In the static world of rock 'n' roll, performers' growth is usually measured not by how much they change the art, but by how well they improve the original formula. But electronic music works best when the artist reveals something entirely unexpected. So when techno guru Josh Wink produced HereHear, a record that didn't quite hold to his previous tenets—über-techno tracks like "Higher State of Consciousness" from his debut Left above the Clouds—some critics were left scratching their heads. Which is exactly what Wink wanted.
Endfest, Kitsap Bowl, Bremerton, Saturday, August 1
ARO.space, Sunday, August 2
HereHear delves into electronic-music realms previously untouched by the Philadelphia DJ/producer. Everything from the electronic jazz of "Hard Hit" to the cranky industrial noise of "Black Bomb" (with guest vocalist Trent Reznor) leads you to believe that Wink's not aiming to please—well, at least not the critics.
"I always try to do something unique and different. As soon as you do something different, you're gonna get the crowd that's going to say either 'It's bad' or 'It's great.' But if you take the chance, all of a sudden you can make so much of a mark on someone's life," he says from Spain, where he's vacationing.
Like any smart artist, Wink follows his instincts. His instincts told him to take risks—to make a jungle track ("Young Again"), to try his hand at something with a slow burn ("I'm on Fire")—and avoid falling into the same old formula. This is just as true for his DJing sets. Wink leaves behind the strict confines of the electronic-music community, which generally expects a DJ to choose a camp—house, techno, downtempo—and stick to it. But Wink refuses to be predictable.
"By doing that, I keep on my toes. When I first started playing records, I was playing everything, not just one style of music all night. New wave, hip-hop, house, Top 40 . . . and people just dug it for what it was. In Europe, it's very segregated in terms of music. In America, it's extremely open-minded—a lot of the people who go into the nightclubs like a little bit of everything. But I haven't been to Seattle yet, so..." he says with a laugh.
Not to say that Wink's left techno behind. HereHear's epic techno track, "Sixth Sense," serves as a not-so-gentle reminder of what some would say the blond-dreadlocked producer does best: create electronic giants that grow from a tiny seed into a full-blown techno monster. Bombastic cuts like "Sixth Sense" don't soothe; instead, they work at your nerves—building, climbing, soaring, threatening to erupt—until you've just about bitten your nails to the quick.
After the success of "Higher State," Wink found himself a darling of the press. American writers practically slobbered over the possibility of a blowout album from a homegrown artist that could reside comfortably next to British groups like Prodigy and the Chemical Brothers. But Wink didn't deliver the goods quite the way anyone expected. He took a chance and released HereHear. And even if he had made a hard, balls-to-wall "electronica" record, he wouldn't have followed the rock-cum-electronica formula that mainstream America favors.
"There's a difference. I can make a hard album that's not commercially viable," Wink explains. "I guess I could have made tracks similar to the Chemical Brothers or the Prodigy, but I chose not to, because my music really isn't like theirs. They kind of do rock-oriented stuff, but it's just not where my head is right now."
While the love affair hasn't quite ended, it has turned lukewarm. Most reviewers applauded Wink for his gusto on HereHear, and the record has garnered mainly positive reviews in America (including a glowing article in Spin that managed to focus more on the producer's clean lifestyle—Wink's a nonsmoking, nondrinking, nondrugging vegetarian—than on his music). Some UK mags —notably Muzik, a British bible of electronic music—have been less enthusiastic, but even nasty reviews don't faze the focused and somewhat serious producer.
"The English press is just really, really weird," he says. "I used to, when I was younger, love to read magazines from the UK, to be turned on to music. Now, it's just so fickle. The editors give an R&B reviewer a techno album and say, 'Review it.' It's a shame. They'll put me on the cover of that magazine, and then they'll throw rocks at me. But that's the typical UK thing. I'm still making my music—it's not going to deter me at the end of the day. I just don't take it to heart."