Interview with Josh Wink
If you were a fan of Electronic music in the 90’s, Philly’s hometown hero Josh Wink was no doubt on your radar. His record label, Ovum, turned 20 this year, making it older than many of the new generation EDM kids that think tracks from 2009 are “old school”. From the moment I first heard tracks like ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ in 1996 I was instantly a Josh Wink fan. From catching him in my early days at local venues like ‘Fluid’ and ‘1415’ to seeing him in Belgium at Tomorrowland, his sets are always a treat. It was my pleasure to speak with him for this in-depth interview about his life as a DJ and producer, growing up in Philadelphia, the evolution of production mediums, and foot massages.
Independent Philly: ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ and ‘Are you There’ are two of the tracks that really got me into electronic music back in the 90’s. Who are some of the artists that really influenced your early sound?
Josh Wink: I’m not really sure who directly influenced my music. I know who influenced me in wanting to make music; it was just a lot of the early pioneers of Chicago House music and Acid House music. People like ‘DJ Pierre’, ‘Phuture 303’, ‘Armando’, ‘Frankie Knuckles’, ‘Marshall Jefferson’…for me it was more of a Chicago Acid and House thing, and then when this sound became really popular in Europe, it crossed over to the UK in groups like ‘808 State’, ‘A Guy Called Gerald’, ‘Baby Ford’. This who, 1988 ‘Summer of Love’ and the while ecstasy movement kind of came about and then I was heavily influenced by the whole 808 Chicago House sound through London, through the English producers in the UK. Then also just hearing electronic music from like ‘New Wave’, based music from ‘Depeche Mode’, ‘Art of Noise’, ‘Section 25’, and groups like these, and the movements, the Synth Rock and New Wave sound that came out of the UK, really kind of influenced me. But, I really wouldn’t say that one group of person really influenced my sound, but because of these people that I mentioned, it made me want to make music, other than just DJ music.
Independent Philly: Is there a way that you feel your style, or the way that you go about producing music, has really changed over the past 20+ years?
Josh Wink: I’m one to be able to kind of control what I do. I mean, controlling my destiny rather than hearing others and having them influence the way I sound. A colleague of mine, from the UK actually, was with me at the opening of a club. There’s a club in Ibiza called ‘Space’, and ‘Space’ opened up a nightclub in Brazil and I was part of the opening party there two years ago with ‘Carl Cox’ and myself, ‘Mark Knight’, and ‘Yousef’, and ‘Nic Fanciulli’, and a bunch of other people. And, a couple of people were listening to me DJ, and this is at the time when a track of mine wasn’t out yet, it was called ‘Balls’, which was released two years ago, and he came up to me and said, “What is this track? I’ve been listening to you DJ the whole night and this is the only one that I want to know what it is. I don’t know what it is but I have a feeling it’s you”. I said, “It is me, how can you tell?” He said, “Well you have a sound when you produce music. Whether it’s House or Techno, it’s some organic ‘Josh Wink’ sound, I can’t explain it, but I know it’s you”. To me, this is a really nice compliment to hear, because it’s nice to know that you have a sound, regardless of the genre that it sits in. I imagine that my music is still coming from me, as an artist and as a person, that’s progressed and matured over the years, which we do as humans, through time. The only way it really has changed is in its’ production through its’ equipment. So my sound may have changed a bit but people can still recognize what my sound is. Through the advancement of hardware and software, it has changed my production in how I compose music. When I first started making music in the 80’s and 90’s, it was all hardware based. It was all drum machines and sequencers, all physical hardware. Now, so much of everything is based in the computer, and is software based rather than hardware based. This has changed a lot of how I make music, maybe not necessarily my sound.
IP: With the technology expanding the way it has, what are the software applications you use to produce now, and since, in most cases, we’ve moved away from vinyl and turntables, what equipment do you use to DJ?
JW: Musically, when I make…music, I try to facilitate between what I have in hardware and software. I like the balance in-between the organic and the inorganic. It’s debatable whether you think hardware is organic anyway since it’s digital, but meaning it’s not a computer in a box but something you can have more input and control over. I’ve worked on lots of platforms over the past 25 years. Right now I’ve come to the point where I make most of my music in a software program called ‘Ableton’. Then I usually take the stems from the song and I mix them down in ‘Logic’. That’s how I’ve been working recently. But pretty much my D.A.W.S., my Digital Audio Work Station, has been the ‘Logic Live’ application which I think is extremely intuitive and great and it helps me immensely. That is how my music is. In terms of DJing, to me it’s always been about what I can get my hands on, is what I can use. In the beginning when I first started as a teenager I had, what I had; I was a mobile DJ working with 45 records and turntables without pitch control on them. Then I got turntables with pitch control on them but I never really knew what the pitch control did. Then as time went on and I learned about Djing and beat mixing, and beat matching, and turntablism, I got to realize and learn different things. I would use whatever I had my hands on. If I was a cassette and I needed to play it, I’d play it. If it was a reel-to-reel, I’d have my hands on a reel-to-reel. Then for years it was just vinyl and a turntables and a mixer. Then that turned into turntables, mixer, and effects machine, like reverb delays. Then it became turntables, mixer, effects machine, and drum machines. Then it became turntables, mixer, effects machine, drum machine, sampler…all hardware. Then, it became CDs. Then I was approached by colleagues of mine, Richie Hawtin and John Acquaviva, in the early 90’s about a program and a concept from Holland named ‘N2IT’ which is a ‘Linux BeOS’ platform program that allowed you to take your digital files and play them through time-coded vinyl, through your computer through an interface. This was the first of its kind. I don’t know the exact year but it was the early 90’s. The company was called ‘N2IT’ but it was called ‘Vinyl Scratch’. Through this platform it just opened up the whole avenue for digital DJs and I went from using vinyl to using CDs to ‘Vinyl Scratch’. Now what I use is, ‘Native Instruments’ has a program called ‘Traktor’, and I use it with CDs to control my digital files. It sounds like you’re a little in tune with what’s going on so I don’t have to explain to you how that platform works. I don’t use the ‘sync internal function’ which a lot of people use nowadays to match beats and beat sync. I use CD players to manipulate my digital files because I still like doing that, and that’s very important to me in terms of how I present the show and perform. Right now I use ‘Traktor Scratch Pro’ with vinyl and a mixer.
IP: A lot has changed with ‘Rave Culture’ here in Philadelphia and across the planet over the past few decades. What are your thoughts on the current state of electronic music, the surrounding events, and the people attending those events now, as opposed to 20 years ago?
JW: How old are you David?
IP: I’m 35.
JW: Okay, a young man. You’re from Philly?
IP: Born and raised.
JW: Where’d you go to high school?
IP: A tiny school in Chestnut Hill called ‘Crefeld’.
JW: I know it. I went to Miquon.
IP: I went to Miquon for elementary school.
JW: That’s exactly what I did. A lot of people went to your school after Miquon, that’s why I was asking. Obviously we are separated because I’m 44 now. I went to Miquon from 1st to 6th grade. Where did you grow up? Where were you born?
IP: West Mount Airy.
JW: Gotcha. I had a lot of friends in Mount Airy that went to Miquon. I was born in the city and moved out to Conshohocken/Plymouth Whitemarsh, but I graduated from Lower Merion.
IP: I had a lot of friends who went to Lower Merion in high school.
JW: Really? (laughs) I can’t remember, that wasn’t the Kobe days was it?
IP: It was. My high-school girlfriend and a bunch of friends were in Kobe’s class, 1996.
JW: Gotcha ok, so actually he’s younger. Everyone always joked about him stealing my thunder, like I was the “the guy” after I left Lower Merion…and then it was Kobe. I can’t compete with that (laughs). Anyways, the whole rave culture came to America and just kind of left America because, the real big difference between the World and the USA, when it comes to electronic music, is alcohol. Most places in the World you can be 18-21 and get into a venue that plays electronic music. In this country, in most of the States, you pretty much have to be 21 years old. This kind of through the whole electronic rave scene in a loop because, originally when this music came, it came in the clubs. The only way I could actually hear it was to be a bar-back or work in the nightclubs. Being 18 or 19 years old, I couldn’t get in, but I could work there. The big thing is, the raves came in as an illegal warehouse ravey thing with drugs, more or less than alcohol, and our society, which is based on sensationalism, focused on this and people weren’t responsible and didn’t know what to do with drugs so much. There’d be a lot of people partying and not being responsible for themselves or their friends when they’re on them. Then the news would come, and people would be arrested, and tax-payers would be really upset about “my 18 year old son and my 17 year old daughter is going out to these raves, and why aren’t the police breaking them up?”. This is how the rave culture came to America, and it was always taboo. Where it was a little bit drug related outside of the U.S. as well but it different how it was perceived. There weren’t as many overdoses or fatalities or problems with these things. That’s really the main way it’s changed so much is you can’t be 20 years and get into most nightclubs to hear this kind of music in the States so where do you go (because of the alcohol laws)? So that was the rave scene in the early 90’s when it kind of instituted itself in the U.S. and became a really big market. Then there was kind of a crack down and it was hard to find, and then it went into the clubs and became legal. Then it progressed and electronic music became part of our society through television ads, and this is the only way electronic music because popular here. It was horrible, but it was the only way to get this music accepted here because of this bad stigmata of the 90’s with the rave movement. Now, I notice that you didn’t use the term “EDM” which a lot of people use, but, electronic dance music is extremely popular now. It’s done as a corporate venture. It tends to be five to six figure events in terms of its production. It’s a business so it’s not done in warehouses anymore. It’s done in venues with insurance and major ‘Clear Channel’ behind it. The main difference is, it’s more accessible than it’s ever been. It’s also not necessarily accessible for nightclubbing but it has been this way for years through internet radio. For years you really had to know where to go to listen to this music, now you mistakenly come across it, and then you like it, then you get hooked and addicted. There’s satellite radio; there’s internet radio, internet stations, blogs, share sites, file stealing, iTunes, Beatport, you know, lots of different mediums. It’s more accessible now to how it’s ever been and that’s really the main difference.
IP: Personally I’ve had a chance to see you play everywhere from tiny clubs like ‘Fluid’ to huge international events like ‘Tomorrowland’ in 2012…
JW: Oh you were there in Belgium?
IP: I was. I went over to photograph it for Independent Philly. It was incredible, as I’m sure you know.
JW: Cool! Yeah, it’s a pretty cool event. 2o12, so we did our ‘Ovum’ stage that year. Was that the ‘Sneak’, ‘Mark Farina’, and ‘Derrick Carter’…
IP: Yes the triple tag-team!
JW: Did it rain that year?
IP: It did on the last day at the end. It was raining for your set and Richie Hawtin’s set. It wasn’t down-pouring just drizzling a bit.
JW: So you got to check me out, that’s pretty cool.
**That’s me at the 2:01 mark in the video below**
IP: Do you have a preference for playing more intimate club shows or this grand scale events?
JW: I like them all. But I prefer more intimate settings like ‘Fluid’. I appreciate what I do and I appreciate the purpose for what each one does. I know what to do at the big events and I know what to do at the small events but I’ve always been a more personal guy. You know ‘Fluid’ used to be a club called ‘Zero’ and I was associated with that place since 1990. It’s pretty amazing, when I used to do my night there, I had Richie [Hawtin] there, I had Carl [Cox] there, I had ‘Adam Beyer’ there, I had ‘Loco Dice’ there, I had ‘Marco Carola’ there. I mean all of my friends just kind of came through, the list goes on and on. You get 130 people in there and it’s just jam packed and we’d charge $12 at the door. People would come up just thanking me and saying “how amazing” and “how did you work this out?”. There’s something unique about it. The question you asked me is “What do I prefer”, but I think most people who get to experience both of those settings get to understand the intimacy, which is amazing, and then also the feeling that you get from seeing the Main Stage at Tomorrowland. There’s nothing intimate about that but it’s jaw dropping. I like playing for 15,000 people or I like playing for 150. It doesn’t really matter, I’ve kind of done it all. I prefer the smaller, more intimate things though.
IP: You’ve obviously had a slew of shows in Philadelphia over the years but is there one, or even a few, that really stand out in your mind as really being unique or special or just a real accolade in your career as a local native?
JW: Well all my things working at Fluid were always fun and the artists and friends that I mentioned before, the fact that we could have all of these people in such a small space was really a treat, and something that’s changed a lot. Because now it’s all about playing bigger venues. Before my friends would do it for hotel, dinner, and transportation. Now you try to get artists in these places and they want $5,000 or $15,000, and you need a bigger space for this to happen. Fluid was really an amazing place for me. Also doing my annual birthday bash. I substituted my annual birthday bash this year with putting on the ‘Carl Cox’ and ‘Nic Fanciulli’ show at the Electric Factory with Matt from Ovum. But every year I’ve kind of liked doing this small party at The Barbary with ‘The Shakedown’ boys. That’s the thing I like about Philadelphia; I can’t really pinpoint one party…except for maybe the first Philadelphia warehouse rave which was 1989, that my friend Blake and myself put on. I was 19 years old and there was this space in West Philly called the ‘Killtime Warehouse’, and we threw the first Philly warehouse rave. Myself, Blake, ‘King Britt’, and ‘Jet’ DJ’ed. This always stands in my mind just because it was the first of its’ kind. It was just so fresh and young and exciting and naive. I’m not too nostalgic but this was a good moment. The only other thing is, I was part of a collective of six people in the 80’s and 90’s called ‘Vagabond’ and we threw parties on Monday nights at different venues in Philadelphia. Whether it be a museum, or a diner, or a nightclub, a hair salon…you name it; we’d travel there. And we’d get 300-500 people out on a Monday night for, I think five years we did ‘Vagabond’, and it really helped shape the club scene in Philadelphia and do something unique or different which was never done. Putting on a nightclub event in a place like ‘Silk City’ diner, helped make that what it was. Or going into a club that was never open on a Monday and getting people to come out, these are fun things that bring back such positive memories of mine.
IP: Ovum recently celebrated its 20th anniversary. How did you celebrate and do you have any releases planned for the rest of the year?
JW: We haven’t really, as a one-off thing, celebrated our 20 years. But we do a party, for the last 18 years, for the Winter Music Conference in Miami, and we’re doing little events, and big events like this, throughout the World to help gain the consciousness and celebration of 20 years of us being in existence…by doing Ovum nights and curating stages at festivals, releasing certain legacy tracks, like the ‘Are You There’ track we released with certain remixes digitally a few weeks ago, and we’re going to be releasing more tracks on our catalog this year with remixes. Pretty much just doing little and big events throughout the World, Ovum nights, 20th year of Ovum celebrations with artists and people who have been affiliated with ourselves. We’re doing Tomorrowland again this year, I think for the 5th or 6th year. We’re doing another stage this year ’20 years of Ovum’. That’s how we’re celebrating. We also did a little more merchandise than we usually have to show people that it’s 20 years and it’s a big thing. But we haven’t done anything like go out and hire a strip club and get everybody drunk (laughs). We don’t really know what we “should do” but we we’re just kind of following it as if it’s another day. It’s kind of like how our birthdays get as we get older. When we’re younger they seem to be a little bit bigger, and when we’re older there are just kind of there and certain ones we let people know about, and other ones we just kind of go on and pass by. We’re letting people know about this, but in a mature fashion.
IP: You’ve been interviewed countless times. If you were interviewing yourself, what’s one question that you would ask, that nobody has asked in the past, that you’ve always wanted to answer?
JW: Those are the questions you don’t answer because then you can’t be asked it again. Someone usually asks, “What’s one thing no one knows about yourself?”, or something like that. These moments are fleeting when someone asks a question, but it’s a good question. I never really understood interviews. I have a PR person but they would get me all of these interviews and then I wouldn’t do them. Or I’d get too busy and I wouldn’t do them, regardless of the reason. Then I read a couple of articles about artists that I really admired like ‘Stevie Wonder’, and I read these interviews and it was really in-depth questions about “how they got involved [with music]” or “who got them their first keyboard” or “how did electronics get involved in your sound?”. I read the interview and I was like, “Wow! If I feel this way from reading about an artist that I really like, and I want to know more about that person than just their music, that’s the power of a good interview, or an interview that’s done well. There’s never one question…I like to listen to talk shows on NPR like ‘Terry Gross’ or ‘Piers Morgan’ on CNN, and how these people engage and ask these good questions, and it’s always just kind of spontaneous how the questions are asked. You’re right, in the years since I’ve been a teenager, to now when I’m 44, people have asked a lot of questions, and I don’t think anything has ever been unturned or unasked. I’m pretty much one that wears his heart on his sleeve and is truthful and honest when I give my answers to my interviews. People have asked me a little bit of everything. To answer you question, and it’s a good question, but I don’t really know what that answer would be because so many people have asked me questions, regardless of if it’s music based or “why am I am vegetarian?” or “am I a Democrat or a Republican?”, or people overseas asking witty questions; they don’t want to make it about music, they make it personal or make it about politics. I wouldn’t know, but that kind of gives you a little bit on an answer.
IP: It’s ironic because you just brought up that you often get asked for something that people don’t know about you but we’ve concluded every interview for the past four years with “tell us something about yourself that would surprise or even shock our readers”, so I’d be remiss to not ask you the same…
JW: Shock? That I have a foot massage craving.
IP: To rub other people’s feet or have your feet rubbed?
JW: Good question. Now see if I’d said “fetish” that would be the usual answer, “Oh, so you love doing things to people’s feet?”. But, no. I love being on the receiving end of getting a foot massage. It needs to be a deep one, usually with Thai intentions with hard sticks involved, pushing parts that really hurt (laughs).
IP: Best foot massage you ever received?
JW: It’s a mixture for me between the pleasurable and the pain. I have flat feet, and I have inserts that I wear, and I’m on my feet a lot. So when I get massages, I like them to be a mixture of “feel good” and painful because I know that something is good about the pain. I was in Thailand, in Bangkok for a gig, helping to open up the first ‘Paul Frank’ store in Bangkok. My friend from ‘Paul Frank’ was there with me and the person that was opening up the store in Thailand was a Thai citizen, his name was ‘Joker’, and he took me to a place that only locals would know that was a Thai massage school. I think I got an hour Thai massage for $3. This woman, it was a little bit like Spanish Inquisition torture, but there was a gentleman next to me who was having the same thing done to him, and he wasn’t grimacing or grunting, and I was in midst of yelling, “Okay! The gold is over there! It’s behind the tree and you have to dig down!”. It was like interrogation of where something was. The feeling I got from after that was amazing; I felt so light on my feet. It was the most memorable whether or not it was the best (laughs), maybe because of where it was and who I was with, but also because of how it was done and was done unto me. It’s something that I really love to do. I try to make the time, wherever I am, to find a place to get a good foot massage after. It doesn’t happen often. I have bigger aspirations than achievements, but it’s something that I love.
[Interview by David Miller]