Danny Wolfers, aka LEGOWELT, has been releasing his own brand of electronica for nearly a decade now, and his uniquely analogue sound has brought him plaudits galore and releases on some of the biggest European techno labels too. After his blistering live set at this summer's Robot Disco Terror party in Glasgow, I was lucky enough to get a chance to pick the brain of this mysterious man...
What does Legowelt mean?
It means “World of Lego”.
Is it the translation for Legoland?
No, it’s Lego world. That is like a land, this is a world, you know? In theory it doesn’t have anything to do with Lego blocks, with the toy. More like the music, to play with the blocks of music, or something like that!
How did you get into making music?
When I was like 12 or something I got a synthesizer, and I just wanted to make music to the records I bought. It seemed pretty easy at first, I thought.
What were the records you were listening to, and when was this?
In like 1992 or 1993. Well, there was like Chicago, acid, and just generally house and techno. It was becoming famous then because they played it on the radio here in the early Nineties. Stuff from Detroit, slowly those records were coming here, like the second Detroit wave of… something!
What were your favourite records from that period?
Ah… well… there were quite a lot, I think Underground Resistance “Final Frontier” No.3 and what else… like Farley Jackmaster Funk stuff, and also stuff from the Hague that was being released for the first time, like Unit Moebius, and Utrechts, there was a Dutch label from Utrecht, which has been defunct for years, but it was a nice label with Random Access and the Connection Machine, and all kinds of good stuff released on there.
So when did you first have your music released?
Oh, well that would be in 1998, something like that. Well, I did a cassette in like 1996 or something, cos we still had cassettes, you could release those. But my first vinyl 12” was in 1998. And my first CD release was also 1998. That was “Reports from the Back Seat Men” which was also re-released on vinyl in 2002 or 2003. That was on Bunker Records from the Hague.
How did you meet up with them?
Well, because I was living in the same city and stuff, I sent them a demo tape, and it was the time of Unit Moebius and all this, and we saw each other at parties and it just happened…
Did you put the cassette out yourself?
Yes, I just dub copied the cassettes, it was a common thing to do back then.
How many did you sell?
Yeeeah, I dunno… couple of hundred or something?
That’s not bad!
No, no definitely not, but over a long time span probably, back then. It was called “Space Force”.
And have you seen any of them on Ebay since, maybe going for a lot of money?
No, well, I dunno, I never check that stuff, I don’t have Ebay myself so I don’t know what’s going on there. So I guess that if somebody has it wants to sell it it can be there, but I dunno…
You don’t seem to care that much.
Well, yeah, I don’t have to buy my own releases of course because I already have them. And I don’t like buying stuff on Ebay, because, well, I just don’t like it. They have to send it from outside the country and it’s always a hassle for me.
How did you get your particular sound?
Well, through many different influences, it’s kind of a journey you take or something, you start to listen to other music and that’s what your influences are, but I started with the base of old techno and house, mainly from the US of course, from Detroit and Chicago, and they were influenced by disco and Italo and electronic music too. But I didn’t know that music too well yet when I started listening to them. There were DJs here like I-F that would play that other stuff, and there were other people who had other records and you listen to it and you think “Oh yeah, I’m gonna try that”.
So do you think disco and Italo has been a big influence on you?
Hmmm…I guess so… I dunno! My records are always more like Chicago techno. As for Italo I don’t think as much as people, especially the press, say sometimes, especially when they don’t know something. Like for example something I really hate is when I have a new record out and it’s in an internet shop or something, and it has a review and it says “Classic Italo Disco sound” or something, when it’s like a total Drexciya style electro record. Sometimes people don’t listen, or they don’t know, or they don’t care, I dunno! Ha… I just wanted to say that!
And what about electro?
Also a lot I think, but it’s difficult to say how much, because it comes from all kinds of little music styles, you know. But electro has always been very big here in the Hague. I think especially in the mid-Nineties, electro was bigger than Italo disco, because here in the Hague it’s very tightly connected, everything. So yeah, electro was a big influence then.
What about clubs in the Hague – did you go out much?
Yeah there were always parties and stuff. I didn’t go out that much here cos it’s pretty rough, but there was always a party or something, and that’s where you saw people like I-F play all different types of records and B-sides I liked. And that was nice, but the whole thing wasn’t really about “clubbing”.
You’ve been playing a lot live, but first I’ll start by asking what do you use when you play a live set?
I use a lot of modern cheap equipment, like quite cheap stuff from the big brands, and old drum machines and stuff. Mostly stuff that is expendable and cheap, because it has to go on the road and it always breaks down and things. Stuff that is quite easy to play on, like Roland PR707 and several Yamaha sequencers, like the little grey one, the QY7P and lots of drum machines. It all depends on where I am playing, and if I can bring some stuff in a car like synthesizers, but mostly it’s cheap modern groove boxes.
How is that different to what you have in your studio?
Well mostly in my studio I work with synthesizers which are quite old and would probably break down if you moved them a few centimeters, so that’s the difference. When I play live it’s more because I play in clubs where people dance, to dance music, and that’s why I’m there, to make people dance, and that’s my mission. You can play soundtrack stuff in a club at 3am, but you ain’t gonna get booked anymore!
So how is the touring going?
I’ve just come back form a tour of America, last week. It was really nice, we played in Philadelphia, New York, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Chicago. They like it very much, the freaks that come to see it, you know, there’s a small freak scene everywhere that likes the sound, and they go crazy!
How have you been finding playing in Europe?
That’s nice too, it depends a bit on what country and stuff…
Which would be your favourite?
Um, that difficult… I like Sweden always, especially Ireland and Scotland are good, and ooh… of course Holland is nice to play. You know in a certain country there can be a good party and there can be a bad party. So I’m always careful to say which countries are good, because it can always be different.
Any bad ones you stay away from?
Hmm… No! Haha, you know I don’t have that particular bad country. Belarus maybe. I’ve never been there, but it’s a dictatorship.
You’re running your own record label Strange Life at the moment, how is it going?
Yeah, it’s going pretty well, it’s quite unknown to the public but there have been eight releases so far, and there’s one coming out within 2 weeks, I hope. It’s a CD album of electronic music from the Eighties made by a Dutch guy that has never been released before. But it sounds very interesting, like a cross between Vangelis and old electronic minimal wave and YMO and things like that, but very raw production and recording. It’s called SCD, and the title will be “Songs from 1981 to 1987”. That’s gonna be a CD with 20 tracks.
What’s the difference between stuff you do for Strange Life and for Bunker?
Well, I wouldn’t make the distinction with Bunker. But it is more experimental maybe, so some of the 12”s I am releasing on my own label are not experimental at all, but the CDs I put out are more like soundtrack, ambient tracks, and you know there are not that many labels that would take the risk of releasing that stuff. I also do it on CD because it is really listening music for the living room or the car, you know? So the 12”s, that’s more what DJs can play in the club, like a bit Chicago house style, or Drexciyan Detroit techno, stuff like that.
What other names do you record under?
There’s Smackos which is the soundtrack shit I put out on my own label, there was Quatro Blanco, which is more like a modern music style, and there’s Solomonbos, which is Chicago house style, and there’s Gladio, which is Roman Empire techno, -
There’s quite a lot!
Yeah, there is!
And how do you decide on different projects and different names?
That is just a concept you will know, you know? And also different machines are used for different styles, so for Smackos it’s pretty easy to hear the difference, and that’s recorded without Midi, without computers. You just do it with mutli track tape, and played live using arpeggios and sequencers and stuff. Legowelt is recorded behind a massive 32 track desk, with drum machines ready and stuff, and then Polarius is just a drum machine with a little sampler.
What would your main soundtrack influences be?
Of course there’s John Carpenter, and a Dutch guy called Dick Maas who made some really good soundtracks. And then there’s Tangerine Dream, and Angelo Badalamenti… But especially John Carpenter. But also I was very influenced by a CD from England from a couple of years ago, that was by the Future, and it was old Human League tracks. It was called “the Golden Hour of the Future”, and that is one of my favourite CDs ever because it is really raw. When I hear that I think that is how electronic music should sound. The tracks on there are amazing!
Any particular films?
Yeah, John Carpenter of course, all of them, but before the Nineties though.
Even the really rock stuff, like Big Trouble in Little China?
Yeeeah… that’s just a good movie, I wouldn’t say the soundtrack is that great! Then there are the Italian movies. Of course, the Italian soundtrack guys I forgot to say like Fabbio Frizzi, Goblin, stuff like that, Claudio Simonettit, I like that too.
I heard you have done a soundtrack. Can you tell me about it??
It was a small film by two girl directors here in the Hague, and they made a little movie about the bear that escaped form the zoo in the Eighties in the Cold War. The Bear tries to contact some spy… It’s a very atmospheric movie and I made the soundtrack for that, it’s called “Elephanten Boots”. I don’t think you can buy it but it was in the Rotterdam film festival last year and this year. But they haven’t put it out on DVD. You can’t buy the soundtrack either. Maybe I will release it on my own label, yeah maybe that’s a good thing to do actually!
How is the scene in the Hague?
Yeah, it’s very quiet and nice. I dunno how it is really! I’d rather sit at home and watch TV or something. There’s sometimes a bar or a place I like though, we have one here called Zahara, which is quite close, and every Sunday there’s DJs from the Cybernetic Broadcasting System, so I go there sometimes.
Do you listen to much modern music?
Modern music… yeah… maybe some ambient, but I don’t know much about it. I’ve bought some Detroit records I like, and some stuff coming in from Chicago right now, like Jamal Moss, it’s ok, and James T Cotton. There some nice stuff everywhere, I can’t say I really like something just because it’s new.
OK. what about stuff you really dislike?
Yeah, well, that’s most of the music I hear in clubs, frankly. I can say that, yeah. It’s like that because most of the stuff that’s played in clubs is uninspired bullshit, you know? Fantasy less crap, and that’s especially with what they call techno today or what they call house or whatever, seldomly I hear a good track. When I was in the US there’s a DJ called DJ Traxx and he’s the best DJ in the world, nobody can play like him, nobody has the records he plays. And when you see that you know what the fuck is going on in other clubs in Europe. They don’t know shit, it’s about nothing when you hear that guy play. Every time he plays people are cheering all the time can going crazy and he mixes like three records for ten minutes with crazy melodies, and then when I am back in some club in Europe they play some stupid minimal record by some idiot producer that earns, I dunno 20,000 Euros! I’ve heard a record from Germany that was, I won’t name it, but it was a pretty big hit in the minimal scene, that was just a preset, a preset from the Korg Electribe machine! He recorded the preset pattern, and you’re allowed to do that, but he said “yeah that’s my track”, and the whole four bar melody was from the preset pattern!
So what are your plans for the rest of the year?
Yeah, well I’m always playing most of the time. Tommorrow I go to Dublin, it’s always nice. It’s for Simon Conway, he runs a shop there called Selectah, he’s a nice guy. On Friday I do the soundtrack thing with the girls who made the film, in a museum in Utrecht. I do it live with the synthesizers, it’s only for half an hour. And on Saturday we do a CBS party with I-F, DJ Overdose, Electrognome, and I do the soundtrack stuff there too.
Hmm, have you been doing the soundtrack/live thing much?
No, it’s just a coincidence that it’s two times in one week! I don’t do it that much.
ISM(infinitestatemachine): What did you do first, deejaying or production?
AOS(Alex Smith): Deejaying, in the basement.
ISM: You were born in Detroit, right?
AOS: Hell yeah.
ISM: How old were you when you started deejaying?
AOS: Like 12. I was playing all that early Chicago shit, you know, like Farley (Jackmaster Funk) and shit like that.
ISM: So where did you hear that music initially?
AOS: My older sister, my older brother, my cousin. They grew up back in the early 80’s, they heard all that shit, when it first started.
ISM: Were they going out to clubs in Detroit?
AOS: L’Uomo, shit like that. I can’t remember the other ones. That was the biggest one, L’Uomo.
ISM: So you were just a little kid, and you heard what they were listening to?
AOS: Yep, I was real young.
ISM: Was there also an influence from Chicago? I can hear it in your tracks…
AOS: Yeah, that was the stuff back then. You know, WBMX, GCI you know, I had those cassette tapes.
ISM: Where did you get the tapes from?
AOS: Anybody had ‘em, my cousins.. They were going down there to get them, alot of people were going down there and getting them, they’d just tape ‘em off the radio while they were there.
ISM: Were you also into hip-hop when you were young?
AOS: All that stuff was new, everybody was listening to that. House music and rap music back in the 80’s. They both kinda got big at the same time.
ISM: Were alot of your friends into dance music at the time?
AOS: I was the only one, myself.
ISM: Who were your influences in deejaying?
AOS: Back in the 80′S, Jackmaster Farley was the man. And Silk Hurley. We ain’t know about Ron Hardy, all the rest of these guys from Chicago, and Larry Levan. Like Francois (K.), I didn’t know Francois mixed “Beat the Street” (by Sharon Redd) and all the rest of these records. I didn’t find that shit out till like last year.
ISM: So when was the first time you deejayed for other people, at a club or on the radio?
AOS: I’ve never played on the radio! I did some shit back in New York back in ‘93. My sister’s boyfriend threw alot of parties and shit, I just went there and did some shit there, that was about it.
ISM: What kind of things were you playing at that time?
AOS: Uh… I don’t know, what was I playing? Masters at Work, shit like that. Chez Damier, Ron Trent shit, know what I’m saying? Back when Masters at Work was sweet…
ISM: Not like they are now…
AOS: Naw, hell naw!
ISM: There’s no interviews with you in English as of now, right?
AOS: No, there’s not.
ISM: Has anyone else tried to interview you?
AOS: They have, but never shit that’s published.
ISM: Any magazines?
AOS: Naw, they don’t care about this shit over here in America.
ISM: What kind of car are you driving?
AOS: An ‘06 STI… (Subaru)
ISM: Why an import instead of a domestic?
AOS: Just cause… it’s a rally racing car, nobody knows what it is so people don’t wanna steal it, plus it’s fast as hell and you can beat the fuck out of it all day in a race.
ISM: You like to race alot? I read (in a poor Babelfish translation) the article in De:Bug magazine from Germany that you race with Theo Parrish and Mike Banks….
AOS: I don’t know about Mad Mike, they always be throwin’ shit in. Basically, I just go out by the airport, there’s alot of people back there. As far as Theo, yeah he be racing and shit.
ISM: How has your deejaying been accepted over in Europe?
AOS: Oh, they really like it over there. They love that shit. I just got back from Fabric, they said they never seen the room as packed as when I was over there.
ISM: What do you think of the new “minimal techno” that is so popular in Europe?
AOS: Yeah, most of that shit is garbage, I don’t really buy records no more, man.
ISM: Which modern artists are you listening to?
AOS: Man, to tell you the truth, I don’t fucking know!
ISM: Yeah, in my opinion, alot of people are just releasing bullshit and no one is telling them about it.
AOS: Yeah, people are making bullshit like Kerri Chandler, shit like that.
ISM: You don’t like some of Kerri’s recent records that have that techno feeling to them?
AOS: Naw, that shit is not techno, that shit is bullshit. Kerri Chandler was sweet as fuck, you know what I’m sayin’? Put it like this, Kerri Chandler and Carl Craig came out around the same time, right? Carl Craig might have had a couple years off, Carl Craig is still sweet as fuck. Look at Kerri Chandler. Like he came out with that Video Game EP (”Computer Games EP” on Deeply Rooted House), it’s no video game sound effects on it! I didn’t understand, he called it Video Games EP, there’s no type of video game type atmosphere or feeling on that EP.
ISM: Some of your stuff has a definite video game feeling to it…
AOS: Yeah, because I sample all video games! But yeah, there’s alot of that shit going on. Motherfuckers ain’t shit as deejays, neither. That’s why Derrick May is one of the best deejays, know what I’m sayin’? He ain’t made tracks since like 1998, he’s just a good ass fuckin’ deejay.
ISM: You’re into video games, what are your favorite game and system?
AOS: Robotron. For systems, I would probably say the NES. Maybe the (Magnavox) Odyssey 2. Shit like that. The Dreamcast was underrated, then Sega went out of business. Kid Icarus was one of my favorites (games) too. My grandparents owned an arcade back in the 80’s. Stargate, Defender, all that shit when it first came out.
ISM: Has anyone ever contacted you about playing at the DEMF?
AOS: Hell naw, they don’t know who I am, they don’t care. I don’t care neither, fuck ‘em. As long as I’m playing overseas, then just fuck it, you know?
ISM: Do you deejay out much in Detroit?
AOS: Not at all. Detroit is just a bunch of player haters, you know what I’m saying? If you ain’t down with them, you ain’t cool with them. That’s how it is, you know, like some crabs in a barrel type shit. Make sure you print that shit, too. If you ain’t locked onto their dicks then they put you down. A bunch of old player hating ass motherfuckers.
ISM: On your second record (AOS 002), you thank “Rick Wholhite and Mike Huckleby” (sic)…
AOS: I said that because Mike told me not to sell my drum machine, and Rick hooked me up with the distribution.
ISM: Did you misspell their names on purpose or was that accidental?
AOS: Oh naw, I ain’t know how to spell their names, Ron Murphy he ain’t know how to spell their names neither so we said “Fuck it” and wrote it any kind of way.
ISM: A question about your “collaborator” on the Oasis records: who *is* Shadow Ray?
AOS: (Laughing) I don’t know man, I don’t know! Man, I don’t know who that is! Man, you’re Shadow Ray!
ISM: Your records state your preference for using hardware instead of a computer, what make you decide to go that route?
AOS: That shit don’t sound right, it don’t sound the same to me.
ISM: It’s all about the sound?
AOS: That shit is not easy either. For me, I mean, I just don’t like it, you know what I’m sayin’? Fruity Loops, I had that shit before just to fuck around with it, but you know.
ISM: Which hardware do you actually use?
AOS: (Roland) MC-909, shit like that.
ISM: I really liked AOS 006, you had a good variety of sounds on that one.
AOS: 006 was a DJ tool. What people don’t understand, alot of the shit I do is DJ tools. You get some of those stupid ass motherfuckers probably from the suburbs or some shit like that who don’t even know what the fuck he’s talking about, been listening to dance music for like 6 months and shit, ain’t been listening to since back in the 80’s like me, know what I’m saying. You know how those motherfuckers is. Alot of tracks back in the 80’s, like the shit I’m listening to now (turns up car stereo bumping tracky drum machine track), you had to make shit out of it, you could ride shit, you could have one record ridin’ for like 5 minutes and people won’t even fucking know it. Like Oasis 14 is really a DJ tool. But you know what I’m sayin’, you got people like “Is that all the record do?”. Yeah bitch, that’s all the record do. Yep your lazy ass needs to do some other shit with it.
ISM: You sell your records directly from your own website, you even take the orders yourself. Do you sell alot of records like that? What percentage of your total sales are from your site?
AOS: I sell probably like 5%.
ISM: Really? I would have expected it to be higher since you can get them cheaper from you than you can even from a store. But its interesting that you do that because it goes along with your hand-written white label release style, its very DIY…
AOS: Exactly, I mean, I want full control of my music, know what I’m saying. I really don’t do alot of shit with people or labels, doing shit on different record labels and licensing my shit out because basically those people, they don’t give a fuck about you. They just heard the name. That kind of shit. Basically I’m not trying to get ripped off in the long run. If anybody gonna rip me off, I’m gonna rip my own self off.
ISM: You did that joint with Theo and Malik on Sound Signature, and you’ve done stuff on your man Jus-Ed’s label, do you pretty much only work with your friends?
AOS: Yeah, basically yep.
ISM: And you release tracks from other people on your own label. What are you looking for when someone sends you a track?
AOS: I don’t know, just shit that’s really just different, not like anyone else’s shit out here. I’d rather work *with* people but you know, sometimes people come with some shit where it’s like “Damn, that shit is sweet, I’m have to release it”. This guy named Luke, he’s from Detroit, his shit is sweet as fuck… this other kid named Kyle Hall. They came up with some realy wild out different shit, especially Kyle. Also Jason Fine, he lives in California, but he’s from Detroit. He sent tracks to me over the internet. I think Gary at Melodies and Memories introduced me to Seth Troxler, I think that’s how it was. He came over to my house, shit like that.
ISM: Have you ever thought about moving away from Detroit, especially since most of your deejay gigs are overseas?
AOS: No. I mean, I like Switzerland and Berlin, but I would never move.
ISM: In Detroit, do you see a divide between the suburban techno scene and the scene in the city?
AOS: Yeah, I would think so.
ISM: Why do you think that is?
AOS: I don’t think its nothing on the racial type shit, it’s not like that at all in this underground music at all, because people from the suburbs move around people in the suburbs and people in the city move around the city. It’s still possible for them to come together.
ISM: On your myspace page, you posted a rejection letter from DJAX, what other labels did you try to send stuff to before you decided to release your own shit?
AOS: Nervous, Strictly Rhythm, this was like ‘00. Cajual too. They rejected me. I’m kinda glad that they did. You know, when you first start out in the industry, you don’t know shit. I did my own thing. My brother came up to me one day, he said “I know of this guy who cuts records” he read an article, Ron Murphy had an article in the Metro Times, I still got the article somewhere. He said “This guy cuts records”. I made 4 songs real quick, I put them songs together, and he cut ‘em for me.
ISM: Do you get your records pressed at Archer?
AOS: Yeah, Archer is like 1/4 mile from my house.
ISM: Since you’ve become more popular, have any other established record labels come after you for some tracks?
AOS: Yeah a whole lot of people, I reject them. There ain’t enough money in dance to begin with, you know, record sales ain’t shit. I might as well do something myself. I don’t mind helping people out, but I want to work with people.
ISM: Are you interested in using more live instrumentation? Your “Just Ask The Lonely” album had that bit inside the cover about “This album contains No Live Instruments”….
AOS: Exactly, exactly, exactly. You know I just be talking shit, trying to make people mad, know what I’m sayin’?
ISM: Are alot of your comments on your releases just to make people mad?
AOS: Yeah, just to fuck with people. I write nasty letters to people on email, just to get people’s reaction. You know? I don’t mean it, but fuck em, if they get mad, fuck em, I don’t care.
ISM: So when you’re going to work on a track, what are you looking for initially? A mood, an atmosphere, what?
AOS: I mean, people don’t understand, I just put anything together, just make sure it’s got a good mixdown. I don’t go with the same type shit. I just try anything.
ISM: How long do you usually spend on a track?
AOS: I spend a couple minutes and don’t even fuck with it no more. I went to the studio when I was in Berlin a couple weeks ago, I was in the studio for like 4 hours. I ain’t never done no shit like that before.
ISM: Working on just one track?
AOS: Yeah, just one track. I had an engineer too, which I didn’t like. I mean, i like the engineer, I just do all that shit myself. I kinda wanted to go to a studio where there’s alot of shit I don’t have, but I had all the shit they had. And I think they was recording on Cubase or some shit.
ISM: What do you usually record to?
AOS: To minidisc. Trackboard to minidisc.
ISM: How big of a mixing board do you use?
AOS: It’s a 12 track.
ISM: I like how you used the Motown sample (The Supremes “Come See About Me”) on “Day”…
AOS: Alot of people don’t like that song, neither. People in dance music, the only music they like is 70’s and 80’s. They don’t like shit from the 60’s or 50’s. I think I’m the only person in the world in dance music who likes that shit.
ISM: So what upcoming releases do you have in the works?
AOS: I’m doing another Side-Trakx, Vol 2. I’m working on that right now. I have four tracks done, I’m gonna make probably two more.
ISM: I liked the first Side-Trakx, your hip-hop stuff is nice. Have you thought about working with any MC’s?
AOS: Yeah I worked with Jay Dee’s brother, Earl Yancey. I never released the shit. The “Turn-And-Walk-Away” track (from Side-Trakx Volume #1), I did that for him. It just wasn’t the right time, I just put the instrumental shit out.
ISM: Did your Side-Trakx release sell as well as your dance records?
AOS: No, nobody wanted to buy that record off of me. I couldn’t give that record away at first. I only sold like 600 copies of that record.
ISM: How many copies do you usually sell of a release?
AOS: I don’t sell shit but like 1000-1500 records. Some people sell 5000 records, I’m not saying their names. Trust me, I see them in Archer, trust me.
AOS: “ROLAND TR-626-707-727, AND EMU-DRUMLATOR.I HAVE TONS & TONS MORE SHIT THEN THIS.”
AOS: “KORG VC-10 Vocoder in brand new condition!!, Dave Smith-Poly Evolver, Derrick
May’s Memory Moog he let me use, 1 out of 2 Roland-MC-909,1 out of 2 Korg MS 20, Derrick May’s Waldorf Micro Q, and AKAI MPC 2000.”