Between his travels around Indonesia’s big cities to spin some tunes, DJ Winky Wiryawan has made a comeback to both television and big screen.
Earlier this year, Winky starred in “Garis Keras” (“Hard-Line”), a short film that was part of the omnibus “Dilema.” He portrayed Said, a religious hard-liner who fights for something he does not fully understand. He also recently became the host of a comedy TV game show, “Dialogue,” which is a local adaptation of “Whose Line Is It Anyway?”
“The rating keeps going up, so I’m now shooting twice a week,” Winky said during a chat at Lulo Kitchen & Bar in Kemang, South Jakarta, on Wednesday.
Winky and his wife of nearly eight years, Kenes Andari, are among Lulo’s 12 co-owners. He said Kenes had a wide range of interests, from discovering new foods to watching sports events. He said she was best-placed to handle the business because he traveled a lot for work.
Apart from acting, TV presenting, and dabbling in the restaurant business, Winky is also a co-owner of Icon Group, a talent management company whose clients include stars Ario Bayu, Joe Taslim, Mike Lewis and Wulan Guritno.
But Winky insisted his main passion was, and will always be, music.
“I like film too, but it takes a lot of time,” the 33-year-old said. “Usually they block an entire month of my schedule for the reading and shooting. Once, I juggled between filming and deejaying, or playing in a sinetron [soap opera] and deejaying, but it didn’t really work well.”
DJ gigs make vastly more money than film, but Winky real motivation is the enjoyment he gets mixing tracks and seeing the crowd dance to his music.
With just three weeks until the start of the Muslim fasting month, Winky has been working six days a week, because during Ramadan, the nightclubs will be shut. He limits his work to six days a week at the request of his wife, who has asked for Sundays to remain free.
Winky started deejaying in 1994. At that time, he was a freshman at Pangudi Luhur high school in Jakarta. He said 1992 to 1998 were the best times for clubs in the city. Back then, each club had its own music genre and was not yet driven by the top 40 charts, unlike now. He said that was when he got the biggest buzz out of spinning tracks, even though he did not earn a lot of money.
“Back then, if you wanted to hear funk house, you’d go to Embassy, or if you wanted some soul, there was Balcony, and there was Wonderbar for trance,” he said. “Right now, a DJ doesn’t really have a choice other than playing a few tracks from the top 40.”
It was DJ Anton from Future 10, also the initiator of the popular Brightspot Market, and his brother DJ Hogi who introduced Winky to the joy of deejaying. Anton was ahead of Winky in high school and was the usual DJ at Parkit.
“The clubbing scene at that time was quite simple and there were only two parties, there wasn’t R&B and even hip-hop had just a few followers in the 1990s,” Winky recalled.
But when Winky started to gain fame as an actor, he quickly realized that it came with a downside: often event organizers and club owners would hire him as a DJ just to capitalize on his name, without actually knowing his music.
Over time, he has come to terms with it. Winky prefers spinning breaks, hip-hop old school and house music. But deejaying also means reading the crowd and keeping them happy. So when he notices confusion among clubbers, he puts on something different. It is a compromise, he said, and as a DJ, Winky realizes the need to evolve. He has gone through a few phases, he added, from mixing rock and blues with hip-hop to playing only house.
Currently, he enjoys mashups, a trend that emerged last year. While Winky realizes the need to evolve, he admits it can be challenging. Recently while hosting a TV program, Winky was criticized by a friend for being a music snob who only listened to selected tunes and was ignorant of grassroots musicians, such as dangdut group Trio Macan. Now, he said, he keeps his mind open and listens to trendy pop music occasionally.
A DJ’s golden moment arrives when he creates a song that is picked up by other DJs. Through the story behind his label, Junko, Winky has shown that keeping an open mind is the key. The label was created after his 2000 encounter with DJ Herdy, whose taste in music is very different from his own, Winky said.
“Herdy is very much into trance, while I’m pretty much all about deep house, because I was very influenced with the scene from San Francisco at that time,” he said.
After making fun of each other for a while, they ended up working together on “1,7,” a trial track that received a warm welcome in both the house and trance scene. Their second track together, “Tokio,” was a mix of breaks, trance and house, and marked a revelation for both Winky and Herdy, who previously loathed each other’s choice of genre.
After several gigs in Jakarta clubs, the track became popular and made it to the “Jakarta Movement 05” compilation album. Both DJs now still work together under Junko. For Winky, the collaboration highlights his other personality, the Winky not limited to one genre.
“When I was hired to play in Seattle and Los Angeles, they asked me to be Junko, because the crowd for that is really big there,” he said. Los Angeles and Vancouver, he added, are among his favorite cities to DJ. “That’s where I learned about the patterns behind trance to the point where it becomes euphoric.”
As much as Winky loves deejaying, he still occasionally draws the line when it comes to accepting gigs. He recently said no to an offer to play in South Korea because it fell on the first day of Ramadan and the trip would have been sponsored by a liquor company.
Part of the reason he rejected the offer is because he would have been required to promote the gig on Twitter, where Winky has more than 68,000 followers.
“I’m not really a devout Muslim but I just want to respect my belief,” he said.
So where does the DJ go to relax? “I don’t go to clubs,” said Winky, who currently loves playing rising US rapper Azelia Banks’ “212.” “I go to my basement, it’s just the most convenient place for me.”