Interview: Legowelt on Wah-Wah Pedals, Manuel Noriega and Couch Mixdowns

Dutch producer Danny Wolfers is a one-of-a-kind music addict, whose lo-fi house and techno concoctions have won him renown over the past decade-plus. Sticking largely with Dutch labels like Bunker, Clone and Crème Organization, Wolfers has built up a formidable discography under a dizzying array of aliases. Lately, though, he’s focused largely on the most popular one: Legowelt. In this edited and condensed lecture from this year’s Bass Camp in Vienna, we spent a bit of time finding out more about the celebrated synth collector.

How was life in The Hague when you were first starting?

When I was 17 it was 1993, so it was the early ’90s and house and techno was something new, very exciting. Especially in The Hague, where you had a weird scene that came out of the squatting movement. Old punk guys did weird acid parties with lots of drugs and lots of stroboscopes and all kinds of things. It was freaky and very different from now I guess, because the whole dance and techno scenes are gentrified. It’s part of normal culture now. It’s not seen as something rebellious. In the early ’90’s, late ’80s, house music was very rebellious, it was something your parents were afraid of.

How did you feel when you went to these parties? Did you feel like part of it or did you feel like an observer, more like the trainspotters standing there and observing?

Yeah, I was definitely an observer because I didn’t go to the parties that much. I was still young and I’d rather spend my time at home making music. It was very intimidating also. People were also a lot more rougher back then I think.

Where did you get your first musical inspirations from?

I stopped Strange Life because it took too much time, and it’s not really fun for me. I’m not born to do those things.

There were lots of pirate radio stations, illegal radio stations in The Hague and they had all kinds of different electronic music playing. Also, back then, the mainstream media paid attention to it a little bit. For example, MTV back then was very different from what it is now. They actually would have documentaries about the 303 or something and on Saturday night they would have these weird dance show where they would play really obscure, weird stuff like Unit Moebius or really underground stuff with homemade videos with Amiga computer graphics and fractals.

At that time you’ve said that you were fascinated by Unit Moebius. And the funny thing is that you didn’t know where they were from, right?

Yeah, they were actually from The Hague, the same city I lived in. I was very surprised by that, because I thought that house and techno comes from America or maybe Germany, like Frankfurt or Berlin. It was so very exciting.

I suppose Bunker Records was one of the landmarks in your biography. Running into those guys, how did that happen?

I was making music with my friends called Orgue Electronique, and we made a demo tape, still back on cassettes. We just went to a party where Guy Tavares, the boss of Bunker Records was, and we just gave him the tape and then two days later he called us and then we were really happy, “He called us. Wow! Cool, he’s going to release it.” It was an exciting moment.

You eventually created your own label, Strange Life, which had quite an amazing output since it started in 2004.

Yeah. Strange Life started in 2004 and I stopped it in 2010. It existed for six years. It was actually started because I had some ambient music and somebody wanted to have that on a CD. So I made a CDR and gave it to him and I just made a fake catalogue number, Strange Life 001, and then it appeared on Discogs and then I had a label. I just released a lot of weird stuff on it, but then it became too big around 2010. I just stopped it because it took too much time, and it’s not really fun for me to run a label. I’m not born to do those things.

I really like that you always have these stories around your music so that people get the impression that it’s always an imaginary soundtrack. Tell us a bit about those things in life that interest you outside of music that flow into your music.

I think it’s very important that the music has to conjure up some images because this is, of course, a very powerful medium or artform. You can do lots of interesting stuff with the sounds and melodies and structures to massage the imagination of the listener. I used to do that a lot a few years ago. I made a lot of weird concept albums – the weirdest one was probably about Manuel Noriega. I’m trying to move a little bit away from that because if you conceptualize too much maybe the music sobers... Now it’s more free and open.

I read that, like many things in your life, Nacho Patrol started as a joke. You just released it and pretended it was some Ethiopian music from the ’70s. Tell us a bit about Nacho Patrol.

I bought a Colorsound Wah-Wah pedal, and then I started making tracks with it immediately.

Nacho Patrol is my Afro funk project. I bought a Colorsound Wah-Wah pedal, and then I started making tracks with it immediately. They were like Ethiopian-style Afro funk but also with electronics in it. I just put them on the internet and then I didn’t say I did it. I put it on this internet forum and said, “Yeah, found this record from Africa, it’s really cool.” It was to annoy the record collectors because they have these forums where they would show off their finds. Lots of people believed it, but then the Rush Hour / Kindred Spirits label knew it was me and asked if they could release it. After that, I had a gig where I played before Mulatu Astatke.

Wow! Yeah, that’s like the godfather of Ethiopian music.

It was in Amsterdam and the owner of the label said, “If you’re going to play there you cannot just stand there with a synthesizer. I want you to have a band.” I devised a band, I just got some people I knew together which had never been in a band. One of the guys had just bought a guitar, but he couldn’t play it. He left the band after the first gig.

I was looking on your website to see a bit of the world of Legowelt, and I saw there is software up there. Can you explain what it’s about? I couldn’t get it to work.

Yeah, one of my hobbies is to program software on obsolete computers like the Commodore 64 or TRS80. I’ve heard a lot of people couldn’t get the software you’re talking about to run because to run it you have to press the space bar, which was very common in the ’80s. When you had software to start, you just pressed the space bar. Today, nobody knows that anymore. I figured it out too. It doesn’t really have a lot to do with music, but you can listen to a soundtrack while you use the software. There’s also a program called SPIRICOM 7, which is a program where you can communicate with ghosts in your house.

That’s very useful.

It’s basically like an Ouija board, but then the ghost actually talks to you in English. It is of course just an artificial intelligent thing. He says really scary stuff like... If you type in: “Where are you now?” He’ll then say: “I’m behind you.”

You’re famous for your collection of synthesizers. How many do you have in your studio at the moment?

I think like 20 or something, but I don’t really have a studio in the normal sense. It’s just my house. Each room is ready to make music. It’s more like there are synthesizers in every room.

Kitchen included?

No, not the kitchen. Also not the bathroom either.

Are you a dancer?

Yeah, if there's a good DJ, I can do a few steps. I didn't use to dance that much, but I think it’s quite important if you're a dance producer that you know a little bit about dancing – or that you at least do it or experience parties and go deep into it.

Now I’d like to open it up to the public. Does anyone have any questions?

Audience member #1: Can you talk about your mixdown process? Do you do everything through a board and use outboard equalizers and compression?

I used to do all the mixing outboard with a big mixer, and sometimes I still do it. But the computer technology has become so advanced. I had TL Audio tube mixer and all kinds of compressors, but I sold them all because you can do the same in the computer for a fraction of the cost. If you know what you're doing in the computer, I think that it sounds the same. The living room is where I’m mixing down my tracks right now. I have all my monitor speakers set up before the couch. Instead of watching TV on the couch, I mix down tracks.

Audience member #2: Do you have a favorite hardware synthesizer at home that you like the most?

It changes all the time. Right now I’m really into the Roland JV-2080, which is a digital synthesizer from the ’90s. It’s the same as the Roland JD-800. I just made a sample pack. You can download it at if you don’t have it yet.

By Heinz Reich on December 12, 2013