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  • Wajatta in November 2019
    Extended Biography

    When beat-boxer/comedian/musician Reggie Watts and electronic music artist/DJ/producer John Tejada first joined forces as Wajatta, the results were hailed as “a surprising and winning new collaboration” (NPR) and “in league with Frankie Knuckles and Jamie Principle’s classic house” (Los Angeles Times). Coming from different worlds, but sharing a passion for the rich history of electronic dance music, Watts and Tejada bring out the best in each other’s formidable skill sets. It’s a cosmic collision of funk-infused techno and soul-steeped vocal acrobatics, equaling and at times surpassing the brilliance of their solo work.

    Wajatta (a mashup of the artists’ last names, pronounced wa-HA-ta) began in the most fitting of places: an underground warehouse party in 2017, where John was playing a late-night DJ set and Reggie, a long-time fan of John’s propulsive techno productions, was in the audience. From there a friendship blossomed, formed over strong coffee, similar backgrounds (John was born in Austria and raised in Los Angeles; Reggie moved at a young age from Germany to Montana and later Seattle) and similar interests: ‘80s sci-fi films, old-school hip-hop.

    When they began making music together, the chemistry was immediate. In their very first session at John’s home studio in Los Angeles, they completed three tracks. “It was pretty instantaneous,” Reggie agrees. “What he played me was really fun and sparked a lot of possibilities in my head.”

    Their initial collaborations resulted in the acclaimed 2018 debut album, Casual High Technology, that seamlessly married Reggie’s mix of beat-boxing, scat-singing and multi-octave, R&B-inspired crooning with John’s nimble, harmonically rich forays into house, techno, hip-hop and beyond. Since that release, the two friends have squeezed more recording sessions into their demanding schedules, continuing to find new inspiration in one another’s talents. 

    The best of those sessions are now part of a second full-length, Don’t Let Get You Down, due for release on Brainfeeder on February 28, 2020. As thrilling as Casual High Technology was, Don’t Let Get You Down is a major leap forward, a reflection of the way John and Reggie’s partnership has grown deeper and more intuitive.

    They build most tracks from scratch, bouncing ideas off one another from initial spark to finished product. It’s all done in person: “We never just share files,” John notes. They also try to keep their sessions as spontaneous as possible, in a neverending quest to, as Reggie puts it, “capture the freshness.” As a result, Don’t Let Get You Down’s 11 tracks crackle with the energy of fresh ideas captured at the moment of inspiration. It’s electronic music made organically, from two masters at the top of their respective games.

    That organic approach extends to their live shows, at which Tejada rebuilds the duo’s tracks on his samplers and synths, while the multi-octave Watts conjures vocal symphonies out of little more than a loop station and a delay pedal. Besides a number of concerts in Los Angeles, they’ve performed a handful of shows around the U.S. — San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, Taos — as well as high-profile events and festivals such as Movement in Detroit, MUTEK in Montreal, CRSSD Festival in San Diego, two Dirtybird shows (BBQ in 2018 and Campout in 2019), and a live studio session for KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic.

    On Don’t Let Get You Down’s final track, “All I Need Is You,” listeners can get a taste of one of Wajatta’s most unique concerts. The fully improvised song was part of a spontaneously created 90-minute performance for Club Something at The Sweat Spot, an L.A. dance studio run by choreographer Ryan Heffington (Sia, Spike Jonze, FKA Twigs). It’s a six-minute snapshot of the improvisational brilliance that lies at the heart of everything Wajatta does — an approach summed up in Reggie’s off-the-cuff one-liner near the track’s end: “We’re making everything here for you from scratch — just to ensure maximum freshness.”

    Watts can currently be seen nightly as the bandleader for CBS’s The Late Late Show With James Corden. He first burst into the American audience’s lives as the co-host of IFC’s groundbreaking variety series Comedy Bang! Bang! Over his 15-year career as a solo performer, he’s honed a unique style that blurs the lines between music and comedy, as is evident in his 9-minute TED Talk in 2012, as well as multiple comedy specials for both Comedy Central and Netflix, and at the invitation of Jack White, the record Reggie Watts Live at Third Man Records. Everything he does is 100% improvised — most notably, the multi-layered music tracks he builds on the fly, looping his beat-boxed rhythms and soulful vocals into spontaneous musical inventions that are funky, hypnotic and often hilarious. See updates at https://www.instagram.com/reggiewatts.

    In Wajatta, Reggie infuses those same techniques into John’s sinuous sounds, creating a refreshingly playful take on electronic music — one in which it’s often hard to separate the machines from the human voice. “There’s a lot of stuff happening that you may not realize is Reggie,” John explains. Though he’s a big fan of Reggie’s uncanny beat-boxing skills, John prefers to disguise those effects among the pulses and patters of his analog synths and vintage drum machines. “It’s cool for it to be like, ‘I didn’t know that was his voice.’”

    John, for his part, has been at the vanguard of West Coast techno since 1994, releasing a succession of acclaimed albums, singles and EPs for such prestigious labels as Kompakt, Poker Flat, Cocoon, Plug Research and his own long-running imprint, Palette Recordings. Among his best-known tracks are the moody, mesmeric “Farther and Fainter” (from his 2011 Kompakt full-length Parabolas) and the 2005 underground banger, “Sweat (On the Walls)” — now a staple of Wajatta’s high-energy live shows, where Reggie delivers witty, freestyle riffs on the track’s original spoken-word vocals. See updates at https://www.instagram.com/johntejadaofficial.

    With influences ranging from Detroit techno to Chicago house, Marvin Gaye to Mantronix, Wajatta’s sound is both familiar and wholly original — and, like all great dance music, ultimately life-affirming, as Reggie vocalizes, sometimes without words, the joyful energy of his and John’s funky, shape-shifting productions. “That’s the great thing about working with John,” Reggie says with an infectious grin. “He’s so steeped in the history of this music. I just pick up on that and run with it.”

    Posted on January 1st, 2019 lynn-hasty No comments

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