Josh Wink on rave culture, integrity and an underground state-of-mind
My parents lived their twenties during the late ’80s and early ’90s at clubs like Menage and Level Three dancing to the sounds of Cerrone, Paul Oakenfold, Jamie Principal and David Morales. When they traveled north to New York or west to Chicago, they opted for clandestine raves and warehouse parties. I explain all of this to Josh Wink, who lived it first hand before I was even a notion in my parents’ minds. He laughs and tells me the club and rave culture most likely gave birth to me. It’s probably not far from the truth.
Wink, who started making music in the late ’80s, speaks of a slightly different kind of party scene than the one I, as native South Floridian, am used to: “It tended to be a little more raw and underground and a little outlaw-ish, with promoters getting venues without licensing or permits and stuff like that,” he says. “There was this new music that people wanted to know about.”
The sudden blow-up, however, wasn’t all that disparate from today’s recently renewed interest in electronic music. “This huge explosion with electronic music in America now is very similar to how it was in the early ’90s…the only difference now is that it’s become really corporate and much bigger,” he says. “Everything happens in cycles; they come and they go and I imagine they borrow from each other somehow or other.”
I ask him about his own progression as an artist. Wink’s first steps in the industry began as a mobile DJ playing weddings, sweet sixteens and high school parties. As unglamorous as it sounds, he says it taught him to understand a balance that is necessary in his line of career.
“People hire a DJ to entertain and play songs people know. There was a formula to understanding when to put a slow song, when to do the big song, when to take requests…and that was an important part of my development because I got to really know the entertainment aspect of being a DJ.” His dive into the artistic side of things coincided with his transition into playing night clubs and raves. “I got to understand the purpose of a DJ as doing two things: one, having the responsibility of the entertainer, and two, educating the crowd to new music while still giving them a little of what they want. It’s a mixture of playing to a crowd and playing for a crowd.”
Wink says he has mostly been fortunate enough to have the privilege of playing to a crowd. Even on the rare occasion or off-booking that requires more entertaining than educating, Wink maintains it’s all about the balance: “I don’t compromise my integrity or who I am to entertain an audience. I just understand the responsibility of a DJ and that’s an aspect of it.”
His recent release “Talking To You” is a perfect example of that balance. The original mix caters to the big room while the ‘groove mix’ “just kind of grooves, bubbles and happens,” he says. “I don’t really do vocals in terms of songs very much [but] it’s always easier for a track to become an earwig when you have something to draw people into it, and this kind of just worked.” The song has received enormous traction internationally and on the charts. Ironically enough, according to Wink this often seems to be the case. “Most of the music I’ve done that’s had commercial success has been the antithesis of commercial music. I just do my sound and all of a sudden people come to me rather than me going to it.” He compares it to the butterfly situation: “You try to catch the butterfly and you run and run, and then all of a sudden you get zomped out and take a rest and the butterfly sits on your shoulder.”
In a scene that has become simultaneously over-saturated with artists as it has with fans in constant demand of new music, focus is often placed on marketability and adaptability as a means to either make a name or make sure an existing one stays relevant. Wink, however, has never been interested in the rat race:
“I didn’t get into this to make a living, it was just something I really wanted to do and loved, and I ended up making a career out of it pretty much by mistake,” he says. “So many of these DJs are now on the Forbes Top 100 list and it’s really crazy when you realize the money that people are making doing this,” he says. “It’s something that’s very foreign to me, as I got into it for a different reason.” He pauses for a second and laughs. “Don’t get me wrong, though, there’s nothing wrong with following my passion and making a couple extra million dollars, that’s for sure.”
As for changing his sound to fit the current mainstream mold, Wink couldn’t fathom it: “I wouldn’t know what to do; it doesn’t feel natural to me to do or to play what’s trendy and hip, or to have people sing along to the songs that I play. It’s not my thing. I’m still very blessed to be able to do my art after all these years and keep the integrity so true to myself that I feel good.”
It’s an answer given sincerely and from the heart — not because he knows it’ll look good on paper — and that is exactly who Josh Wink is: somebody who accidentally turned his art into a career by following a passion, and who enriched dance music culture across generations by remaining faithful to his own tastes two-and-a-half decades later.