Wolfgang Gartner: The Evolution of EDM



Spearheading the avenger initiative to save EDM from self-destruction is Wolfgang Gartner. The LA based DJ-producer-label head (Kindergarten Recordings) is a veteran in the world of dance music – he began producing at the age of 11 and started touring internationally when he was 21. Wolf has witnessed the evolution of EDM and feels as if the scene has become formulaic and inundated with a sea of mimicries. “The Beatport Top 10 is just this incestuous pool of sounds and regurgitated formulas and arrangements that everybody is using. So, I feel like I am one of a small group of people in dance music right now that has the capability to revamp the genre,” Wolf said. “Right now, we all have the responsibility to advance the genre.” Wolf recently played a live set at Budweiser Made in America and is about to embark on his nationwide Hounds Of Hell tour with DJ comrade, Tommy Trash. Both Tommy and Wolf even collaborated on a track named after the tour, “Hounds Of Hell.” The new track will be released next week via Beatport. In this exclusive interview, Wolf talks about Hounds Of Hell and addresses the challenges within the EDM industry.

Life+Times: Did you get a chance to enjoy any of the sets at MIA?
Wolfgang Gartner
: No, I had to leave right after MIA and play at Pacha in New York – which sucked because it was an awesome lineup. I wanted to see Kendrick [Lamar] and I wanted to see deadmau5 play because I haven’t seen him in ages. I didn’t get to see anybody. It was such an amazing festival.

L+T: I hate that I missed it this year too. The lineup was crazy! I have to tease you a little. When you performed at Pacha, did you stand on the table and yell into a microphone?
: (Laughs) No, but I thanked them afterwards. Now I’m getting all of these comments on social media and stuff from people at shows saying, “I heard you got on the mic. What’s going on?” I just say “thank you” at the end and it does so much.

L+T: I had to give you a hard time. I just had to ask if you stood on a table and also made a heart shape with your hands – all of those fun DJ things.
: Those are my pet peeves of DJ world and they’re pretty much ubiquitous. They’re everywhere and inescapable at the moment.

L+T: Yeah, they are. You’re about to go on tour with Tommy Trash – the Hounds Of Hell tour. When does it kick off and how excited are you?
: I’m not at all excited about it. It’s gonna suck.

L+T: Really? I’m gullible. Don’t do that!
: (Laughs) I’m pretty sure it’s either on the 26th or 27th (ED. note: it’s the 27th). It kicks off in LA at the Palladium, which is both of our hometown at the moment – even though Tommy is born Australian – we’re both LA boys for now. Starting off in our hometown is a good thing. I’m extremely excited about it. I’ve done a bus tour every fall – well every year – for the past three years, but I’ve never done one with somebody else. We each have our own bus, which is good –we each have our own bedroom, our own space. I think it’s gonna be pretty fun, actually. Bus tours– despite what a lot of people might think – are so much easier than touring by plane because you just never have to get up, go through security, or do anything. My tour manager brings me breakfast and lunch. I walk 20 feet to the venue because we’re parked right outside of it. I walk in and play, then walk back into my room, watch TV, go sleep – it’s the most lazy six weeks of my life, except for the hour or two on stage every night. I think it’s gonna be awesome. Tommy is a friend of mine. I wouldn’t have picked anybody else to go on tour with.

L+T: In addition to your latest collaboration with Tommy (“Hounds Of Hell”), are you working on a solo project?
: Yeah, I’m working on a ton of solo projects in addition to that. To me, it’s all one solo project. I’m basically just making songs which I am assuming are going to go on a thing we call an “album” these days. I guess I’m kind of making an album, but it’s not official. It’s not like I signed with so-and-so and “I’m making an album.” I’m just making an album and then when it’s done, then we’re gonna go around and be like, ‘Hey! Who wants this?’ Maybe I’ll release it myself on Kindergarten or who knows? I was signed to Ultra for three years. I did two albums for them and I got out of my contract a couple of months ago. It’s just been, like, this cloud of freedom. I’ve made the most music I’ve ever made in a short period of time. I have 7 or 8 completely finished tracks just, like, sitting here that are ready for an album. I’m working on it. It will be out some time next year.

L+T: Well, congrats on being free and liberated!
: Thank you.

L+T: Tommy is one of many artists that you have collaborated with over time. In general, when you work with other artists – what would you say you have learned from each experience?
: I was always the type of person that wanted to do everything alone and I never liked collaborations. I still kind of never want to collaborate with anybody. I never want to do collaborations, but what happened when I started doing them is…well, obviously, deadmau5 was the first real collaboration with “Animal Rights.” Once I started doing them and doing them with people that are on my level – which I guess was the problem – because I had never done a collaboration with anybody that was on my level before. Once I did, with somebody that was on my level or passed it, I realized you learn things from other people by how they work and they learn from you. You just get a sound that you would never had made on your own, but that you love. So, I hear my manager say, “Oh, maybe you should collaborate with so-and-so.” My first thought is, ‘No! I do everything alone. I don’t want to talk to anybody.’ Then, something really wonderful has come from every single collaboration I’ve done and I feel like they’re all – the most recent ones at least – special. I guess the thing that I’ve learned is a lot of times two heads are better than one.

L+T: I agree with you on that. In a past interview, in answer to a question about “Wolfgang’s 5th Symphony,” you said “that’s one bullet I can’t bite anymore.”
: No. (Laughs)

L+T: What helps you to progress as a producer so you don’t figuratively bite the same bullet?
: I feel like…That’s an interesting question. I haven’t been asked that question in a long time. I used to have a response that I would always answer.

L+T: Not this time! It’s different.
: Not this time! My response was that I always felt like I had a responsibility to advance dance music and move it forward and that’s what kept me inspired, fresh. My answer now – which is probably a year or a year and a half later than that – is still that I feel like there are very few people in dance music that actually take a chance and try to push the envelope, and just do whatever they feel musically and get away with it, and it sells. They pull it off and those are the champions. Deadmau5 is one that does whatever he feels like and it works. He doesn’t compromise musically. Skrillex is another one. The Beatport Top 10 is just this incestuous pool of sounds and regurgitated formulas and arrangements that everybody is using. So, I feel like I am one of a small group of people in dance music right now that has the capability to revamp the genre. Right now, we all have the responsibility to advance the genre. It’s just a really incestuous – okay, I’ve said that twice now – a really stuck place right now. It’s so stale – what everybody’s doing, what everybody’s buying, even what all the big DJs are playing. It’s very stale. All it takes is a handful of people to do something really special, push it forward a little bit, and catch the public’s eye with it to start a new movement to get us out of the trench. Avicii could even be an example with the kind of, like, folksy influences that he’s doing right now in that new song that he’s doing. Some people are like, “I will never listen to Avicii again.” Some people are laughing [and] some people are just perplexed. It’s number one in the UK and I’m starting to hear it here in the US. That might be a huge stepping stone – him and other people that are willing to take huge chances like that and just do something that’s completely out of the box. That’s what dance music needs right now. I feel like I’m willing to take that chance in my career to try and look at the bigger picture and help get us out of a little rut.

L+T: Please do! I would think as a producer you wouldn’t want do some cookie cutter sound because that would become boring. That wouldn’t challenge you creatively.
: Yeah, the only reason people do it is for money and to get more bookings – everybody does it. I did it for a little bit when I had all the Beatport number ones’…I had, like, eight of them. I was doing that. I knew the formula. I knew how to make a number one on Beatport. It was a lot of money in it and I was starting to get a lot of bookings. It was a good way for me to get a name…but that’s no way to have a career. That’s no way to be a real, respected artist with integrity.

L+T: That’s very true. Even though you create dance music, you mentioned Kendrick [Lamar] earlier. On your album, Weekend In America, you had Eve, Jim Jones, Cam’Ron, and a couple of others that are non-dance music acts. What’s the significance – for you particularly – of having such a broad music palette as a producer and a DJ?
: It’s extremely important and I think that’s something not a lot of people are doing. The only people that really go into the more urban and hip hop realm has been David Guetta, Afrojack, and maybe a couple of other people. All the other EDM guys that do vocals and collaborators are usually with the more indie rock, or rock n’ roll collaboration, or the Ellie Gouldings’ or the more emo type of stuff. I’ve said this a million times in interviews, I don’t listen to dance music. All I listen to is rap and hip hop – old or new – that’s all I listen to in my car and at home. I have to listen to dance music all of the time just to buy music to play. I listen to it enough. Hip hop is just as a big of a part of my life as dance music is in a way as far as the quantity of music that’s going through my ears and into my brain. I want to represent that. It’s a difficult thing to do because people aren’t used to it. David Guetta took it and did it a little over-the-top in ways that was sure to appeal to the masses. And it did and it worked. He probably opened the door for people like me to get Dipset and Omarion on my album. An example from my album with Jim and Cam – the way we got them to do a feature on my record when I was basically an unknown at the time was like, “Don’t rap like you’re rapping on a dance track. Just be you and rap about whatever – selling bricks and you guys rap about selling cocaine is basically what you do – like, just say that. That’s cool, be you.” Then, we’re gonna put it on a dance track and nobody’s ever done that. We felt like that was the first gutter rap dance track because they were just being real. It’s rap and it’s over house music! I definitely want to keep doing that. I don’t know how many are going to be on this album. So far, the vocalist that we’re seeking out…we’re kind of going for unknowns right now. I feel like there are a lot of vocalists out there right now that have amazing voices, that could be making number one hits, but they’re just undiscovered for whatever reason. We’re trying to seek out and find these undiscovered talents; helping them out rather than getting names that people recognize and try and sell more records.

L+T: That’s awesome that they’ll get a chance. Finally, do you think a DJ is a musician?
: Not in the year 2013. No, absolutely not. A turntablist is a musician. If we’re talking about A-Trak, then yeah. Sorry. (Laughs)