Wongo, the House Music Talent and Wu-Tang Fan, Talks Paradise Tour

by Kara Powell

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Wongo is working from home at the end of the world. As the producer known for his eclectic takes on house music starts in on the day’s first cup of coffee at 9 am in Gold Coast, Australia, I ask if he’s ready for his upcoming Paradise Tour, during which he’ll spin the impressively genre-transcendent track “Paradise,” showcasing the soulful female vocals of fellow Australian native San Mei.

He half-jokingly admits “I’m a little bit of a homebody.” And if the small beach town bearing the slogan “cheer up, slow down, chill out,” between Brisbane and Byron Bay--where Matt “Wongo” Ladgrove grew up--is anything like the Sandals Resort commercial-meets-band-camp image online, the impulse to make house music  in-house is completely understandable. No matter how picturesque the leisurely mise en scéne, Wongo has made no arrangements to bum around.

“I’m a morning person, so I’m the most creative then," he says. "I always spend my mornings creating ideas and creating stuff. By midday, I’m making sense of ideas I put down. By night, I’m listening to see what parts are actually good.”

Wongo’s worked with some of the biggest names in the game, including Matt Bass and electronic music duo GTA. It comes out that his biggest influences are British DJ SWITCH (for production), and the Detroit techno scene for his DJ style. Despite the gravitational pull from Back to the Future-recalling '80s and '90s synth of his biggest influencers and current trapped up hip-hop co-conspirators, the evolution of Wongo’s sound cannot be muted.

Before the rapid release of multiple “Paradise,” remixes (a popular version of which features Aussie band Yolanda Be Cool), there was the ethereal bonfire sand jam “Be 2 Be,” which was put out last August by dance music label Sweat It Out. While recognizing that “Paradise” is the latest and greatest landmark track of his career, he graciously thanks LA-based DJ and singer Ducky for expanding his creative capital:

“She’s musically talented and a great producer," he remembers. "That’s the first time I worked with a vocalist and it [the track] went far.”

With an unfettered willingness to try new things in tow, Wongo is going places. On November 17th, he’ll begin an international run around in several Australian cities, then head off to North American towns Dallas, San Bernardino, Seattle, and Reno, and Whistler (fans can engage in proper Wongo-style antics by voting on which city to see him in naked). He’s set close out the tour back in golden coastal paradise on February 17 in a tongue twister of a town called Wollongong.

Funny the tour should end in a funny-sounding town back home, where a young Wongo developed a keen sense of humor. As a teenager, he played his first set in the back of a hometown nightclub while suffering from a  “leaking eyes” condition--later decoded as an awkwardly-timed pink eye infection. Though practically blinded by eye juice, the youthful artist could not bring himself to cancel his DJ debut.

He threatens to derail my train of thought (presumably by accident) with some off the cuff jokes, but hops back on board to explain his amusing way with words. “I lose interest when it gets too serious," he notes. "Even with the breakdancing, I started slowing down.”  

The former national break-dancing champion and creative director of his life’s own musical comedy, wastes no opportunity to laugh at himself. His name sounds a lot like a scatting onomatopoeia or one letter deviation of “Bongo.” Over Skype, he types:

“It was my Wu-Tang name, my best mate 'Fongo' and I used to use the Ouija board and think we spoke to 'Ol Dirty Bastard. And he initiated us into Wu -Tang at the age of 12. This story is actually true. We wanted to be part of Wu-Tang so bad we would both secretly push the Ouija board glass to the letters we wanted.”

Developing side stitches, I scroll through hilarious content he’s posted to the Facebook page for record label Box of Cats and listen to his “30% fun / 40% business” business-in-front, party-in-back ethos. The affect is endearing, but not for lack of gravitas.

Throughout the discussion, the curtain comes down on quips like “something about driving to dance music revs you up.” In the final act, sound advice takes the stage. He monologues that for anyone up-and-coming in the music universe or industries otherwise, the goal is to stay afloat. Plus, starting with a logo is a definite no-no.

“It’s trying not to grow too fast," he says. "I’ve been producing for 10 years, and things are really starting to open up now because I’ve done things organically. I have a solid foundation. A lot of people get logos done before they start.”

Forcing nothing, Wongo finds collaborative partners from naturally branching out. One of such organically grown relationships has been formed with buddy Rod Ladgrove, one of the highest streamed indie folk artists. Ladgrove brothers now share a sound matrix in addition to DNA. “We have some tracks done on Spotify that are electronically based but have an acoustic sound,” announces the youngest Ladgrove. Empowered to elaborate on the collaborative, he comments further on the importance of working with others:

“I just want to work and aspire to be working with others all the time...When you’re collaborating with other people, you’re understanding views on new music.”

Sensing I’m cutting into his track-cutting time, I hastily inquire about personal style. The tracksuit-donning artist “doesn’t put a lot of effort” into his homebody appearance, but his parting prose - more sage-like than satirical, are perfectly tailored to his idiosyncratic spirit of passionate creation.

“Find what you love and do that.”