Spotlight had a chat with DJ - Ralf GUM , one of the most respected figures in the house music scene for the distinctive qualities in his exceptional productions and DJ-sets. Since Ralf‘s DJ career started in 1990 he always stayed true to his passion for cool and diverse house music.
With an instinctive feeling for the right vibe, he convincingly performed all over Europe, Asia, the Middle East, South- and North America. In autumn 2008 Ralf toured in South Africa for the first time with great response and was the first German house DJ who was booked in Botswana and Swaziland. In 2012 Ralf finally emigrated
from his homeland of Germany to the world's current hot-bed for Soulful House Music, South Africa.
Here is what he had to say...
Who is the real Ralf GUM?
The real Ralf GUM is called Ralf Benkert and since more than 20 years a House Head. At the same time I am a business man running my own label GOGO Music, an employee, a friend and family father.
You come from Würzburg, a small town in the south of Germany, how would you describe your home town?
It was a usual childhood. I loved being outdoor, played soccer until I discovered tennis at the age of 11, which I played intensively for quite some years. Until eventually music became too important for me. Late nights in a club or the studio did not work out with early Sunday morning tennis tournaments anymore.
You are one of the most respected figures in the house music scene, how do you feel about that?
That attribute was given to me by others and of course I felt pleased by it and therefore used it later in my biography. What people say about it, probably mean it! Is that I managed to get my name out there while staying approachable and passionate at the same time.
What would you say is your greatest achievement in your life?
Being able to live the live I really wanted to live and feed my family with it.
What made you to reside in South Africa?
As a DJ I travel a lot, almost 20 years now and saw many different places all over the world, but when I came to the motherland for the first time in 2008, I felt a special vibe right away. The more I visited the country on subsequent tours, the more I fell in love with it and its people. My wife started to accompany me on my tours in SA and we extended our stays whenever possible to get a better feel of life here. The more time we spent in SA, the more we felt at home. After a while it actually felt as we would leave home, when we flew back to Germany. In addition the friends we made in the country played a role in the decision, just as the fabulous music scene did.
Tell us about the music artists who have influenced you to get in to the music industry?
It literally hasn’t been specific people but mainly the music itself which made me venture into this industry. Everything started when music was like a calling in my early teens. The wish to make a professional career in the industry came in my late teens, but I finished my studies as a civil engineer nevertheless. Just in case I would not be able to make a living out of music, I wanted to have something to fall back on. However already during my studies I spent as much time as possible in studio. After having my diploma in the pocket, I already had reached an awareness level where it felt kind of safe and make my passion to a profession. Definitely influential have been my first visits in New York end of the 80s and early 90s. Since then I knew that House Music it is.
South Africans love your music, what is the secret ingredient to your fascinating music?
People liking my sound could probably answer this much better, than I actually can. I think South Africa influenced my productions slightly since I moved here and I am enjoying the inspiration given by the environment. However my productions received love here, even before I saw the country for the first time. I guess the groove and soul in my music might be very similar to what other people with roots feel.
Have you ever thought of opening a house music lessons to aspiring young Dj's?
Not really. I think I was not born to be a teacher to a lot people in one room at the same time. My strength is rather to mentor few people or one person at a time.
What inspires you when you write a song?
Inspiration usually happens when I am able to find my own zone. As soon as I close the studio door and hear a sound, I can get inspired from it and a beat or melody might come to my head. That’s a reason why I prefer to work alone in studio, at least in certain stages of a composition.
What is your latest hit track and why do you regard it as a hit?
Again this is something other people would have to answer. Literally different individuals will have there own individual favourites. And being a favourite is in the end what turns a song to a hit. But I don’t like judging or favouring my own music in generally and especially in such categories. Everything that leaves my studio has to feel right at that specific moment to me.
Who do you plan to work with in the future and why?
There are many great talents out there, but I can’t tell in general. The idea which vocalist to feature always comes while working on a composition and hence a desired vocalist will depend on what kind of playbacks develop once I am back in studio.
You like Red wine, how often do you drink it?
Not too often and momentarily I actually rather prefer a beer, especially when going out to gigs. At home I don’t drink at all, but a good red wine combined with a nice dinner is still something great for the senses.
What do you do when you are free?
My label GOGO Music, producing, DJ-ing and everything attached to it, does not leave a lot of free time. But I don’t mind this at all as I am living the life I chose and I am grateful for. If there’s free time I try to give as much as possible to my kids.
Do you know any South African language? If yes which one?
When moving to Mzansi the first priority was to improve my English. I learnt English at school for 6 years and always used it in business and music, but it is not my mother’s tongue and therefore still is not perfect. I have to admit that I only understand few words in few local languages, but with time this will improve, too.
You are not always in the public scandals, how do you keep yourself away from the media?
Well, I hope that I am NEVER in scandals. I guess staying out of gossip columns comes with being faithful, which I am to family and music. In days of social media and online news it became too easy to voice every little thought to the world and I am not sure if we really need all this information.
Tell us, are you single or taken?
I mentioned it above and am sorry my lovely ladies … I’m a happily married man with two lovely kids.
What is your favourite holiday destination?
Funny enough it became Germany. Seeing old friends and family is the only thing I sometimes miss, since I relocated here.
Ralf can't leave his house without...?
A gadget connecting me to the world.