Tea at the Zoo

# 020 | Andrew Wowk

It’s Monday August 31 2015 – this is the twentieth TEA at the ZOO and we’re featuring Andrew Wowk. Andrew is good friend of Qu-Zen from Sydney and a friend of Qu-Zen is a friend us, especially if he is djing like bass. Say hello to Andrew Wowk from Time To Track, .darkroom | Sydney. So open your ears and hark to what he plays and has to say:

Could you tell us a little about your background, where you’re from and where are you living most of time? I was born and raised in Sydney, Australia, but my family’s ethnic background is Ukrainian. I still live in Sydney, though I regularly visit Melbourne.

Where your love for electronic music did begin and why did you start DJing? I first got into electronic music in the early 90’s (I was about 8 years old) through the popular dance music that was being played on the radio. I was into artists like Technotronic, Black Box, Corona, Ace of Base, and Rozalla, but at the time I didn’t really know what style of music they were, I just really liked them. I used to religiously read the liner notes from all the CDs I bought, and one of them mentioned “dance music”, which of course caught my interest as it was a term I hadn’t heard before. I spent time researching what this so-called “dance music” was, and discovered I really loved many of its various sub-genres. I can remember going through various phases of being totally obsessed with certain sub-genres and only listening to those specific styles (drum & bass/jungle, trance/hard house, funky house, techno), however eventually I broadened my horizons and started to appreciate a wide range of electronic music simultaneously. These days I love everything from techno to ambient soundscapes. I was introduced to DJing when I was 16. I spent a week doing work experience at a radio station we used to have in Sydney called Rhythm FM, which exclusively played dance music. Before working there, I actually didn’t even know that two songs could be mixed together (I was too young to have gone to any parties or clubs, so I’d never seen a DJ in action, and all the CDs I listened to just had individual tracks on them). I spent some time in the studio one day and saw a guy mixing the music together and keeping it going continuously for a whole hour, and it just blew my tiny little teenage mind. I immediately asked him to explain what he was doing, and he happily obliged, showing me how the turntables and mixer work, and explaining the role of a DJ in a club or party. It was in that moment I knew I wanted to learn how to DJ. So I bought some turntables and a mixer and taught myself how to mix. And now here I am over a decade later still mixing and learning new things every day.

Which equipment/set up is your favorite and why? I’ve been using Traktor Scratch with timecode CDs for the last five years, and I love it. Having all my music with me on my laptop means that I’m able to adapt to any situation, which means I feel more comfortable when I play since I know if I need to change up the vibe I have everything I need right there. I also use the looping function to extend transitions between tracks, and have multiple cue points set in my tracks if there is a particular part of a track I especially want to play (or skip). I like using the timecode CDs because I learned to mix on vinyl before moving to CDJs after about five years, so I still enjoy the process of beatmatching and the work that it takes to keep tracks in time. I just don’t get that same rush with MIDI controllers. When it comes to the brand/model of the CDJs and mixer, I’m not too fussy (I’ll happily mix on anything), but my personal favourite mixers are the DJM-800/DJM-900 as they suit my mixing style and I like how the effects units can really add a lot to my performance. Though one thing I always ask for: three CDJs! I always mix on three decks, as I find it allows for more creativity and spontaneity, and it really requires that I stay on my toes and work hard when playing (I hate feeling like I’m being lazy when DJing).

How would you describe your music? I love – and play – a really wide range of music, from abstract instrumental hip-hop to absurdly hard industrial techno, but despite being into so many different styles, something which is common to everything I love is soul/heart. If I listen to a track and I feel like I can really connect with the person who made it and feel like a part of them has been infused into the music, then there’s a good chance I will like it. It matters less to me that a track has a certain sound or vibe and more that it clearly was written to express the artist’s ideas, values, or feelings. Another thing that is common to every track I love is an infectious bassline. If a track has a great bassline, it’s almost impossible not to move to it, and I’m very likely to be into it as a result. If I’m moving, then I’m liking what I’m hearing. I’m also really attracted to interesting or unique sounds, effects and atmospheres. Tracks which feature elements that I don’t hear often in other tunes of the same genre will frequently grab my attention.

Who are your idols? The DJs I truly love are those who play what they believe in and express themselves through their individual technical and musical styles, rather than worry about what they “should” or “shouldn’t” play. In terms of techno, I have always looked up to Dave Clarke, Jeff Mills, and Ben Sims, as they are technically superb (my desire to learn to mix on three decks came from seeing these guys play) and they have their own readily identifiable sounds that are clearly unique to them. I also look up a huge deal to James Zabiela, Jon Convex, dBridge, Trent Reznor and Justin Broadrick because they represent an ethos I really respect: genre doesn’t matter. All of these artists have worked in countless different styles of music and because they genuinely just love expressing themselves musically, they actually create these coherent narratives and intelligent palettes of sound that beautifully tie together widely disparate genres of music. It’s something I’ve always loved trying to do myself as a DJ as well. Finding the common elements that exist between two tracks that are in completely different genres so that you can smoothly go from one to the other is so rewarding, and those guys are the people I think do it best.

Where do you get your inspiration from? As cliché as it sounds, I try to draw inspiration from everywhere I can. I frequently think about what I like about genres other than dance music and how I could incorporate those aspects into my DJ sets, whether it be more directly (e.g., distortion and noise from industrial metal) or more abstractly (e.g., the improvisational nature of jazz). I often get inspired by movies, TV shows and video games which make me feel a certain way and push me toward certain tracks or artists who evoke those same emotions in me when I listen to their music. The podcast I recorded for you guys was actually inspired by a video game I recently played called “The Evil Within”, which essentially led me to spend quite a few days after playing it introspectively considering the darker parts of my psyche and the human mind in general. I tried to make the podcast reflect how the game made me feel, which ranged from lost and confused to intensely angry, and even genuinely hopeful for the future and accepting of all parts of the human experience, good and bad. I even included some of my favourite dialogue from the game throughout the podcast to demonstrate that. Of course other DJs inspire me a great deal too, especially those in Sydney I get to see play regularly and interact with. Qu-Zen has played a big part in me learning about the darker, grittier side of techno over the last 18 months, introducing me to a lot of great artists I didn’t know about previously as I typically focused more on funky, percussive sounds. The Rivet DJs like Monako and Ohmage show how beautifully techno, dubstep, drum & bass and garage can be mixed together. Simon Caldwell has this wonderful collection of rare and interesting house music that constantly reinvigorates my love for that genre whenever I see him play.

What was the first vinyl you bought? The very first piece of vinyl I owned I actually inherited from one of the DJs at Rhythm FM. It was “One Night In N.Y.C.” by The Horrorist. The first record I bought with my own money was this weird breakbeat track called “Check Out Ya Pa” by Sons of Slough on the now defunct Whole Nine Yards label.

What was the last vinyl you bought? I just ordered one of the limited edition vinyl copies of the soundtrack from the video game “The Last of Us” – not to listen to, just to own as a collector’s piece because I love the game so much.

Do you have any residencies? I frequently play at Chinese Laundry here in Sydney, supporting internationals that come through the club such as Jeff Mills, James Zabiela, Ben Sims, Dave Clarke, Ben Klock, etc. I’m also a regular at parties like .darkroom, Afterlife, and S.A.S.H., and I have my weekly radio show called Time To Track on Bondi Beach Radio, which Jchn B. was kind enough to record an excellent mix for recently.

Where was your first gig? It was actually in a DJ competition! The university I studied at used to run a student DJ competition, and I decided to enter after I’d been mixing for about a year. I ended up making it all the way to the finals and coming third, which I was really happy about.

Tell us a bit about what it’s like when you’re a few minutes away from coming on and playing your first track? It’s a strange combination of excitement and deep concentration. Obviously I’m really keen to play because I want to feel that rush of sharing the music I love with the crowd and emotionally connect with them for the next hour or more, but at the same time, I’m also thinking very carefully about the energy in the room, what time it is, who else is playing before and after me and so on. I’m very cerebral, I enjoy thinking. However it can be easy to go down a rabbit hole and start over-analysing things, so often to help keep me focused I pick out a couple of people in the crowd that I just observe for a bit and try to get on their level and relate to.

Where did like it the most to DJ and why? I was given a five hour set in a warehouse a couple of years ago and allowed to just go in any direction I pleased musically. I covered everything from funk to classic 90’s techno, and the crowd happily followed me at every turn. It was so satisfying to be able to just play music to a bunch of people who were there especially to get a glimpse into all the different sounds and styles I like. I am itching to do something like that again! Chinese Laundry is also always a lot of fun. The crowd there is great, and some of my most memorable gigs have been warming up for my idols at Laundry. The Gladstone, which was this dingy pub we used to have in Sydney was also amazing, as it just had this outrageously good sound system and it was so dilapidated that the only reason people went there was to dance and enjoy music, because it sure as hell wasn’t the kind of place you’d just casually spend time in.

What was the funniest/craziest thing that happened on a gig? So, something you need to know about me is that I’m nearly always hungry, and so I’m nearly always eating. When I played the five hour set at that warehouse party I mentioned above, I knew I would likely get hungry during the gig, so I brought some bananas with me. About 3 hours in to the set, I grabbed one of the bananas and started peeling it to eat it while still mixing tunes, not really thinking about the fact that it probably looked weird to the crowd that firstly I was eating a banana, and secondly that I was doing it so casually that I didn’t even stop mixing to eat it. I looked up and basically everyone in the room had stopped dancing and were either just standing there looking really confused or taking photos and videos with their phones!

Upcoming gigs? At the end of September I’ll be playing a three hour set for my 30th birthday celebrations at Chinese Laundry, which will be loads of fun. I love long sets because I get to cover a wide range of styles and moods. Bodhi, who I love, are also playing on the night. October 2nd I am playing a footwork/jungle/abstract hip-hop set at a club night called Riot, which features DJs playing all sorts of 170bpm music from drum & bass to early breakbeat hardcore. And I might have already played this gig by the time this interview goes live, but on August 29th I am playing at a festival called Psyfari. It’s out in the Australian bush and it’s just amazing. The sound system and lighting is out of this world, and the lineup is stacked with incredible local talent. I’ll be playing a set that covers all sorts of techno-related sounds.

Are there any upcoming releases or recently released stuff? I dabble in production every now and then when I’m feeling inspired, and anything I write ends up on my SoundCloud as a free download. I also upload archives of my radio show every week, and typically record my DJ sets in clubs. So there is also something new to listen to if you follow me!

What are you plans for the future? I’d really like to get into production more seriously, rather than just dabble in it here and there. I have a lot of cool ideas I’d love to actually get out of my head and into a DAW. I’m also hoping to make the trip over to Europe within the next couple of years to check out the scene in various countries and if I’m lucky play some gigs while I’m there. It’d be amazing to get to play somewhere like Berlin, Amsterdam, London or Paris.

What is your favorite animal? I love German Shepherds.

Try to catch Andrew Wowk playing one of his infectious bassline sets; it was a pleasure doing the interview with this diverse artist and a pleaser listening to his set. And don’t forget to say hello from us! – Larry

www.facebook.com/pages/Andrew-Wowk/8919146867 www.facebook.com/timetotrack www.soundcloud.com/andrew-wowk