Peacefrog, Chicago, Asphasia - These are the words that come to you when you think of Wyndell Long. Long-standing Chicago producer and DJ, now based in Homewood, IL, a small village in Cook County, has been actively releasing music since the early 90's. He's pretty much seen it all and took the time to talk to us about the state of the music industry in the US, analog vs. digital, turntable spinning vs. Traktor, his view on producing and sampling and some other things as well.
Early in the evening for me, I work through the night. It's normal sleep time here but I'm not a morning person. I do most of my work after 6pm till 8am and then do my running around and whatever in the afternoon.
Neighbors don't mind the noise? I'm assuming you produce in that interval.
I work on stuff on my headphones then I'll mix it down in the early evening hours. It's nice cause I end up with a stack of work that I can go back to and finish up later on, usually in bunches. Take a fresh approach to music.
So it's a 2 part process for you.
Yeah. When I had all hardware I had to get it done while the gear was on cause it was too much trouble trying to save patches for 15 different pieces of hardware, but with Reason I can open something I did a year ago and it comes up just where I left it. Plus the sounds are way better than what I had when I was all hardware in the 90s and early 2000's.
So you've completely switched from hardware? No more tinkering with machines at all?
Nah. No point to it. Software has the goods for me, especially if you have an audio engineering background. You can route things to get the desired sound you want. I imagine it's even better with something like Live or Pro Tools with VSTs. But I still approach music like it's hardware, which is why Reason works best for me.
What was the first one you tried? DAWs (Digital Audio Workstation) I mean.
I started out with an Amiga 500 +, Dr. T's KCS, way back, then moved to Sonar along with GIGAsampler which I ran on another computer which was MIDI's up. Everything was mixed down to DAT or minidisc. Oh, wait, I used Logic on the PC before it went to Mac, then went to Sonar for a few months and didn't like it. Tried all of them, Cubase, N-Track Studio, Live, then Reason. Decided on Reason. It made 'sense' to my head. I did enjoy Logic but I didn't use 1/3 of the stuff you could use in it. Sonar was too bloated, nice mixing screen though. I found that with my personal sample library and loops I could get any kind of sound I wanted from Reason. The Amiga was a blast too. Al those EPs I got done with it: Primate, Peacefrog, etc. Pretty amazing.
Speaking of sampling, I know you're a fan of chopping up old records and instantly making hooks out of them. Last year a track came out from a Romanian producer that sampled your track Asphasia. It was a pretty big deal in Romania and in other places as well. After that people caught on about the sampling bit and didn't really appreciate it. How did you feel about that?
Sampling is a two sided beast. Back when hip hop was in its prime in the 90's, I looked up to all the producers. They were making these incredible beats. They took bits and pieces of what they wanted and made new songs from those bits and pieces, adding their own drums or changing the sequence of a sample. Some guys just took entire parts of a song and just stuck new drums on top. To the listener it was all new, they had no idea where the music came from. Some thought that the rap producer must have made the music. As sampling became more and more popular, you saw the decline of 'real musicians' in popular music. So on one side you have a new way of making music that is legal, even though it shouldn't be. And that's the other side of it, now anyone can copy and paste whatever they like and call it their own. Copyright laws mean absolutely nothing unless you have a property that makes millions. For musicians anything is fair game, there is not much you can do about it. I think sampling has made some people 'musicians' who have no business being called 'musicians'.
But you can't really say something like that if you have produced music in the last 15 years because you know you have sampled many things to make your own music. I hear kids call Kanye West this generations Stevie Wonder, which I think is absurd, but from their perspective they are right. Today's rules are different. Most music studios and music gear shops are selling instruments full of pads. No one wants to learn how to play chords on a keyboard.
Some guy sitting in his studio trying to come up with a funky bassline - hey look, a Peacefrog record from the 90's, no one is going to figure this out, let me shoplift it, and poof... big track, no work. What can you do? Absolutely nothing.
Even though, like you said, the price of digital producing is the over easiness of coming up with a track due to the huge number of samples and presets, lots of new producers nowadays are drawn to analog and hardware, looking up to the people who used to make tracks using 808s, 909s, Moogs and everything in between. Do you think there's still a future in producing in that fashion? Even combining the two worlds?
Depends on what kind of music you do and the business model of said music. I realized years ago techno was going to shit in a hurry. So I had to think in terms of what is the cheapest way to get my hands on great sounds plus what kind of system will allow me to have total recall of projects I do, meaning I need to have great archiving because a client might want to work with something I did 3 years ago, I have to be able to load it up and work on it. Youth is also a factor. I find when you get older, time speeds up. Just something that happens. To deal with that you have to be very efficient at how you balance your time. Analog is nice, but for me sitting up trying to program sounds on 5 different synths is something I can't afford. Kids today do not care where your sounds come from. They also have lost a lot of "the listening ear" in the process. Last years Grammy winning song "Royals" from Lorde had the sound of a demo version of FL Studio version 2 along with a sure SM58 microphone. Now I know the song was probably recorded in a nice studio somewhere, but really, you can get that kind of sound in a decent bathroom with a 2007 Macbook and $99 mic if you have an engineer who knows what he/she are doing.
So I have to be careful about over extending myself. I write songs and I do instrumentals for vocalists. I can't afford 3 Moogs, 2 Nord leads, the latest Korg and Roland beasts.
Something else happened too: accessibility. Everyone has everything now when it comes to software. I think that's why hardware might be making a comeback. There's only so many Omnisphere and Native Instrument sounds a producer can take right? Techno and House were always about exploring sound, more so Techno. So I can see the hardware and software world coming together for that. For me it doesn't make sense anymore because there is no money in techno, and I really do like having just a little money to spend in life. Perhaps if there was a better business model then I would look into scooping up a Korg Prophecy or something like that off of Ebay to add to the studio.
Thing is I admire the people who are hands on with hardware. I look up a lot of performance videos on Youtube. It's nice to see music in its raw form. I simply had to move on to things that made more sense to me for what I do now.
So you're pretty much over Techno. Do you still DJ?
I still listen to a lot of techno, mostly DJ mixes and Youtube channels. I still DJ as well. Just did a couple of mixes today.
The move to digital actually saved me. I was starting to lose my interest in DJing because everything I was seeing was saying: "Move on dude, no one gives a shit about Chicago".
There were very few DJs playing what I think is real techno out there. I really don't see any new "brothers" playing techno, other than Nina Kravitz. But after selling my Denon decks and moving to Traktor I felt the joy of spinning again. The thing is mixing with Traktor, if you have a history with vinyl and beat matching, the shit is so easy now, it's like a vacation. Now on one hand that means anyone with Microsoft Excel type skills can be a DJ and the music is like buying a new pack of gum at the store now. On the other hand if you know what you are doing, you can make digital a wonderful medium for jacking shit up. Techno as a music will always be 'alive'. I'm more frustrated with 'the scene' or whatever you would like to call it. All this sissy shit that gets top billing now. It's absurd - the charts, what they call techno? Its elevator music now.
The best shit is being released on vinyl only labels, which I also hate. That "we're so cool' bullshit that we are going to keep our music even more of a secret by making sure people in the modern world can't get their hands on our shit. Really backwards Jurassic type thinking. I also hear some nice stuff on Soundcloud, unknown guys who are banging out good shit when they get off work. But this modern scene of the Tommorowlands, the Boiler Rooms, the ENTERS and EXITS, you can have it. It's all about "Look at me, I'm a DJ!". The focus isn't on the music at all. A lot of these DJs want to cut up and chop up great original tracks from artists. For what? What is a DJ? You work hard on the perfect 5 minute track. You hand it out and Chris Liebing gets it and says: "I'll play it and support you". You tune in to the podcast and you hear your shit looped up with Liebing puking all over it with snare rolls and silly shit like that and you're thinking to yourself: "Time to polish up the old resume and look for a good day job".
Techno will always be close to my heart, I just refuse to get into all this 'VIP club' bullshit they have now.
Sven Vath said something similar about that a few years ago, that the whole concept is upside down now - the DJ acts as some kind of live producer and the producers are more of a DJ than anything, with all the loop based music being made now. He's still playing vinyl most of the time, but you've been constantly talking about the need to move to digital, especially for financial reasons, as far as labels are concerned. The cost of pressing a record will always be higher than what it costs to make it readily available on Beatport, Juno, and so on. Lately vinyl sales have been going up, especially in Europe, mainly due to those people that you talked about earlier, the ones that are pushing the concept of vinyl only. Do you think that it's just a trend or will vinyl make a bit of a comeback?
There is the 'cool neat world' and then the 'real world'. In the 'cool neat world' you have people who do not want to let go of what they think is the traditional way of making music. In this world you really do not pay attention to a lot of things that you really should. In the 'real world' every single detail is looked at. What are the costs, the benefits, the long term possibilities, market penetration, etc.
I don't know anyone with a turntable, no one. Now I know there are hobbyists out there who do own a turntable, but guess what, they are going to go out and purchase a new Beatles re-issue or a new album from the Eagles. The target audience you want to reach is going to get on iTunes or Beatport to get what they want. The problem isn't with the mediums. The problem is with the frogs that put out bullshit music and book shitty DJs. That will always be the problem. I can see trance or progressive acts saying: "Hey, let's do a release on vinyl. That will be cool". The reason they can do it is because they don't give a shit if it sells because they have a goddamn Island dedicated to playing their music, they can afford it. Techno, nobody knows it in the real world. You have to explain it to them, and even then folks just look at you like you're some mad scientist trying to explain your need to go and invent plastic friends. I feel in 2014 techno should be just a big as these other types of music that fill up stadiums.
I remember seeing the Boiler room 'Chicago Revival' edition. Everyone was like "Oh man, Chicago is coming back!!!!"... uh, no its not. It's a nice trip down memory lane and that's all. In order to make a style of music matter there has to be a unified business model for it. Techno doesn't have that. I cringe when I hear these dipshits out there yelling "Digital sucks!!! Vinyl all day and night!!!". It's like what the shit are you thinking? Your music is already a secret no one cares about in the real world. Don't you want lots and lots of people to know about your music? That is always better in the end. Quality control depends on the infrastructure that you have. You can always keep quality. Look at some of the long running techno labels in the 90's and early 2000's. Release after release of quality. It is possible (for vinyl to make a comeback), but you have to think well beyond this press 1000 copies bullshit that it was stuck on for so long.
I turn down labels that approach me for EPs when they talk that stupid: "We will press 100 copies on vinyl only, no digital, and also destroy masters". I mean what the natural fuck is that? So you only want 100 people to buy your music? Nine times out of ten 50 of them will go to big name DJs cause big name DJs don't pay for music. It's ass backwards. Vinyl and digital can exist, but you don't make vinyl the basis of your business model. You do that, then please have a good day job, and tell your artists to do the same.
The model is a bit different in Europe, also the type of music that's focused on has changed a lot as far as "underground" is concerned. You've probably heard some of the stuff that's being played and listened to here. It's very segmented - on one hand you have people like Luciano with his Cadenza crew, who's gotten quite big and on there are the vinyl purists, the real "off the radar" guys - people like Zip with his Perlon imprint. From there it's all one big branch out in one direction or the other. What's your take on them?
"Come Together." That's what these folks need to do. It's nice to have these little things going on here or that thing going on there, but thanks to the internet, the world is very small. The vinyl purists, as long as they are happy with the fact that what they are doing is always going to be a niche thing, hey, more power to you. But I'm all about taking this music to the top of mount Olympus if possible. Not everyone needs someone singing or rapping in their ear all the time. Techno has its place. My fear is that while the world moves forward, techno and house (real motherfucking house) goes backwards. I wish that would change. No one knows about these artists except for a small group of people. That's what I had to realize a few years ago. I hear some really great techno, really fantastic stuff. Released on tiny 100 pressing label imprints. I wonder who is going to know about this shit, how can they afford to press so little with what it costs. It doesn't matter how great the music is, if no one is going to know about it other than your little group on social media, I don't know man.
And what about you? You still produce music, that's your job, your passion. Any new releases on the house/techno front in the near future that we should know about? You've released "Shikago Love" on Full Favor, and that's the latest release that I know about.
I have a couple. Strange thing, releases today. In the back of your mind you're going "Who wants to hear this shit anymore?" I don't use loop packs, I don't use composite kicks, I tend to stay away from swooshes and shit like that, I like the tempo to be 130-135 BPM. But I also like to eat solid human food. You kind of know what your doing is charity work. Kind of a bummer cause you tend to be proud of your work, especially when a label thinks that it good enough to release.
As far as techno and house I have EPs on Mona Records, Goldmin Music, Hypnotic Room, a remix on Rage and Error and a release coming up with MK recordings.
I did a remix for a commercial song earlier this month. I made more money from that track than I did with the last 4 years of doing techno stuff. It's a sad reality. What can you do, but make more techno anyway.
How did you start out in the beginning, producing and releasing music?
It's pretty much how I described. Learned on Jurassic gear making rap beats, Mike Dearborn let me hold of crate of techno records so I got back into it. K-Alexi told me about labels overseas signing Chicago acts so I sent tapes to Peacefrog and Primate, and here we are.
And for the closing bit, could you let us know 2 of your favorite records? Any genre, your pick.
My all time favorite techno track is "Heal" from Joey Beltram (as JB3). Another favorite of mine is Gil Scott-Heron's "Me And The Devil".
Thank you for taking the time to do this with us.
No problem. As you see I like to talk shop, the honest way.