Duncan Walgreen, yes, a young family member of the infamous Walgreen retail chain is paving a path of his own – meet WAGS a young face with a history of hustle. WAGS made his step into music at the ripe age of fourteen, honing his DJ chops playing 100’s of special events, weddings and 21+ gigs and all of this before his 18th birthday! He found his true love in House music and in 2012, at the age of 17 he got his first big break when he was booked to play the Ultra Music Festival- Miami, joining some of his heroes on the UMF radio stage. Fast forward and he’s now consecutively played Ultra 5 years straight including a slot at Ultra Worldwide Seoul Korea festival last year. His debut release, “The Way You Groove”, is currently available on iTunes and Beatport and was released on Build It Records. He’s currently balancing school in New Orleans while continuing to build his production skills as well as a new EP on the way that he feels will confidently take him to the next level, as he continues to work hard to brand himself with dreams of becoming the next breakout DJ.
I recently had the opportunity to hang with WAGS in New Orleans, where we vibed on the local scene, music, and his DJ aspirations.
Sason Bishope Parry: Happy New Year, how is 2017 starting out for you?
WAGS: Happy New Year Sason! Thanks for having me for this interview! I accidentally wrote “2016” on my first rent check, but besides a lil’ force of habit, I am really embracing positive change this year and the people that I love and surround myself with are feeling the same! As they say in NOLA, lessaiz les bons temps roulez!
SBP: 2016 was an up and down year for many and with the loss of many big music icons as well as a crazy election, are you glad it’s over?
WAGS: Oh shit yeah. Can I curse? Is that allowed? I heckin’ loved the frick out of 2016, but man am I glad it is fricken over. Some of the absolute best moments of my life arrived at the same time as the grave loss of five people in my life. Let’s just say this past year I learned that there is no time to waste, always remind people that they are loved! (house music is my therapy)
SBP: Tell us a little bit about yourself, where you grew up and where you’re from?
WAGS: I love house music. I’m turning 22 in February, and I have been working for moments like these for 8 years. WAGS is a name that has been handed down through my family. Chicago is where it all started, my parents split up when I was young & moved around a lot so I lived at over 10 addresses in the city and suburbs. I’ve seen what it’s like to ‘have’, and I know what it’s like to ‘go without’. Moving was annoying because you would always have to readapt to a new environment or neighborhood but I suppose it prepared me for the nomadic lifestyle I’ve just embarked on. One idea — “I can do this” — lead to five ultra music festivals, and got me as far as Seoul, South Korea in 2016 and I’m really fucking excited to see where it will lead next. I realized this year that the game elevated, I’m playing in new waters. Chicago will always be home. I started on the tables at 14 and began working for Platinum Events. While my friends went and got drunk at high school house parties I was either DJ’ing a wedding/mitzvah, or sneaking into my own gigs at nightclubs. A few times they had me escorted in/out of the building to and from the decks. I might’ve been a walking liquor license liability but at least I put in that work.
SBP: How did you get into music?
WAGS: I have two really big ears and a lot of influences. I would say my dad would be responsible for my youngest discoveries in music. He never fully made it as the career-musician but he could have. I spent countless nights listening to him play the piano. Both of my parents also schooled me on the classics of rock, blues, hip hop, 90s house etc. I picked up guitar and drums, and toyed with my dad’s old MPC’s, I still use his old KRK monitors.
SBP: Did you go to school for music or is it something you just picked up?
WAGS: I’m currently a senior at Loyola University in New Orleans, and I’m studying Music Industry Studies. It’s actually an incredible program. It encompasses every aspect of the music business; I’ve studied festival production, artist and venue management, music publishing, industry customs and law, general music theory, piano & guitar performance classes as well as music tech courses. Sweet hook up, right?
SBP: Did you always want to be a DJ?
WAGS: I think I knew I always wanted to help people but I didn’t always know that this would be how I would go about it.
SBP: Do you also produce or play any instruments?
WAGS: Of course! It’s important for any DJ to at least have production or turntablism skills to distinguish themselves from an iPod. I began learning to produce electronic music right around the age of 14. I also picked up keys through college. I’m really excited for the music I am about to release because it will be the start of the musical journey I have envisioned and created.
SBP: Tell us about your music style and your current releases? Where can fans get your music?
WAGS: My taste changes quite a lot, but my style will always have house music in common. At a festival, I typically play a lil’ higher energy than I would in a club; I love jackin’ bass house as much as I love techno. I released my first official record in the end of 2015 with Build It Records, in 2016 I released two free records to sort of hold people over while I was working on what is about to release. I have an EP ready to go, as well as a few collaborations with some big names locked and loaded for 2017. I am aiming for a few strong house labels that influence me, including Confessions, This Ain’t Bristol, Night Bass & a few others.
SBP: Your dream is to become a big DJ, what’s your roadmap to the top?
WAGS: Right now, it is about releasing this music the appropriate label and chasing the opportunities that are currently in front of me. I’m confident that this EP and the collaborations that are underway will bring the right management and agency along. Till then I’ll do what I’ve done, never stop moving.
SBP: Early DJ’s used to spin with vinyl, now DJ’s rarely even mix anymore, what makes your DJ’ing special?
WAGS: I’ve had years of reading VERY different crowds. I value technique and turntablism is something I’m still learning. However, in the future it is likely that drum pads, groove sequencers and synths will be my only equipment on stage. Aiming for the live experience.
SBP: Who are some of your music influences and who inspires you?
WAGS: Artists that are putting records out on This Ain’t Bristol and Confessions are really inspiring me lately. Tchami’s building an army…Lodge 21, Brohug, Gerry Gonza for instance are all slaying. Billy Kenny, Maximono, Landis Lapace, DJOKO, Rich Pinder are all doing really cool shit right now too. I also have a tremendous amount of respect for the roots of Chicago house with legends like Marshall Jefferson, Sneak, Frankie Knuckles, etc.
I don’t know man, I could never limit myself with this answer. Bob Marley, Stevie Wonder, Anderson Paak…Chance…so many people come to mind and not all of them live in the realm of house music.
SBP: Do you play a lot of shows?
WAGS: I wouldn’t say I am where I want to be yet. I want to live out of a suitcase for a while and sustain a life of traveling from music. I am still tackling three this weekend with relatively no sleep, but always hungry for more.
SBP: What was your best and biggest show to date?
WAGS: This is tricky. My debut at Ultra Korea this summer probably had the most people I’ve seen. However, my favorite show of my life must be my direct support slot for Tchami at Republic in New Orleans. It was life changing. Martin was kind enough to greet me backstage after his set and gave me some chops on what he saw of my performance. Six months later and I’m finally feeling confident enough to show him what I have been working on. It’s a beautiful, humbling moment to hear your idol show love.
SBP: The DJ market seems to be a bit saturated right now and things seem to be shifting a bit towards live music, do you see the EDM genre and DJ’s going more live?
WAGS: Yes, I think the era of “EDM” has passed on in the United States. Asia feels like a new market for the “1-2-3-4 jump”-ing. However, I do not see DJ culture slowing down whatsoever, just changing. The underground is growing. I believe in house music and that it will never die. Groups like Gorgon City, Disclosure, Flume, and Odesza have truly set the standard for a tremendous live show. However, that will never stop people like me from wanting to hear 4+ hour sets of unrelenting techno and tech house that is only made possible by the DJ. The only person that I can think of that could probably conquer both is Steve Bodzin. Dude is a beast. I’ll be making a live transition myself very soon though.
SBP: If you had one DJ that you aspire to be like, who would that be?
SBP: You also dabble in promotions and putting on live shows, is that something that you will continue?
WAGS: It helps pay the bills, but also, I just really love experiencing live music! I realize that it might be something I will have to limit to a side hustle for now, but it will always be a part of what I do.
SBP: If there was one thing that you wanted fans to know about you, what would that be?
WAGS: I can clap with one hand. If you can too, give yourself a round of one-handed applause.
SBP: How do you feel about fashion and music, do you consider yourself a fashionista?
WAGS: They go hand in hand. People pay attention to aesthetic, and how you present yourself. That being said, I always thought the bandana had swagga. I like to rock black & white, typically. Last night I stepped outside my comfort zone at a show with a red bandana, and these FLY ASS red bandana paisley pants I bought off the street in Miami on New Year’s Day to match and (haha) I copped a shirt that resembled a ramen noodle cup that read, “send noods.” I thought it was hysterical and most people got a kick out of it too, but I stepped outside to light up after my set, and this guy goes in for a secret handshake I didn’t know about. “5 – star?” he says. Let’s just say I’m avoiding the color red for a while and I’ll probably stick to black and white.
SBP: What’s your take on DJ’s that hide their images with masks?
WAGS: The concept of a mask has truly intrigued me over the past year. Sometimes we wear masks like to pretend to be or at least be perceived as something that we aren’t. To me, a fake smile is a mask and people wear that shit every day. To be honest, I like to wear a bandana because it puts me in my zone and sends a message to focus on the music, not the DJ. At the same time, I see what it’s done to “EDM” culture or at least how anonymity has fueled marketing. I saw Marshmello rock Ultra then walk around the fest with a swarm of 50 eager fans looking for a selfie with the puff. People are literally crazed about him, I find his debut and marketing so fascinating that I also nearly consider the mask-game caput. He copied something that worked (Daftmau5 & Dead Punk) and successfully reinvented the idea. It’s hard to creatively identify and brand yourself as a DJ, but I believe if you put the work into the music and the story that music tells that eventually won’t matter as much. Wear a helmet, or a bandana, or without pants, or with a pink flamingo on your head, doesn’t fucking matter. Gimmicks don’t matter anymore, music does and that’s why electronic music is changing so much.
SBP: Do you have any shows coming up?
WAGS: I have a few exciting announcements for New Orleans, Chicago & Miami. Tonight, I am supporting HxV with my homie Iyaska. The doors open at 2:30am & I still haven’t slept from last night at Gravier Street Social. Miami music week is going to be off the chain too.
SBP: What’s next for WAGS?
WAGS: Grind. Hustle. Repeat. Keep moving, and keep loving is my mission. I’m about to start a musical journey, with a very attentive psychic experience in plan. Each release tells a different story, a different side of me. One of the more unique experiences for me, aside from releasing an EP; will be a collaboration I am working on with a reggae legend. The song is set to be sound-tracked in a major feature film planned for 2018; however, fans will be able to get their ears on it very soon. I wish I could say more but what I can say, is stay tuned. I’m very excited to be doing what I’m doing, I’m grateful for my come ups and for the people that support me.
Thank you Sason, see you again soon brother. ❤