by Brenda Lee Intengan
Will Holland is a Colombia-based dj and producer who has released several notable Latin and African-influenced electronic recordings within the past decade under the name Quantic. A discerning selector, he curates the best sounds of different genres – from hip hop to soul music to roots reggae – and incorporates those styles into original compositions and beats.
His music has been critically successful and consistently excellent since he put out his first full length album, The 5th Exotic, in 2001. Clearly a man who likes to stay busy, he’s built an impressive repertoire of sounds by heading a multitude of music projects in addition to Quantic such as the Quantic Soul Orchestra, the Limp Twins and Quantic Presenta Flowering Inferno; through these incarnations, he collaborates with some well-chosen musicians to explore a range of musical stylings thoroughly post-modern in it’s vastness. He gets along well with other artists, and has worked with Alice Russell, Bonobo, and Alfredo Linares on some fascinating ventures.
Will Holland is like an under-the-radar enigma, exactly the sort of musician that I find most intriguing. We don’t hear much about him as a personality – all I’d known about him for years was what I had heard exchanging his impeccably flawless tracks with some music enthusiast friends. From the precision of the elements that he gleans from different styles and from the way he has arranged them, it is obvious to the casual observer that this is a person who loves music and has listened to quite a bit of it. This love is infectious. In September, 2010 he visited Chicago as part of a North American tour and quite graciously indulged me with a chance to explore the origin of these sounds.
Chicago is the World: I’ve been listening to your music for years and I know your beats, but I know nothing about you as a person. Who are you?
Will Holland: My name is William Holland, I was born in Worcestershire and I’ve been living in Colombia for four years. I went there to record with a Peruvian piano player that I had heard of, recommended by a friend, called Beto Gyemant who was compiling the Panama Series for Soundway Records. He invited me down and we met down there.
I’d spent some time in Puerto Rico and the Antilles recording, but Colombia was really my first stop for recording on my own with latin musicians and then eventually I was spending more time there than in England. I was living in Brighton before that.
CITW: Was Quantic your first music project?
WH: As Quantic productions I’ve done 13 LPs, before that I started making Quantic music when I was 16. My mother and father were into folk music – my father was a banjo player, and my mother was a fiddle player and they both sang, my sister sang. There was a lot of music in the household. In the UK you get exposed to a lot of different music from the islands, like Jamaican music. Sound system culture is quite big in England, like drum and bass, trip hop and things like that. Not so much Latin music – there is a big Chilean and Brazilian community, but not really a big Colombian or Cuban or Puerto Rican community – not like in New York or in Chicago.
Colombia was just where I ended up, and there are a lot of reasons why I ended up there- its a very special place. But equally I could have wound up in Luanda, Trinidad, Lagos… or New Orleans. I’m not discriminating musically – the listener discriminates musically. I’m really open. I’m into music from Madagascar, I’m into music from Tennessee, I’m into music from all over. I’m into connecting and relating it to other music. Like tonight – I played boogaloo that relates to the Chicago Blues sound.
CITW: What kinds of music do you listen to at home?
WH: I have this VTech radio in my kitchen, which is like an internet radio that can pick up stations from all over, like from internet feeds. I listen to Radio Nova in Paris, a roots radio station in Jamaica – I think its called Roots Reggae, I also listen to KCRW and the BBC world service. I listen to a lot of spoken radio too – comedy and drama without music.
Probably if I was just listening to music on my own, I’d be listening to stuff that was not really rhythmic and was more like classical. Not western classical – I’m really into Indian, Thai, Balinese, Indonesian choral music. I really like the voices.
CITW: So when you listen to Latin American music, it’s from digging through the crates?
WH: Yeah, I dig a lot in Colombian – Baranquilla, Cali, Medellin, Armenia. I look for records in the Colombian cities. It’s different – the way you assess a song’s content for listening and enjoying is often different to how you’d assess it for playing out to events – music for dancing is often a different thing.
But having said that, the special thing about tonight is that I played in a big space – its a big space to me, in Colombia I’ve played in much smaller spaces – with a wooden floor, which is a very important thing in a dance club – and I (also) got to play music for people sitting down. Maybe they don’t want to dance and they can just sit and take it in.
CITW: Do you find anything different about playing for a Chicago audience than for other cities?
WH: Well here there’s a big history of Chicago house – in a way that’s a blessing and it’s also a curse. In some places you can play house- tempo music, or house and people will really appreciate it because they can connect, but then there’s also part of the dance floor that’s like “Aw, I don’t want to listen to this! I can hear it in any other place.” So that can work to your advantage and sometimes it’s problematic.
The most ideal audience is a really really mixed audience, and Chicago has the mixture that I like – racially, culturally and musically. Tonight there were all kinds of people that came – age-wise too, there was a large age range.
CITW: You played a really diverse set tonight – you went from Cumbian music to dub to an Irish jig at one point.
WH: The thing that’s important to note here is that whereas before people would turn up with a certain amount of records, like 40 records, but now I have a computer full of music that is far more diverse than if I was playing a box full of records. I have a lot of records at my house in Colombia that I’ve recorded into my laptop.
We live in a world where things are changing all the time. Even if you release a track now, a song might be here and gone within a month. it doesn’t matter whether a song was recorded 30 years ago or today, it’s going to be gone anyways.