The jam scene in the Northeast is as healthy as it has ever been, with bands regularly touring across New York State, building audiences and markets in the process. When the shows are over and the crowd still has energy to keep the party going, that’s when DJs and post-shows come into play. During the upcoming Disco Biscuits run at The Palace Theatre this weekend, post-shows will be great in number, with J.E.D.I. performing late-night Friday, Scumdog Millionaire$ at Parish Public House on Saturday, and uptown at The Low Beat they will present ‘History of Wyllys’ featuring MoonSine and Sex on Decks. The latter of these will be going very late after The Disco Biscuits close out The Palace, and feature a variety of beats from Wyllys spanning the history of his career as a DJ. Wyllys spoke to NYS Music about what to expect from the late night performance and what it’s like touring as a DJ.
Pete Mason: Your upcoming performance in Albany celebrates the History of Wyllys, featuring MoonSine and Sex on Decks – what can we expect from a set of music spanning the history of your career?
Wyllys: My career will always start with ambient and drum and bass. I had always loved spacey music and the very second I heard drum and bass for the first time…LTJ Bukem-Logical Progression, that was it. I wanted to DJ. After that I will slide into Nu Disco where I will be joined by MoonSine. Zac and I have been collaborating for quite a while and he was the first keyboardist for Space Disco which we played many great gigs under. After that we will take house music till the end with a good friend of mine Sex On Decks. Dan has been playing many of the same rooms and festivals with me for years so I felt it was time we got together and flowed. B2B is an art form and it takes someone like Dan to make it hum. He has a great ear and style.
PM: How and where did you get your start in the music industry?
Wyllys: I started learning how to do lights and sound with Rane. I was also writing a good chunk of the lyrics for them along with my dear friend and killer writer Dave Griffin. Alan from Rane, who is now president of Telefunken, gave me my first set of decks and it was ON after that.
PM: What were your early gigs like and what is touring as a DJ like?
Wyllys: So much terror when you first start gigging. Really it’s about balancing the sound from your headphones with the monitor and PA and a lot of times there would be this NASTY slap back delay that fucked with your beatmatching. Plus I was playing all vinyl which comes with its own sets of challenges such as the bass feeding back through the needle or the bass moving the needle around the wax. After about a year I was more comfortable but the trick is to never get “too” comfy so as to keep learning and stay on your toes. Back then I was doing small shows in Hartford with Rane and a few other bands. Very modest and slow build to what I am doing these days.
Touring as a DJ is interesting. I have worked on all sides of the ball in this industry and the “DJ Tour” can get weird quick. I rarely could afford a TM and since I was a TM it all came easy. However things can get out of control quick with no one to put you in check. It was never about ego with me, just getting into trouble and making piss poor decisions. I felt like I had finally “made it,” paying the bills with guarantees and what not. But when that happens you literally have to gig to survive and that sucked a lot of the joy out of it for me. Once it starts feeling like work it’s time to examine the situation.
PM: The Hustler Ensemble was a notable period of Wyllys’ evolution – bring us back to that era and how the sound changed with musicians on stage with you.
Wyllys: The scene needed a funk and disco version of DJ Logic’s previous excursions. Jay was a huge influence on me in that regard. I loved Nu Disco but the BPMs were too slow for prime time sets. I felt that adding musicians would be just the reinforcement I needed and push me out of my comfort zone. I was lucky enough to have Jen and Natalie as my core and bandleaders and they taught me so much about how to communicate with players effectively and how to prepare everyone as best you can before show. Rehearsal was not all that frequent because I would have people coming in from all over but the nature of it all was improvisation with a set of “heads” or tracks we start from. I look back on that time as my biggest period of musical growth and it made a LOT of people very happy. In the end the universe has bestowed a gift to you and it is up to you to share it…to bring people joy. We did that in spades!
PM: Your live sets and mixes dive deep – without revealing secrets, where are you finding these funky undiscovered gems?
Wyllys: Oh I can tell you right now (and Jon ‘The Barber’ Gutwillig will tell you the same) that Juno is a great place for underground tracks both on vinyl and digital. Crate digging is still huge for me too. If you are a DJ that plays vinyl the key is to form a relationship with your record store owner. They will get to know your taste and have a pile of wax for you to listen to. That inevitably will lead you down many wormholes with artists and genres you had never heard before.
PM: You’re playing a post Disco Biscuits show on Saturday, November 24 – how have the Biscuits influenced your musical interests and performances, and what is their legacy as they approach 23 years in the jam scene?
Wyllys: I really don’t even know where to start here. I had been DJing for 3 years before I actually saw them and when I initially heard them there was no “trancefusion” in their wheelhouse. Once they started that mutation it was over. You take that and their revolutionary inversion and dyslexic techniques and you have a juggernaut of a band. Their influence on me is quite massive. Sammy (Altman) was a master of drum and bass as well as Allen (Aucoin) and they showed me how to layer melodic content as a way to shape the narrative under the flurry of drums and percussion, to take the audience on a journey without sacrificing the pulse. They also taught me not to fear improvisation but to know that sometimes your ideas are going to fall flat on their face and you have to persevere, you have to get past it with grace and energy. The audience is going to respect that despite you just dropping a track at the wrong moment.
Their legacy will always be that marriage of electronica and rock and roll and really, being the last TRUE jamband in the scene. I don’t think any band is going to touch what they do every single night. They have always been the punk rock of the scene in that DIY/take no prisoners way and “Bisco” is truly a culture all of its own. That raw and untamed energy they bring is that of a team that leaves it all on the field every single game. I feel blessed to have supported many of those games over the years and look forward to more.