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Patch-On: Reverb – A Modular World Interview with Johno Wells

It’s been a hot minute, unless you follow us on Instagram *cough*, but we’re back and super excited to share this interview with Johno Wells: the musicologist and creator of Modular World.

In celebration of the upcoming Patch-On // REVERB patch-challenge video we talk about the show, the scene, and the mind behind one of the most important creative outlets in our global modular community.

Johno’s Patch-On series is a cornerstone piece of work; gathering and focusing modular artists on a thematic construct. Four previous shows feature field recordings, noise, techno, and even punk rock.

This patch-challenge pulls from all over the world, highlighting 50 artists from 15 countries all focusing on their usage of and interplay with reverb.

Before diving in, let’s watch this quick show trailer from none other than Cinematic Laboratory. Challenge accepted.

Ok, buckle up, this is going to be a long one…

Modular World Interview with Johno Wells

Modular Bias: First, hi Johno. Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions about Modular World’s upcoming Patch-On: Reverb patch-challenge show.

I don’t think the community knows how much time, effort, and love goes into a production like this, so it’s time to pull back the curtain and shed some light on Modular World as both a celebration of modular artists and a pulse check on the zeitgeist of modular-centric electronic music.

Johno Wells: Sure, Alex. First – thank you so much for having me on Modular Bias. I love what you’re doing here, and honored to be a part.

(Editor’s Note: we’re blushing over here.)

ModBias: For people unfamiliar with Modular World, can you give me a little history and also a synopsis about the show and if there is any sort of ‘mission statement’?

Johno: Ok – brief history/inspiration first.

What I saw in our scene was that we all exist in our own local “scene bubbles”, but there was no global connection – no global scene.

I love my local San Diego scene dearly, and am also plugged in with Southern California Synth Society, and was aware of (and friendly) with other groups/collectives/societies around the globe, but it felt disconnected to me. We were all friends on social media, following each other, liking each other’s posts, but that was it. Sure, social (media) is a start, but sorry, I need more, and I feel like we all do at some level. I’m a genuine-connection kinda guy.

So, seeing events overseas, and also in the US… it bugged the crap out of me that we’ll never play with each other or see each other live unless we’re independently wealthy and can travel constantly.

Simply put, I wanted to create a way that we could play together on a “global stage”.

“I want to facilitate genuine connections and be a small part of a global scene where everyone has a chance to play on a level playing field.”

Johno Wells

Modular World Show Synopsis

Each show features two artists who perform up to a 20min set, and are interviewed and I usually have a new-music segment. The live chat is super active, and it’s a global love-fest of sound.

It started out as a 5 artist per-show format. That was when the pandemic had begun and we had more time and interest to sit for a 3hr live-stream. As our lives returned to more of a schedule we were previously used to I decided to change to a 2 artist format. These shows are shorter, obviously easier to produce, and I could feel that the show needed to change with the times.

It’s modular-centric, but not exclusive.

This is an important distinction for me personally, and part of the core ethos of the show and can transition into the “mission statement” part of your question if you’d like.

Regarding “modular-centric”… Any kind of gate-keeping, or gear exclusivity / pretentious rich-boys club makes me want to eat glass.

With my local scene, I’ve witnessed the strength you can have in a group of people where everyone is welcome.

So, yes modular centric because we love the artform, but policing other people’s artistry is something I’m just not interested in.

On Modular World, we’re here to make music. Or sounds… whatever. Everyone is welcome in this safe space.

Last word on this, is that many of us are life-long musicians who have used many instruments, and would not identify as “modular synth artists” only.

Think about when Bob Dylan made the world go insane when he put down his acoustic guitar and showed up with an electric on that fateful day in 1965. How could he do this? Folk music with an electric guitar–not possible!! Not right.

Seriously, people? That’s some silly shit. See what I mean?

Let the artist express themself. Life is short, bro.

ModBias: What was the inspiration for the Spotlight series and Patch-On challenges?

Johno: The regional spotlights were conceived because there are so many unsung or worse: largely unknown scenes (except in their local areas) that I was becoming more and more aware of and wanted to share with the world.

So the way it works is: I choose one, then I connect with an artist from that city, or country, or collective and work with them to produce a show of approximately 10 artists.

I ask them to choose the artists for the show, because they obviously know their scene and people better than I do, and it takes the task of choosing artists off my plate as well.

These are such important shows to me. Start with Indonesia if you haven’t seen the regional spotlights. Rayhan Sudrajat, aka Baséput is a saint, and always great to collaborate with. The IndoModular crew is a strong collective of good people, as well as being SO talented and creative.

On the other hand, the patch challenge shows are just insanely fun to produce.

I have TOO MANY up my sleeve for the future. More than could ever be produced, sadly. It’s a pretty scary Google doc.

With each patch-challenge show, I am totally blown away by the innovations that our community comes up with. It’s stunning, and so humbling.

The format is different for these. I feature 30 artists, and the performances are short (5-7min) with no interviews, otherwise it’d be a 10 hr show.

ModBias: What motivates you to produce Modular World?

Johno: I want to facilitate genuine connections and be a small part of a global scene where everyone has a chance to play on a level playing field.

More core-ethos here regarding everyone having a chance to play and having the same respect as everyone else.

You’ll never see a flier for a Modular World show with “larger” artist names at the top and “smaller” names under them. It’s important to me to make sure beginners are on shows right next to people like Todd Barton, Sofi Hultquist (Drum & Lace), Sarah Belle Reid, or Patrick O’Brien.

We’re all beginners, ok?

Synthesis is so deep, and a lifelong journey. We all need a chance to be seen and heard.

Performing feels great. I felt this for years on so many stages in bands. A lot of our people have never performed before and getting the guts to do it is a big deal. This isn’t lost on me.

“It’s modular-centric, but not exclusive.”

Johno Wells

ModBias: By my count, you’ve hosted 4 previous Patch-On challenges. Why is now a good time to galvanize the community around a Reverb Challenge?

Johno: It’s just been near the top of my list, and it was time.

Everyone loves reverb, and I knew it would be a fun one.

No, it was Brian Krall who said “WTF do it now”. Was it? I dunno. Anyway, it was time.

ModBias: How does producing Patch-On Challenges differ from building out the fantastic Modular World Yearly Anniversary show(s)?

Johno: Well, it’s less people, so it’s more doable.

The anniversary live streams have been a total blast, but were not healthy for me at all.

Staying up for 34hrs and hosting 130 artists is just way too much.

I can’t do it again. Maybe if I was younger. I’m open to ideas for how to have an anniversary show in 2024 and not end up in the ER.

ModBias: How have you built the workflow that allows you to wrangle so many individuals onto a cohesive timeline and still keep your sanity?

Johno: Sanity? That’s funny. I wouldn’t know.

Passion projects can quickly become a “careful what you wish for” situation.

I’ve had so many people graciously offer to help, and I just don’t know how to accept it. There’s so many moving parts. From the communication with the artists, to creating the level of graphics and production that I insist on…you’d only slow me down and I’d micromanage you to a point where you’d run for the hills.

The tone of the show is the most important thing to me, so it all needs to come from me. It’s a problem.

I have some ideas for 2024…we’ll see how it plays out.

I have to mention 4 individuals who have kept me afloat:

  • My wife – She’s been my rock for over 30yrs. We’ve grown up together as adults. Nuf’ said.
  • Itai Asseo, aka iiitaiii – He re-branded Modular World with the fantastic trademark you all know, and served as a real consigliere and silent partner in the early days. He sees things I never will, and has a great skill in helping me pull my head out of my ass. He talks me out of dumb ideas and also encourages me with things I have doubts in.
  • Jay Mollerskov and Brian Krall, aka Balance.Spring – I can’t say enough about these two. We hang out nearly nightly (online) and talk constantly throughout the day. Their heart, ideas, values, opinions, and contributions to the show end up being a lot of what you see and feel.

ModBias: Why is the curation and building the flow/play order of the show your favorite part of producing shows for Modular World?

Johno: I have been a life-long musicologist and musician.

Not a musicologist as a career, but in my bones since I was a young kid. Music has been my life in every way… playing, discussing, collecting, attending live shows, and studying.

So having the distinct honor of being able to receive and view a group of performances from artists around the world that I respect, and then being able to arrange it in a way that I think will be enjoyable for our people is something I take seriously and hold very dear.

The show takes style inspiration from old MTV, which I grew up on and was completely addicted to. I loved the new music segments, the interviews, hosts… all of it.

It was so well built, and so watchable. I want to create that for us, even in a small way. One show every month or month and a half obviously is a different format, but the curation part runs deep to my childhood love for music and serious listening to many many genres of music and types of musical expression.

My opinion is that music is our most powerful artform.

ModBias: You chose Omri Cohen to go first on this Patch-On Challenge, how do we know he’s even that familiar with reverb?

Johno: Our shared sarcasm and sense of humor is what made me like you instantly, Alex.

The show opener and closer hold a close place in my heart in big shows. It allows a real statement to be made.

I always know these positions in the show when I hear them.

For the Reverb show, Omri’s genuine expression went straight to my core. And come on–he’s the almighty king of reverb, for fucks sake. Long before I saw his performance I told him I wouldn’t do the show if he couldn’t make it.

John Gee, as our closer, is the same thing. I was absolutely floored by his performance. I wanted to call him and tell him how emotionally it affected me, but I would have freaked him out, so I emailed to make sure he was ok with closing.

Without being asked, and explaining the “why” of it all, I’ve learned that an artist who closes the show can sometimes feel like they are an afterthought and stuck at the end, which is just not the case at all.

“My opinion is that music is our most powerful artform.”

Johno Wells

ModBias: Finally, how can we continue to support Modular World?

Johno: The best way to support the show is to be at the broadcast and introduce yourself in the chat. Period.

People new to the show are guests of honor. I feel that in our local shows too – I have to meet you, and I know I usually freak them out a little with manic enthusiasm.

Me: Hi! How did you find us? What’s your name? What type of music do you make? How long have you been at this?
Them: JFC, who is this guy?

Sorry, I digress.

If you can’t make it to the live broadcast, obviously watching whenever your time allows is awesome too, of course, but the chat on the day of the show is such a rush – it’s great to share it live with other human beings.

But… I suspect you’re asking about financial support, something I definitely appreciate, but hate to talk about, because the show was so obviously (I hope) not created for this.

All this said, the best way is Patreon.

Also, at the urging of many in our community since I started the show, and my small team of close friends encouraging me to finally get over my issues, I just opened a merch shop so people can wear the logo and show their support in that way as well.

(Editor’s Note: go buy the merch!)

Thank you so much Alex, for the opportunity to talk in long-form about the show. Usually, I’m the one doing the interviews!

It’s fun to share, and I’m very proud of what’s been built.

ModBias: Johno, your sincerity and genuine care for the human aspect of the artistic process shines in everything you do.

Thank you for giving us this insight into Modular World and the foundations of the global modular synthesizer community that you continue to grow.

I think we can all agree that this scene would be dimmer without the light you shine on artists around the planet.

We can’t wait to see what everyone has in store for the Patch-On // REVERB patch-challenge.

Make sure everyone tunes in this Sunday at 1pm Pacific on the Modular World YouTube channel.

See you there, and keep patching.

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