For Ben Khan, the idea of that he might be seen as something of an enigma is nonsense. It’s strange to hear the London-based musician say so, given that he disappeared for three years before this month’s release of his debut album, and afforded hardly a glimpse of his inner workings before that. Indeed, his futuristic, soulful electronic pop continues to draw comparison with phantom XL Recordings artist Jai Paul. But perhaps enigma is just the wrong word for Khan. “I don’t like to over-explain things because it kills some of the joy and excitement of what music is,” he begins.
“The best music to me is something that has something you can’t really touch or place. It’s either the music, lyrics, production or something about how the artist holds themselves that makes it somehow unattainable.” Signed to Dirty Hit and with his self-titled record already making waves, Khan is perhaps more attainable now than ever before. For his followers, this album marks the culmination of years of anticipation sparked by 2014 debut EP, 1992. He puts the wait down to a combination of factors, and reveals that finding his way as an artist – and convincing himself and others that he could go on to make a career of it – was difficult.
“It was more to do with the struggle to understand what it is I want to achieve in music. It’s a hard thing to try to be and to sustain, being an artist,” he says. “I want to take it relatively seriously and to be able to do this for a long time.” Khan felt the weight of “getting it right”, buried in his studio crafting squirming, groove-based tracks such as Do It Right, The Green and Love Faded with films including Blade Runner and Akira playing silently as he worked. The Michael Jackson fan paints a picture of an intense period for an intense artist, and jokes that the arrival of New Order and PJ Harvey producer Flood – prompted by Dirty Hit boss Jamie Oborne – “made me finish the album and put it out”.
“It was really valuable,” says Khan. “It made me feel much more legitimate because it’s so easy to doubt yourself and feel like a fraud.” The emotional pull of his record makes plain that that’s not the case, but the future for Ben Khan remains unclear. He enjoys the idea that, these days, there’s a “lack of need for a mainstream” and believes “artists can make careers without ever having to blow up in the biggest possible sense or have a massive audience”. So how big can he go? “On a certain day, I want to go as big as I can, and then on another, I’m really happy to stay at a small level and be consistent,” he finishes. It seems the best word for Ben Khan may be ‘unpredictable’.