An Aussie drumming expat gives us the skinny on what it’s like to set up shop all over again on the other side of the planet.
by Jonno Seidler
Sydney-born drummer Shane Benson didn’t know quite what he was getting himself into when he relocated his entire life over to London a little over two years ago. The in-demand session musician had already toured globally and nailed it locally, sitting in the stool for some large-scale acts, including Rufus Du Sol, Lastlings, Zara Larsson, Macklemore, Kylie Minogue and even Rita Ora. Add that to live TV gigs, including The Voice, X Factor, the NRL Grand Final and pretty much every talk show in the country and you’d imagine he was in a pretty good position to pack up and start again.
But that doesn’t negate the actual work of getting going in a new city, especially when you play an instrument with tons of heavy, expensive elements. “I wouldn’t say it was an easy move here at all,” he says frankly. “For me it’s been quite a hustle starting in a new place and I’ve had to diversify quite a lot – which is something I’ve always kind of done anyway. But being flexible and ‘wearing many hats’ has definitely helped me.”
Benson is well-known on the circuit for his ability to meld electronic and acoustic drums, which loosely equates to having to have even more crap that you have to ship and fit into a North London apartment.
“I shipped some things I didn’t want to have to buy again, because they’re quite expensive,” Shane says, down the line from his London Fields office. “Some electronic stuff like SPD-SX [triggered drum pad console] and my Electronic kit meant I could practice without having a studio. I also bought some vintage shells here which are lovely, but I’m yet to purchase a proper touring kit because a lot of the gigs / tours I’ve done have been with backline so I haven’t had a need to.”
Lately, one of Benson’s primary gigs has been with Gold Coast electronic indie artists Lastlings. One of the first signings to Rufus Du Sol’s record label, the act has grown in popularity tremendously overseas, particularly in the US and Europe. Benson has reconfigured his entire set-up to suit the group’s sound.
“The band sent some of their new material and I decided I wanted to build a kit where the SPD wasn’t the centre piece kit. I think it’s become the norm lately for music with electronic elements, but I wanted it to feel like I was actually hitting drums and look interesting visually,” says Benson, who is also in demand as a live music / portrait photographer in addition to his main role of Session Drummer.
“Being able to travel with it easily came into account too. I drew some diagrams and worked out exactly what was needed trigger-wise for each song, and mapped out how to play each song with the setup,” he says. “I settled on the current rig and then worked out the best way to mount everything. I’m using basically all Roland gear; for the nerds out there, it’s the new TM6 pro module with 4 dual trigger V-drum pads, a BT-1 bar trigger, a KT-10 kick trigger and a RT-30HR trigger on the snare. This gives me 11 different triggers which is more than enough for most tunes. Other than that I’m playing quite a basic 4 piece DW kit and some carefully selected Zildjian cymbals.” Check out his recent live drum edit of the band’s iconic Red Rocks performance below to see it in action.
Benson believes that though the now-retired lockout laws in particular had a detrimental effect on the live music scene, Australians punch well above their weight internationally, particularly in the UK. “I think the music community in Oz is very strong and there’s always world class music coming out,” he says, “There is some amazing stuff coming out of Australia that often doesn’t cross over to the UK and vice versa. But I really have enjoyed the change here because I’ve been fortunate to book a lot of studio work – more than I ever did in Australia – just because I think there are so many more people making music here. In saying all of that, the hustle is real; there’s a lot of people here chasing the same dream.”
His ability to adapt has held Benson in good stead, particularly as he’s spent years getting under the hood of how electronic drum arts work. “It’s just been a slow progression over that time and learning new tricks and secrets along the way. I’ve always done quite a bit of production and songwriting, which has come in handy when building live sets in Ableton for different artists I’m working with as a Drummer or Musical Director. I’m always learning: keeping up with new technology is an ongoing thing for sure. Working alongside different artists is a great way to learn new techniques and push boundaries too.”
Follow Shane’s UK adventure here.
Listen to Lastlings here.