Wooden Wisdom: A DJ Chess Match
by, Lisa Mejia March 26, 2015 Austin Fusion Magazine
Photos by, Clayton Hodges
A DJ spins a record, a funky melody flows from the speakers and the audience grooves to the songs from decades past. Before the audience sways subside, another DJ takes charge and a new song takes over. These two tracks escalate into each other, challenging the next song to push the atmosphere higher and higher. For the DJ team behind Wooden Wisdom, this chess match is meant to conquer the audience, spurred by a healthy dose of competition.
At the 2015 Quantum Collective Southwest Invasion showcase, powered by World Arts Media, this is exactly what the SXSW audience experienced when Wooden Wisdom concluded a full day of music. Composed of Zach Cowie and Elijah Wood, not only bring their friendship to the stage but also their shared love of music. This camaraderie mimics the way they connect their songs, each taking turns blending a new song into another, playing off each other’s energy and pushing the beat forward.
“When you’re DJing by yourself, you have a tendency to get stuck in your own loop.” Cowie adds. “Its great to have another person because it keeps a perspective on the evening.”
“Playing with someone creates a dynamic of a musical conversation, a call and response, and the constant challenges that may occur,” Wood explains.
There’s no predetermined plan for each performance, instead letting the night dictate the set. The most important preparation they do is a grab-bag supply of records they bring on tour. For Cowie, the intention of the collection may vary, but it usually starts off with a song or album on constant rotation in his house. The ultimate reasons many vary, from the sound aspects of a particular song to the atmosphere created by individual audiences, but their spontaneity leaves open a work of possibilities.
“The sound we’re experiencing with our own monitors, that changes our experiences and vibe, and ultimately what’s happening with the people listening,” Wood says. “We’re reacting to that as well. If something is happening, you want to build on that, and that gives you an objective in a way.”
“When it’s a good dance party, you want everything to keep moving up,” Cowie adds.
Since the energy of each night has such a big influence on their independent sets on a tour, the experience at a show is unique, joining together the audience and the performers themselves. This straightforward connection between music and the soul, accentuates the fact that they have chosen to DJ using vinyl records.
“For us, we’re working with physical objects all night and there is just something meaningful about that. It’s hard to put into words,” Wood says. “It’s a physical object, and many we are working with are from the 70s and earlier, that’s meaningful. Whatever that means to anyone else, it’s meaningful to us.”
Vinyl may not be prominent now, but during it’s slow revival more and more people are awakening their music ear to the importance of records. With the gritty intro to each record as the needle finds the song, this sound grounds the music into something tactile, a physical representation of the experience the listener is about to have. It creates a shared event, opening memories of sitting around a record player and listening to something new.
“There is something about the work involved on so many levels with vinyl, you have to do the work, you have to find these records, sometimes in far off places, quite literally,” Wood says. “Part of that is in the investment, if a DJ comes into a room, and if they start to play their records, you know they’ve investing time and energy into finding these things and curates them for people to listen to.”
Since records aren’t readily available at your neighborhood music store, the process to find the music to use becomes an adventure and an important aspect of their partnership. They share their finds, sometimes even buying a copy for the other one, to further not only their musical collection but to pass on something new. This is another example of the connective power of music.
This isn’t to say they aren’t ready for the surprise shows or aren’t ready for the unexpected. Along with their 12 inch vinyls, they also bring along a collection of 45s, singles that allow them to have a little bit more of a variety in musical genres. No matter what the night brings, Wooden Wisdom is ready to create an unforgettable and unique night.
“We both have thousands of records, so for us to pull a bag of a hundred to bring on a tour, there is something important about each one of those things,” Cowie says. “The connection to the music is stronger and hopefully that’s conveyed. It forces us to show up with a statement versus ‘I’ve got 10,000 songs on this hard drive, let’s see where the night goes.'”
From how they record shop to how they interact on stage, both Cowie and Wood have come together as music enthusiasts with the sincere objective to share this passion through their DJ set. The classic and sometimes rare tracks they play each night allows an audience a glimpse into the vast world of musical recordings, causing even the most cynical music fan to dance the night away.