Danny Wolfers is one of the most fascinating recording artists working in the world today. Based in The Hague, he’s an integral part of the close-knit, world-renowned italo/electro scene centred around Guy Tavares’ Bunker Records and I-F’s Intergalactic FM (formerly CBS), but over the past thirteen years he’s very much pursued his own muse.
Though he achieved a massive crossover hit in the shape of ‘Disco Rout’, which was licensed by Cocoon in 2002 and became an electroclash anthem, Wolfers has always been too clever and chameleon-like to become a commodity. With Legowelt and especially his Polarius project he has sought to distill and enhance the very essence of Chicago house music, updating the raw, box jam aesthetic for modern ears and dancefloors; the recent Slompy Jitt EP summons the spirit of Ron Trent in its bumping, symphonic bluster. His live shows are the stuff of legend, the solitary performer surrounded by synths and analogue hardware More recently Wolfers has adopted the Nacho Patrol guise to explore his interest African music and psychedelic jazz; having already released the Futuristic Abeba 12″, one of this year’s most unusual and essential 12″s, this month he brings out the second Nacho Patrol album to date, Africa Jet Band.
It’s not just Legowelt and Nacho Patrol though. Wolfers has made music under a truly bewildering number of assumed names, each of them allowing him to express a slightly different aspect of his musical personality. Though a veteran of such revered labels as Bunker, Clone and Creme Organization, much of Wolfers’ most interesting work has appeared on his own Strange Life label. Specialising in affordable CD-R albums, Strange Life has release no less than 30 albums since 2004, and a staggering 18 of them are by Wolfers himself. Strange Life records have a definite hauntological quality, though the aesthetic is more playful and straightforward than that of, say, Ghost Box. Wolfers is obsessed with mysteries of all kinds, from cold war spy yarns to schlocky horror movies and cop shows, and each album on Strange Life is accompanied by a loose backstory and evocative artwork – they are all imaginary soundtracks. The thematic range of these textually rich records is delightful, from Legowelt’s Amiga Railroad Adventures (“a tribute to British railroad romantics”) and Franz Falckenhaus’s Stories From My Cold War through to Florenza Mavelli’s Italian giallo-style Special Brigade; Manuel Noriega and Klaus Kinski are just two of the historical figures who Wolfers has celebrated on record. Musically, the Dutch producer veers from driving Carpenter and Goblin-inspired synth themes to dissonant Morricone-style funk and gorgeous, tape-saturated ambience. Every Wolfers recording is immediately recognisable as such, and yet no two are the same.
At the heart of all these projects – Phalangius, Venom 18, Salamandos, Danny Blanco, Polarius and Raheem Hershel are a mere smattering of the names Wolfers operates under – is the synthesizer, in all its numerous incarnations. Wolfers is an absolute synth freak, and a staggering array of analogue and digital equipment is deployed in the service of his art, as we shall hear from the man himself. In the week that the Nacho Patrol album hits stores, we caught up with Danny for a chat about that project and his musical life in general. At the end of the Q&A you’ll find FACT’s guide to the ten essential Wolfers recordings…
Tell us about Nacho Patrol. What’s special or different about this project?
“Well, it all sort of started as a joke. I had bought this Sola Color Sound wah-wah pedal, a really good wah-wah effect from the 70s from England. I made some tracks with that pedal, feeding synths through it, playing them like a guitar and playing dusty organ sounds over that. I compressed the hell out of it and I thought, well, that’s cool. I made a whole bunch of those tracks in one day – I guess all the tracks for the Kindred Spirits 12” Futuristic Abeba and the Minimal Rome album Maze of Violence were made in one or two days. I never thought somebody would release them and I put them on the old CBS blog as a kind of joke, saying that they were from the 70s from Ethiopia…with a fake record cover and background story, like some music blog people do when they discover records and write a little story about it and put the mp3 online. I guess some people really thought it was from the 70s ’cause it started to appear on other blogs! Some people of course knew it was me…”
How did you hook up with Kindred Spirits for the Futuristic Abeba release? What about M-Division [who release the new Nacho Patrol LP, Africa Jet Band?
“Kindred Spirits asked me if I did those tracks and if they could release it so I thought well that’s cool of course! And M-Division from Australia: I know the guy who runs it fairly well, so I gave him some tracks that Kindred Spirits didn’t want to release. The tracks on Africa Jet Band are less jazzy, more electronic funky or something, a bit more Loft-style I guess…I wanted to make tracks in the style of ‘Aeo’ by Brian Briggs; of course in the end they didn’t sound like that at all.”
Do you use different production methods for each of your aliases and projects?
“Yes, or else everything would sound the same I think! It’s also that certain projects I want to sound like they’re from a certain era or something, so I only use the stuff they had in that era, sort of. A thing that I can do is use different mixers, like a really cheap 30euro one, an Inkel MX995 – it’s got built-in delay but sounds really warm. I used that for Nacho Patrol for example. For the Smackos album Pacific Northwest Sasquatch Research I put everything through an old english Watkins copycat tape delay, but that thing is a bit shifty with the electricity, it tends to blow up all the fuses. For different projects I record on tape, use different sequencers or sometimes no sequencers at all and play everything by hand – for example the Phalangius Cambridge Library Murders album was made with a Juno 6 without any external sequencers, I played arpeggios and multi-tracked strings and melody parts over it. When I buy a new machine for the studio I always kind off have an idea what I am gonna use it for and what project. I just bought this Tascam Portasound 4-track cassette thing which has a distinct sound and a different way of working then some other stuff I have, so you probably will hear that in some future project. For Nacho Patrol I used old guitar effects like the Color Sound wahwah pedal andElectro Harmonix envelope filters and feed it through guitar amps andstuff like that….basically Nacho Patrol wouldn’t have existed if Ihadn’t bought that wahwah pedal…”
You’re known for your love of old analogue hardware, butI’ve read also that you like digital synths. Can you tell us a bit more?
“Ilike all synths, if it works I use it. I love my Kawai K1 as much as myJupiter 8. After a while every analogue synth sounds the same more orless, because they always use the same method of substractivesynthesis. Some 80s and 90s digital synths which are so cheap now canproduce really nice, complex sounds that you can never achieve with an analogue one.”
Has African music and afro-jazz been a big influence on you, something you’re interested in?
“Yes, I like a lot of Afro funk fuzz psych from the 70s. A lot of that stuff is really DIY and raw. I like that they use a lot of those fuzz wah-wah envelope filter boxes and cheap synthesizers and they just play the craziest melodies over it; it’s much more outgoing and less timid than western stuff, even though I guess wit a lot of that afro-funk stuff they were trying to copy western stuff. The results are so different.”
You’ve played some Nacho Patrol live shows, right? How have they gone?
“I guess they went OK. Sometimes I play with a band, there’s this guy called Jimmy Helinga who plays the Minimoog, Marc Alberto who does saxophone and we had Martijn Hzlz who played guitar – but he moved out of Holland so we don’t have the guitar anymore. Its much more improvised and jazzier or something with the band. When I play alone as Nacho Patrol it’s more electronic-orientated but I still have the Wah-wah pedal and put the synths through it.”
What inspired you to start making music all those years ago?
“In the early 90s I heard all these cool things on the radio, Detroit stuff, UR, Chicago house and of course Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works 85-92 – when I heard that I just wanted to make electronic music.
You do a regular show on Intergalactic FM – tell us a bit about it.
“It’s called Astro Unicorn and its every Thursday evening. I just play a bunch of music tell something about it or sometimes I have a synthesizer and play it and tell something about that synthesizer. Now and then there are also live guests and I interview them and stuff.” [You can download past episodes here and grab the tracklists here.]
You’re originally from Scheveningen [the beach area of The Hague]. How would you say it’s impacted you, your music, your attitudes to life?
“I dunno, maybe because it’s a coastal place with lots of nice secret nature spots…I live right next to (by Dutch standards) a big nature park where you can hike in solitude and see some really nice, inspiring nature things. In the summer it really sucks here because its a very touristic spot and every idiot goes to the beach and then I tend to stay inside and just make music, but in the winter it can be pretty desolate.”
Tell us about the artwork for Africa Jet Band – it looks great.
“It’s made by a girl from Melbourne, K. Renowden or something. Apparently she didn’t know it was for a vinyl label and made a giant life-size painting. Its got a Air Afrique Sud Aviation Caravelle on it that’s pretty cool.”
Do you always use the same artist or artists for your releases? Which is your favourite sleeve design?
“Most of the strangelife releases are done by Molly Curtin AKA Kongshuttle, she did the Phalangius Cambridge Library Murders cover – I think that’s one of my favourites.”
Aviation language and imagery is all over your records. Where does your interest in aircraft stem from?
“Well, in my mind I’m a little boy, I like stuff like like playing Flight Simulator, building model aircraft…I guess for me flying is still a romantic, death-defying experience, something contradicting the laws of physics…”
Mysteries and strange narratives are a big part of your work. Did you watch a lot of weird TV/movies when you were young?
“It comes from all things, surroundings mixed with old memories, from TV/movies or adventures or computer games or whatever…”
Listening to your Strange Life material, it’s easy to draw comparisons with the “hauntological” electronics of the Ghost Box label, artists like The Focus Group and Belbury Poly. Do you listen to any of these guys or feel any affinity with them?
“I know Belbury Poly but I haven’t heard The Focus Group, I shall check it out. But yeah, I like that music: it’s very England rural-style mixed with those ancient BBC memories or something…”
Any forthcoming Danny Wolfers and/or Strange Life releases you can tell us about?
“Yeah, there is a lot coming out on Strange Life. A DMX Krew album with stuff he made in the 90s and 2000s: it’s very BBC theme, library music-style or something. Also a guy from the mysterious province of Asturias in Spain called Vagon Brei who makes really nice ambient stuff, and Ian Martin, a guy from Rotterdam with very dark, almost Coil-style stuff. And then there is a new album from Rome’s Heinrich Dressel, with lots of giallo-style Italian soundtrack stuff made on the Elka Synthex synthesizers. As for my own releases, there is some stuff coming out on labels here and there.”
10 ESSENTIAL DANNY WOLFERS RECORDS
01: LEGOWELT – REPORTS FROM THE BACKSEAT PIMP (GOLDCOAST CD-R, 1998)
Wolfers’ first commercially released album, and an early demonstration of his preoccupations: raw Chicago house, fruity electro and imagery borrowed from shlocky fictions of the 70s and 80s.
02: SQUADRA BLANCO – NIGHT OF THE ILLUMINATI (HOLOSYNTHESIS LP, 2001)
Horror-infused synth outing which is Wolfers’ most explicit homage to the soundtrack work of John Carpenter and Goblin.
03: LEGOWELT – ‘DISCO ROUT’ (COCOON 12″, 2002)
This strident, stream-lined electro-disco jam was picked up for release by Cocoon and proved a huge crossover club hit in the electroclash era.
04: POLARIUS – JAMS IN THE KEY OF SMACK (BUNKER 12″, 2002)
Lo-fi Chicago acid jams, no nonsense.
05: LEGOWELT – KLAUS KINSKI EP (BUNKER 12″, 2002)
Who else would dedicate an EP to troubled genius / out-and-out madman Klaus Kinski, Werner Herzog’s muse and the star of Fitzcarraldo?
06: LEGOWELT – CLASSICS 1998-2003: A SELECTION OF TRACKS FROM THE ARCHIVE BUNKER (BUNKER CD/LP, 2003)
Seminal, currently out-of-print compilation collecting early Wolfers Box Jams recorded for legendary Hague techno label Bunker Records.
07: SMACKOS – COMPUTER DAY (STRANGE LIFE CD-R, 2007)
Wolfers’ favourite of his own releases, and perhaps the definitive Strange Life release. A suite of warm but ghost-ridden synthscaping which soundtracks the story of a computer game programmer and his connection to a series of missing persons in smalltown USA.
08: PHALANGIUS – THE CAMBRIDGE LIBRARY MURDERS (STRANGE LIFE CD-R, 2007)
A celebration of the allure of the vintage English murder mystery, this release wouldn’t sound out of place on the Ghost Box label. Titles like ‘Snowman Theorem’, ‘Aulton Marsh’ and ‘Falklands Flashback: Assault on Goose Green’ give you an idea of the aesthetic territory we’re dealing with.
09: NACHO PATROL – FUTURISTIC ABEBA EP (KINDRED SPIRITS 12″, 2009)
Mind-blowing afro-jazz variations with wah-wah at the fore. A formal follow-up, replete with Hudson Mohawke remix, is reportedly on the way.
10: LEGOWELT – AMIGA RAILROAD ADVENTURES (STRANGE LIFE CD-R, 2009)
The most recent Legowelt album, and arguably one of the best ever, this Kraftwerkian tribute to “British railway romantics” and “Amiga computing cosiness” is a truly sumptuous listen.