Benji B and Judah Countdown Their 10 Favourite Deviation Sessions
In search of a venue untouched – like a virgin, for the very first time – by the party animals of England’s capital, Radio 1 DJ Benji B and host-with-the-most Judah developed East London’s virginal Gramaphone club into the legendary Wednesday weekly club night Deviation. Helmed by the talented party planners, Deviation has spent the last 14 years bringing the ultimate boogie to a club near you – whether that be at XOYO in Shoreditch, Paris or Miami.
Becoming a pinnacle of London’s club culture came with only one rule – they played any artists they damn wanted. The aim of the game was basically for you to waltz in loving hip pop and leave discovering, in fact, house music also makes your hips shake, or vice versa. This came at a time pre-dinosaurs – joke – pre-Instagram and SoundCloud, so partygoers simply had to trust the duo, as those were the times without the ability to listen to a past mix on the way to the rave.
Deviation became the unrivalled space for both the established and the upcoming, no matter the genre, with the duo clearly creating their own lane within the culture. They felt no need to fill out their lineups with the biggest names in music as the people of London trusted their musical castings and ability to find them their next obsession.
After years of inviting an impressive roster of guests, from Travis Scott and Sampha to Jamie xx and Skream, the crossing of musical boundaries birthed tracks that became part of Deviation DNA. The seminal club night that has “its own sound, its own hits and its own classics” now has 20 tracks in one place – Deviation Classics – ready to transport you back to an era, venue, place or time. And there would be no other way to celebrate the end of this Deviation chapter than four 12″ vinyls – “all certified Deviation anthems in their own way”.
From hosting Grammy-award winning Kaytranada’s first UK gig to curating iconic Notting Hill Carnival lineups, we asked Benji B and Judah to take a trip down memory lane to handpick their 10 most memorable Deviation moments. If you were a regular Deviation-goer, prepare to get nostalgic.
1. First birthday party (01/10/08)
“For our first birthday, we invited Dam Funk for his first ever UK show and it became one of those ‘if you were there’ moments. We used to do parties in the Gramaphone basement but for that session, we did it across two floors and I just remember it being like a zoo outside with the doors shut and a sweatbox inside and people trying to get in. It was the first time people had got to hear Dam Funk play here and it was one of the best parties I’ve ever been to in my life… no exaggeration. He read the room perfectly and it was one of those magic atmospheres that you can’t bottle. For a first birthday party, you couldn’t ask for a better DJ set than that. He even announced every record as he played it pretty much. It was so good that we started booking him for our birthdays each year as a tradition. You can hear some of his set on SoundCloud.”
2. Fifth birthday party (13/10/12)
“Our firth birthday was one of the most memorable Deviation sessions ever. We held it in a gospel church in Hackney and it was one of the most legendary nights ever. It’s hard to explain why, but if I could do it all again I wouldn’t change a thing – it was perfection from start to finish. There were a couple of funny moments that night – one was being summoned up to the balcony to meet the pastor of the church. I was really nervous thinking there was a problem – but instead, he gave me a big bear hug and said how wonderful the atmosphere and spirit of the event was. And the other was that around 6am when the party was due to be finishing, we looked at the security to request permission for one more tune but they said they were really sorry but couldn’t allow it because Sunday service started in an hour (!) and they needed to get the place cleared up and ready. Fair enough!”
3. Moodymann after party (October 2019)
“Moodymann is a DJ and producer we have booked numerous times across many years. We love inviting him to Deviation, he’s one of our favourite selectors. We booked him for the event we did at Earth in October 2019. After the main show had finished we moved upstairs for the after party which was just 250 people. All Moodyman’s Soulskate rollerskaters were in town and they were all upstairs doing routines on their skates which was pretty epic. J.Rocc turned up with a USB stick, Waajeed was there, The Mahagony Music Crew – it was a classic lock-in.”
4. Kaytranda (07/02/14)
“Around the time we booked Kaytranada for one of his first gigs in the UK, I’d been playing his remixes of Missy Elliott and Janet Jackson, and various other of his bootleg style Soundcloud remixes for quite some time. We knew he was going to be big, but we had no idea how it was going to go off that night! His debut gig at XOYO for us was mind-blowing! When he played that Janet Jackson remix the place just went clear – it was another one of those moments that I’ll never forget. We have booked Kaytranada many times since and we need to say congratulations as he just won 2 Grammys. Congrats Kay!”
5. Dorian Concept (03/09/08)
“This night was a perfect example of two things. One: the trust that people have for a club night, and two: never judge a book by its cover. I’d been playing Dorian Concept’s music on the radio quite a lot but I know that he wasn’t very well known at the time we invited him to one of our early Gramaphone sessions. People come to Deviation for the trust in our bookings rather than necessarily a headliner and our role has always been to introduce artists that we love and support.
“Dorian Concept is an artist from Vienna and I invited him to come and play at the club. He was playing his mini korg keyboard at the time and he arrived with it in a battered cardboard box and he looked super young with some blond bowl haircut and I could see the regulars at the front of the club looking at me and Jude thinking ‘Who is this guy? what’s about to happen?’ And then, of course, he completely slayed it and everyone went nuts and he did what he does – playing his music and soloing on top of the synth – which is just phenomenal. He became a bit of a hero in the club after that.”
6. Carnival session at Paradise (26/08/13)
“DJ Zinc has been a mainstay for us at all of our Carnival parties and we’ve always booked him to play the jungle sets. So we had to choose this year where we had DJ Zinc, DJ EZ, David Rodigan and more playing. DJ Zinc played a back to ’95 jungle set which was so perfect in both its selection, mixing and execution that there were literally grown men crying in there! DJ EZ played a set that was so phenomenal that I remember certain DJs and friends in the crowd having to go upstairs and borrow shirts because they were soaked through. And then David Rodigan opening his set with a dubplate recorded the evening before by Shabba Ranks! That party was like watching a kettle boil, it just got hotter and hotter and hotter. Those 3 DJ sets on the night and the order they came in was pure science and one of the best parties we have ever curated.”
7. Kode 9 (04/02/09)
“We love Hyberdub boss Kode 9, he’s one of the best friends of Deviation and one of our favourite musical people. The first set he ever played for us at Gramaphone was one of the best sets I’ve ever heard him play and one of our most favourite sets we ever had at Gramaphone.”
8. Fabio upstairs (23/05/15)
“Fabio is one of my DJ heroes, and someone I used to religiously go out to listen to when I was a kid. When I was offered a 13-week residency at XOYO every Saturday I wanted to use the upstairs room to recreate some of my favourite club nights with legendary DJs and give the new generation a chance to experience what I had. So When Fabio played a “speed-era” set upstairs at XOYO, his set was so good and I was so lost in it that I refused to go downstairs and do my closing resident’s set, it was that good, and that special for me. I went on strike basically and made them close the other floor so I didn’t have to go and play my set and made everyone come upstairs to listen to Fabio! Allegedly there’s footage of me getting overexcited on the mic while he was playing, but let’s not talk about that…”
9. 1015 San Francisco (25/03/16)
When we booked Erykah Badu at the legendary 1015 club in San Francisco it was just a phenomenal night. The line-up was insane and there were a lot of very special names there that night both on stage and in the dance. Love to Erykah for what she brought that night and all the DJs across three rooms. 1015 Fulsome was our venue in San Fransisco – our other residency in USA was at Output in NY.”
10. Deviation Strings at London Eye (13/10/11)
“In 2011 when I was asked to do a DJ set inside the London Eye by Red Bull Music Academy, I just decided to curate something special and have a string quartet play alongside me. We did arrangements of my favourite songs at the time, both classic and current. Then we ended up scaling up the string quartet to 16 strings and performed in venues including Gorky Park in Moscow and at various festivals in the UK, Europe and Miami. The peak moment culminated in us doing the gig at Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Meltdown and Sampha coming out to sing Indecision live with strings, and a finale of the South Bank security not being able to stop the whole place running down to the front for a stage invasion and jumping on the seats. It was a special night and I have to say that started a trend of a lot of DJs doing sets with strings…”
‘Benji B presents Deviation Classics’ is released April 16. Pre-order your copy here.