Meet The Flashbulb, Chicago's Wild, Prolific & Under-The-Radar Musician
The Flashbulb (Benn Jordan) is a "most-known-unknown". Performing at Schuba's on Monday, February 13th, the thirty-something musician has thousands upon thousands of fans in an undeniably niche corner, whipping acid house, breaks, drum n' bass, rock, jazz, anything, into a concoction of sounds moving from storm to sun shower and back again. Emphasizing live instrumentation and improvisation for a constantly shifting blend of music, his approach goes back to the influences he found growing up on the South Side of Chicago
"I grew up on the South Side, there was a lot of jazz and eventually when I started listening to music that people in my generation were listening to, the younger generation, a lot of it was acid house and stuff like that. Chicago house, some of it had that cheesy element to it but there were a lot of diamonds in the rough and I feel like those two things, the jazz and that, had this strange concoction of what my younger mind thought was possible with music. The two don’t mix together well at all, and maybe just subconsciously that’s always where I started with those completely opposite ends and that’s sort of what’s defined my style."
A soundtrack composed of acid house and Chicago house's pounding beats followed him like a shadow, but it was guitar that gave him the music bug. An instrument for noodling around, hanging out, experimenting, he describes it as an extra limb to his body, and it's one of the few constants you'll find in his music. Alongside the music of his youth, guitar was the most important aspect of his musical genesis, an instrument that he could escape into rather than a structured activity pushed upon him. It’s still his favorite instrument, a release valve.
Stirred together, the result of these influences is overwhelming. The heaviest tracks you'll ever hear ("Alley Acid") contrasted by tunes that float past your fingertips ("Beebs"). Guitar solos, insane synths, skeletal drums. He just released a jazz piano album, and it’s really fucking good. Let's be clear; The Flashbulb has at least 25 projects out since 2000, and that's NOT including his other aliases. Benn Jordan is prolific, and his music continues to grow more diverse, reflecting the value he places on independence.
"Early in my career I had to rely on record labels for releasing. I got pigeonholed as an IDM artist or a break-core artist. Once you had one of those releases and it's even moderately successful then that's what you are....ultimately I couldn't say, "Hey, I want to release this piano album" to a label interested in releasing break-core. I had to adhere to genre. Through ad work and stuff like that, I had money on the side which allowed me to buy back the licenses to my old stuff and release on my own label (Alphabasic), starting my own structure up. Once I did that, I was able to release whatever I want. From then on, it's completely sporadic - I didn't have any pressure."
It's this independence that has defined Benn Jordan’s career, that he wants to define his career. He bought back his licensing and created his own label, Alphabasic, around 2008. Since then he’s been able to explore the sounds he wants, how he wants to do it. Similarly dedicated to bringing that spontaneity to his live performance, the stage is a lab for this mad scientist.
“I want things to be as improvised as possible, I don't use a laptop or anything, I typically want my sets so they can be transformed to how the room and audience feels...I try to keep things entertaining, I get bored really easily watching other music shows, so I just pretend I'm in the audience and ask myself if I would be bored. If the answer is yes, I change the routine a bit…It absolutely depends on the evening and the feel, feel of the audience and how I feel. It’s not necessarily a mirror of the audience, but there are a lot of variables and I like to have the ability to change things up, be very specific to those variables.”
He's played countless shows over seas, but his highlights are his work in Chicago, including performances in Millenium Park, and even more impressively two at the Planetarium, where he created the soundtrack for ...the goddamn Planetarium (you can still hear his music there). Crazy. Just as important was his commitment to community involvement, founding the Alphabasic Academy in Bridgeport which would become 32 Forty. His music scattered, his performances unpredictable, The Flashbulb isn’t an easy one to define. Benn Jordan, now based in Georgia, likes it that way, beholden only to a responsibility to create that’s kept his nose to the grindstone all these years. Ask him who he is, and after a couple seconds pause the answer is assured.
“A DIY recording artist, that's the best way of describing it. Once you do everything yourself and once you're completely just doing what you want. That's what I wanted to do my entire life, just write music and produce music, that's all I want to do. When you have the freedom to do that thanks to technology and some moderate level of success earlier, that helped me get to the point where I didn't need a record label, I think that's really important. I feel like you could hear the spectrum of what's possible if you have that ideology as a musician…ignoring the fanfare for one genre and criticism of another and just do what you want.”