"It has been great in 2011 — the shows have been great; the response to the album was amazing. I have no complaints about anything career-wise," says L.A. electro-house producer/DJ Joey Youngman, who has been better-known as Wolfgang Gartner since 2007, and it's difficult not to find his candid, relaxed confidence believable. During a year when electronic dance music in the U.S. has gained mass momentum, Gartner has traversed the swelling wave of scene popularity and ends the year as arguably one of the most widely acclaimed electronic producers.
Recently, he has moved beyond L.A. nightclubs via a string of huge club singles like "Illmerica," leading up to the recent release of his debut LP, Weekend in America. The album is an explosively produced collection of dynamic electro-house and represents the most modern of contemporary electronic music. Although long-player records are often deemed superfluous or risky within the singles-driven remixed world of dance music, an album offered Gartner a sense of artistic space and a vehicle for commercial progression.
"I think the big thing that happened with this album was the bridging of hip-hop and house music for me," says Gartner, who previously operated in a more self-released, underground, deep-house world. "Which has been something I've wanted to do for a long time and never really had the opportunity to do it, and I had the opportunity to do it with this album."
Arguably, there's nothing particularly new in this concept or aspiration. Many a producer, dating back to the early-'90s U.S. house boom of Erik Morillo, Roger Sanchez, et al. to the modern radio pop mafia of David Guetta and the Black Eyed Peas, has celebrated the artistic integration of 128 bpm four-four-four-kick with some rhythmic rhymes. Thus, it's apt that Gartner is admired by these current purveyors, most notably Will.i.am of the Peas, with whom he collaborates on the album's leadoff single, "Forever."
"I met him in a club, we talked, and I found out he was a fan of what I was doing, and it just sort of came about," Gartner says.
His urgent beats and menacing production elevates the collaboration above the easy accusations of commercial cash-in. He seems intent not to necessarily move his music into the mainstream but to reclaim the amalgamation of house and hip-hop away the throbbing, Euro-house pop tracks that have become standard radio fare.
He describes his collaborations with guest vocalists — others featured on the album are Jim Jones, Cam'ron, Eve, and Omarion — as a "clash of worlds," and this challenge seems to nourish his responsibility to his art as an evolving creative entity.
"I have a responsibility to do the best work that I can possibly do," Gartner says. "And I feel it's not necessarily within the confines of any genre at all. I feel like what I do musically has to push the envelope and has to go past the bounds — because in dance music and in pop music and in all music, people tend to stick to winning formulas because they want to sell records or hit the charts, and that's not going to advance things."
Still, Gartner mostly sticks to electro-house's standard 128 beats per minute for his compositions. With such commitment to his genre, there's a curious duality at play that comes across as hyperconfident and completely self-assuming. His unflinching sense of artistic responsibility and reverential obsessive compulsion to music production means he'll spend 20 hours a day making music. But is this tireless work ethic driven by an inward assumption that few of his colleagues have the capacity and aptitude to innovate?
This is very much the perceived condition of all of the big-hitters in this world — Deadmau5, Tiësto, Skrillex, Kaskade, and Gartner himself — solitary perfectionists living in an unreal transient world that involves pockets of intense studio time in between playing huge international music festivals. Yet during the past year, in which Deadmau5 headlined Lollapalooza and Miami's Ultra sold all 150,000 tickets months before the festival, it seems as if a broad range of sonically diverse artists has been captured within somewhat of a cultural movement.
All of these performers are Spin's so-called "New Rave Generation," but subsuming the euphoric trance of industry vet Tiësto and Skrillex's midrange dubstep's overnight success under an umbrella less broad than "electronic dance music" is impossible. Something tangible has happened across the country, though, and it seems to be a lot more challenging and potentially durable than the sanitized glow-stick-driven rave "electronica revolution" of the late '90s.
"It's happening all over the world but especially in the U.S.," Gartner says. "I think the live element has a lot to do with that. I mean, if you listen to dubstep and then house music, they're about as closely related as hip-hop and country — a completely different vibe, a completely different energy. But the thing that they share in common is that they are both being played at dance-music events — raves, for lack of a better term. The live element is what is bringing the producers together and what is bringing these totally different kinds of music together into one arena."
Whether this movement manifests into something more permanent remains to be seen, yet one suspects that for someone who has built a career over the past two decades, it represents more of a potential arena of opportunity than a career-defining sphere, and when asked about the past and the future, Gartner seems entirely at ease.
"If you look at the grand scheme of things, I don't see my success as being a very fast thing," he says. "I see it as being a very slow thing. And it continues to be a very slow thing, especially if you look at some of the other people who have had a very overnight success... I see the future as the same exact thing: constant touring, the same places — the U.S., Europe, Australia — write another album, maybe get in the studio and produce stuff with people from other genres. But basically the same thing: I'm doing exactly what I want to do, so there's no reason to change it."