Higher state

Philadelphia-based DJ Josh Wink is no stranger to Orlando's dance scene. Known for his blond dreadlocks and drug-free, vegetarian lifestyle nearly as much as for his maverick house music-based sound, Wink first flew to Orlando for a Memorial Day-weekend rave in 1993. Since then he has spun sets at the Club, worked raves at the Orange County Convention Center and was featured at last year's Zen Festival.

A DJ at 13, Wink got in on the ground floor as house music evolved into an international underground scene. And he achieved near-celebrity status as the mainstream media looked for electronica messiahs to represent that scene to the masses. "People know me as a DJ because DJs play my music," says Wink, 28. "If I was just a DJ in Philadelphia, it would have been much harder for me to travel the world and to [merit] interviews. I like to say, ‘Within an artist I am a DJ, and within a DJ I am an artist.'"

Wink is recognized by his peers as a dance-music auteur, one whose growth as an artist was paralleled by the Hardkiss Brothers in San Francisco and Rabbit in the Moon in Tampa. His destiny as a DJ seemed determined by fate. "A friend of mine had a radio station, an AM station, outside of Philadelphia," says Wink. That friend started a mobile-DJ company, and the young Josh Winkelman was soon spinning at weddings, communions and bar mitzvahs. "I just loved the fact that people would listen to my music, what I would play that's in my head," says Wink. "I found this to be really appealing, and I followed it."

By 18 he had formed a friendship with fellow Philly DJ King Britt. They began making their own music, and in 1990 released the single "Tribal Confusion" under the pseudonym E Culture. Recognition followed, and Wink began releasing solo cuts, eventually scoring huge hits with "Higher State of Consciousness" and "Are You There?" By 1994 he had released his first full-length, continuous-mix CD as part of Moonshine Music's "United DJs of America" series, and his place in the electronic-music firmament was secured.

He and Britt eventually formed Ovum Records, which, starting with Wink's own "Liquid Summer," released a series of singles by Britt, Wink and Philadelphia drum & bass DJ Jamie Myerson. His first full-length -- recorded for Nervous in 1996 -- was the sprawling "Left Above the Clouds." For the follow-up, he envisioned a seamless album that touched on his many musical tastes. The result is the meta-electronica travelogue "HearHear."

"It's a difficult album to digest," says Wink. "The whole album is about balance and tension."

On the first half, "Back in tha' Day" harkens to old-school rave, while the jazzy "Hard Hit" and "Young Again" evoke the soundscape auteurism of Brain Eno and Bill Laswell. Wink manipulates sound bites from poet Ursula Rucker in the deep-house excursion "Sixth Sense," which gives way to the found-sound, Art of Noise feel of "Black Bomb," a collaboration with Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor.

A vocal performance by former Tones on Tail and Shellyann Orphan vocalist Caroline Crawley makes an ethereal bridge to the dancier second half of the album, which includes the new big beat-sounding single "Simple Man," plus an edited version of "Are You There?"

Despite the resistance encountered by the scene -- and simultaneous nationwide crackdowns of late-night events -- he sees the current commercialization of the once underground phenomenon as just another stage in dance-music's evolution. "Everything ... has to be bastardized in order to get to the next level," he says. "I feel very fortunate in doing what I'm doing -- in trying to educate people within new forms of music."