An interview by Chaos McKenzie Xtra Magazine Toronto
After meeting Bill Bennett all I can say is that he is a very impressive man. After 13 years as an aerobics instructor and personal trainer, Bill’s mother was falsely diagnosed with terminal cancer. Driven by the feeling that the nurses and doctors had poorly treated his mother, Bill returned to college and became a full-time nurse.
As a struggling full-time college student he sought a job where he would only work on the weekends and pay enough to cover the bills.
Bill submitted a demo CD to COBALT – soon to be Detroit’s largest gay club opening-to-date. He put together an impressive CD package of his own mixes, which had received rave reviews from his fitness class and submitted it with the hundreds of other applicants for the prestigious job. Bill was called in and auditioned for a private party prior to COBALT opening its doors to the public.
He was hired as the Saturday night resident. The lines wrapping around the building were a combination of the club’s newness and Bill’s unique sounds. Fans from Toronto, Toledo, Columbus, Indianapolis and even Chicago would drive to Detroit for a Saturday night. This created a great deal of national interest since Detroit was never before a city thought of one to travel to for gay night life.
Cobalt became known nationally for it’s music and other DJs in gay clubs in the mid-west became anxious because they were being bombarded with requests of songs/remixes they heard exclusively at Cobalt.
This immediately catapulted Bill to a national level. The fact of him being put under an exclusive non-compete contract was a sign of what was ahead. Now Bennett is one of the fastest rising DJs hitting the circuit, playing top events and clubs around the globe.
" I try to stay away from labeling, says Bennett of his musical styles. "Some people say I’m really dark and others disagree. I definitely don’t consider myself dark. I try to play a little of everything, but if I had to narrow in on it – progressive house.
“DJing is really, “To each his own.” says Bennett. Ten years ago, I’d ask DJs for help and they always had attitude. Now, in a way, so do I.
COBALT was eventually closed because of drug-related problems.
“I will never forget the night we were raided. The left wall of the DJ Booth was glass where you could view the entrance. I could see out of the corner of my eye someone run in with a giant light, then the police jackets ran in one after another, all holding giant flash lights. They literally threw every customer against the wall, then came in the booth and demanded that I shut the music off and turn the lights on. When I told them I didn’t control the house lights they got a little rough with me. Pretty much threw me out of the booth and dumped all my CDs out of their sleeves looking for drugs. At the time I thought it was the worst thing that could happen to me, I knew the club was toast after that, it was just a matter of time. I now know it’s the best thing that ever happened to me.”
Bennett feels that his musical styles have drastically changed since the early days.
“I played a club called SPACE for its closing night. It was my first time spinning in Detroit since Cobalt and everyone requested, " Can you play like you used to? I didn’t realize it until then, says Bennett.
“I was pretty cookie cutter before, now I’m doing almost all my own stuff.”
“I really try and play everything, it’s why I like progressive sets. When people come up and request, I say " Give it some time; I’m here for 10 hours, I’m sure your song will come on. "
“Bennett’s first Headlining gig was that of Leather Rites Ball at IML in Chicago in 2003. He had closed the event for the three years prior but the promoters were nervous about giving him the Saturday Main Event. Past monster DJs Abel and Rosabel were big shoes to fill.
“That day prior to the event I would over hear people on the streets or in the stores talking about the party. Some people knew of me and some did not. I would just sit there and listen to what they had to say, it was interesting how people who never heard me play would rip me to shreds. That is what I find most challenging about DJing. People really don’t realize how much of ourselves we put into our music and what a sacrifice this is for us. Much of my time off is spent working on remixes and I really do not have much of a social life. For now it is a sacrifice Im willing to give for the love I have of this. When people say bad things about me, it doesn’t bother me because I know they don’t even know me but when I hear someone rip on my sets it is difficult not to take it personal because so much of my blood and sweat is involved.”
“When it came do doing the IML CD I knew I needed to raise some eyebrows, something dramatic needed to be done; hence I was a " newbie. I did a CD called STRIPPED for them, and I posed nude for the cover. But at the last minute we had to airbrush underwear overtop because the printers refused to print male nudity."
Promo copies of the infamous CD showed the chiseled and burly beef cake in the buff and one copy found its way to the offices of Unzipped magazine, where editors later convinced Bennett to do a full nude spread for them.
“I always said I would do that some day, Bennett laughs. "The weird part of it was the pictures were done like 6 months before the issue was on stands, so I really just forgot about it. Then when it hit I guess the stores in Detroit could not keep them in stock. I had then gone out to the local gay bar, “Prontos” and many people were glaring at me. For some reason Im not well received in my hometown. Some of the friends that I do have back home tell me of all these people that I slept with which I found funny because I was in a 6 year (mostly monogamous, laugh) relationship in Detroit."
Anything -goes-moments like these make Bennett endearing and real. He’s funny, laid back and completely without any of the holier-than-thou attitudes quickly adopted by major circuit DJs. Bennett states, " If the promoter tells me a limo is picking me up I have them cancel it and grab a cab and give them the receipt, Im not comfortable being treated like that."
“I have also had bad luck with managers and agents. I have had two and they both lied and stole money from me. At the moment I’m looking at different options for management. Bennett roles his eyes and laughs.
“Strangely, as soon as I fired my manager/agent and took over the driving seat of my career, I got the record deal I’ve been waiting years for.”
Last year Bill headlined IML Chicago, Europe Pride, Arena Japan, Rapture, Leather Ball 9 and several other events.
Bennett is now preparing for a 16 month world tour to promote his first world wide release CD not ironically named IGNITION, which stems from his roots in Detroit. Look for the CD to be out this summer in a store near you!
The tour will start in May of 2004; the tour kicks off at his resident club Splash in NYC and will hit Europe before hitting the US. 75 cities are the plan for the US; the only major city not on the list is strangely his hometown Detroit.
“I don’t know if I want to go back there and DJ, I left too many personal memories and baggage behind there, it would open many old wounds that have taken years to heal… and put salt in the ones that have not.”