Do Your Own Thing: A Conversation with Ripley and Benway of Kitbuilders

Updated: Mar 28

Benway and Ripley aka Kitbuilders © Discogs

If for like many of of us, the 90's was the era when Electro became a never-ending fascination for you, then surely at some point you heard of the legendary duo Kitbuilders. With titles on labels such as Ersatz Audio, Breakin' Records and World Electric to name a few, this high-energy team hailing from Cologne, Germany, quickly rose to a level of notoriety during one of the most unique and productive decades in the music's history, that most of us could only aspire to in a lifetime.

Releasing a rather abundant selection of classic Electro titles on vinyl, as well as getting to perform with some of the most popular Electro artists over the years, Kitbuilders made a name for themselves as one of the most prolific Electro acts in the history of the new school Electro sound; still to this day one of the most sought after names in the scene.

In this interview with Electric Kingdom, we get a chance to sit down virtually with Ripley and Benway of the fascinating Electro duo, talking about their past memories during the early days of Detroit Techno's takeover in Germany, who their key influences are, and what the effect of the COVID-19 restrictions has been so far; both for the scene from their perspective and for their own personal music career. Without any further ado, let's get on with it!

Welcome guys! It's a real pleasure to get a chance to do this interview with the both of you. Let's begin. When did you know music would be your path in life? Who are some key musical influences for you?

Benway: Thanks for inviting us! Our early influences are acts like Mantronix (Music Madness album), Afrika Bambaataa, Flying Lizards, Neu, Kraftwerk, Can, DAF, Clara Mondshine, Herbie Hancock, Sparks, Der Plan, Sun Ra, Cabaret Voltaire, John Foxx (Mathematics album), Chris & Cosey, and Juan Atkins.

Ripley: We also love Roxy Music (especially the first two albums), Lydia Lunch, Joy Division, Devo, Siouxie & The Banshees, Human League, DAF, Fat Gadget, Front 242 and David Bowie.

Very eclectic set of influences you got there! How did Kitbuilders come about then? When did you guys first meet, and when did you know you would be embarking on this adventure together?

R: I was a singer in a Punk/New Wave band in Cologne, with a fantastic girl drummer. The guitarist played like Andy Gill from Gang of Four. In the early 90's, Techno seems to be the new Punk movement. I got to know Bernhard when we played together at a festival with our bands. We did some music sessions together and started the Techno project SBX-80 and our own label.

B: In the mid 90's we got a bit tired of Techno. We felt that the most creative era of Techno has come to an end, so we started Kitbuilders as an Electro project with vocals. We love Electro because it's got a funky DNA, and allowed us a wider range of expressions.

In Cologne we had a great Electro scene in the 90's, with forward thinking producers like Bolz Bolz and Rootpowder (he ran the legendary Formic Record store), DJ's like Maral Salmassi, and labels like Electrecord and World Electric.

So compared to the 90's when you guys were first getting started, how have things changed? Do you feel as if Electro and Electronic Music in general are on a healthy progression? Are artists more empowered today than before you think?

R: Electro has survived more than four decades…it will never die! There were a lot of ups and downs since the 80's, but due to artists, DJ's and (to name a few) activists like Dave Clarke, Andrew Weatherall (a legend, we miss him) DMX Krew, Radioactive Man, Aux 88, Drexciya, Larry McCormick, Carl Finlow, Andy Barton, Alek Stark from Fundamental Records, and last not least Electric Kingdom, it stays strong.

B: We have such a great scene, lots of new acts nowadays! Check out the Carebots compilation from Bass Agenda. Here you have almost the whole scene in a nutshell (all the money goes to the NHS and doctors without borders).

It's all in the frame! © Kitbuilders

Were you guys part of the 90's Rave scene at all? Also, being from Germany, how much influence would you say the country’s Techno scene played in your development musically over the years?

B: In the early 90's we organized underground parties in a small club in Cologne called 42. We had Claus Bachor as resident DJ, and invited artists like Derrick May, Jeff Mills, Juan Atkins, Rob Hood, Neil Landstrum and Christian Vogel. Most of them played for the first time in Germany. We had a little studio in a gas station near the club, and from time to time we laid down some tracks there with people like Terrence Dixon, who played in the club the night before. The German Techno scene didn't play a big role in our musical development.

R: We loved acts like Aux 88, Drexcyia, Ultradyne, DJ Godfather, Dopplereffekt, DMX Krew, Carl Finlow, Aphex Twin, Le Car or Adult. We shared the stage with them in Cologne in 1997 (it was before they called themselves Adult, they performed as Artificial Material in this period); we had a good relationship, released some tracks on their label Ersatz Audio. At this time there weren't many duos mixing Electro with New Wave elements. Until today the German club scene is 90% Techno and EDM, and real Electro events are rare.

It's a shame, even still to this day it seems like that in most places...very small pockets of Electro throughout.

So what would you say specifically drew you to the sounds of this music? Were you guys impacted by the early B-boy days of Electro Funk in the 80's when it was all getting started?

R: I love Electro, because it's a very open musical style. It can be Funk, club music, Pop, New Wave and experimental stuff.

B: I'm also into the early 80's Electro Funk from people like Afrika Bambaataa, Warp 9, Whoudini, Egyptian Lover etc.

There really is something just special about the vibes of Electro, isn't it? From old school to new school, from Synth Pop to Bass, it's a very open style of music like you say. Some even say it isn't even a style of music, but rather a way of approaching making music. I think that's very true in many ways.

Was there ever a feeling this adventure would be coming to an end for you however? There have been times; especially going into the new millenium, and also into the 2010's, when it seemed like perhaps Electro would be lost for good. What are your feelings on this? Seems Electro always faces a near fatal blow towards the end of every decade for some reason, though this time it is clearly very different. Maybe it's a good sign!

B: As said before, Electro (and Kitbuilders as well) is constantly going through ups and downs, but the activists and music lovers keep it alive. From time to time Electro touches the charts (remember years ago Missy Elliot sampled "Clear" by Juan Atkins). Alek Stark did an incredible job with his labels and his releases. The real stuff comes always from the underground!

It feels like we are living in a golden era of analog and hybrid synths. That means power to the people!

Another really exciting thing over the past few years, aside from Electro's current popularity of course, has been the resurgence of analog synthesizers, and the reissue of some serious icons from yesteryear. Have you got your eyes on anything in particular? Any new additions to the studio lately?

B: It feels like we are living in a golden era of analog and hybrid synths. That means power to the people! We bought the Novation Peak, which is a great sounding hybrid-synth, and the little Arturia Microfreak; a mean little weapon for weird bleeps and clonks.

Been very intrigued about the Microfreak actually, especially the new vocoder version. Speaking of studios, what's your process? How does a song first come about for you guys? Who takes lead, and who does what?

R: Mostly we are starting with a groove or synth riff. If I like it, I improvise some vocals and from that we develop the other parts of the track. I'm not a singer/songwriter, I could never sit on a table and write a song. The lyrics develop from the atmosphere of the music and the mood I'm in. The vocals has to follow the sound, this is most important.

B: We love hardware like drum computers and analog synthesizers, and use them in the studio and on stage. They are a great inspiration for our music.

They certainly are! Nothing like it, the possibilities are truly endless.

So if there was one tip for aspiring artists out there, what would it be? What's the key to making great Electro like you guys?

R: Do your own thing…check out the history, but try to be yourself. It's more fun to use some hardware (and analog gear)…wake up the ghost in the machine!

Live in Benicassim, Spain © Kitbuilders official/Facebook

Having been a duo that enjoyed the limelight of performing, how do you see the future of events and live performances with the COVID-19 pandemic? I am sure you guys have been impacted like everyone else by these lockdowns. How can the entertainment industry survive you think?

B: It's really sad, we performed last year in the old railway station in Lille, France a few days before everything closed. It was a lot of fun, you can't get this kind of energy with livestreams.

R: The government should support the independent music scene (artists, labels, clubs, distribution, record stores) more, they should allow open air events (with masks etc.) and make free tests, and vaccines available quickly.

COVID-19 has certainly had a very negative impact on our lives in many ways over the past year. But it is also true that for some time now, the Electro scene has at least musically, been blossoming quite beautifully; even garnering a lot of attention and support from more mainstream entities such as DJ Mag and Xlr8r, among others.

How do you guys feel about it all? So many artists and such varied and sophisticated styles of the music out there now don't you think? Who are some of your favorites?

B: Yeah, its really a great, there are so many new brilliant artists and DJ's in the Electro scene right now, it's incredible. The Electro renaissance is powered by artists like like Keith Tucker, DJ Di´jital, Bass Junkie, Alva Recek, Exzakt, Alienata, Plant 43, Will Web, Jori Holkonnen, Errorbeauty, Kim Cosmik, Stel-R, Detroits Filthiest, all the artists we mentioned before and many, many more!

R: You´ll find the whole spectrum of the scene on Andy Barton's Carebots compilation (raising money for he NHS and doctors without borders).

So what’s in store for the future then? Any new releases people can expect in the future?

R: We are currently working on tracks for a new 12', and remixes for Si Begg, Ascii Disko and Punx Soundcheck.

Thank you guys so much for this interview, be well, and please keep those great records coming!!!

Interviewed by: Santino Fernandez