The birth of our underground brand Factory 93 not only brought on an adrenaline rush reminiscent of the renegade warehouse era of raving—on which Insomniac was founded—but it also had us thinking back to all the people, places and parties that made this whole operation possible. And with that came a burning desire to crack open our collection and dust off the classic records we couldn’t live without. Through our From the Crate series, we’ll be breaking out both seminal and obscure cuts alike, imparting some knowledge in the process.
“Higher State of Consciousness,” originally released in 1995 on New York’s pioneering Strictly Rhythm label, wasn’t the first attention-grabbing, ridiculously great track produced by the veteran DJ Josh Wink. That honor, perhaps, goes to his debut: 1990’s hypnotic, Afro-tinged deep-houser “Tribal Confusion,” produced with longtime friend and frequent partner King Britt under the name E-Culture.
And there have certainly been plenty of Wink winners in the ensuing years. His discography is rife with head-spinning numbers like 2000’s Lil Louis–sampling “How’s Your Evening So Far,” 2008’s bumping organ groover “Stay Out All Night,” and this year’s ultra-jacking “Resist.” Hell, it wasn’t even the only Wink burner to come out in ‘95, a year that also saw him release the part-goofy, all-creepy “Don’t Laugh” and the club-chart–topping “I’m Ready” (released under the Size 9 banner, and also known as “the one with that breakdown”).
But “Higher State of Consciousness,” specifically its Tweekin Acid Funk mix, was the track that caught the world’s attention. Actually, it did a lot more than that: It transformed Wink—a hardworking DJ who had a major role in fostering his native Philadelphia’s burgeoning warehouse scene, and who was making increasingly high-profile forays into the larger club and rave world—into an international superstar.
It’s not hard to understand why. “Higher State” may not have been the first acid-breakbeat track to receive its share of airplay, but the way Wink distilled that genre down to its raw elements serves to focus its raw, gnarly power. The core components of “Higher State” are simple to describe: a syncopated rhythm, boasting a dose of the drums from Lyn Collins’ “Think (About It)”; a time-stretched vocal reciting the cut’s title; and pulsating above it all, a heavy dose of Roland’s TB-303. But Wink shapes those skeletal ingredients into one of electronic music’s all-time great buildup tracks. The beats grow more and more frenetic, and the bleeps ever more screeching, with the track finally collapsing upon itself from exhaustion. There’s little subtlety, and even less sheen; “Higher State” is all aggressive angles, more likely to frazzle than to soothe. It’s the kind of song that jolts the neurotransmitters into flight-or-fight (or more precisely, freak-the-fuck-out) action.
The release was a huge success. Midwest raves, desert-moon gatherings, hole-in-the-wall dives, and glittering superclubs all picked up on the addictive tune. It was particularly inescapable in Britain, where it scrambled to #70 on the singles chart and #1 on the dance chart. To this day, it’s probably the most recognizable entry in Wink’s broad discography, something that’s both a blessing and a curse: How can you top a track like “Higher State”?
Wink himself has mixed feelings regarding the tune. When an interviewer caught up with the producer after he had given a series of interviews to promote 2013’s growling techno chugger “Balls,” he was asked how he was enjoying the press scrum: “It’s okay,” he replied, “but it can get a bit tedious if everyone keeps leading off with, ‘So, tell me about ‘Higher State of Consciousness.’” He’s even gone so far as to cite the song as his “biggest regret.” There’s a good chance Wink was half-kidding, but there’s equally good chance that he was half-serious, too.
We suspect that, down deep, Wink finds a great deal of satisfaction in the indelible, steamrolling fame of his magnum opus. After all, whenever an acid house revival rolls along (there have been three or four by this point) “Higher State” consistently finds itself hovering near the top of the latest “best tracks created with a 303” list. It’s still played regularly at any throwdown with a hint of rave about it. This writer has experienced its all-conquering power to fire up a crowd during at least three large-scale festivals over the past few months, and it wouldn’t be surprising if a few Burning Man revelers are losing it as the song plays out on la Playa as you’re reading this. Almost a quarter-century after its release, it’s still one of the most thrilling dance tracks ever etched onto vinyl—and who wouldn’t be proud of that?