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That Wink and Britt have flirted with techno, house, R&B, hip-hop, drum-and-bass and more helps explain the confusion of Columbia reps. But three years later, the deal is still holding up, despite the lukewarm reaction to Herehear, Wink's followup to Left Above the Clouds, his 1996 indie full-length. "I think it took a lot out of people, because they expect certain things from me," he says. "They expect all my music to sound like 'Higher State of Consciousness' or 'Don't Laugh.'" He points out that "most of the people who came up and talked to me were positive about Herehear, but the press always want to put in their opinion."
The negativity of many reviews was unfortunate, given that Herehear is a sonic leap forward for Wink. The tracks, which touch upon drum-and-bass, industrial and trance, are more song-based than before, and vocal contributions by Philly poet Ursula Rucker and This Mortal Coil's Caroline Crowley are fascinating. But the weaknesses inherent in "Black Bomb (Jerry in the Bag)," sung by Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor, led to more than a few slaggings, especially in England. "The journalists over there suck," Wink says with out-of-character intensity. "They're all just wannabe artists and DJs who can't get a gig. They don't like people like Trent Reznor, so they say the album sucks because he's on it. It's a no-win situation with those guys."
Unfortunately, such naysayers have a point: The Reznor contribution is every bit as feeble as the tunes he's offered to David Bowie and David Lynch. But the rest of Herehear is outstanding, with the beautiful "Young Again" suggesting prime Alex Reece and the cascading "Hard Hit" sporting a clever arrangement that should come as a surprise to anyone who thinks Wink can't do anything but thump. Wink holds English scribes responsible for refusing to acknowledge such high points and has little nice to say about the scene they cover. "It used be cool there, and I used to go there a lot--like every other week for a year. But the state of clubbing is so commercial now. You hear it on the radio, you see it in every magazine. You fly over there on British Airways, and Judge Jules has a dance-mix show on the programming." Other examples of corporate co-opting, including the sponsorship of Eclipse, a gigantic summer dance festival, by a deodorant manufacturer, and the installation of ATMs at many London clubs, have caused Wink to alter his travel plans. "I like continental Europe now--like Germany and France and Spain," he says.
After spraining his ankle and tearing a tendon, Wink was forced to cancel several dates, including one in Brazil, but he's determined to make his upcoming Denver gig for a couple of reasons. First of all, he loves coming to Colorado. He appeared at one of the state's first big raves, Skylab, and has heard nothing but good things about local crowds from King Britt, who is doing a bi-monthly residency at Boulder's Soma club, and fellow dance legend Richie Hawtin (Plastikman), a recent headliner at Synergy. He's also eager to promote Profound Sounds, Volume One, the first of a series of new mix CDs coming soon on Ovum/Ruffhouse/Columbia. The album, which Wink calls "minimal--a mixture of house and techno," is a return to his signature nightcrawler energy that incorporates deep house and a dash of vocal sampling. "KMart Shopper" and "What's the Time?," in particular, are certain to please devoted fans looking forward to a full-scale Wink tour this summer.
Some observers will see Profound Sounds as a retreat from the composition-heavy, cameo-friendly tunes on Herehear, and Wink doesn't entirely dispute this interpretation. "I'm going to let this do for a while, and then I'm going to get myself home and think about what I'm going to do for the next album. I don't know if it's going to be more song-oriented, like an artist, or more dance- and techno-oriented, just for the nightclubs. I'm not sure what I'm going to do next."
Still, Wink seems eager to move beyond the underground's adolescent-dominated techno-trance milieu. "I'm not alienating anyone, because I started out young, both as a producer and as a DJ," he says. "But when I started, the crowd was late teens and twenties. Then, in the mid-Nineties, it started getting pretty young, with all-ages events and everything. That was cool and everything, but the novelty wore off after a while." His gig of choice remains established venues with a more experienced clientele. "I prefer playing clubs because they're definite, they're bound to happen--and I prefer the over-21 crowd. Then again, there are a lot of people over 21 who have no idea what's going on."
Even when Wink tries to turn back the clock, there's no denying that times have changed. He remains fond of the homemade parties that gave the dance scene its legs, but when he threw a little soiree at the Winter Music Conference in Florida earlier this year, it earned a spread in Spin magazine. Indeed, the lineup was so crowded with big names, including Britt, Pete Moss, David Alvarado and 4hero's Diego, that when house luminary/Basement Jaxx collaborator DJ Sneak offered to do a set, Wink had to turn him down. But Wink managed to enjoy himself anyway. "We did it at this lounge club called the Living Room, and it was awesome--very small and intimate. And there was no hype around it, just really good music. It was a fun party."
Sometimes it's nice to take a break from the bangin'.
Josh Wink. Friday, June 4, Synergy, 3240 Larimer Street, $15-$25, 303-296-9515.