BEN WATT with FELIX & GANI at the Century Room (580 King West), tonight (Thursday, September 7). $10 advance, more at the door. 416-203-2226. Rating: NNNNN
There's now a generation of people who know Ben Watt first and foremost as a respected UK deep house producer, DJ and the guy behind the Buzzin' Fly label, but it wasn't that long ago that he was best known as half of the pop duo Everything but the Girl.
Moving from the underground to the mainstream isn't that unusual (middle-class kids like to call it selling out), but going the other way must have raised some questions about authenticity.
"I think it really depended on where you joined the story," Watt recalls. "If you only know me as a guy who was part of a band that had a few pop hits, it might seem weird. But we were an independent underground band for years, so it's not really that big a leap."
Besides, he seems more comfortable with the intimacy and freedom that operating outside the pop world provides. Technically, Everything but the Girl aren't defunct, but in the seven years since their last album, Watt's life has become more focused on running the label, producing and DJing.
"The impetus behind the label was to give some people a break. It would have been easy for me to ask a few established musician friends for some tunes, but I was more ambitious and wanted to help people who didn't already have those opportunities."
True to that plan, he has resisted the urge to buy cast-offs from the big names and instead has consistently unearthed new names no one had ever heard of before. For those who aren't interested in filling their homes with 12-inch singles, the label put out its third mix compilation that not only showcases the label but also gives a glimpse of how Watt's been spending much of his time over the past eight years.
"Four to five hundred people and a great sound-system - that's all you really need. I don't get much pleasure from playing big rooms. You're forced to make much broader gestures, and you can't get away with as much. It gets kind of impersonal.
"DJing can be as intimate as an acoustic live set. The action of walking away from the bar to the dance floor involves a lot of trust and vulnerability. As a DJ, you're really the ambience coordinator. You can touch people, you can move them to tears or to joy."