Interview by Chris Zaldua
Throwing parties is hard work. When it’s night of and the club is full and the lights are off and the music is pumping, a good party feels magical, ephemeral, like it all came together just so, disappearing into the ether of the next morning’s early hours.
In fact, that’s not quite the case. Throwing a party — producing an event — takes planning, work, and coordination, most of it happening behind the scenes. (I’ve often said that the only reason people pay cover to get into parties is so they can have the right to enter and leave whenever they want.)
William Wardlaw is one of those folks working behind the scenes of As You Like It, responsible for making sure artists get where they need to be and are taken care of along the way. Naturally, he’s a great DJ, too. He put together the latest installment in the AYLI Podcast, and answered some questions about what makes him tick. Read on and tune in!
CZ: Where are you from? My gut tells me you’re a Bay Area native, but please correct me if I’m wrong. And if you’re from elsewhere, when did you land in the Bay?
WW: Glad I pass as local. I’ve been living out here since 2006, but I grew up in a suburb of Columbus, Ohio called Upper Arlington. My parents both grew up in California and met at Berkeley, but my father was a professor who taught at OSU which is why we were in the Midwest while my extended family was mostly in California. My parents retired to Mendocino around the time I was finishing undergrad, so that was my jumping off point out here. The music scene in San Francisco was definitely a big attractor.
CZ: When did you begin DJing? What was your first exposure to the kind of DJing that made you go “Damn, I need to do that too”?
WW: I bought my first humble setup for myself as a birthday present when I was 23, a pair of Pioneer CDJ-200s and a barely workable mixer. I quickly realized I needed some turntables and got Technics and have kept improving my gear over the years till I I’ve landed on my current uncompromising setup.
I really experienced DJing during a semester abroad studying in London in 2002. On one side of my taste I got to see artists like DJ Vadim of Ninja Tune and DJ Shadow live. You can actually catch me in the crowd momentarily in DJ Shadow’s “In Tune and On Time” live set filmed at
the Brixton Academy. I also started going to Fabric regularly since I knew it by reputation and it was walking distance from our student flat. Watching varied artists like Craig Richards, James Lavelle, John Digweed, Photek, and Grandmaster Flash all play there let me know this was something I was going to care about for a long time.
CZ: I know you’ve been involved with As You Like It since nearly the very beginning. How’d you meet the crew? What sort of work do you do for AYLI?
WW: I met AYLI’s founder Jeremy Bispo through the music scene here at parties like Kontrol and Werd right around when he was launching AYLI. I first volunteered to help with artist transportation and hospitality, starting with a No Regular Play underground at the Com#. Over the years I’ve continued to help in this regard, welcoming artists and making sure things run smoothly for them on the night of the event. I also started helping record parties and still edit and master many of the live sets from the events AYLI has hosted. I also help with sharing the podcast on iTunes and you get to hear my voice and Moog in the intro.
CZ: On that note, are there any favorite stories you’ve picked up over the years working with AYLI that might be safe to share on the record? 🙂
WW: It’s always fun going out to a late night diner after a gig if the artists wants to eat before going back to the hotel, which I’ve done with people like Levon Vincent or Prins Thomas. It’s great when artists return regularly, because now spending time with Maya Jane Coles, Peggy Gou, or The Black Madonna seems like catching up with a friend. When Session Victim played live for AYLI the first time Matthias Reiling played my bass which was wild because they’re one of my favorites. Talking with Kerri Chandler about his love of space and NASA I’ll never forget. I love how many of the artists at the top of their game are genuinely nice people, from Ben UFO, Midland, Move D, Jus-Ed, Axel Boman, Gerd Janson, or Ben Klock.
One funny story, I was picking up Fred P to take him to Public Works and I didn’t realize I had the wrong number for him entered in my phone. I was outside the hotel texting a random person in NYC late at night, saying “I’m out front whenever you’re ready.” They were getting madder with each text I sent, and I thought I had somehow pissed off the artist. When I realized I had the wrong number and Fred was patiently waiting for me in the lobby I felt a rush of relief. I was
still super awkward with him because I had my guard up even though he had no idea of the exchange of miscommunication that just happened.
CZ: Tell me about your AYLI podcast — lots of tracks in a short time. How’d you put it together? Is it fairly representative of yourself as a DJ?
WW: I wanted to showcase a variety of sounds I appreciate in the mix without staying in one mood too long. It’s a fun challenge to keep the tunes blending into each other while hopefully maintaining a consistent flow. Especially with tracks I’m really familiar with, I get excited about the next mix and rarely stay on one song for more than 2 or 3 minutes. This set involved a lot of planning in advance, analyzing tracks in Mixed In Key so the longer mixes work harmonically. I recorded the set at home using Traktor with vinyl control and an Allen & Heath DB4. I still love vinyl, but most of newest tunes I picked up digitally on Bandcamp. This represents the type of house music I play at parties where the audience wants to dance, but I’m also a fan of playing ambient sets or soul and funk so the setting has a big impact on the style I play.
CZ: What kind of DJ do you aspire to be? When you’re behind the decks, is there a message or a mood that you hope to transmit?
My biggest aspiration was to be a respected local DJ and to my personal level of satisfaction I think I’ve arrived in that place. I’ve had the opportunity to open for some seriously talented people like Max Cooper, Lawrence, Alex from Tokyo, Adesse Versions, Ripperton, Stimming, and Chymera. I’m not big into marketing myself, so I’ve let my music speak for itself mostly. It would be fun to be flown to play outside the Bay Area, but I don’t currently have that
sort of draw. I was less prolific during graduate school the past two years, but I love playing for the many local promoters I’m lucky enough to call friends.
I overgeneralize dance music into two categories: inviting and insistent. While I love dancing to both vibes, I tend to err on the side of creating an inviting atmosphere that hopefully draws you into the musical environment. When it’s working the mood sneaks up on you, and hopefully the audience can feel my appreciation and passion for the music I’m sharing. Once people are dancing I definitely want to keep that groove going.
CZ: What makes or breaks a DJ set for you? Are there any common threads to the moments you’ve had your mind warped by a DJ?
When it all works, the set and setting both contribute to a special performance. My favorites all share the sound that they appreciate and bring the audiences on a journey with them. I do miss having a more steady access to underground spaces locally, because many of my favorite nights didn’t happen in a club. When I can see a DJ win over the crowd while staying subtle and true to themselves I’m always impressed. The two days that most jump out for me in recent memory are the Wolf Records showcase in London with Frits Wentink, Ishmael Ensemble, Greymatter, and Al Zanders or catching Smallpeople play a Sunday afternoon patio set at Berghain. Hearing people play in a way that matches my own taste so closely encourages me to be confident in sharing my favorites. Playing something personal will typically work better than trying to figure out what you think the audience wants.
CZ: Last but not least, what’s some new (or new-to-you) music that you’ve been playing on repeat? What’s got you hooked?
A couple labels I love include Love Notes (from Brooklyn), Increase the Groove Records (Paris), Body Fusion (Belfast), Toy Tonics (Berlin), Unknown To The Unknown (London), and Step Back Trax (Vienna). Some of the artists on the mix that I never tire of include Moomin, Christopher Rau, Seb Wildblood, Harry Wolfman, and Laurence Guy. Hopefully my enthusiasm comes through in the mix and it’s worthy of repeat listens. As the closing sample says, “I tried my best.”