Wink Wink, Nudge Nudge
TECHNO STARS ARE a notoriously reticent lot, with even popular DJs such as Jeff Mills keeping witness protection-level profiles to maintain street cred. But as some acts flout the genre's secretive norms and make lavish music videos (check out Aphex Twin's hilarious, booty-rap spoofing "Windowlicker"), few, if any, have flat-out parodied the Cult of the Invisible DJ like Philadelphia native Josh Wink, who performs Saturday at Roy Wilkins Auditorium.
The video for Wink's "Simple Man," a drum 'n' industrial track from his 1998 sophomore album Herehear, casts the blond, dreadlocked 29-year-old as personal assistant to "The Radio," a boom box turned club superstar that "performs" onstage as Wink sets it on a stool, loads a CD, and hits the play button. We follow The Radio as fame goes to its head (or, rather, its antenna), through the attendant rock-star overdose (the appliance nearly drowns in a hotel bathtub), rehabilitation (at a stereo repair shop), and sensational headlines (Billboard, Details, Popular Electronics). Finally the big comeback arrives, although The Radio's thunder is stolen by a rival performer: a fire alarm.
The video's inventiveness is typical of the Wink approach: exaggerate a simple idea until it reaches critical mass. His best music--say, the wiggy 1995 track "Higher State of Consciousness"--grapples with a single motif, letting it morph and mutate endlessly. The chorus of his subterranean club anthem "How's the Music" is little more than a female voice chanting the song's title (a tongue-in-cheek homonym of house music), but it bubbles hypnotically out of its dank, minimalist surroundings. The performer works similarly live, building his sets slowly, with a visceral arc best documented on the forthcoming DJ-mix disc Profound Sounds, Vol. 1, due in July. The album has enough near-ascetic repetition for "serious" techno fans, but also the hooks and sonic variety required by just-wanna-dance casuals.
Over the phone from his home in South Philly, the DJ says he began cultivating his blend of tastes at age 13, when teachers still referred to the young punk-rock fan as Joshua Winkelman. He began his turntable career with a mobile disc jockey service, spinning a mix of new wave, Top 40, and hip hop for weddings and bar mitzvahs. By the late Eighties, he had joined forces with another young DJ, King Britt, and the two began producing original music together, cutting their first 12-inch, "Tribal Confusion," under the pseudonym E-Culture in 1991. Soon they formed a label, Ovum (now distributed by Ruffhouse/Columbia); and while Britt toured as a DJ with Digable Planets, Wink began exploring the East Coast rave circuit, playing New York's notoriously drug-infested Limelight club. (Wink says he's a clean-living vegan.) It was around this time that Twin Cities techno pioneer Woody McBride contacted Wink to publish his playlist in the DJ fanzine Disco Family Plan. "We were both producing music, and we knew each other's tracks," Wink says.
Since becoming an overseas superstar in the late Nineties, Wink's enduring connection to McBride has proven a boon to the Philadelphian's Minneapolis fans: Saturday will mark his fourth Twin Cities appearance in two years, and the third facilitated by McBride. But it was Wink's first non-DJ show, opening for Meat Beat Manifesto at First Avenue last year, that he remembers most fondly. "That was the first show of the tour, and it was the first time I ever performed 'live,'" he says. "I burned samples onto CD and triggered pocket samplers. But even when I DJ, I use effects or two copies of a record to create the mood I want. I try to make music out of the music."
Josh Wink will perform Saturday, June 12 at Apocalypse Wow! with DJ Icey and Ron D. Core in Roy Wilkins Auditorium; (651) 224-7361.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.