Interview: Josh Wink
A brief scan of Josh Wink’s résumé reveals: an underage mobile DJ; a major role in fostering his native Philadelphia’s burgeoning warehouse scene during the house-music explosion later that decade, and name-making ’90s club hits like “Don’t Laugh,” “Higher State of Consciousness” and “I’m Ready”.
Wink also runs Ovum Recordings, now in its 20th year, a label undisputedly one of the most essential in all of dance music. Over the years, the label has released music from such varied artists as Jamie Myerson, Wild Pitch originator DJ Pierre and jack-track master DJ Sneak, amongst others; as with most of Ovum’s catalog, it’s music that’s not defined by time or trends.
Just following the 2015 Amsterdam Dance Event, we spoke with Josh Wink from his home in Philadelphia. In this lengthy conversation we covered much ground (as expected from someone with such a history) from the limitations of pre-sale ticketed events to the city of Amsterdam, ADE, and the first time I saw him (which happened to be a 1998 Connecticut rave, which Wink headlined), plus a lot more.
“…clubbing was not just something to do. It was a way of life. People were into this music because you didn’t hear it everywhere.”
What were your impressions on your ADE gig? How have you seen ADE evolve since you first started coming to Amsterdam?
First of all, I’d been wanting to do a party with my friend Manuela from AD Bookings at their Click event for a while but it never seemed to work out, so I was very happy that we managed to make it happen this year.
The room was great! My only concern was that the sound was not, but sometimes you have these issues and you just deal with them. It was full up though, with a lot of fans and enthusiasm.
In terms of ADE, everything has changed for me since the birth of my son. I used to be very much into doing up every ADE with lots of different events during the conference and seminar, but it’s been different for the past 4 years. This year, I spent 7 weeks with my family in Ibiza for the summer, then I came home for 4 days to get my son ready for school and his birthday party, so I arrived in Amsterdam on the Friday of ADE, did some interviews and the gig, and then left at 10am on Saturday. It’s kind of crazy to go Amsterdam from Philadelphia for just 1 day but it’s very important for me to be part of my son’s birthday and life, so in that respect ADE has changed a lot for me.
I loved participating in ADE in the beginning. I thought it was a fantastic event and was happy to be part of the seminars and panels. I love the like- minded people coming together to bounce ideas, likes, and dislikes off each other. ADE what many conferences, like Winter Music Conference, used to be like, but everything has gotten away from this and it has now become more about the party.
This was my first year as a professional at ADE, but I had been attending Miami’s Winter Music Conference for quite some time. I remember that event being the primary annual destination for the industry, but in recent years it seems like ADE has taken that title. Would you say this is a fair assessment?
Well, Winter Music Conference changed years ago. Like the New Music Seminar in the 80s, it used to be about buying a badge and going around the different events, which was awesome. Now it has turned to be more nightclub oriented events, so people come from all over the country since the artists never play their hometowns. You’d have people from all over the place coming to Miami who would only buy tickets to the club gigs, and not even get a badge. Since they weren’t supporting the seminar itself the event has changed big time. All my coleagues and friends who used to go in the 90s just don’t anymore because it’s not worth it. You don’t get business done. It’s all abut going to “EDM” things. Not to mention it has changed from Winter Music Conference to, essentially, “Ultra Music Week”.
How about Amsterdam from a non-professional perspective. I remember seeing your name at events here since I started coming in the late 90s, so I’m sure you have a pretty extended relationship with the city. Do you enjoy coming here?
I’ll answer that question shortly, but I did want to finish up speaking on the previous one.
It seems with a lot of conferences, like Winter Music Conference, Midem, Sonar, or New Music Seminar, where you could mix solid business with a handful of events, things weren’t too overwhelming. Now unfortunately, everything has gotten very overwhelming when it comes to the nightclub events. It’s become more about seeing a DJ or band then about the other aspects, which I think is very important. Sonar has a bit of the conference but a lot of people have stopped buying conference tickets and instead just go out in the city because that’s the place to be. I think it is important to keep the aspect of the business, seminars and talks because it’s what makes these events unique. Clubbing goes on everywhere around the world all the time, so we don’t necessarily need that. What we need is the intellectual and business side of things, where people can come to get inspired.
In Amsterdam, one thing I have seen change is that there is so much competition between parties. In the sense of Capitalism, competition is important because it pushes people to think differently, but it is very difficult when you are trying to do a party on a low budget and artists play 3 events in 2 days. Overbooking has really put a bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths. I’m wondering if it’s even worth the while for artists to do showcases there? There are the same artists on the same lineups. You can’t tell people to not throw parties, but I think it’s now a place for people to throw a party rather than do both. I mean, people could do a day and a night event, for example. It is an unbelievable setting for that kind of thing, but it’s detrimental to the whole conference if there are too many club events.
So, you see this across the board at such large scale events?
Yes. We were some of the first people to do parties at Sonar on a Wednesday night, so we had that night on lock down. Now it seems that Wednesday is one of the favorite nights to do a Sonar party, so we went from doing 1200-1300 people to working really hard for 900.
Now, people also don’t even come on a Wednesday, rather coming in on Friday for the weekend. It’s a little bit frustrating. As I said, I am not saying people shouldn’t do them, but it is an observation.
Do you attribute this to a genuine lack of interest from the public regarding more educational/intellectual events? Where do you think the balance between public interest and business necessity lies?
I’m not sure. I just know it needs to be equal. Look at Ibiza, for example. Not too long ago, there were only a handful of parties and now everyone has their own night, whether they are established or someone just hip and trendy for the moment. Everyone wants to be a name; everyone wants to have a promo team. You know what? Now, everything has been spread a little thin.
It’s also based on sensationalism; not just the DJs but the scene as a whole. There used to be a way of telling a story when a DJ plays; or the opener who set the vibe and feeling for the night. Now, everyone expects to be in the club and immediately tweet about it being the best-ever. A lot of this is change all over the board and it’s a shame. I was always more into people closing their eyes and getting lost in the music when I play rather than putting their fists up and jumping around. It’s not always about the build up, but also about the lows. I think it is the responsibility of production, promoters, management, artists, and the public to support everything, but when you have 100 Euro in your pocket for 2 days, which includes food, drinks and tickets, you can only go to 1 or 2 events.
What are your impressions on pre-sale ticket culture? One thing that has thrown me off since being here is that audiences are buying tickets up months in advance, so the option of spontaneity that the scene has really relied on over the years is no more. People can no longer make a spur of the moment decision to go somewhere in the dark as they now have to plan their weekends and social activities well in advance, therefore also make sure their mood maintains itself. How does this aspect of the current industry play into what you are describing?
It is a lot different to the older culture than the younger kids. We are doing a party here tomorrow night, which we hope will be a yearly thing. It’s called “HalloWink” and Seth Troxler will come and play alongside me. I was concerned, as it is a Thursday night, so I asked how pre sale tickets were. They said they had more people sign up for this than last year’s New Year event. Our label manager said it was great, but it may not be representative of how things will actually play out. A lot of my fans may be a little bit older, so they may not go out and buy tickets in advance. Some people buy them in advance because there is incentive. If you buy something online before, you can save money or something like that.
If you are a pure fan, you get on the artists mailing list, you find out when they are playing and you buy tickets to assure entry. It’s like going to hear Stevie Wonder. You dont show up hoping there are tickets available. You buy them in advance. It’s always been that way. Sometimes that works with electronic events too. It hasn’t always been a part of the scene, and some clubs I play for don’t do that, but, if there is an incentive to buy tickets in advance, then many people will do that.
Since I’m a bit older I’m not 100% sure about the benefits of pre-sale tickets, but perhaps the younger generation is more concerned about their finances, or they are actually a true fan who wants to gain entrance and also save some money.
Perhaps. I still feel that spontaneity is vital to the scene. But I may be saying that because I don’t consider myself to be a very organized person. I mean, I can barely figure out what I’m doing tomorrow, let alone months from now…
…unless it’s something you know you want to go too. If Kraftwerk is playing a one-time-only show covering Tom Waits songs, you’re gonna fucking go to that.
Another thing in club culture that makes a difference at the seminars are the true fans who come in and are really educated and interested in the music, which is GREAT! Usually how it works is, you have a percentage of the people that know and a percentage who don’t. If you go see, let’s say, Michael MacDonald play with Darryl Hall, I will guarantee everyone there will be fan of both those guys, singing their songs. If you go to a Beck concert, I can guarantee everyone there will know his songs, BUT, if you go to AIR in Amsterdam, you have a percentage of the people who go because Nicholas Jaar is playing that night, but you also have a percentage who go just because it is a hip and trendy place. That is our industry.