Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
The simple answer to how Sport Wolf’s biography informs his sound is that he’s Detroit guy who transplanted to L.A., but once you get to know him even a little bit, you see that the truth is that he’s a serial self-transplanter, whose influences are many, various, and global.
I think it’s a shame that the romance of the wandering troubadours with their instruments slung over their shoulders is owned so exclusively by the folk and rock traditions. Really, it’s the electronic heads who are most cosmopolitan, who you’re most likely to find on an international flight to go DJ, who mix it up in the mud at festivals across the known world.
Not only does Sport Wolf talk to us about his travels in our interview, he also talks about his musical wanderings: moving from hip-hop and jazz sampling vibe to roots-oriented house music — his influences ranging from his native Detroit to germanic cloud rap (which — among other things — strives to teach the lesson that with enough psychedelics provided, every culture can get along).
The song we’re listening to today, “Better,” can truly be deployed however you, the listener, desire. It’s amazingly chill if you have an edge that you need removed. It’s also subtly innovative to reward those who pay closer attention. Of course, you can dance to it, and it’s got just the tiniest hint of swing if you want to mix your moves up a smidge. It’s a sweet little nugget that leaves us looking forward to the full album.
You’ve described your sound as alternating between minimal and chaotic. “Better” seems to be on the minimal end of that spectrum. How representative is this track of the rest of Esprit? Are there chaotic elements on it as well?
SW: “Better” is definitely a more minimal and contemplative track. I tried my best to express sonically, throughout Esprit, a lot of what I was feeling at the time. Especially my frustrations with life. I’m really inspired by those feelings. I’ve found them to be a direct line of communication to my creative spirit. As far as chaos, the second track, titled “Grün,” is especially chaotic in brief moments. Ideally, that track should be played in some dirty underground club in Berlin. I tried my best to make each track on Esprit into chapters of a larger story, I was inspired by the movements of classical music and that storytelling aspect; I’m a huge Erik Satie fan.
You released your first mixtape roughly 3 years ago; how do you think your musical style and approach have evolved since then?
SW: Oh, significantly. I was almost exclusively sampling and really relying heavily on my hip-hop and jazz influences. When I created Manchester Sounds I had just moved to England and had not really made music for about 3 years so I could focus on school. I didn’t have much money or friends so I would walk around at night listening to The Stone Roses and A Guy Called Gerald, hopping fences and exploring Manchester. That mixtape is a reflection of what I saw and felt there. When I left England and moved to Austria, I started working on a farm where I grew weed and helped a young family build a more sustainable infrastructure on their property. I would take the bus into town, get high in the park, and then use the WIFI at the McDonalds to find and listen to new music. I discovered the abstract German/Austrian Cloud Rap scene. That is when I first heard Yung Hurn, who I would later meet and work with, along with the Live From Earth Collective. I became obsessed and super inspired by all of the audio/visual work they were releasing. I stepped away from sampling and focused on playing my own instruments, recording found sounds, and working on my drums and mixing/mastering. I came back to the US to finish up school, pretty dissatisfied with my life after living abroad and was just making beats all the time. Even in class, because I care about school anymore. I started DJ’ing more apartment and warehouse parties, which is when I started listening to a lot of house music again. I’m really into early house music, especially stuff that sounds warm and dusty, so I was excited when I first heard “lo-fi” house online. That’s when I felt inspired to take a break from the beat making, and focus on something more danceable and abstract. I recently have been given on loan a Roland 303 Groove box, which I used throughout Esprit.
I tried my best to make each track on Esprit into chapters of a larger story, I was inspired by the movements of classical music and that storytelling aspect.
Living in L.A. but being from Detroit, a town with such a significant tradition in this genre, how difficult/important is it for you to hold on to your Detroit roots?
SW: All of those early Detroit guys and all the OGs that are still there, made music because they wanted to create something real and honest. This is a beautiful concept, and this is how I operate. I don’t make music because I’m from Detroit, I don’t make music to look cool, I make music to make music and that is all. I do my best to translate my emotions into something tangible, and if it resonates then great, if not that’s also fine. I’m extremely fortunate to know people like Kevin Reynolds and Derrick May personally (Derrick was my neighbor as a small child) and to have had parents who were both very much involved in the beginning of techno music. The city and the music have influenced who I am and what I make.
Speaking of Detroit, how did your relationship with Young Heavy Souls come to pass?
SW: I found out about Young Heavy Souls through my friend Kyle (known musically as Norty) who I met through another friend that I went to college with. It was my 21st birthday and we were drinking vodka and taking shots of tequila in my apartment when I mentioned I made music and showed him some old beats I made in high school. He liked them and said I should download Ableton and make more music. We would always send each other new music we liked. I owe him a lot for listening to all my demos early on and still to this day. This was right before I moved to England and Norty became a part of YHS during this time. I met a lot of the artist through different local shows and ended up working the merch table one night and talking with Matt Black, the head of YHS, about my own music. He offered me a small interview on the website if I could come up with an exclusive track for them which ended up being “Foray.” This really got me thinking about taking music more seriously, and the rest is history as they say.
Can you tell us a little bit about the DJ end of what you do? What might a typical set consist of for you?
SW: I love playing out for other people. My father was a DJ and I grew up with a couple thousand records and my dad’s technic 1200’s. I would listen to those records all the time as a kid and my dad taught me how to use the turntables, scratch, mix and beat match. I then would DJ events in high school, which were terrible. I’d never recommend doing that but it impressed the girls so not a total loss. Now I’ll just dig for hours on Soundcloud, Youtube, blogs, online radio stations and of course actual record stores (dollar bin life), for the weird, new, and forgotten shit; stuff that really pushes genre boundaries. Recently I’ve been really into house mixes and forgotten house classics as well as some foreign and lo-fi stuff. I love French house music and recently have been listening to a lot of Russian techno. The Russians are killing it currently. And If I can, I’ll mix both the weird shit and the house stuff together if it works. I take mixing pretty seriously all the guys I look up to are aware of the energy of each song, and the song after or before that song, and how that hierarchy can move the crowd.