Reggie Watts teams up with techno pioneer John Tejada to bring some soul to dance music

Even the most highly regarded producers of techno music have long performed in the shadows of the underground, rarely garnering the attention of mainstream audiences. The pulsing, high-tempo beats that permeate through clubs and warehouses -- often without any vocals – usually don’t appeal to the average radio listener.

However, a pairing that seems like a musical “Odd Couple” on its face could be poised to help usher the genre into broader pop culture relevancy. Naturally, the two musicians who make up Wajatta met at a warehouse party in Los Angeles.

Absurdist comedian and vocalist Reggie Watts, the leader of the house band on “The Late Late Show with James Corden,” and wry West Coast techno pioneer John Tejada have been collaborating as Wajatta for almost two years now. Their debut album, “Casual High Technology,” was released last May, when they also performed on Conan O’Brien’s talk show.

It felt like a watershed moment for techno, even if Wajatta’s fusion of Watts’ soulful vocals and Tejada’s refined production doesn’t quite fit into the typical sounds of the genre. Though dance music has become more prominent this decade, how often do you see DJs on late-night television? 

“I’d like people to be exposed to the amazingness of techno,” Watts told AOL. “It used to be music people would make fun of and think it was a one-note wonder. But this is just showing people that this is really fun, and it’s well-engineered, well-constructed music.”

That notable TV performance notwithstanding, Wajatta has only performed a handful of shows, all in Los Angeles. That’s going to change soon, as the duo is set to perform at CRSSD festival in San Diego on Sunday, March 3. They also hinted at a forthcoming U.S. tour, as Tejada says that nearly a year after the release of their debut LP, it’s “time to take it on the road.”

The gigs they have put on showcase Watts’ uncanny ability to improvise and loop his infectious vocals on the fly, much like he does during his comedic performances. Tejada often can’t help but look over and grin in awe at the bizarre yet powerful tones emanating from his partner. No two shows are the same because of Watts’ often unintelligible proclamations, but Tejada makes sure that each one fills up the dancefloor.

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Reggie Watts and John Tejada
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Reggie Watts and John Tejada

Wajatta

Credit: Robyn VonSwank

Wajatta

Credit: Robyn VonSwank

LOS ANGELES - AUGUST 16: Reggie Watts with James Corden on 'The Late Late Show with James Corden,' airing Thursday, August 16th, 2018 on The CBS Television Network. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)

Wajatta

Credit: Robyn VonSwank

PARK CITY, UT - JANUARY 26: Comedian Reggie Watts attends the Power Of Story: Makers Of The New Narrative Revolution Panel during the 2019 Sundance Film Festival at Egyptian Theatre on January 26, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Chad Hurst/Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - JANUARY 10: The Late Late Show with James Corden airing Wednesday, January 9, 2019, with guests Amy Adams, Tyler Perry, and standup comic Mekki Leeper. (Photo by Terence Patrick/CBS via Getty Images)
LOS ANGELES - OCTOBER 26: Reggie Watts on The Late Late Show with James Corden airing Tuesday, October 30, 2018. (Photo by Sonja Flemming/CBS via Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, TENNESSEE - JUNE 09: Reggie Watts performs in concert during the Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival on June 9, 2018 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by Gary Miller/Getty Images)
MANCHESTER, TN - JUNE 09: Reggie Watts performs onstage at That Tent during day 3 of the 2018 Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festival on June 9, 2018 in Manchester, Tennessee. (Photo by FilmMagic/FilmMagic for Bonnaroo Arts And Music Festival)
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They’ve also hired dancers to complement their set, an unusual step in a DJ-centric scene, and plan on incorporating more out-of-the-box artistic elements.

“We want to create more of a party vibe, where it’s not as intensely focused on us and there’s other things to look at,” Watts said.

“If someone we know is doing cool stuff like visual arts or dancing and they’re around in the city we are, we’re probably going to try and incorporate them,” Tejada said. “All the shows we’ve done so far have been pretty unique, and we want to keep them spontaneous like that.”

Even though both men are in their mid-40s and more than two decades into their musical careers, they’re still learning to operate outside of their comfort zone to bring a new, funky dimension to dance music. If Wajatta doesn’t catch on, they can always go back to their other successful projects.

“It should be fun. Scary is fun sometimes,” Tejada said. “But we’re too old to keep up now, so we’re just going to do our own things and see if it sticks.”

Wajatta, ODESZA, Phantogram and many more acts are playing at CRSSD Festival in San Diego, California, on March 2-3. You can find more information about the festival here.

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