Nothing but Love
By most people's estimations, Tim Wiles, a.k.a. Überzone, would never fit the stereotype of a dance music producer. He doesn't drink or do drugs, and he operates his homegrown breakbeat production enterprise like the thriving business it is. He's even a practicing Christian. But the way Wiles sees it from the plush surroundings of the Institute of Gizmology, his private studio in a particularly unassuming warehouse space in Fullerton, California, it all makes sense for a 36-year-old raver committed to preserving the best aspects of his culture in his work and private life.
"I have plenty of love for everybody," Wiles says. "I'm never going to run out. . . . That's sort of portrayed in the title of this record, Faith in the Future. [I'm] trying to be more optimistic and more faithful as I grow older and to become more wise and try to focus any energy that I have into positivity and to be a more philanthropic person and be more positive. There's probably enough documentation of the horrors of the world already through a lot of music. I don't think there's enough representation of joy and celebration-of-life kind of feeling that's coming out."
Wiles refers to his debut LP, one of the most long-awaited -- and long-delayed -- opuses ever to be released in dance music. Ever since bursting forth from the Southern California dance scene with 1993's "Botz," Überzone has raised the bar on the genre of breakbeats, inspiring the rise of the nu-school breaks scene in the U.K. with a series of singles that brought progression and innovation to a genre dominated by recycled samples and twice-told drum loops. Yet because of financial constraints and Wiles' obsessive, perfectionist nature, Faith in the Future was postponed five full years while Überzone jumped ship from L.A. breaks label City of Angels to Astralwerks. And even after the jump in 2000, Wiles had to make a few final tweaks before unveiling it to the world.
"I'm just a complete, consummate, infernal tinkerer," Wiles says of the album delays. "And there were three primary objectives. It was so important, the '3-D' effect. I really did go for diversity, dynamics and depth. That's what I was trying to achieve on the record.
"Most of the records which have had an indelible impression on my life have been ones that contained those three characteristics. The dynamics -- the differences between a lot of the soft parts and not just quiet passages in music, but quiet passages in an album. One track is kinda ambient; the other track is fast and really frenetic. The diversity, the different styles and different influences. And depth, so that you don't listen to it three times and then say, 'Okay, turn it off!' Some records are great immediately and then by the eighth listen you're like, 'Okay, next record.' This record might be a little more challenging. You may have to listen to it a couple more times because I put a lot into it. I hope that comes across."
What does come across in this album's tracks is one man's mastery of electronic music. But like the creation of Faith in the Future, Wiles' expertise didn't appear overnight; rather, it's been developing gradually since he first heard Kraftwerk's The Man Machine as a kid growing up in Anaheim across the street from No Doubt's Gwen and Erik Stefani.
"Back in the early '80s, late '70s, that sort of music was like, alien," says Wiles. "You can't think of it now, because you've got so used to hearing electronic music and synthesizers for the last 15 years. It just sounds commonplace, but back then it was really peculiar. And I'd been kind of weaned on rock music all my life, and then I heard that. It was such a sharp contrast tonally and timbrelly. When I heard it, I was laughing from nervousness because it was so different. So I took the tape home and I listened to it a couple of times, and I was like, 'Wow, I really like this.'
"Then [Kraftwerk's] Computer World came out, and it really summed up a lot of my ideas and my personality traits. I've always been pretty much into futuristic themes and science fiction and it really fit me to a T. So I started exploring some of the other electronic groups that were out at the time -- Depeche Mode, Yazoo, Cabaret Voltaire. It's just kind of grown from there."
While still making industrial music, Wiles discovered the emerging rave scene in the late '80s, going to some of the early parties before finally ditching industrial's grimy nihilism for the funky optimism of electronic dance music in 1992. "I was too interested in what was happening in dance music," he says, "and I was also changing again at that point in my life and mellowing out quite a bit emotionally, so I was ready for another change musically, so this was the right direction for me. It was a return to the pure source in electronic music. Vocals always bothered me. I hated doing vocals when I did them. This was a way of expressing myself. The music, just the keyboards, kinda returning to that childlike aspiration, doing 100 percent pure electronic music."
Wiles dubbed himself Q, after the gizmo-creating scientist in the James Bond films, and caught the attention of Steven Melrose and Justin King of City of Angels. A slew of hit singles followed -- "Botz," "The Freaks," the Afrika Bambaataa collaboration "2 Kool 4 Skool" -- and along with a kinetic live show, Überzone slowly developed a reputation as one of America's few truly bankable producers of electronic music. As a result, Faith features a host of guest stars, among them Beenie Man, Lida Husik and Helmet's Paige Hamilton. Many of these collaborations bear a distinctive, more pop-oriented feel than club tracks like "Rhythm Device" or the album's first single, "Bounce" (which will also feature remixes from U.K. breaks producers BLIM and Rennie Pilgrem, as well as Max Graham and Überzone himself). Wiles attributes the differing styles to further changes he made as an artist during this album's long gestation.
"Over the past five years, I've done a lot of growing and a lot of changing," says Wiles. "[But] I've always been a one-man act, and it's always so difficult to do all those things for the live show and remixes and then support yourself financially while trying to write a record. The next record will be a much smoother writing process, because I will be able to take a set amount of time off, so it will probably be a more accurate representation of one frame of my life, while this record is going to be a little more eclectic because it was written over such a long period of time."
In the meantime, Wiles has also been re-amping the live presentation of the music. Initially starting off onstage with all of his studio gear and himself, Wiles eventually devised the idea of the "digital mix," whereby he worked with turntablist Davey Dave and DJed special mixes of his new material alongside other people's material, so he could finish his LP (Wiles showcased this to dazzling effect in April at the Coachella Festival). Now touring with fellow Southern California breaksters the Crystal Method, Wiles is integrating himself, Davey Dave and a video engineer onstage to achieve the balance of visual and musical spontaneity often missing in electronic music performance.
"I'm kind of excited to see how it's all going to work out," Wiles enthuses. "It's almost like having a drummer, a bass player and a guitarist, but instead, I've got a music playback guy, a drummer and myself and a DJ doing some different type of DJing with samplers, and a visual performance artist."
Of course, Wiles worries about the loss of venues in which to play his music, especially considering the nationwide crackdown on clubs and raves being perpetrated by the federal government. Still, Wiles isn't letting the distractions of the scene hinder his own plans for his music. "I seem to be showered with ideas," he says, "to the point where it's almost distracting. . . . I've got the creative energy, always. It's just the process is such a time-consuming one that I have to try and figure out a way to analytically get to that point and concentrate enough to get things done in a timely fashion."
And what would his ideal gig and audience be? Wiles names a place where neither the DEA nor the drug dealer can find him. "It would be in heaven, and everyone I love would be there."
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