The name Wolfgang is synonymous with greatness. Name your baby Wolfgang, and he may grow up to be one of the world’s leading chefs, or a member of a seminal band like Kraftwerk or Van Halen. In keeping with that tradition, in less than three years the producer and DJ known as Wolfgang Gartner has gone from strength to strength, with eight #1 tracks on Beatport (including the site’s best-selling track of 2009) and remixes for A-list artists (Black Eyed Peas, Timbaland, Britney Spears), all lauded by peers such as David Guetta, Tïesto, and Pete Tong.
No, with the forename Wolfgang, Gartner’s success shouldn’t surprise anyone. And yet it does. Because that is his stock in trade: surprising listeners. “Right now, I feel like I have a responsibility to advance the genre,” he says. “I have to come up with something completely new, that’s never been done before.”
Just study a couple of Gartner’s smashes to understand how rapidly his game keeps changing. The melody of “Undertaker” is composed from an encyclopedia array of electronic timbres, chopped into succinct, rapid-fire bits, yet solid hooks anchor the whole track; while the record is instantly recognizable, it packs so much information into its grooves it’s impossible for the brain to become overly-familiar with it. “Firepower” opens with a neo-classical melody, gives way to a brief passage of glistening arpeggios reminiscent of Vangelis or Tangerine Dream, then throws down an array of beats that explode in patterned bursts like Chinese New Year.
Yet Gartner isn’t simply an underground sensation. He has played before thousands at events like Coachella and Ultra Music Festival. Black Eyed Peas main man will.i.am has already tapped him for collaborations, he was recently nominated for a grammy, and legendary record executive Jimmy Iovine—who has nurtured the careers of icons ranging from Eminem to Stevie Nicks—has displayed a strong interest in Gartner. The number of requests he gets to remix other artists’ tracks has reached a point where he elects to decline ninety-nine percent of them (“I generally only work with artists for whom I have great respect and admiration”).
Like another famous Wolfgang, Gartner started his artistic experiments at a very young age. As a little boy growing up in California he studied piano, playing both classical and jazz. But it was during a family trip to Tanzania when he was 11 years old that Gartner was turned on to dance music, in the form of a mix tape that featured Kevin Saunderson’s 1988 crossover techno hit “Good Life.” “I heard that track and it completely changed the chemical structure of my brain.” Back home in America, he began making his own forays into the field, producing original tracks on drum machines and keyboards while other kids were off at soccer practice or watching cartoons.
Unlike Mozart, Gartner’s genius didn’t translate into the misadventures of an enfant terrible. Quite the opposite: “I spent all my time with music… alone.” With the onset of adolescence, he began sharing his handiwork with the world. At 13, he procured a set of tape decks with pitch controls and a four track mixer, and started playing basement parties. A year later, he graduated to turntables, and by 16 he’d begun spinning in nightclubs. As a consequence of his well-trained ear, he was particularly attuned to harmony, eschewing the classic rookie mistake of mixing tracks in incompatible keys. “I never wanted to compromise the integrity of the music,” he recalls.
That commitment to the integrity of the music continues to this day. Gartner is meticulous in his approach to crafting new tracks in the studio, contemplating how they’ll sound in different venues and new ways to pitch curveballs at the dance music cognoscenti—without using gratuitous gimmicks. Whereas many producers start with a rhythm track, Gartner is more likely to begin with a melody and a concept, and experiment… and experiment and experiment… until the pieces begin to click. “Music doesn’t just come out of thin air,” he admits. “Inspiration is a natural process.” And it can’t be forced.
As he moves forward, Gartner doesn’t want to just advance his art form—he also wants to put a fresh twist on Top 40 fare. “I definitely want to work with pop and rap artists as a producer.” So long as his identity and integrity remain intact: “I want to make what I like making, and if a rapper can rap on it, then great.” With numerous new projects in the pipeline, he still appreciates the distinction between world domination and overexposure. “I’m definitely about quality over quantity,” he concludes. With Wolfgang Gartner, only one thing is certain: his next move is always a surprise.