Swiss producer WILDLIFE! is a man after our own heart – his forward-thinking club sounds, that have been picked up by the likes of Terry Lynn, Poirier and The Very Best, are never too far from his dancehall beginnings. He often impressively crashes together foundation Jamaica with contemporary bass – featuring the likes of Major Mackerel and Sammy Dread on his sophomore EP for Phree Music – and only plans to further this recipe in 2012. It’s been around two years since he released Buckup, but now thankfully his full length album is on the horizon and he’s just dropped a brand new EP for Man Recordings – Pastiche – featuring Toddla T, J-Wow and Daniel Haaksman that manages to successfully house Kuduro, Dancehall and Juke. Straight from his studio, he told us about his album project, working on his latest EP, his favourite soundclashes and more…hit play on his Juno mix and read below:
Mixpak: It’s been about 2 years since you released your last record – what have you been up to?
WILDLIFE!: I’ve basically been in the studio the whole time, I’ve been finishing an album project that’s gonna drop later this year, that took like almost all my time. Then for the past few months I’ve been working on the Pastiche EP that just dropped.
So what’s the story with the album – is the style similar to your Man Recordings EP? The press release says ‘crashing together UK punk rock and the dancehall avant-garde’?
It’s something completely different. It’s sort of a concept album, I’m trying to revisit that moment in time when punk rock and reggae collided at the end of the 70s, when guys like Don Letts were mixing punk rock and reggae in their DJ sets, and punk bands like The Clash were covering reggae artists. So I’ve recorded a bunch of punk rock covers with the help of Jamaican vocalists and on the other side I came up with electronic cover versions of reggae classics, with the help of legendary punk rock veteran singers.
Why is that period so interesting to you?
I got introduced to late 70s UK punk by older people when I was a teenager and from there I started discovering reggae, through bands like The Clash, The Slits, The Ruts, who all did reggae covers or had reggae influences on their records. That’s how I originally got into reggae. I just felt like it was a really interesting period in music history and I wanted to see if I could translate that into a contemporary electronic music context.
Is this also a pertinent moment, do you think, to do that? Do you see any links between the punk era and today or is it an aesthetic thing?
It’s hard to say, I was born in 1980 so I can’t say much about the scene and what it felt like to be a teenager back then. I approached the project from a strictly musical side..
Ok right so it’s not political. Do you think that your sound has changed since Buckup?
Buckup was more like a downtempo record and what I’ve been trying to do on this album is make more downtempo stuff, and more material that you’d maybe listen to at home rather than at the club. After working on all that song based stuff for so long, I just wanted to go straight to the clubs with the new EP.
How did you go about choosing and executing your collaborations on the EP – Toddla T, J-Wow and Daniel Haaksman?
That happened by accident really. J-Wow and I shared the stage a bunch of times in the last few years and I did a track for his Enchufada label back in 2010, so it happened naturally. We got together on a couple of occasions and were talking about doing stuff together and then we just made it happen. Same thing with Toddla, we were together a couple of times at festivals, and we’ve been exchanging tracks a lot and obviously we share the love of dancehall and reggae music in a club context. Daniel Haaksman played at my club night, I played a couple of shows for him in Berlin, and I also spent 2 months in Berlin last summer and we hung out a lot; so we thought we’d make this EP and yeah, why not add another collab between the label boss and the producer.
There’s obviously a number of influences running through it – is that why you called it Pastiche?
Yeah that was the main idea. I just realised that I’d been influenced by so many different styles so instead of having say influences from four different genres in one track, I had the idea of splitting it up and having a track that’s sort of dedicated to the dancehall and soca stuff, then the kuduro inspired track with J-Wow and the footwork influenced track with Haaksman.
There’s a lot of people out there now taking all these genres from everywhere and putting it into one sound – how did that make it to be the thing now do you think?
It’s a sign of the times really – the world is just getting smaller and people are exchanging ideas more easily and all the time. That’s one side…and on the other side I think it’s hype… people just fling dancehall acapellas over tracks to make it more interesting or whatever. I think there’s nothing wrong with it as long as there’s some sort of connection with the foundation, to where that stuff originally comes from.
Why did you call yourself WILDLIFE!?
[laughs] No friggin idea! There’s no story or anything attached to it, I think I was just searching for names and I liked the sound of the word.
That must have been pre-google right? It’s not so google-friendly…
It’s horrible! I didn’t think about that. Even if I want to ego google myself all I get is leopards and lions and shit…
When you started out you were more of a straight-up dancehall DJ, doing your soundsystem, Goldrush International – are you still doing that?
Not really. I still do a bi-monthly night where I play strictly dancehall, but that’s more for nostalgic reasons. We still have a nice fanbase over here who came to our dances for like ten years and they still come out when we play a party. We don’t play outside the city anymore or take bookings, we just do our bi-monthly party and release our annual little dancehall retrospective of the year.
When you started out doing that it must have been a lot harder to come across dancehall – how did you access that in Switzerland?
There were a few people in Europe who would import 45s and have mail order shops, there was a place in Geneva called Rocket Records , they would send me their newsletter via fax [laughs] and then I would just pick tunes by labels or artists that I knew. Whenever someone i knew was travelling to London or New York, I’d beg them to get me tapes and records and stuff like that. I was also travelling to London quite regularly to buy soundtapes and records. It was so different then, it was a small scene, you were interacting with a small group of people in europe exchanging tapes and knowledge.
But is it that different? Aren’t you still working in a small circle of people in Europe exchanging mp3s?
Hmm, I guess the one thing that’s really different is the accessibility of the music and information.
When you were starting out with the dancehall stuff you went to Jamaica to get your dubplates?
You absolutely had to. Although I think one of my first dubplates was a Beenie Man dub and i think i must have been about 19, in 1999, a friend of mine had a computer and internet access and there was some dude on dancehallreggae forum back then and there was a phone number with someone offering dubplate services. I called him up and paid him a ridiculous amount of money via Western Union and then about 7 months later he Fed Ex-ed me an actual dubplate with my Beenie dub on it. But it was really hard to get hold of people being based over here, so in 2000 or 2001 I decided to just go there and voice a bag of tunes and I kept going back on a regular basis after that.
What’s your favourite dubplate?
I recorded a bunch of Beenie and Bounty classics at the end of the 90s but it was more like their mid nineties stuff, they’re my favourites.
99 was a good time!
Yeah I think so too, although when I really started playing in 98/99 I went for the early to mid nineties stuff, like Mad Cobra and Ninjaman and the mid nineties stuff with Spragga and everybody. But there was a shitload of good stuff dropping at the end of the nineties too, especially Dave Kelly stuff like Showtime, Bruk Out and all that jazz.
When you went to work later on with Terry Lynn and Major Mackerel and Sammy Dread, did you also go out to Jamaica to do that?
The stuff I did with Terry Lynn almost everything was done in Switzerland because her management moved here, so that’s how we got in touch in the first place. The EP with Mackerel and Sammy Dread was done in New York.
So do you see a difference in between working with those artists in the way you did in 99/2000 to the way you did in 2010?
I think the main difference is that Jamaican artists got used to the idea that white Europeans and weirdoes would be chasing them for their music…i haven’t been to Jamaica in about 5 years, but I imagine that people are getting used to the sight of white people strolling the streets of Kingston in search of dubplate studios and going to dances. When i was there that was still really rare, like if you’d go to a dance in Kingston you’d definitely be the only white person.
And you’ve ended up on some pretty big bills with sounds like Stone Love and Rodigan…
Yeah I played a few gigs with Stone Love in Europe, and I invited them over to one of our anniversary bashments. Rodigan invited us to play his 25th anniversary in Germany, it was a soundsystem festival with Bass Odyssey, Killamanjaro and Stone Love and people like that. And from a real early stage in my soundsystem career i started throwing parties and inviting sounds, like Massive B, Lord Gellys or Ricky Trooper when he went solo later on.
Were you a big follower of the clash stuff when you were younger?
Yeah definitely, I still am.
Do you have a favourite soundsystem clash from the past?
I think it’s Killamanjaro with Ricky Trooper vs David Rodigan, the world clash in 1997. The famous world clash in New York. I think it was called Jamaica vs England. That’s a wicked clash, one of my favourites.
How do you personally balance between your involvement in the dancehall scene and being an electronic producer on the other side?
I got to a point where the whole European dancehall and soundsystem scene just didn’t interest me anymore. And that’s still the case. I can’t really listen to German or Swiss or Italian sounds pretending to be Jamaican on stage. I can’t listen to that. That was also one of the reasons why I started WILDLIFE!, I wanted to do something rooted in my world and where I’m coming from, from my background, from my environment. I wanted to stop pretending to be a Jamaican soundsystem operator. I became a simple fan, I’m not trying to be in that scene but I still love listening to clashes and the latest new tunes but I don’t have the aim of being the next Ricky Trooper, which was the case when I was 18 years old [laughs].
So were you doing this from the age of 18 – what other jobs did you have back then?
I started DJing when I was about 15/16 and I was just looking for an easy job and something to earn some money while i was DJing so I worked at an insurance firm for 3 years. It was horrible. But it was a great experience cos I realised there was no fucking way I was working a 9-to-5. I then started working at a local record store, which was wicked, all of a sudden all I was doing was seeing what the latest Def Jam record or Jammy’s riddim was. That was great. I stayed there for about 5 years then the studio part became more important to me and I wanted to learn that stuff from scratch so I did an audio engineering bachelors degree and after that i worked for a radio station producing jingles and trailers and stuff.
If you couldn’t produce now, what else would you be doing?
I really don’t know. Music was always so important to me, I’d maybe write about music?
How do you produce?
I use Pro Tools as a main sequencer and some on Ableton live. But it’s mainly all hardware based, a lot of hardware drum machines and synths…I have a nice little studio with a lot of hardware.
If you could have produced any one track in the world what would it be?
That’s really hard….probably Shy FX’s ‘Original Nuttah’.
That is a party starter. Do you look to anyone in particular you look to on the production side?
For reggae it’s definitely Dave Kelly and Ward 21. When it comes to electronic stuff, I really like Simian Mobile Disco’s production, especially from an engineering perspective, and obviously Switch. But most of all I guess probably Modeselektor, they’re my heroes ….and whoever produces the Maybach music stuff [laughs].
What else can we look forward to from you?
Watch out for my contribution to “Mixpak Pressure Vol. 1” coming soon.
Interview by Suze Webb