INTERVIEW: Wolfgang Gartner (2011)
Wolfgang Gartner exploded on the electronic music scene in 2007 with the ‘Shapes EP.’ The fresh and filthy electro sound, a huge departure from the disco house grooves he made previously under his real name Joey Youngman, was instantly massive and launched a string of tracks that topped the Beatport chart. In 2010, Wolfgang was nominated for Best Remixed Recording and signed to Ultra records for a worldwide deal. With the mainstream success of producer/DJs David Guetta, Swedish House Mafia, and Chuckie, will Wolfgang Gartner be the next big electronic superstar?
DJ Ron Slomowicz: So, you started as a house guy, how did you end up in the electro world?
Wolfgang Gartner: I still am a house guy, man. What I do now is still house music. So to me it’s not like I switched worlds. To a lot of people it seems that way, but what I do now is still house music to me, so, calling it something else just doesn’t work for me.
RS: Maybe the names have changed, but there is definitely a change in your sound.
Wolfgang Gartner: Yeah, I was kind of BSing. I completely switched over my sound. It’s still house music. It’s just a natural progression. I mean I was doing Chicago disco house for ten years. I was playing shows in 2006 and I was playing records from 2006 and mixing them with the records from 1996 and they sounded exactly the same and they mixed together perfectly and that’s when you know the music hasn’t evolved in ten years, and I reached that point. It was a very sudden point, and I don’t know what caused it. There wasn’t a specific incident, but I was like ‘I need to push the boundaries of music and do something futuristic and forward-thinking and advance music in some way rather than regurgitating the sound that activates the dopamine receptors in my brain. I actually need to work on something- put some more effort into it and spend some more time on it and have a vision rather than doing the same loop over and over again that I’ve been doing for ten years.’
RS: Was there a track that you made that was that a-ha moment for you?
Wolfgang Gartner: Yes, “Squares” was the first electro track I ever made and within two months of making it, it got licensed to Rockstar games, one of their racing video games. That was the biggest thing that ever happened to me in my entire music career and that was within two months of making my first “electro track.” I was like “ok, this is it, this is what I’m doing now” and it just snowballed from there and the first thing on my label was “Front to Back,” that hit No.1 on Beatport and that was the second thing and I was like, “ok, this is, I am now Wolfgang Gartner, this is what I’m doing and this will probably be the name I use for the rest of my life.”
RS: The name Wolfgang Gartner, where did it come from? ?Wolfgang Gartner: I stole it from the soccer coach of the soccer team of the college from my home town, Cal Poly. His name is Wolfgang Gartner and I just ran with it.
RS: Talking about making tracks, what digital audio workstation/software are you using? ?Wolfgang Gartner: I use Abelton Live for software and I have a ton of hardware but I don’t use very much of it anymore. On most of the stuff of mine that’s out right now, there is a lot of analog and hardware being used .
RS: I was going to ask about that, what analog keyboards are you using?
Wolfgang Gartner: Dave Smith Poly Evolver is what I’ve used on most tracks. I’ve used it pretty much on every single track I’ve made, all of the distortion sounds. People have mistaken it for me sampling Justice because there is a sound that I do that sounds like Justice, but it’s the distortion circuit off of the Dave Smith Poly Evolver. I don’t know if that’s what they’re using, but whatever it is, that’s kind of become my trademark- in Illmerica I use it a lot. It is basically a distortion circuit being smashed and rammed. There is a Dave Smith Prophet, which is a classic analog, and the Poly Evolver is a step up from that, which is the Prophet plus 2 digital oscillators, so it’s analog and digital and a bunch more routing options; a very modular synthesizer. I use that and a lot of the Moog stuff like the Voyager and the Fatty.
RS: When you spin are you doing CD, Laptop, or Vinyl?
Wolfgang Gartner: Still CDs, CDJ-2000’s.
RS: With the little thumb drive? ?Wolfgang Gartner: I am not even using the USB yet- I have heard so many horror stories. I am learning to switch over, and I’ve got the RekordBox software and I’ve got a USB stick and I’ve loaded all of my stuff on there, and I’ve figured out how to do it, but I don’t feel comfortable enough in the middle of this tour to switch over to USB. I think I need a little bit of time at home, just a week or two to just lock it down, and whenever I do do it I think I still need to travel with CDs and have like three USB sticks for backup because I’ve heard horror stories of people just sticking those things in and just getting the error message.
RS: And so you’re not going to be spinning on laptop anytime soon?
Wolfgang Gartner: I don’t think so, man. I mean, I’m PC except for my iPad, which I love, but it’s not a computer and I would not trust a PC for a live performance, I just wouldn’t do it. I realize they are inferior computers to Macs, but there is so much work and time to switch over to a Mac and then rebuy all the software and plug-ins and everything, so for now I am PC and that is what is holding me back. I grew up on turntables and CDs are the same thing to me and I still like doing that. When I do mixes at home, like the Essential mix, I used Ableton because I had to do a lot of very intricate stuff and I think I played 60 tracks in two hours which is doing stuff that you can’t do live physically. So when I do mixes at home I’ll mix them in Ableton, but to do the live thing I still need to have two Decks and the only reason I would switch over to a computer is so that it could send mini time code to lighting to the video programmer so that we could actually sync the stuff. But Traktor doesn’t have that yet and Traktor is the only platform where there are two CD players. Ableton does have that, but I don’t want to do Ableton live. I don’t want to switch that way.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: With all of this touring how does Mr. Bigglesworth feel about it?
Wolfgang Gartner: Mr. Bigglesworth (laughing) I get reports everyday. He’s apparently very happy. He gets plenty of love. I have a housesitter who takes care of him and who feeds him. She’s changing his diet and exploring all of these food options and analyzing his litter box and totally streamlining this cat and he gets treated way better- not treated better, but she pays more attention to his bodily functions and his health probably than I do. I give him lots of love when I’m home, he sits on my lap and I pet him and stuff but she’s like, “I’ve analyzed his litter box and he’s missing this so I’ve added some fiber to his diet,” and she’s on it, so apparently I got a new eMail today and she’s added more fiber to his diet and he is feeling very happy and playful today. I get to see him in a few days. I am super stoked.
RS: Speaking of playful, you have collaborated with Francis Preve, Mark Knight, and that Canadian guy with the ears. How is it different working with those people versus working by yourself?
Wolfgang Gartner: All of those experiences were learning experiences, and the result that came out of them was different than anything that I would have made on my own and for those reasons I consider them successes. “Conscindo,” that track came out really well. “Yin” and “Yang” came out very well. “Animal Rights” was not either of our best work. It’s not Joel’s best work. It’s not my best work, but we did it, whatever, but I learned something from every single one of those collaborations and they learned something from me and we learned some of each other’s tricks. I prefer working alone. It’s a lot more comfortable for me. If I’m going to work with somebody now, I’d like it to be a vocalist. Most likely I’d like it to be remote where I make the track and I send it to them, they do the vocals, and send it back to me because I just work best when I am in my own headspace. I can’t even have anybody else in the room with me. I just have to be alone, but the collaborations that you talked about that have taken place in the past I feel are successful and I am glad I did them and I learned something from them.
RS: Speaking of vocalist, will.i.am, how’d you hook up with that?
Wolfgang Gartner: will, obviously he is a DJ and a fan of my music and I met him in a club in L.A. one night and he was like, “yo man, I love your music. I wrote a Black Eyed Peas track just freestyling over ‘Flashback.’” I was like “ok, cool man.” So I wrote this track the next week that was just instrumental, and my manager also knows Will and he sent it to Will, and the next day we just got the full vocal back and there wasn’t any type of management or agent talk about “will’s going to do vocals on this track and we’re going to need this much money,” or any of that. We just sent a track and he wrote a vocal and he sent it back and we made it. Then everybody said ‘ok, we’ve got this track, what are we going to do with it’ and it was very easy and he loves the track and it went so smoothly and so not corporately considering how huge he is, and he’s on Interscope, and he’s the front man for the Black Eyed Peas- but it was such an organic, easy project. That was just great all around.
RS: Now the bad part, the backlash from your hardcore fans.
Wolfgang Gartner: I wouldn’t call it a backlash. Overall the response has been amazing, especially in the clubs. But there are those dance music fans who are really opposed to vocals, or any vocalist they perceive as “mainstream” on a dance track, and they seem to be the ones who spend a lot of time on the internet and are very vocal about it, so I hear about it on facebook or twitter or wherever. Luckily I’ve grown my elephant skin already and stuff like this doesn’t bother me when I’m happy with the result. And I was very happy with this one.
RS: What other big artists would you like to work with?
Wolfgang Gartner: I’ve worked with a couple of them on the album that I can’t divulge yet, but a couple of people I’ve always wanted to work with, I’ve worked with.
RS: We can leave it at that then..
Wolfgang Gartner: I mean Drake, I really like Drake. I really like Lil’ Wayne, although I don’t know how Lil’ Wayne will work over dance music.
RS: I can tell you who I would like to see you work with, Missy Elliot…
Wolfgang Gartner: Missy Elliot! She was on my wish list too. We tried to get her for the album and she wasn’t doing anything. We tried so hard to get Missy Elliot though, that’s so funny.
RS: Are you moving to L.A.?
Wolfgang Gartner: Yeah, I close on a house tomorrow. I close escrow and I’ll own a house tomorrow in L.A.
RS: People move from L.A. to Austin, L.A. to Nashville and you are going the other way. Why?
Wolfgang Gartner: Because California is my home. That’s where I’m from. I was never at home in Austin; I just kind of landed there. I bought a house and anchored myself subsequently by buying a house into Austin and it’s lasted this long and finally, I just got fed up and was like, “you know what, I need to get out of here. I need to get to L.A.; this is where all of the people are that I want to work with.” All of these vocalists, all of the labels, all of the opportunity, everything in the music business is happening in L.A. right now and I need to be there, and I want to be closer to my family. Where I moved in L.A. I am 3 ½ hours away from my family, my parents, from my sister. I love L.A. despite the traffic. I just like how it feels. I know so many people hate it, but I love L.A. So I have been waiting to move there so tomorrow I’ll have the keys to my new house there.
DJ Ron Slomowicz: So you’re signed to Ultra now, what’s going to happen to your label Kindergarten?
Wolfgang Gartner: Ultra purchased Kindergarten, so they own all of the rights to everything I put out on Kindergarten right now. So whatever they do with it will be what happens to Kindergarten.
RS: “Illmerica” is a sick track and has an insane video. Where did the idea for the history lesson video come from?
Wolfgang Gartner: That was solely the idea of the director Ryan McNamara who, out of the blue, without telling us- and none of us knew him, decided to make this video for “Illmerica.” Suddenly in somebody’s mailbox one day we got this video and he just sent it to the label and said,”hey, I just made a music video to a Wolfgang Gartner song.” We watched it and were like, “What the F*ck?” So we paid him for it and that became the music video for “Illmerica.” It was all of his creative concepts, like my vision for the track made me think of America and that’s why it was called “Illmerica.” For some reason when I listen to it, when I was making it, it made me think of America and all the different facets of America, and of all the f*cked up sh*t about America, and all the good stuff about America, and I think he felt that some how and he translated it into video and that’s why it works so well.
RS: You are often compared to deadmau5. Do you think that is a valid comparison, why or why not?
Wolfgang Gartner: I do think that is a valid comparison, I don’t think I am compared to him as much anymore as I used to be because I’ve kind of branched out and explored some new sounds and started doing my own thing. We did have similar sounds for awhile there. There was a period there that we both used a similar technique which is why we got together and made the track together. I haven’t heard those comparisons in a long time; I think that’s kind of old news.
RS: What do you think of the different vocal mashups done with your tracks, when people put vocals over your tracks?
Wolfgang Gartner: If it’s in the right key and it works then it’s cool. There was one good one that was “Illmerica” with Axwell’s “I Found Love.” That was good because it was in the right key and the vocal worked over it. But then I hear some of these that are like, somebody’s tone deaf and they made this mash up and it makes my ears bleed. When it’s done right its cool, I like it.
RS: The Grammy nomination, did it change things for you at all?
Wolfgang Gartner: I think if anything, it’s put my name in the mind of the committee that chooses the Grammy nominees and chooses the Grammy winners and opens me up a little bit more for a Best Album or a Best Single- a more important category next year. While this is a best remix recording, this is a small category, but the whole thing was get my name out there and now they hear the name, now my album comes out, next year I have a chance of being nominated for best album. Best dance album, let’s be specific.
RS: How much of your success do you think is directly attributable to Beatport?
Wolfgang Gartner: I think a lot of it up until about a year ago… Beatport was a big part of it. They really supported me in the early days and I gave them all of my stuff exclusively, and I built a label on Beatport and all the stuff sold really well on Beatport . So for my early success in building my early brand for Wolfgang Gartner up until a year, year and a half ago, they were instrumental in it. Then about a year and a half ago we kind of switched over and we started looking at the bigger picture and iTunes and the whole touring profile and everything else. We still love Beatport.
RS: Do you think Beatport is still the launch pad for new talent?
Wolfgang Gartner: Yeah, I do. That’s weird because I didn’t really think about that, but it definitely is. You look at anybody that is coming off now. Skrillex is a good example of new talent that blossomed off of Beatport. I’m just thinking of all of the really hot names right now. Afrojack blew up off of blogs and then he went to Beatport. So they are, they are definitely one of them, not the only one but they’re definitely instrumental in blowing up dance acts still.
RS: What would you like to say to all of your fans out there?
Wolfgang Gartner: Thanks for helping me get to where I am today. If it weren’t for the DJs and fans and people who buy tickets to my shows, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do. And to those fans that think the collaboration with Will or other vocalists is some kind of marketing thing or career move, they couldn’t be more wrong. I love pop, I love rap, in fact in my early years of producing I wrote a lot of pop songs with lyrics. I just wasn’t much of a songwriter or vocalist and it never went anywhere so I stuck with dance music. Being able to work with artists I’ve always looked up to, combine other genres with what I do, and push the envelope of dance music is a dream come true and that’s what vocal collaborations are about for me. Not some branding scheme thought up by a manager or label, but my true musical desires being brought to life. I will never make music that I don’t like. That’s the bottom line. If I don’t like the end result, it won’t get released, so everything I put out is something I was really happy with and came from a real place, creatively. Open your mind, forget social stigmas, and don’t fear change. If it sounds good, that’s all that matters.
Interview conducted May 2011.