I just wanna dance
“The initial spark was, of course, Michael Jackson.”
When Charlie B. Wilder—known in the music industry as Captain Planet—was little, he just wanted to dance. “I danced constantly,” he says. “For me, music is dancing. I can’t pull them apart. They’ve always been tied together for me.”
Wilder grew up dancing, drumming, playing in bands, and listening to eclectic mixtapes made by his “super cool older sister” between both coasts. While he didn’t have any formal music education, he played any instrument he could get his hands on, learning by his own ear and an insatiable musical appetite.
It was while he was in high school in New York that he first saw a turntable set-up at a friend’s house in Brooklyn. It’s hard to believe Wilder could’ve ended up as anyone other than who he now is, but still, he describes the moment as life-changing.
“He showed me scratching, and I was like, this is it. This is what I want to do. I got some turntables and then the record digging began.”
Wilder dug deep. He began DJ-ing and making beats on a Tascam 4-track while working hard to acquire an extensive music collection, all as a teen. As a student at NYU (where he created his own major: DJ-ology), Wilder secured a primetime slot on WNYU’s “Passport” radio show. The show featured World music, which gave Wilder’s growing collection direction, while simultaneously throwing open the doors on an entire world (excuse the pun) of inspiration and possibility.
Through “Passport,” Wilder continued to unearth a deep and innate love of Reggae, Bollywood, Indian, Brazilian, Latin, and African music. He eventually acquired the entirety of the World music section of Lincoln Center’s Public Library, and started to lay the foundation for what would evolve to be his singular, indescribable “Gumbo Funk” style.
“This was in the early 2000s when CDs were still a thing. Record labels were putting out huge compilations,” Wilder explains. “It was a moment when World music had really blossomed. Tower Records had a whole World music area. So my show was definitely fulfilling a niche. And for me it was a great moment of major mind expansion. I had to really quickly learn the canons of several cultures.”
“I was inspired by hip hop artists and rappers like Timbaland who were incorporating cool global and folkloric samples into beats,” he says. “It really hit both sides of me—the nerdy part of me that wanted to learn about the world and different cultures, and the club part of me that wanted to dance and party. That’s where I found my own thing, as Captain Planet. I put out my first Captain Planet tape when I was 20 years old.”
Vibrations in the air
This feels like a moment to say and the rest is history, but Wilder isn’t the type to be so succinctly summed up. He lives in the present. His mind and ear work together kaleidoscopically. His proclivities for performing, digging, and exploring have only grown—right in step with a successful and vibrant career.
“I have this crazy thirst and hunger,” Wilder shares. “I always have. I always want to hear something new, something I haven’t heard before, and I love trying to place things in relation to other things. I just discovered this song that came out in the 80s in Colombia, and noticed that it uses the same melodies you hear in a lot of Trinidadian music—sounds that were originally from the Congo. Or like a wedding song from Iran that has the exact same beat as what this new producer from Mexico City is doing. I love hearing and making those connections through space and time.”
These connections aren’t only playing out in Wilder’s head. One of the more memorable and gratifying connections his work has brought him is a friendship with legendary Zimbabwean musician and political revolutionary Thomas Mapfumo.
“I grew up listening to Mapfumo from a very young age, and had an urge early on in my career to reach out to him. I looked him up online and found his booking number. I called it one day and Thomas himself was like, ‘Hello?’ I couldn’t believe it.”
Wilder has gone to Zimbabwe and stayed with Mapfumo and his family several times now. Mapfumo is still a legend in Wilder’s mind, but they’re also just really good friends now.
It’s connections like these, both auditory and interpersonal, that Wilder draws on when he’s composing and writing original music, which he does in addition to DJ-ing. Because a musical lexicon of such depth is engrained in him, he’s able to summon nearly any kind of sound in his mind, which helps him fight what he calls “the blank canvas effect.”
“It just shows where music can take you,” Wilder says. “I’m always amazed by that. Music is literally just vibrations in the air, but it’s really mystical for me. It’s brought me everywhere and created so much in my life.”
Waking up with captain planet
Wilder has composed a new edition of tones for OneClock, and we’ll be releasing them for users next month. In part two of our blog feature on Wilder we’ll hear more about his creative process and the specifics of his approach for OneClock. In the meantime, you can listen to Captain Planet’s newest release, Hammock Dreams (Bastard Jazz Recordings, 2021), or his most recent full-length album, No Visa (Bastard Jazz Recordings, 2020).