Ashley ‘Woz’ Westlake was previously known mostly for his UK bass-informed productions and remixes, the most notable one being his mix of RackNRuin’s ‘Territory’ that caught the attention of Black Butter Records who signed him almost immediately after listening to the track. Since releasing ‘Early Morning Champagne (feat. Joel Compass)’ via Black Butter Records though, the man has had a shift in direction, opting for the renaissance of house (in the aforementioned single and the inner city darkness of tech-y ‘Cherry Hill’). Ahead of his set this month on the prestigious Royal Caribbean International’s ‘Mariner Of The Seas’ for It’s the Ship 2015, JUICE caught up with the Bristol-bred producer to talk music, mainstream DJs, and appropriation of genre.
We read that you don’t have a traditional musical background. How did you teach yourself to produce music and where did you find your sound?
When I realised I wanted to try and make music, I bought the DAW Reason. After opening the software, I knew that I wasn’t going to be able to teach myself, or at least at the speed that I wanted to progress. I left full time work to start a course at Access to Music College in Bristol. The students and teachers on the course were mostly into dance music, so it suited me really well. I was still only just discovering dance music, however, I was really into early bass music at the time. Artistes like Redlight and his early Lobster Boy EP tracks, and Zinc with his Crack House! releases. That was the sound that I really felt I had great ideas in. These ideas ended up being my first release on Black Butter in 2011.
Your style of production has seen noticeable changes over the years, from your early bass music influences to more recently techno. Were you growing apart from the previous genres or was it something new you wanted to challenge yourself with?
As mentioned before, I found dance music not long before I started to produce. I was noticed by Black Butter early on, so I’ve found a lot of new genres and methods in production to take influence from since then. With each new genre/method/era I discover, I progress as a producer and make more informed decisions when developing my sound. I really feel like I’ve found my sound within the last two years.
Production is more accessible these days thanks to DAWs. A few UK DJs we interviewed before spoke about how ‘Logic-y’ most new dance music is now. As a DJ-producer, is this something you can relate to seeing that you’re using more drum machines and making music via analogue means?
Yeah, I think so. Although that isn’t the sole reason I am using more analogue equipment when producing now. I got very tired of looking at Logic like a puzzle and slowly piecing a track together. I stopped relying on my ears and was too interested in things that were really counterproductive to the creative process. Loving the sound of tracks made mostly on analogue instruments rather than in the box was what first attracted me to it. I love using synths that are linked to certain eras in dance music, [they] give an instant nostalgic layer to a track. More than anything, I find it more fun!
‘Cherry Hill’ was in reference to the Baltimore neighbourhood. What was the significance of the area and tell us about Max Marshall’s speech used.
That was all down to the featured vocalist Max Marshall. I had a studio session with her knowing she was a singer, however, I didn’t know that she was from Baltimore. When she arrived we spent the first couple of hours talking about her hometown and our shared love for Baltimore club music. At the end of the recording session with her, I asked if she’d be up for trying some spoken word ideas, as the way she spoke was too cool not to record. She came up with a story based in her hometown, which we recorded to tempo. I took the project back to Bristol and turned it into ‘Cherry Hill’!
Bok Bok once told us that some genres are so geography-specific that one needs to be careful of appropriation when taking certain influences in. Is this something you’d agree with?
Yeah, I agree. I just haven’t thought about that until now. I think that when taking old methods and applying them to your tracks, it needs to be done right. When I’m trying to make a track with a certain aesthetic, I try to go about it in the way it would have been done authentically, whether that means using a Juno to create old rave pads or limiting myself to just a drum machine to create the beats.
After your remix of Rudimental’s ‘Feel The Love’ was released, there were speculations that you might choose to follow a more commercial route with your music. Why do you think fans usually find it terrible when DJs to want to attain more mainstream success, have radio airplay, headline major festivals, etc.?
I’m not really sure. I guess people like being a part of something that is a little unknown. Something that they have to hunt for, do their homework on, etc. I also feel like people may find it easier to relate to underground artistes maybe? I also find that musically, once an artiste achieves that status of say one track[‘s popularity], they’re often pressured into sticking to that track’s formula. I guess that can become a bit boring for the listener.
Have you played on a cruise before? Last year’s edition of It’s The Ship was crazy! We hope you’re prepared for it.
Nope. I’ve always really wanted to though! Hyped that I get to do it with Black Butter also!
Ashley ‘Woz’ Westlake will be playing on the prestigious Royal Caribbean International’s ‘Mariner Of The Seas’ for It’s the Ship 2015, happening from Friday 20 to Monday 23 November ’15.