Inviting Steve Bug and Josh Wink to play a back-to-back set seems like it would be something of a no-brainer. After all, the pair are both veterans of the scene, having gotten their starts in the early ’90s Both run highly respected four-to-the-floor–oriented labels; Wink heads up Ovum, while Bug is the man behind Poker Flat and its various imprints, including Dessous and Audiomatique. (They've both released music on the other's label in the past.) And while their sounds aren't identical by any means, both tend to draw from the same musical well: pure-pleasure house music that inhabits the territory between head-nodding depth and body-rocking jack, with just enough hint of eccentricity to keep things interesting. Therefore, when Ibiza's Kehakuma affair began hosting monthly Wink-Bug tag-team sets at Space earlier this summer, it seemed like such an obvious choice that it was surprising nobody had thought of it before. And actually, they had—Winter Music Conference regulars might fuzzily remember the two playing together way back in 2009. But that was then and this is now—and on Friday, September 12, Wink and Bug will be holding their final back-to-back session of the season, and most likely of the year. When they're not in Ibiza or otherwise jet-setting around the world, Wink spends time in his Philadelphia home, while Bug resides in Berlin—but XLR8R recently had the opportunity to get the two together on Skype for a chat about tag-teaming, podium dancers, and awkward energy at EDM stages, among other topics.
When you two tag-teamed at that WMC gig, was that the first time you had gone back-to-back?
Bug: Um…I don’t remember!
Wink: I think the actual first time was for radio, right?
Bug: That’s true. We had also played a few times at the same events, mostly in Europe.
Wink: Then, in Miami, we were doing an Ovum party at Winter Music Conference, and Steve was becoming a part of our roster as well as being a friend, so he was going to play at it. We ended up getting a lot more artists than we needed, and so a couple of people had to do back-to-back sets so we could fit everybody in. This was before back-to-back was hip and trendy, but Steve was a seasoned veteran DJ—as was I—so we just ended up doing it. And we really enjoyed it.
Bug: We still enjoy it.
Wink: We’re continuing to grow as…back-to-back artists, I guess you could call us. [laughs] But we’re not an act. Actually, I guess we are an act now, really!
Bug: One thing that helps is that we’re not overdoing this; we’re not doing it every other weekend or something. We do it rarely, like once or twice a year; this year it’s four times. So it’s a little more special than if was just a regular thing. And I think that when people who have been playing together stop playing together, there are issues or something, so they decide to play separately.
Wink: And we don’t have much in the way of issues.
Bug: Because we don’t do it so often, it doesn’t get boring. There’s no real routine. Every time we do it, we’ll never know what the other person is going to play. We do it enough that we get a feeling for it, but it’s different every time.
Wink: We’ve never practiced together, and these Space Ibiza gigs are completely spontaneous. When we did the first one in June, the club had set up to mixers—the one that Steve requested, and the one that I requested. When we got there, we both looked at each other and said, “Nah, this isn’t going to work out. Let’s just use one mixer.” We went with the one Steve requested; I used to use an Allen & Heath, and now I used a Pioneer because of the soundcard, but Steve doesn’t like to use the Pioneer, so we use the Allen & Heath. And then we had decide whether it was going to be every three records, every two records, or whatever. The first time, we did two records apiece, and it was cool—Steve would leave me with a record and I would go with that feeling, and then the next record would go in my direction, and then Steve would have to follow that before he would go back to his sound.
Bug: Didn’t we do three records each that first time?
Wink: I think you did because I left you along a few times, but it was mostly two records. It was fun, but the next time, in July, we decided to go with one record apiece.
That’s rather ambitious.
Wink: But we really had a good time!
Bug: If you are playing three records in a row, you kind of get into your own thing a bit. But real back-to-back is a different kind of thing. I actually enjoyed it more.
Wink: It makes for a different dynamic, that’s for sure. There was a lot of energy for the two hours that were were on.
"It’s nice to be playing with somebody—if you have to go to the bathroom, you don’t have to rush so much to get back."
You really have to be paying attention and in-the-moment when you’re doing one-on, one-off.
Wink: Well, I do still like to leave and be social once in a while, so Steve would sometimes get to play more than one. He wasn’t complaining. But it’s nice to be playing with somebody—if you have to go to the bathroom, you don’t have to rush so much to get back.
How do your personalities mesh when you play together?
Wink: It’s kind of a goofy dynamic. We’re both kind of funny characters, and I think that shows. If people watch us, they’ll see us smiling and joking and playing around. I think that rapport that we have with each other translates into people’s experience of the night, which is really nice.
Bug: Totally—I agree.
Wink: You better!
Even though you two aren’t an official “team,” exactly, it seems like such a natural fit. You seem to have similar musical heritages and preferences, and though your sounds aren't identical, there is a commonality there. Does it feel that way to you?
Bug: Well, I generally prefer playing by myself—but if the dynamic is good, with lots of give and take, then it can be a lot of fun to play with someone else. Of course, it’s generally difficult to get as deep into it as if you were playing alone, but if you are playing with someone who’s music you like, its easier to make the adjustments you need to and take it from there. And if I had to pick someone to play back-to-back with, than Josh’s name would definitely come up. There aren’t many other DJs that I can think of with who it would make sense to do this with.
Wink: When this idea came up…well, let’s say I always tend to overthink things. First, I’ve never done a Saturday-night party in Ibiza, since I started playing here in the ’90s. The bigger nights there are the weekdays, not the weekends, and doing anything on a Saturday night sounded too weird. But both Steve and I realized that the Kehakuma brand is really unique. Steve, you said it really well once—the lineups at Kehakuma are actually a little bit too intellectual for the island.
Bug: “Too sophisticated for the crowd,” I think I said. They’re trying to stay away from the typical lineups, the ones that all the other parties are doing where you just have the same artists all the time. I think that’s completely boring. I mean, I get it: People only stay in Ibiza for a week, they see who they want and then the next bunch of people are there. But still, there are so many other great DJs to check out—and Kehakuma is trying to get those DJs. Last year, they might have gotten a little too experimental, but you have to appreciate that they are at least trying to bring something besides the obvious. They’ve gone a bit more straight-ahead this year.
Still, there was a period, a number of years back, when even you two might have seemed to weird for Ibiza.
Wink: I still feel that way sometimes! Both of us—we often think of ourselves as the odd men out. We’re not playing the typical Ibiza sound, but we just stick to what we do, by educating through the music. We do take a chance by doing that, but we rely on our years of experience to know how to do that while still entertaining people.
"I have caught myself staring at the dancers between records myself. It’s either Steve or the dancers, and I chose the dancers."
These are like full-on Ibiza parties, though, with dancers and the like?
Bug: Yeah. [laughs] That’s always been a part of partying on the island. It’s not the kind of thing I personally really need to have, but it’s almost necessary in the bigger Ibiza clubs, unless you are somewhere like DC10. But Kehakuma has a special vibe, anyway. It’s certainly not as cheesy as at some clubs. I can remember going to Amnesia one night, and the dancers weren’t even really dancing—it was more just sexual posing. I was thinking, okay, this is getting kind of weird.… It was like being in a strip joint.
Wink: You’re right, it is part of the Ibiza experience. And I have caught myself staring at the dancers between records myself. It’s either Steve or the dancers, and I chose the dancers. I do like it when Steve dances, though. But more seriously, whether you’re in Ibiza or somewhere else, everyone is always saying that it’s all about the music—but it really seems to get further from the music all the time, and more about the hype.
The hype of a party?
Wink: Or of a DJ, or of a scene. Personally, just give me a club with a smoke machine and stick me inside a speaker to get lost in the music, and I’m happy. But nowadays, it’s all about the breakdowns and buildups and people pogoing up and down or whatever, than it is about people closing their eyes and experiencing the music.
Bug: Yeah. Once the kick drum comes in after the breakdown, they’ll party for like 15 seconds. And then they’re quiet again, waiting for the next buildup.
Wink: A couple of weeks ago, I did a festival in Valencia, and I went over to see Afrojack’s set.
Very daring of you.
Wink: Well, we’re actually old friends. And I don’t get to hear a lot of EDM things, so I figured I should check it out. So I went there, and it was all 15- to 20-year-old kids—like 12,000 of them—just standing there, waiting for the pyrotechnics to go off every three minutes. And then, like Steve said, they would go berserk for 15 seconds. Then they would just go back to looking at their watch until that would come around again. It’s a very weird, awkward energy, one that I would never want as a DJ. I think Steve would agree with me on this: If you can get people into it, and grooving all night long, that’s a great thing. But I’ll even find myself doing more buildups, even though I don’t want to. It’s frustrating, sometimes. The way I look at it, DJ has three jobs. You set the atmosphere, creating an audio soundscape where people feel comfortable. There’s the entertainment side. And then there’s the education side. We try to bring all three of these things to the table. And if we want to go with a climax, we know how to go that way, too.
Luckily, you have “Higher State Of Consciousness” in your arsenal for those occasions.
Wink: Actually, Steve plays that one.
Bug: Yeah, I guess I have.
Wink: Say it with some pride, Steve!