The smell of a record store is like nothing else in the world. It takes you back to a time before cell phones, social media, and Spotify. If you’re too young to remember the days when vinyl records were the only medium to hear music, that’s okay: a culture was born from it.

One of the people who understands this culture on a deep level is Steve Watkins, a.k.a. Mosh Wah, a stalwart in Milwaukee’s vinyl community. Mosh Wah towers behind his turntables and can look pretty menacing—if not for the beatific smile he’s quick to flash, and his genial ability to indulge anyone in any kind music discussion, no matter what your musical preference is.

Mosh Wah’s entire universe revolves around playing music, talking about music, and listening to music. Whether he’s doing his weekly show at Riverwest Radio—dedicating a power hour to something different every time he spins—or making the drywall shake when he has his go at the tables with Chalice In The Palace, he is guaranteed to make you hear something you haven’t heard before. Currently, Mosh Wah also works at We Buy Records (904 E. Center St.), Andy Noble’s latest record store in Riverwest, across from the old Lotus Land.

Mosh Wah was putting on a collection of Hawaiian funk when I arrived to talk with him about his long-standing presence in Milwaukee’s vinyl community.

Milwaukee Record: I first saw you DJ at Sabbatic. You were spinning some Circle Jerks and Bad Brains.

Mosh Wah: Man, that was a long time ago, I haven’t been there in years. That’s when I used to go by DJ Avets, which was just a mixing up of the letters in my name. I never really felt that name represented me, so I changed it to Mosh Wah.

MR: What does “Mosh Wah” mean?

MW: “Mosh” means togetherness, a mosh pit. It’s a group of people being on a vibe in sync, and that’s the “Wah.” A vibration has a wah sound.

MR: Like the sound Bo Diddley invented?

MW: [pointing] YES! [laughs]

MR: Were you heavily influenced by any specific types of music mediums in your youth? Where did the love of vinyl start for you?

MW: Well, I grew up in what I call “Chiwaukee,” between here and Chicago. I grew up in the high rises of Cabrini Green. My dad didn’t feel that was a great environment for my family, so we moved here but still traveled to Chicago regularly. My cousins are the ones who first got me into music, and they were really into new wave, which people get surprised about when I tell them. Vinyl isn’t the first medium I got into. There is another medium people don’t talk about often, but I think is an important one: music videos. That’s the way I got into music. Apart from that, mix tapes are the best medium. You can find out about so much new stuff, and people are really allowing you into their world when they create one for you.

MR: What was it about new wave that called to you?

MW: I was really just trying to be like my cousins, and I realized hearing the songs on the radio as opposed to seeing the videos was something that transported me to an entirely different world.

MR: Did they take you to shows?

MW: Milwaukee in the ’80s was a really cool place. There were always shows and we were always somewhere. I just went to any shows I could get into, including hardcore shows where the crowd was always kind of shocked to see a group of Black people in the mix, you know?

MR: Hardcore and punk are a lot different nowadays. There are more bands of color, and it’s all returning to the original creators.

MW: Exactly. It was a statement—punk music was created by pissed-off kids that were not being listened to by society. And somewhere along the line, nazis and white supremacists co-opted the sound and applied their philosophy to it.

MR: Groups like N.W.A. and Public Enemy were punk.

MW: I found N.W.A. to be kind of funny, to tell you the truth. I related to it as music that was just being made for their neighborhood. I saw it as good time, funny party music. It then became a political statement because people that weren’t from the neighborhood saw it as serious. Everything became serious after Straight Outta Compton, and hip-hop was no longer party music.

MR: Do you DJ a lot of hip-hop?

MW: I don’t really anymore, but a lot of my knowledge of music came from hip-hop, by listening to the samples and trying to track down where they came from. That’s how I discovered a lot of jazz, salsa, and funk, which is mostly what I spin now. I even play goth nights at Mad Planet.

MR: What are you trying to get done with your Riverwest Radio show?

MW: I am trying to play stuff that I like and give everyone a glimpse into all the stuff I like. I will do a Sun Ra hour, followed by a P-Funk night and then DJ Krush. My schedule is wild.

MR: What is your role at We Buy Records?

MW: I buy records, and like my DJing, I put people on to stuff.

MR: You put me on to a few different records.

MW: Yeah, that Tavares record, Madam Butterfly. [Writer’s note: “Never Had A Love Like This Before” on said record is the standout cut.] I just play music for the people. I’m all over the genres, and I used to scratch, but I got over that. Now I just like to put someone on to something new. I usually just play what I like, and depending on the spot I know exactly what to play. I will get people who come up and ask me about something I am playing, but a lot of times people don’t.

MR: How do you find new (to you) songs?

MW: I just look at the artwork on stuff. It’s really trial and error. Sometimes there will be some great artwork on a really wack-sounding album, and vice versa. It’s all about listening to stuff and seeing if you can get on its wavelength. My house itself is just full of records, and looks like a record store in there.

MR: Do you have them catalogued in any way?

MW: Nope.

MR: Is there anything that pisses you off as a DJ?

MW: I hate people trying to tip me to play something I don’t have that clearly is not jiving with the vibe of what is being played that night. It is my job—really all DJs’ jobs—to set the vibe and atmosphere. If you want to hear the songs you want to hear, play them at home or in your car. I am not going to break up this entire dance floor because you and your girlfriend want to slow dance to “Total Eclipse Of The Heart.”

MR: In your experience, is there a guaranteed song to get the party jumping?

MW: “Nights (Feel Like Gettin’ Down)” by Billy Ocean.

MR: Is there anything you want to tell the music-loving community?

MW: [leans into my voice memo recorder] Delete your Spotify and any other streaming service you have.

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About The Author

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Juan Miguel Martinez is a writer from the south side of Milwaukee. He only writes until he can land a role as the mechanic friend of the handsome lead in a telenovela. His favorite movie is Repo Man.