There’s a certain something about Wolfgang Gartner’s music—when you hear it, you just know it’s his. A standout from the start, the California native DJ/producer born Joey Youngman won us over while gigging in the Las Vegas underground and afterhours scenes in 2009. As his catalog grew, so did the number of collaborations, including tracks with Eve, Will.i.am, Deadmau5 and Omarion. Now a Wynn resident playing next at XS on Oct. 21, the Grammy nominee hit pause to discuss his musical evolution with Vegas Seven.
Tracks such as "Clap" and "Bounce" were the jam a few years ago in the underground scene. How would you say your production style has evolved since then?
It’s still me, and I still have my sound that I’ve always had, I just take it to the next level and try to evolve. Basically, just trying to continually improve and maintain my signature sound without repeating myself and without changing so much that I alienate fans.
What prompted the recent Back Story album?
I guess that was Ultra's idea, and my managers thought it would be good because a lot of my fans now haven't heard my older stuff. I was like, "I don't know, I'm not proud of my old stuff." I've grown so much as an artist since then, I don't wanna bring that back, I'm so much more confident and happy with my more recent work. But they helped me realize that I wasn't looking at it objectively. So many of my fans love that stuff. In retrospect I realize how smart it was, why it worked, and it also tells the story of my evolution as an artist. As an artist it's hard to be objective, and you always want people to hear your newest stuff.
From your earlier Las Vegas gigs playing afterhours and Godskitchen at Body English, to now being a resident at the Wynn nightclubs, how would you say the programming of your live sets has changed?
When I was playing [at Godskitchen] it was more of an actual big-music enthusiast, clubber/raver crowd, and I could play my stuff, they liked it, and that’s what they wanted to hear. Now, generally the bigger shows in Vegas you get a varied crowd—obviously my fan base comes out in part—but a greater part of the audience is going to be regular people that are in Vegas to party and wanna hear stuff that they recognize. I have to cater to that crowd a little bit more. I’ll play my stuff, but I’ll throw in stuff for those people, too; tracks that they recognize, bigger dance tracks. [Sebastian Ingrosso and Alesso’s] "Calling" is a perfect example: Huge dance track, everybody knows it, it’s totally commercial now, but I love the track. I don’t play that anywhere except Vegas.
Do you have another LP of original material in the works?
I have no idea if I’m going to do an album; I haven’t decided yet. I have a few more tracks coming out on Ultra and I don’t know if it’ll be a three-track EP, or if it’ll be a single and then EP or whatever. One is a vocal track, so it might be a single. We don’t have any solidified plans as far as those yet. I’m just gonna keep making music and then, as the collection builds, decide what I wanna do.
Any hint as to who the vocalist might be?
I don’t know if I’m allowed to say it yet, so I’m gonna err on the side of caution.
You must have listened to a lot of classical music growing up, right?
Yeah, I’m classically trained. I played classical piano for, like, 10 years, so I didn’t listen to it for fun, but I played it and learned how to play it. I was really good at it and played in competitions and traveled so, yeah, that is a huge part of my musical background.
What are the key audio elements you incorporate to make a Wolfgang Gartner track recognizable?
I don’t know, they’re hard to identify. I guess part it is the sonic quality … One thing I realized is that, in almost everything that I make, I do a lot of “call-and-answer,” where I’ll have an instrument that does something, then it stops, then another instrument hits and it’s like one is talking to the other. Basically it’s like two voices having a conversation. I also do a lot of start/stop stuff, where at the end of something, I’ll just stop and have complete silence just for a millisecond and throw in a tiny li’l glitch, then start again. But not enough so that it’s glitchy and throws off people on the dance floor, just enough so that it changes things up and keeps it from being monotonous.
Genre labels are a necessary evil in music, and you’ve repeatedly been cited as the originator of “complextro.” What are your feelings regarding that term?
I would like to go on record and say that I absolutely hate the term complextro. I think I’m being pretty honest here. The term was coined to describe my music. Maybe a journalist or some fan did it, and it caught on. The last time I was on my Wikipedia page it said some people consider my style complextro—I mean, as legit as Wikipedia is [laughs]. Then other people started following suit, doing what I was doing and it became this trend in electro-house, this sort of complicated, intricate electro. Good examples of my songs people would consider complextro would be “Fire Power,” “Wolfgang’s 5th Symphony,” “Hook Shot”—things with lots of edits and all over the place: complex. I definitely don’t do that sound anymore; I’ve kinda gone the other direction and a bit more simplistic. I also don’t like to be associated [with complextro] because people are still trying to cling on to that sound and still make it. Some fans want me to keep making “Fire Power” over and over and over again.
I hate labels, but like you said, they’re necessary and I agree that they’re necessary. I even don’t like the label electro-house. I like to think of myself as making house music, and some of it is more electro-y. That Casual Encounters [of the 3rd Kind] EP I just put out, “Girl on Girl” is a straight-up disco-house track, but it got put in the electro-house category and people overlooked it. I make house music and that’s the bottom line—sometimes it sounds a little more this direction, sometimes it sounds a little more that direction—but it’s all house music at the end of the day.