In a sea of self-promotion and invites to like Facebook pages, it is rare to come across an old friend or acquaintance that produces work you actually enjoy. When Ben Cofresi, an energetic former grade-school friend, reached out to me with some new music he was working on, I was admittedly dubious. Nostalgically reflecting on our grade-school years, I remembered Ben’s extreme enthusiasm for the drums. Could he have kept with it all these years? I agreed to meet my eccentric old pal at his studio in the west loop, the Music Garage, on a blisteringly cold night. My skepticism would quickly evaporate.
Ben met me in the lobby of his studio and we joined a host of eager musician-types on the elevator. As the elevator doors closed, the tight metal room quickly became the pulpit for one glassy-eyed aspiring artist. “I don’t know who the fuck y’all are, but y’all doin’ it. Y’all doing your thang. Just like me and my boys. That’s what’s up.” A distinct and familiar odor readily became apparent. It was as if the young mans recently smoked spliff had slipped from his fingers and was still burning in the folds of his XXXL Phat Farm jacket. All odors aside, the poignantly brief sermon wholly reflected the energy and sense of community that these struggling artists share.
Safely on the third floor, we entered Ben’s personal studio. An undoubtedly unique space, Ben explained the nuances of his performance set-up and elaborated on what he was attempting to create with his latest project, COFRESI. And then, he demonstrated:
Already thoroughly impressed, I was treated to a preview of COFRESI’s first, and nearly completed, EP. Shit is good. Scheduled for a release in late February, COFRESI’s debut EP is both technical and diverse, while vaguely familiar and catchy. Keep on eye on The Dankles for the latest on COFRESI’s soon to be released EP. In the meantime, here’s a little more on one of Chicago’s rising artists.
The Dankles: Who are you?
COFRESI: My name is Ben Cofresi. I go by COFRESI for this project. I am a drummer that has gotten into production in the last year. I’m trying [to create] this hybrid that is production, performance and just doing more than the average producer/DJ, especially in the live realm. I’m looking to take things to the next level with unique/custom live performance elements.
TD: We were friends in grade school, fell out of touch, and now here we are sitting in your studio because of a mutual passion (music). There are a lot of fortuitous moments like this in music and an artist’s come up. What other chance encounters, if any, have you had since pursuing music full-time?
C: There have been some really cool ones. The whole thing [collaboration] with ProbCause all started when my sister talked to his [ProbCause’s] and was like, “Yeah, Ben plays drums.” I came over to his [ProbCause’s] place and played some songs and he was like, “Yea, you’re my guy.” [ProbCause] did more of a full band thing at the time, but he had an opportunity to tour with Cherub and asked if I could create something that allowed me to DJ and drum at the same time. So I built this set-up that could fit into two suitcases and travel. It mixes DJ elements and live drumming. I was never inspired to just DJ, press play, use the high-pass low-pass filter and wave my hands in the air, which a lot of DJs do. I’m not hating on it, and I know these guys put a ton of work in at the studio, but just throwing down a pre-recorded set… there’s so much more that can be offered to the audience to see, feel and experience. [For the COFRESI project] I’m hoping to come off as a solo guy that [shows the audience] there is more that you can do and that [it’s possible to] mix this all into one cohesive unit.
One of my favorite fortuitous moments was meeting Seven Lions at Northcoast last year. He got me into production. I had sent him this video of me drumming to his song “Isis” about two years ago. He got right back to me and put it up on his [website]. He was like, “This is great. I wish I was still drumming.”
I tried to talk to [Seven Lions] one night after a show he did with Birdy Nam Nam in Wicker Park, but all these kids on drugs chased after him and his manager, so that didn’t work out. Fast forward to Northcoast and I’m backstage and see him go into some tent with Skream. He came out, and I was like, hey man, I was that kid that sent you a video drumming a few years ago. He was like, “No way, that’s insane. That was you!?” He ended up running over to get his girlfriend and manager and we just talked for half an hour and then listened to some music. I still have his managers contact info. Maybe I should send him my EP.
TD: Your equipment setup, both recording and live, is very unique. What kind of equipment do you sit down with to produce? What about in a live show setting?
C: I use Ableton, I’m an Ableton producer. I have a lot of cool synthesizers like Razor, the Context series, there is a new one called Rev which is really cool. I like taking samples and totally chop cutting, manipulating, reversing, re-sampling and creating new melodic layers. I don’t try to be too-too technical, but you definitely have to have that production know-how. There’s a lot I’ve been studying. I have my share of VSD plug-ins that I love, like sausage fattener.
I use a drum machine so that I can record my live digital drums that sound digital, but I actually play them live so it sounds and looks more organic. I try to keep it simple so I can do everything on the road.
TD: Press-and-play producers/DJs are taking a lot of flak. What does your live performance offer that others can’t?
C: Definitely a lot of cool live elements like live percussion. I’m a pretty well trained drummer. I think I’ve got some chops. I’m going from one hand playing the drums, to both hands playing the drums, back to mixing. I do a lot of stuff with live MPC chopping elements and a lot of layering of tracks. I often will chop up a track on the fly. I’m trying to make it all fluid and cool to watch.
TD: From touring with a hip-hop artist to producing your own electronic music, your style seems to mimic your frantic stage presence in its unpredictability. What, if any, genre do you most closely align with (don’t tell me your one of those artists that exists outside of conventional music genres)?
C: I would say future bass, which is basically a combo of dubstep, trap and glitch. I think that’s what they call it, future bass. Basically a hybrid.
TD: What is your process when you remix a track? What do you look for?
C: I try to take aspects of the original, but keep the essence of the song. I like to do a lot of sample chopping, synths, base tones, layers, my own drums, obviously. I’ve heard remixes where I’ve been like, damn, you butchered that track. I don’t want to butcher, but I don’t want to make it sound like the original. I try to just give the track a little more “umph.”
TD: Drums and percussion look to be all the rage in 2014. Excited?
C: I think trap is still going to be strong in 2014. Guys like Ta-Ku are mixing it up well. At the same time, there are a lot of artists just doing the exact same stuff. Hopefully as the genres progress, though, these artists will evolve and keep it fresh.
In my sets I have some trap stuff but I also have stuff that hits as hard as the trap stuff, but is a little more provocative. I’m not saying it’s better in any way, but I’d enjoying going to see a set that mirrors my own.
TD: As of late, you see a select group of producers stepping away from the skill-sets that brought them success (i.e. Skream, Porter Robinson, etc.) Do you see yourself forever strapped to your drum set?
C: I wouldn’t say I’ve ever been strapped to my drum set. Maybe a little bit when I tour with ProbCause. But I do stand up a lot so I can DJ at the same time. For this project, the drumming elements (the digital drumming pads) are just a wing of the entire set-up. Really, it’s about creating a hybrid/cohesive set-up that keeps it fresh. I don’t think I’ll ever let the drumming go, though.
C: I think Jewish pop-house. Matisyahu’s new project. [laughs]
TD: Skateboarding was another obsession of yours in grade school. You still shredding?
C: I definitely still skate. I don’t jump stairs anymore, cause I’m not trying to break my hands/arms. Sometimes I even wear a wrist guard on my left hand cause I always fall on that side. I’m friends with Paulo Gronkedi, a professional skater who rides and trains at Tony Hawk’s private ramp. I was in California and Paulo texted me telling me Elliot Sloan wanted to meet me and teach him Ableton. Elliot Sloan is legit, man. I think he had just won gold at X-Games South African for big air.
I called him [Elliot] and we talked for like two hours and then we hung out at his house. It was so surreal. He had a full vert-ramp in his backyard. He took me to Tony Hawks ramp after that. It was shocking and so cool… all because of Ableton.
TD: As a hater of vegetables, I remember your mom used to make the best green beans. What do you miss on the road and what is the first Chicago spot you always hit when you return?
C: The road is definitely very unknown. It’s more exciting than scary, but I definitely miss my girlfriend and my own bed. I definitely miss just lounging at home.
[ProbCause’s] manager always hooks it up with healthy food. Sometimes there’s some weird tasting stuff, but it’s all-good. I’m pretty healthy. But I’m not trying to eat a kale sandwich after every show.
TD: You had quite the ostentatious afro in fifth grade. Ever think of growing it out again?
C: If it was easy to take care of, I would. I have super thick Puerto Rican hair. I mean, it’s not out of the question. You never know.
TD: Musically, what have you done that you would never do again?
C: Playing at the Drum & Monkey, oh my god, when I played with Subtek. It was the worst gig ever. It’s this big UIC college bar. It was a shitty winter night. No one was there. It was the worst sound. I was, like, playing off a stereo boom-box. That pretty much ended that project [Subtek]. That was my introduction to what I’m doing now, though, so I can’t complain.
TD: What is the strangest thing you’ve seen while performing?
C: A really funny thing was playing in Madison with Cherub. There were 600 kids going crazy except for this one girl in the front row that was the saddest, most bummed out girl I’ve ever seen. She stayed the whole time, not moving, with the saddest face.
Another was when we opened for Machine Gun Kelly, and he had six sex dolls drop from the ceiling and his whole band started pretending to have sex with them.
TD: Last show you attended as a fan:
C: Zeds Dead at Aragon Ballroom. There were kids puking everywhere. That was the last one in a minute.
TD: Most mundane thing about producing music:
C: Just certain subtle detail mixing at the end of the process [of producing a track] can be mundane. You just have to trust your instincts. You have to be patient, but it doesn’t get too mundane for me.
TD: Do you use emojis when you text (in a non-ironic way)?
C: I actually just got an emoji app. They are the weirdest emojis ever. It’s an animated toilet-paper that waves its arms in the air. I keep sending it to my girlfriend. She thinks it’s funny. It’s a cute toilet paper, like a little Japanese toilet paper roll. Kind of like Towelie from South Park.
TD: Do you take a multivitamin?
C: I do. It’s a gummy one from Whole Foods.
TD: Have you ever gone out for the night and buttoned the top button of your dress shirt, but not worn a tie?
TD: Favorite childhood musician?
C: Eiffel 65. Nah, actually, they were kind of like the first electronic music I heard. For childhood, it was more like Lincoln Park, Limp Biskit, Eminem. You know, you liked Eminem.
TD: First platform you used to download…stuff… from the internet:
C: Probably LimeWire. I didn’t use Kazaa.
TD: Which of the following terms/phrases/acronyms do you use, if any: EDM, ratchet, plur, swag, sus, twerk?
C: I’ll say EDM sometimes.
TD: Favorite moment of 2013:
C: I’d say a combination of things- meeting Seven Lions, touring with ProbCause and Cherub. Definitely meeting a bunch of cool kids when we were playing in Colorado. [They] drove me an hour back to where Colin’s [ProbCause’s] manager was and where I was staying. They drove me back, and I walked up to [Gramatik’s tour bus] with them and got them all on and they had the time of their lives.
TD: What can we expect from COFRESI and your other projects in 2014?
C: Nothing. No…a lot actually. For COFRESI, you can expect an EP coming up and a lot of live studio videos. That [studio videos] is going to be one of my main focuses to create some interest.
With Prob Cause, we’re going out to Costa Rica in a little and touring with Cherub again. The tour with Cherub is a forty city run from March thru April. We’ll touch down in Chicago on March 29, at the House of Blues. ProbCause and I are also playing Shubas on February 28. We’ll be playing Wakarusa and a bunch of other festivals as well. That will be another crazy tour.