PRODUCER SPOTLIGHT: FOURA, Benny Zenn, Liam Thomas & MixedbyEspa
With the Australian scene filled with incredible production and engineering talent who are proving themselves week in and week out on a local and international scale, we've brought back our 'Producer Spotlight' segment to highlight a few of these talents. Hailing from Naarm, producer and DJ FOURA has brought her own eclectic and unconventional music-making mindset to a recent mixtape which features some of the country's strongest up-and-coming hip-hop and R&B talents. Sydney producer Benny Zenn has showcased his impressive ambition in recent years to carve out his own production approach, whilst Brisbane's Liam Thomas is pushing boundaries both as a solo act and in his collaborations with some of Australia's leading talents. Finally, Sydney's MixedByEspa has been a loyal and key component of the Australian rap scene throughout its young history.
If you haven’t been swept up in FOURA’s immediately contagious mixtape ‘Taste’ yet, we have to say that you’re missing out. The Naarm-based producer, songwriter and DJ harnesses an approach to music-making whereby she pushes aside traditional methods in search of creative autonomy. Stylistically eccentric, often taking the listener through delightfully unexpected routes in her work, FOURA effortlessly blends UK Garage foundations with house and techno textures throughout ‘Taste’. The 10-track project sees FOURA providing a platform for the likes of West Sydney’s dynamic Big Skeez, fellow Burn City artist r.em.edy, and previously Naarm-based artist Jordan Astra to draw from their Afro-fusion, hip-hop and R&B leanings to mesh with the vibrant aesthetic of their respective tracks. Furthermore, the multifaceted mixtape showcases not just FOURA’s collaborative spirit, but also her forward-thinking nature. As a member of The Operatives, a Naarm-based artist collective which houses some of Australia’s elite up-and-coming hip-hop and R&B boundary-pushers including Yung Shōgun, c000kie, Jacob Aedam, Jordan Dennis, Southside Denny, Billy Davis, FOURA pushes aside traditional methods of music-making in pursuit of producing art that is true to her. Moreover, FOURA’s wide-ranging palette as a curator and selector gives her the sonic nous to actively explore unconventional and free-form musical wavelengths with the awareness of what’s inimitably original.
In a show of his defiant creative originality and pure desire to make the music he resonates with, Sydney-based artist and producer Benny Zenn has paved his own distinct lane within the Australian scene. Having become known for creating laidback beats accentuated by intelligent soulful sampling, Benny has flourished both as a solo act and as part of the cross-city trio Gullyboy alongside Melbourne’s Mog.Y and fellow Sydneysider Wise Guy. Undeniably Benny’s production is largely rooted in hip-hop, however it is tinged by his love of old school soul music and of the UK’s garage and DNB scenes, having been based in London for 5 years prior to operating out of Sydney. 2021 proved to be an incredible year for Benny, with his immense work rate leading to the delivery of a solo debut album ‘Dual Citizen’ in July and an EP (‘Hot Chips’) with Gullyboy in October. ‘Dual Citizen’ thematically concerns Benny’s experiences abroad, with the 10-track project spanning his journey between Australia and England. As a producer who thrives in procuring a soulfully-charged mood that ensures his collaborators can simply glide on the beat, Benny has continually impressed and evolved with every release whilst staying true to the sounds that inspired him in the first place.
Brisbane’s Liam Thomas is a presence like no other in the Australian scene. The artist, songwriter and producer has become synonymous with his expertise and versatility in producing first-class trap and hip-hop beats, however the impact of his solo artistry cannot be understated. Exploring ambient, atmospheric soundscapes designed to provide the listener with a peace of mind and to alleviate their struggles, Liam has amassed several solo releases and EPs that encapsulate mood, environment, and energy. Signing to German label Sine Music saw Liam’s sounds pushed further abroad, leading to his debut album ‘Cosmos’ dropping in 2019 alongside an EP entitled ‘Aurora’ released in June of this year. Domestically, Liam has collaborated heavily with the likes of Mason Dane, Creed Tha Kid, Baby Prince and Day1, and has seen his distinctly booming, dynamic production style catch the attention of listeners locally and abroad. His ability to match this style with his affinity for delicate keys – having been musically trained in piano – is apparent in tracks like Baby Prince and Mason Dane’s ‘Fall Thru’, and is further indicative of his expansive production brain. Moreover, Liam’s role in helping to shape these aforementioned artists has been pivotal in the development of a uniquely Australian sound that traverses rap, trap and pop music, ultimately fostering a clear identity within a young scene still searching for one.
A staple of Australia’s burgeoning hip-hop scene for some time now, Sydney’s MixedByEspa has been a critical part of the journeys of some of Australia’s brightest prospects and veterans. Notable for not only his deep respect and reverence for hip-hop as an artform, but his active promotion of the Australian scene, Espa has been a key cog in the Australian rap and R&B machine. Beginning his journey as a DJ, Espa has grown into a leading engineer within the Sydney and Australian scene over his many years entrenched in the scene, and has even gone on to co-found and establish his own studio, Safe House Studios, in West Sydney. Arguably the work of mixing and mastering engineers often goes unnoticed – largely due to the fact that if a track is ultimately digestible and pristine then the engineer has effectively succeeded. Without a doubt though, Espa’s consistency, dedication and musical intellect has been pivotal in ensuring that artists remain connected with him and reliant on him through the years. Having engineered for the likes of Mitchos Da Menace, Rates, Lachytee, Kerser, Hauntz, Caylene and Triple One, Espa has shown his adaptability to the constantly evolving local scene and has nurtured the efforts by artists to step outside of their respective comfort zones.
Photos by @lazyfair_ (FOURA Photos), @scorpnx.media (Benny Zenn Photo 2), @visualsbyrazak (Liam Thomas Photos)
Words by Matthew Badrov