Send me your track


Danny Wolfers Interview

Interview by Toby Frith

Seeing Legowelt playing live always sticks in the memory. Armed with a myriad of synths and drum machines, it verges on the lo-fi at times, but keeping with the Chicago box-jam aesthetic is never less than relentless, raw and jacking. In amongst the beats lies a strata of synth lines that have elements of Italo or Disco in them, but are nevertheless his signature. Most importantly there’s a strong element of humour laced with the absurd. It is gloriously out of sync with the laptop live experience, often sounding as if it’s on the brink of collapse but somehow kept together. 

After seeing him at his latest London date, I get the chance to sit down with Wolfers and chat further about the ideas and themes in his music, in particular the amusingly titled “Tower of Gypsies”.

“That one was influenced by Blue Cheer, an old caucasian psychedelic powerblues band, who released a single called Gypsy Ball. It doesn’t sound like that at all, but I thought “Hey I wanna make a psychedelic techno album about Gypsies!”. So it’s about this normal guy who is in say, London and works in an office, and he’s suddenly transported to medieval times, like the Spanish Inquisition or something, and finds himself in a swamp, where he has to find the Dimension Door to get back which is in the Tower of the Gypsies. Stupid of course because Gypsies don’t live in Towers.”

This quite unique sense of humour and imaginiation has inflected every record since the debut Pimpshifter EP in 2000. Wolfers has been steadily prolific since, releasing a steady stream of gloriously surreal records under various pseudonyms as Legowelt, Polarius, Gladio, Venom 18, Squadro Blanco, not forgetting a new direction of mysterious soundtracks on his own label Strange Life as Smackos and Franz Falckenhaus. A part of the nascent Bunker/Clone/Creme axis that has emerged from Rotterdam and the Hague, he is without doubt its brightest star, having swept to fame briefly in 2002 with the remarkable global success of “Disco Rout”.

A native of Scheveningen, a windswept coastal town near Den Haag that would provide inspiration later on for his music, Wolfers became fascinated by synthesizers when he was in his adolescent years.  “When you are like, 12 or 13, You want to make music sometimes or do something, and I wanted to get a synthesizer, so I bought a cheap Casio keyboard. No-one else I knew was making music at that time, and I really didn’t like guitar music at all.” Listening to Dutch radio helped him build an appreciation of acid house music as they played all styles. “There was no dividing line as they played everything, from UK acid house to Underground Resistance, some really terrible Dutch house,  and of course Unit Moebius, which at that time I didn’t realise was being made down in Den Haag.”

After initially beginning to make music on an old Commodore Amiga and then progressing to second hand analogue kit, Wolfers became integrated with the embryonic underground scene that would see the emergence of Guy Tavares’ Bunker Records label and the influence of Ferenc van der Sluijs aka I-F, whose DJing of old Italodisco hits would have a profound impact on virtually everyone in and around Den Haag and Rotterdam. With an adherence to the use of dusty old synths, “box jams” and the like, a community of like-minded individuals arose that shared a love of Italo, Chicago, electronic disco and Detroit Techno/Electro.

At first Wolfers released material with Brian Chinetti aka Orgue Electronique, but in 2000 presented his first proper vinyl release on Bunker. Although laden with chicago and italo rhythms (especially with the Polarius material), it was clear from an early point that Wolfers’ fascination with vintage synthesizers was coming to the fore, and more importantly these records sounded quite at odds with the increasing sonic purity of dance music, and demonstrated an idiosyncratic aesthetic that shared its musical vision with Drexciya, the Italo pop of Fred Ventura, Horror soundtacks and early Chicago House. Furthermore, Wolfers laced them with stories from his vivid imagination, colouring the music with a cinematic aspect akin to his hero John Carpenter. “I’m always thinking about little stories, if I’m outside or asleep, or whatever. I think about them and synthesizers all the time.”  A cursory look at his discography reveals such curiosities as the “Land of Lonzo” (named after a Llama that lives near his house apparently), “Derrick in Nord Korea”, “Dance of the Moonbird”, “Under the Panda Moon” and my own personal favourite, “Tale of Bernie”. Slowly but surely his music has taken a more somnolent turn, especially with his soundtrack side projects such as Smackos and Franz Falckenhaus, which delve into cold war and anthropological mysteries.

Mystery it seems plays a big part in Wolfer’s thoughts, perhaps stemming from his home town. “In Scheveningen it gets quite mysterious in winter time, with the fog coming in from the sea, and then there are the dunes as well. It’s a bit like John Carpenter’s The Fog, a small, detached community on the sea and on the border of the unknown.” His Smackos project concentrates also on pacific coastal towns. “It is quite mesmerising, the balance between nature and the unknown. I like the idea that there are still myths, an escape from the daily reality as it were, which is what Strange Life is all about. But I’m not really a new age kind of guy, I’m more like a guy who’s going to live in Montana with a Jeep and a gun!”

The cornerstone of his work centres on his love of old analogue synthesizers, but he is keen to point out that he doesn’t have the distrust of digital software that he feels was previously attached to him. “It’s a common misconception I think. A lot of digital synths are perhaps better now in sound than the old ones, but the difference is that a hardware synth is a real instrument. It is like an object that you can play, and has its own character and design, which is very important for synthesizers. I once bought an Alesis Andromeda, which was an extremely powerful synthesizer and it sounded really good, but the interface was so so bad because it looked like some sort of instrument you would make Goa Trance with, with buttons that looked like UFOs. If I sat behind it, I would end up making trance! For me the Roland JX 3P is the best  designed synth, and my favourite, and I made what I think is my best piece so far, the Smackos LP Computer Day with it.

When pressed on what the future might hold, what with more and more material coming out in the vein of Franz Falckenhaus, he is somewhat reticent. “I still enjoy making records and playing out even though there is so much bad dance music out there. But, you know, perhaps because I’m a bit older, I don’t think younger people enjoy it as much as we did in the Nineties.”

One thing for certain is that Wolfers will continue to make music at a prolific rate as Strange Life goes from strength to strength, and as he continues, the subjects he covers will grow more amusingly obscure. His latest Phalangius project features Cambridge Professors, Text Adventure games and ZX Spectrums to give you an idea. At a time when the explosion of horribly anodyne dance music culture grows at a horrific pace, the anachronistic world he has shrewdly created seems ever more inviting to participate in.

Legowelt website

Legowelt Myspace 

The sheer variety of his back catalogue means that it’s often quite easy to miss some of his best work. With most of the Bunker, Creme and Clone back catalogues now available to listen to on Beatport, you can also listen before shelling out those precious notes on what is now proving to be very collectable vinyl. Here’s 5 standout releases. 

squad.jpegSquadra Blanco - Night of the Illuminati (Panama Racing)

Originally released on Holosynthesis in 2001, this was thankfully recently reissued in 2006 on both double 12” and CD-R. With Carpenter’s influence to the fore and hints of a homage to Goblin, Wolfers turns out what I would consider to be his most cohesive work, marrying grimy windswept electro with what I could only describe as “Horrordisco”. It’s raw and atmospheric, but retains a gritty beauty throughout. “The Night Will Fall” is a personal favourite.

klaus.jpegLegowelt - Klaus Kinski EP (Bunker Records)

More of a short LP, who else could name a release after the psychotic acting genius? “Fizzcaraldo” simmers with electro-influenced malevolence, whilst “The Nomium Syndrome” contains the sort of deranged synth lines that make his work so individual. The atmospheric interludes in and around build the cinematic feel.

jams.jpgPolarius - Jams in the Key of Smack (Bunker Records)

At times sounding as if it was recorded with a sock over a microphone in a warehouse somewhere in Kazakhstan, this collection of lo-fi jack anthems pretty much encapsulates the Polarius sound at its best, raw and one suspects recorded very quickly in true Chi-town style . In all honesty, all 5 EPs under the Polarius alias are worth tracking down.

sala.jpg  Salamandos - Master of House (Bunker Records)

  Worth it for the track “World of Salamandos” alone, this is Chi-town acid at its best.

smack.jpeg Smackos - Computer Day (Strange Life)

Wolfers drenches the album in ambiguous synth-laden atmosphere as he recounts the tale of a man in a mysterious pacific coastal town circa 1985 buying a computer, and then people start to go missing….. 

References (1)

References allow you to track sources for this article, as well as articles that were written in response to this article.
  • Response
    Among Yamaha’s DX line of synthesizers, the Yamah DX-1 is definitely the biggest and most expensive synthesizer out there. Only 140 were made by Yamaha back in 1984 to 1985 but it is rumored that there are maybe 210 made. Expect to find these syn...

Reader Comments (4)

Can anybody tell me what the name of the second track on the video that comes in around 1 minute 17 please?

October 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPlasystation

I don't know, although some of the tracks from that live set featured on the 2nd Gladio EP that was on Mighty Robot Recordings last year.

October 31, 2008 | Registered CommenterBleep43

Yes, I have that EP. It isn't on that one. Maybe It is on the Slave of Rome Ep. Thanks for helping.

October 31, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPlaystation

I think (read: I'm 99% sure) this track is just a live piece which has never been released ;)

January 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterJadran

PostPost a New Comment

Enter your information below to add a new comment.

My response is on my own website »
Author Email (optional):
Author URL (optional):
Some HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <code> <em> <i> <strike> <strong>
« Records of the week - September 3rd | Main | Records of the Week - August 27th »