Any time you catch a DJ set from Will Holland, who spins and produces as Quantic, there’s sure to be at least one transfixing moment on the dancefloor.
At the small Brooklyn club C’Mon Everybody in 2016, that came when Holland dropped a reggae cover of Tammi Terrell’s “All I Do Is Think About You.” The rework appeared in the middle of an extended series of unfathomably deep dub records, and the lovelorn vocals rained prettily down on the sludgy bass, like rain irrigating parched flatlands.
In 2017 at Good Room in Greenpoint, the jolt came from a simple tribute to Prodigy of Mobb Deep, who had died that week: Quantic opened his set with the austere, unimpeachable boom-bap of “Shook Ones, Pt. II” before venturing into more ferocious energies — cumbia, salsa, dancehall and the euphoric electronic dance music of Lindstrom.
Earlier this year, again at Good Room, the spark was provided by a then-unreleased track: “You Used to Love Me,” a slow-building disco cut, where hopeful, chattering synthesizers are cut down by restrained, verging-on-reproachful vocals from a singer named Denitia.
“You Used to Love Me” is part of Quantic’s Atlantic Oscillations LP, out Friday. “I’ve been trying to crack that tune — when you have the DJ hat on, when is the time to play it?” Holland says, sitting in the East Williamsburg studio where he recorded much of the album. “I play it at the start of the night, that works. But it feels like it should be in a full dance floor when you hear it.”
Such are the challenges for Holland, who has forged a remarkably idiosyncratic career since debuting in 2001. Robert Luis, co-founder of the label Tru Thoughts, has released Holland’s music for close to 20 years; even when the two men first met, Luis recalls “he was already experimenting with all the tempos.” Holland then meandered confidently through the downtempo movement that became popular in England in the late Nineties; retro-soul with Alice Russell and Spanky Wilson; rigorously committed explorations of reggae and cumbia; and a series of collaborations with the singer Nidia Gongora, “an icon of Pacific coast music in Colombia, which is never heard in America.”
Holland is as prolific as he is unpredictable, with more than 20 full-length projects to his name. “My greatest fear is having a backlog of stuff that I can’t release; people saying, ‘no, you have to wait four years,'” he says. “People are like, ‘don’t make records that fast!’ But I’m into the old-school labels: The Motowns, the Blue Notes, these historic labels where they had systems in place where it was almost like a factory. Now I just need some factory staff.”
“He just doesn’t stop — he’s like a mad swimmer,” Russell says. “I don’t know if he eats! He always has about a hundred projects.”
With Atlantic Oscillations, Holland is attempting to propose a unified theory of his career. “I wanted to bring everything that I felt that had been important over my career into one record,” he says. Luis sees the album similarly. “It’s everything he has done before put together,” the label-head explains.
So it’s no surprise that Russell and Gongora return on Atlantic Oscillations. “To have them sit on the same record was important,” Holland says. “Now or Never,” with Russell, is breakbeat funk, with a heavy-handed piano riff that sounds like catnip for the next generation of samplers. Gongora’s “Tierra Mama” flutters and skips with the same restless energy that characterized Curao, a full-length collaboration with Holland released in 2017.
There’s also a heavy undertow of club music in Atlantic Oscillations, reflecting Holland’s steady stream of DJ gigs — some of which require him to start at full-throttle following DJs who have been playing nothing but slamming dance music from the opening moment of their sets. “[Disco] back in the day was all [played] live,” Holland notes, so he brought in live drummers, rather than programming percussion as he has on previous Quantic projects. The thunking beat comes early on Atlantic Oscillations, with “September Blues” and the title track, which swaddle a driving disco beat in strings.
The pushiness of these songs is at odds with some of the lounge-friendly music Holland made early in his career. But he finds a way to nod to that chapter as well. “The Quantic thing initially was very electronic — it started in sampling and became electronic,” Holland says. To return to that style, much of Atlantic Oscillations was started on synthesizers. “You Used to Love Me,” with its entangled, entangling synth patterns, was the first song he wrote for the album.
Corralling all Holland’s interests and squeezing them into an album comes with risks. “I have a pretty broad taste,” Holland acknowledges, “and some people don’t. It can be off-putting. People like to get what they want for a whole record.”
But he’s used to battling against listeners’ knee-jerk interest in the already-familiar. “From a DJ perspective you can scare people too,” Holland says. “I play a pretty broad selection. There will be four-on-the-floor stuff. Two hours later I’m down to go into an all-salsa set, a reggae set. Sometimes you can plot that journey in a very cunning, subtle way; sometimes it’s not quite so elegant.”
“If the winds are blowing in the right direction,” he adds, “it’s a cool thing.”