Josh Wink on 20 Years Of Ovum

In a very interesting discussion with our man Mike Boorman, Josh Wink talks about the business of running a label for 20 years, and the creative mindset that has made him so respected for so long.

Jimmy Coultas

Date published: 2nd Oct 2014

Josh Wink shot to fame with the legendary crossover hit 'Higher State Of Consciousness' in the mid nineties, but there is almost no one else who has still managed to remain so relevant to the underground today after such commercial success, especially considering what a mindfuck of a chart botherer the track is.

 

Josh Wink - Space Closing Fiesta - October 2013 by Space Ibiza on Mixcloud

 

His label Ovum is 20 years old this year and is still pushing the boundaries and showcasing artists as diverse as Stefan Goldmann, Technasia, MANIK and Josh himself, and he is of course still very much in demand as a DJ (check him in visceral form closing out Space Ibiza last year above), spinning as he is for Bedrock at Electric Brixton on Saturday October 4th.

And it is easy to assume that he was an overnight success - that there was nothing before 'Higher State...' - but he was actually DJing a full decade before in his native Philadelphia and had become a highly respected producer earlier in the nineties.

But the real story with Josh Wink is the intelligence - that ability to play the game differently but still with the sense of his role as an entertainer. He is that genuinely rare combination of spirituality and realism, and was excellent value when we spoke to him the other day...

You've been going at it with Ovum for 20 years, but it looks like a real labour of love. You don't have a massive release schedule - it certainly looks like it won't be making much profit. Do you see Ovum as philanthropy basically?

Ha ha, maybe not Ovum, but maybe me. I have to keep on the road to keep a steady flow of money for my family, and also to be able to upkeep the label.

Unfortunately times have changed and you can't really keep up a living from a few weeks of download sales and three to six hundred records a release. Yes, definitely a labour of love.

And what do you still love about it? Is it the promotion of new talent?

It's just what it feels comes naturally to me. Making music, putting out music, quality music that I like and support that helps define the label. And the fact that people want to be a part of it, from unknown producers to really well known producers that have been around a long time.

Looking at your own history as a producer, you can see this purple patch in the mid nineties where Strictly Rhythm really supported what you were doing and it all blew up for you. Do you think it is possible for a record label to do the same thing for an artist now?

Well, depending on the music…

Let's say in the credible house and techno sphere, and by credible, let's say music that you would happily play in your DJ sets.

I mean, there's a lot of hype that can still come about from being released on the right label, or not even being released and then just put on YouTube. The big thing that's changed has been the digital realm and the internet, whether a label can still get so behind an artist and look after an artist's needs now is hard to say…

To me, Strictly Rhythm was just a label that put out music through a very talented A & R person. The guy who owned the company was just a businessman, he didn't know so much about music, but he got the right A & R person.

Was that George Morel back then?

No, the person who really made the label in my view was a woman by the name of Gladys Pizarro. But 'Higher State' you know was kind of a mistake. When I sent them the original Tweekin' Acid Funk Mix of it (below), they wanted me to re-do it because they thought it was too noisy - so if I would have done that I don't think the song would have had as great of an impact. 

But anyways, getting back to your question, you really have to have a strong group of people that believe in something. The difference in the past as well was that a lot of labels signed artists exclusively to their label, and at Ovum, we don't do that out of respect for our artists.

We release some really cool artists who often end up releasing somewhere else or starting their own labels, which is cool, but compared to back then it's kinda hard to really be behind someone 100%. But we know this, and we work with a lot of our friends and we have a lot of people who come back and want to work with us, so this says a lot to me.

The topic of A & R's an interesting one… it's basically a lost art in this day and age. Do you think there's a call for some labels to throw more budget at it again?

I think it's great when someone is skilled in knowing what they do. There's a lot of labels that start up that are from DJs, and that's an A & R skill in itself. But they might be young DJs who don't know the market. But I just don't think the sales are enough unless you're a pop or EDM act.

I think if you have someone who has a background, and has a little knowledge of the industry and knows where to go with the signing and how to push, it's of great benefit. But we sign artists on the basis of how the music sounds to us rather than 'oh, this artist's going to make a lot of money'.

I think a lot of artists know that about us - they just want to be associated with a label that looks after an artists' needs and hopefully will sound just as timeless in five or fifteen years, just as it does now.

So actually you think that as a broad generalisation, not having these layers of executives and music businessmen gets it a bit closer to what the original art should be?

That's debatable. Some people in a corporate sense really know what they're doing - they follow the formula and that's that. That just doesn't work for us, unfortunately or fortunately. You know, maybe we're missing a lot of sales and placements, but this is what we know and this is what we feel comfortable with.

Going through your own personal experience of being pushed all over Europe, did you feel at times that you were compromised as an artist, that you were no longer in control of this juggernaut?

Yes! That's the reason why Ovum started. When you have a label that has four releases a week, you get lost in the shuffle. Or the label assures you that it will never have a video and then there's one made without you knowing about it.

So I've learned a lot from working with a lot of labels in the past, and Ovum came about because of it. And I've learned my lessons from my attorney and lawyers who signed me into bad deals.

It's good that you're applying this twenty years later really. And there seems to be a theme across your life and career, that you are a bit of an opportunist. That you see the cards life deals you and then react to it.

There's a story we've heard about when you were at summer camp, where someone did a trick on you where you put your hand over your face to see if you had cancer, and then hit you. But after that he felt guilty and looked after you, but was kind of a mobile DJ, right?

Yes, that's true. That's the inception of how electronic music came to me, via that incident. If it wasn't for that, then I wouldn't be here talking to you. So it's an epiphany - what thing in your life made you become an electronic music journalist, something like that. Just finding what that is. To me that was a pinnacle thing that took place.

Given that happened once, it looks like you've had various other small epiphanies along the way, if that's not a contradiction in terms. So we've discussed Ovum, which was a reaction to some of the negatives you saw with your success as an artist… what epiphanies or big events have happened recently that have caused you to grow as a creative?

I would probably just say, being a father. I'm still learning the balance of being three people. Before I was just two, so that was the ego of the artist 'Josh Wink', as well as 'Josh' the partner, the friend, the boyfriend, the record label guy.

My son turns three in October so that has been a really big breakthrough for me, just more or less as a person. Not really so much as a musician but more as person. I had a vision of having a child and then having this big opus, where we gave birth to this unbelievable creature and I was then going to give birth to this unbelievable music because of it. So I haven't had that yet.

My part is still trying to figure out what's going on. But it's changed my life a lot because I don't travel as much. I stay at home more now so there's more time for the studio.



It's interesting what you say that the life event didn't automatically inspire you, but it actually isn't that surprising.  

If you read David Byrne's book, 'How Music Works', he essentially debunks the creative process of every album he's ever made ('Naive Melody (This Must be the place)', by Byrne's band Talking Heads, is above). At no point was it about these bolts of inspiration, but was more about him setting up different process which he knew would then create different creative accidents.

The way you construct your points is quite similar, so would you say that, like him, you're 'a systematic creative', where you have quite a conscious control of your own process and set up, and then by plugging away, interesting things just kinda happen?

I've actually got that book but I haven't read it yet.

You'd totally get it!

I have the Bicycle Diaries one and that's great. But actually no, I'm not so methodical. I probably portray myself as being that person but I'm hard with commitments. I'm hard with locking down things. My friends will tell you that.

Like all the success I've had just hasn't really been planned. The career chose me rather than me choosing it. That kid who did that joke on me saying if your hand is bigger than your face you have cancer, as we said.

But anyways, I ended up releasing music and it was music that I just believed in and it was the only thing I knew. I didn't try to follow anything or go in people's foot steps - I just did what I did.

Josh Wink joins John Digweed, Pig & Dan, Spencer Parker and more at Electric Brixton Saturday 4th October for Bedrock 16 - tickets here or via the box below.

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