ITM’s Honour Roll #12: Josh Wink

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For the 12th installment of ITM’s Honour Roll series, we were inspired by the exploits of Josh Wink, after witnessing the U.S. veteran host his very successful Ovum Recordings arena at Belgium’s Tomorrowland in late July. He was hosting the stage for the fourth successive year, supported by the likes of Steve BugShlomi Aber and the jackin’ house dream team of DJ SneakDerrick Carterand Mark Farina.

It was just the one highlight in an extremely successful summer season for Wink, which he’ll be winding up with another Ovum party at ADE in Amsterdam next week; not to mention what’s been one of the most enduring and consistently excellent careers in dance music. A fixture in the underground house and techno scenes since he rose through the ranks of America’s rave scene in the early ‘90s, responsible for the all-time acid classics like Higher State of Consciousness and Don’t Laugh, he’s also the figurehead behind the equally enduring Ovum Records stable, which he’s been running since 1994.

His secret? Being Josh Wink. “I just always seem to do what I do,” he tells inthemix. “I don’t really know how to do anything else. I’ve just kind of followed this mixture of house and techno, just because this is what I know, and it just never seems to have gone out of fashion. When you stay true to your integrity, you’ll stay happy and content with things.”

The only thing slowing down Wink’s presence on the global touring circuit in 2012 has been his health issues, related to back problems. Shortly after Tomorrowland he had to withdraw from several gig commitments, including a prime slot at Richie Hawtin’s smashingly popular new ENTER night in Ibiza. “Everything else is going pretty well apart from my back,” he told inthemix in August, shortly after his stint at Tomorrowland. “The label is going well, gigs have been incredible, so I feel blessed in that aspect.”

After offering his gentlemanly insights to inthemix as part of our Why The Underground Should Drop The Grudge feature, we sat down to find out what else he’s been up to.

Ovum Records has been travelling particularly well lately, with some really solid releases. Are you happy with how the label is going?
Yeah, over the 18 years of having a label, things go up and down. Recently we have been keeping right on target, and releasing the things we like to release. Whether it’s techno, deep house or somewhere in between, we’ve been happy. The most recent release has been from our Italian friend Nico Lahs, it’s like pure old-school New York deep house. We don’t always necessarily follow through with sales, but we sure release good music and people really respect that so I’m happy.

You’ve had a presence in underground music since I listening to dance music as a teenager, and you’ve always been consistent, but your profile seems particularly strong at the moment. Would you say that’s true?
I like what you’re saying. It gives me joy to hear stories like that, of how people are in the industry now and they sort of grew up with the music of myself and my colleagues. The sense that I’m still doing what I’m doing, so many years later, is a testament to the fact that I’m doing the right thing. To me really it is about integrity, it’s about being able to live with yourself and knowing you’re doing a good job. I mean your music might not be the big fad, or ‘in’ at the moment, but just being content with what we’re doing and trying to stay relevant is important. We wouldn’t be around if we weren’t relevant.

It’s a particular approach, to remain consistent and to keep your integrity intact, particularly at the moment when there are some really big commercial possibilities. Some artists they will chase that, or they’ll decide that’s something they want to be a part of.
That’s fine, I don’t knock anybody in their plight, the direction and their journey, for doing what they do. So much of this industry is fickle, and based on rumours and small talk, Twitter comments and this kind of stuff. But if someone has their route that they want to follow, it’s not my place to say whether it is good or bad. I got into this music because it happened upon me, it was just something that I did, and I wanted to do, and I didn’t know how to do anything else.

The fame and the success and the fortune and everything that came, it was just a byproduct mistake of doing something that I wanted to do. So many people now get involved because they solely want their face on a magazine. The champagne, the limousines, the models, the blowjobs in the booth. It’s a different thing when you look at how people get into it these days, how they see it and what they want to emulate.

I think that’s the challenge for the veterans; to remain relevant and on the cutting edge as the years go by. They’re often burdened with higher expectations.
I try to keep myself as naïve as possible. I try to not see all the press and I get yelled at for not using enough social media. There’s only certain things I can change and control, and that’s what I want to devote my time to, rather than what I can’t. There’s always an aspect of getting older and staying relevant, and staying in the industry, because there are always younger people rising through the ranks. I think about these things from time to time, but I’m a firm believer in quality over quantity, and quality over time constraints. If we just release quality music that we genuinely feel is quality, then the right people will come to us. Then we are always happy with our fans, because we know that’s why they’ve found out about us; rather than people knowing of us because we are trendy, but not really knowing us.

It must be an interesting time for you, because things have changed in the U.S. the past few years, reaching mass appeal in such a short time; but you’re someone who has been there for the whole journey.
It’s pop music, that’s how I look at ‘EDM’ as they call it. I have a radio show that’s on Sirius XM,Profound Sounds, so the stats are something like 22 million subscribers, 44 million listeners, and there are two electronic stations. Most of the music on the station is the big room stuff – Swedish House Mafia, and then you’ve got your Paul van Dyks, your Tiestos, your Sander van Doorns, Paul Oakenfold. That style of music, and then there’s a couple of people that don’t do that; solely just Adam Beyer, myself, Carl Cox and John Digweed.

But pretty much the whole station is ‘EDM’. The phase-out of RnB music in America really helped start the whole dance music in America. Usher really kinda started it off, and people like David Guetta really started working with artists like Akon and Kelly Rowland, making RnB a more dance-orientated market rather than traditional RnB. And now it’s a generic kind of pop music; it’s pop, that’s just what it is. Things turn around, things go back after fads and trends die. It’ll have its course.

But if someone gets interested in electronic music through hearing a Swedish House Mafia track, and next thing you know they can dig deeper, and go to Discogs and see that Steve Angello had a release on Subliminal, and then they can check out Subliminal records, and Erick Morillo, and Erick Morillo had a remix on one of his albums from Josh Wink. Next thing you know, someone simply getting into music for this commercial dance appeal will find something else like me, or Jeff Mills, or Joey Beltram. You never know. So I look at it as a positive now.

How much do you see the popularity of the ‘EDM’ stuff feeding back into the underground?
I think there will always be a balance of everything. EDM and underground music, whatever. I mean, you’ve got Erick Morillo’s track I Like To Move It by the Mad Stuntman and Reel 2 Real. It was used in a huge motion picture [Dreamworks production Madagascar in 2005], kids were saying, “I like to move it, move it,” when originally it was an underground dance song. Everything has its purpose. Artists cross over and become big.

Tiga went from being an underground name, to a more pop-orientated vocal artist, though he’s kept his underground credibility. People like Get Physical Records and M.A.N.D.Y. cross the line of going into the underground/overground realm, and someone like Luciano has an underground record label, and puts out underground music, but so many people know about him now. He becomes more of a commercial name, though the music that he releases and plays is still really cool and raw. So you get your balance, and everything will serve its purpose.

The boundaries aren’t always so easy to draw. Looking at a festival like Tomorrowland, your Ovum stage still felt like a proper underground party.
That’s such an insane festival, those line-ups and all those big names. Underground and overground, big stages and small stages, everything that’s there…it’s just amazing. It’s the fourth year we’ve been asked to do that arena. Last year we had a bigger line-up; we had Dubfire and Loco Dice. It’s funny because Richie Hawtin had them this year as his headliners on Sunday. This year we really wanted to go a little bit more, “you gotta know” kind of thing. A lot of people may not know, or may only know a little bit about Sneak, Derrick Carter and Mark Farina.

Mark and Derrick have been friends of ours for years, Sneak has been friends for years too, and he’s also released music on Ovum. And then the other artists, Steve Bug and Shlomi Aber, who are on Ovum Recordings. We always try and give people something different – like an alternative to the norm. We run into a problem sometimes because the organisers might say, “We want a really big name besides yours. We want someone ‘big’ so we can draw them in.” And the hard part is to try and find out who that person is, and balance it. This year we didn’t really have that super big name, we had credible underground names, but our arena was just really nice all day. People got to hear U.S. house music through Derrick, Mark and Sneak.

It was still pretty damn well attended all day.
I think it helps that they have so many people there [laughs]. I was actually very concerned. I didn’t want to go on last, because all the headliners were going on in the other arenas. I was going on against Richie, I was going on against Dave Clarke. So in the end I was just happy, we had a really cool area and tent. It was outside, but covered. Richie’s was like a dark techno club, and all the other arenas were pretty much just outside without covering. Had pretty good weather up until the end of the day, but that still didn’t hurt people from sticking around.

Over the past decade, your music would have had a more natural appeal in Europe. What’s your relationship like with the U.S. touring circuit?
I’ve really been a part, and supported, and toured, and helped make the U.S. scene in the ‘90s. I can tour, but it’s a limited market, you know? In the States, it’s something like this; my job has become a business, so I still have to think of the business aspect of what I do. For me, the business aspect is the coming and going. It’s leaving, it’s arriving, and it’s everything in-between. When I’m doing my craft, my music and my art, I don’t think of it as work. That’s what I just live for.

But you need to come and go, and everything in-between. The flights, the taxis, the hotels, the immigration, the customs, the security lines, the anxiety, all that kind of stuff. In the States it’s kinda gotten to a point where the venues that I would actually like to play are small, and because of that, I don’t get paid as well. So I find myself in a situation of: I have to do this stuff I love, and get less money, or do stuff that I don’t really enjoy, but I get paid the money I want. So that’s kind of how it comes down to it.

There are certain markets I can play in the States where I can play regularly, and have a great turnout, whether it’s a little more crossover, or whether it’s underground. I have a huge history in America from playing the early rave scene there in the early ‘90s, and then I started touring more internationally and not relying so much on the U.S., but it’s still important for me to play in certain markets there.