time looking out my window pretending I am DJing to ten thousand people.
Casting the net wider now, who are some of the record collectors you most admire and why?
John Gomez aka DJ Siesto is a nice example. I really admire his ear and how far he’s taken things on his journey as a DJ/compiler. One denominator we share is maybe age (lol sorry John) but also a foundation in hip hop. Out of a lot of great friends doing amazing things via labels/reissues etc, John is someone I have followed pretty effortlessly and I put that down to having a semi common introduction to music. Other talented collector friends that have foundations in industrial, punk or maybe went to art school I still learn a lot from and admire but I don’t really connect as easily. Locally DJ JNETT, Jeremy Spellacy, Umut, Mike Who, Lori, Lauren Hansom and Winters (come home dude) are the ones I share music with on the regular and I really admire their individual paths and knowledge. True music lovers.
And are there any young collectors emerging who we should keep a close eye on?
Yes, Stuckey from College Of Knowledge Records aka the Coburg Crusader. Works part time at Plug Seven Records here in Melbourne. He’s super sick!
From your home of Melbourne you run Crownruler who are a firm favourite over here at STW. It’s been 19 years since it started now, for those who aren’t familiar with what you guys do can you give them a bit of background?
I started Crown Ruler back in 2000 in Adelaide and it was the overarching brand for a few things I had popping at this time. Sookie Sookie a weekly Saturday club night that ran for five plus years, a gallery/retail store called Value King that had monthly exhibitions and sold zines and cameras and was the home for my NBA Jam arcade machine. We – Brother Irwin and I – also had a magazine of our own called Colourblind that ran for a couple of years until the niche print media industry died its slow death. This all ran its race until 2009 and I moved things over to Melbourne. Connected with “Super Woman” aka Lori in 2012 and since this moment we’ve been running non stop national tours for bands and DJs, booked and ran all the Red Bull Music Academy programs in Australia and produced tonnes of special ticketed events including our own music festivals. I started an online record store and label with Jeremy Spellacy and created a booking agency for all the heads we felt needed representation that don’t really conform to the current music game philosophies. Outside of that we just plod along doing our thing. Respectfully.
What’s coming up for Crownruler? Anything you want to shout about?
We have a saying in our office (my living room): “never send yourself flowers”. So staying true to that I can only really say check out our new website that we’ve been working on. All our work is there.
You’re over in the UK this summer playing at We Out Here, looking forward to it? Any other gigs on the horizon you’re excited about?
Yes!! Can’t wait!!! I am also really looking forward to playing the Altered Soul Experiment party in Berlin with Amila & Sanctuary. DJ JNETT is also playing her first set in London at Oval Space with Floating Points, Lakuti and a bunch of other killers. All super exciting stuff.
Jamie Bennett plays We Out Here, Gilles Peterson’s first UK festival, on 15th-18th August.