Clustering: it's a word that keeps coming into my life recently.
Beneath, Visionist and Wen are a cluster of producers that I'm especially excited by right now, all of them mining a really compelling seam of dark, 130ish beats. In a second connected cluster you could also look at how Wen, Visionist and Logos are making grimey 130ish beats but while Visionist, Logos and Beneath have had some press coverage, I suspect Wen will be new to many.
In the last year, I've become increasingly convinced the purpose of our Rinse show is to give some exposure to new & emerging producers on our wavelength. Many of the producers that we played when we first joined Rinse and those we knew before now have international profiles & insanely successful brands. Their press officers send us their music: that's not to say that we will or wont play their music, but things like that make me feel like others need what we have to give more right now.
It's felt good to have this sense of purpose with our show, to find and share producers hungry to experiment and evolve who are making beats that hold their own to the current biggest names - but don't yet make the same headlines. And one of those is Wen.
People talk about "bass" music as if the only common denominator in dubstep and it's "post-" experiements is b-lines, but to me you could also easily have reduced '06 dubstep to "dark"; the Metalheadz flavour El-B injected into garage's vocal warmth. But in the period after dubstep exploded and got ruined, I went through a crisis of confidence around whether there was any mileage left in "dark" as a style. Wobble was unlistenable, halfstep now known as "dungeon" was fine but derivative of 04/05. On the other hand UK funky was warm, percussive and fun the wonk/purple synth thing was merging with the Butterz grime strain and producing gem after gem. So for a while, I questioned "dark."
But sounds and scenes are cyclical, as much a re-action as an action, and so the further the colour intensifies the more interesting an absence of light feels fresh again. Coupled with a new tempo and undefined rhythmic matrix, there seems like a really creative cluster of undefined, interesting and dark producers working in the shadows.
Honestly, you should really meet Wen...
Download an exclusive Wen production showcase
Wen "You Know"
Wen, Lex, J-One "Closer"
Wen "Lo-Fidelity (Original Mix)"
Wen "Wind It Up"
Wen "Takin' Over"
Wen "Spark It"
B: Can you tell me where it all started for you?
W: I really got interested in music, and the instrumental side of things when I started listening to grime with a friend, we heard about Wiley during the Tunnel Vision days and I was well into that sound. Around the same time another friend (J-One) was producing hip-hop, I saw him playing with Fruity loops one day round his. Asked him what it did and how it worked, he kinda showed me the ropes that same day and just made a simple loop, then he sent me samples and everything I needed to get started - I started with hip hop like him, but was using those grimey basslines and quite a lot of Eastern/Oriental samples to begin with. I continued messing about but took the tempo up to grime speed and slowly moved onto more spread out halfstep.
W: I heard dubstep in a car with Elz (the one I used to listen to grime with), we were listening to it so loud but only realised when we lost signal of the sketchy station, then I looked in a bit further and discovered Youngsta on Rinse, he was playing Kryptic Minds really early stuff.
B: so do you think of what you do now as "dubstep?”
W: nah I don’t think so, it was and I was 'stuck' in making halfstep for a while, it was all I had been doing and what I was really feeling at the time, whenever I started to make a tune it would be solid kicks and 9th hit snares standard. I guess I did this cos there were so many other things I was learning with production all at once, you know how the learning curve is, its hard to take it all in and be creative with sounds as well as tempo all together Over a year and a half ago I had an accident with my external hard drive, I lost all my samples and all the files for all my beats up to that day. I was devastated at the time, but was still hungry to make new music. Roughly the same time I started to hear alot of 130 stuff, which was well fresh and interesting.
B: So disaster became an opportunity?
W: Exactly, I started from scratch. New samples, was properly out of my comfort zone. So I turned the tempo down a touch, and messed with some vocals and a few 808's and made “Lo-fidelity.” It was a real turning point in my style, opened a lot up. I dunno why I was so scared to try something new before then. But yeah, from that tune I became a lot more open minded with what I was producing. J-one and Lex had always been making garage and 2step, I had dabbled in it before but was a bit refrained if I’m honest. So played with the drums a lot more, started to swing ‘em a lot more and just have fun with them and just tried to move away from the organic Eastern samples I was using, those sounds are irresistible to use and are really beautiful, but admittedly I started to feel a bit trapped in using those instruments. They were taking over my sound, and sorta became it.
B: It’s funny, because “Persia” the eastern sample one in your mix really stands out. I'd not heard you use those flavours before, even though (it seems from what you're saying), that you had used them so much before.
W: Yeah, its not like I was recycling the exact same sample over and over - but that 'Eastern' style of sound was consistently a focal point in my tunes. It became a bit of a habit. I wanted to give my sound something fresh, wanted it to sound a bit more digital. It was becoming really earthy and I didn’t wanna be named under the tribal thing that was emerging. well... that’s been about for a while I guess, in Mala's beats but there were heads calling their music tribal, dungeon etc. I’d rather it was a bit unclassifiable.
B: “Tribal” as different to the UK funky tribal thing? That Brixton funky rave etc...
W: Yeah, I mean I liked that stuff a lot and its certainly been an influence. Early Cooly G stuff was quite dark on the funky side, and I liked that, with the grime esq violin samples and stuff. But I’m still quite fixated on keeping things minimal. I like space between each element, especially when there’s certain stand out sounds. The gaps in the percussion can often tie it together better than an drum hit. At that time i was hearing fresh music, but wasn’t too sure where to look for it. I heard Kode9 play some weird shit, he might of been the first , probably was. It was nice not to know what the expected drum patterns were at that tempo.
B: I was listening to your mix, which is really percussively diverse and wondered, if you ever had the urge to make something more, well, urgent to contrast what you have now?
W: What do you mean by urgent, like 4x4?
B: Yeah, but without defining that exact beat pattern.
W: yeah I have experimented with kinda transitions during tracks where it embraces a predictable drum pattern just to jar people when they hear it go back to how sparse it was before. But I usually end up doing the opposite and drop more of the drums out. I've been really tempted to make stuff where the snare is the driver of the beat, rather than the kick, so fully swapping their roles.
B: UK funky does that to an extent, but its underpinned by a kick.
W: Yeah yeah true, gives the start of each bar a lot of impact. With the right snare I feel you could get the same feeling if it was alone.
B: You sound like you've spent a lot of time getting into sound.
W: Yeah, I know how I want things to sound. I don’t like getting to hung up on mixdowns and stuff though, that technical side of production always detracts something from my beats. Spending hours tweaking things really subtly gets really tedious. It probably sounds like a lazy excuse but I really like a rough quality to music. Not in a vinyl crackle way, more of a pirate radio thing. Well I don’t even know if its that. It might just be a knock on of low quality samples produced in low quality programs. You know like Dizzee beats on made on Playstation. They sound raw, early days production, its got a richness to it. Imperfection is something I like.
B: It's funny, people can have totally divergent opinions on this. It’s funny how a lack of understanding of engineering can become an entire aesthetic
W: Yeah, I can see how people might not like that and want (or expect) music to sound crystal clear or too clean. Maybe its something I learned to love thru using samples a lot because they’re always gonna have a particular roughness about them even if its only subtle, it’s still there.
B: I'm interested in what you said "I’d rather it was a bit unclassifiable". Why is this important to you?
W: I think when people can say 'ah this music is this' it’s cool to be able to differentiate and it does make things simpler when you can pick out genres, but its more interesting when people have to listen hard (and struggle) to put their finger on it. That for me is when something starts to become 'original.' I like people to be able to listen to my music and know that its one of my tunes, but not in a way that they can pick elements out that are familiar e.g. 'Eastern samples, halfstep drums' that could be a number of producers
B: I first remember talking to MJ Cole about this, maybe 10 years ago that perhaps, at their subconscious core, each producer has some or a few fundamental traits - like how you could always tell his arpeggios a mile off
W: Yeah that’s it. Like there’s a way that the tune is assembled or a certain style of sound. It’s weird, when I listen back to my recent stuff. I always visualise this deep purple colour
B: More like that there's certain fundamental ideas hard coded into a producers brain or subconcious, that cant help but come out.
W: Yeah couldn’t of put it better.
B: Music and colour is a whole different thing i.e. synesthesia! I have that very strongly, or at least the association between tracks I write and a colour – though some people are said to literally see colours when they hear music. I've told video directors to change the entire palate of a video as the track "wasn’t that colour."
W: Haha yeah fully understand you on that! It’s almost a mood that comes attached to the music. I think something as simple as putting a colour in front of you as you listen to something can change the depth of that tune a lot or in fact no colour at all, dark room and loud music, you just get lost in it.
B: I have found when DJing or listening to DJs the light levels in a room are key. If it's too bright there can be no vibe.
W: yeah, the less light you have the more comfortable you are. I think this applies when producing too, or at least when you first get ideas rolling. I feel like I have more room to breathe when it’s dark. The vibe thing is cool too. I find my better tracks are made when I shouldn’t really be focusing on making music, can be really creative when you drop everything else. It’s a bit of a cliché thing to say but channeling that energy into music becomes an escape. It actually does though, hours fly by when your in that zone. And when that happens its hard not to take advantage of it. The amount of times I’ve had open opportunities to get in the studio, have nothing else to worry about yet my output is so dry, its frustrating. But it’s certainly not about forcing stuff out when I find the pieces in my tracks they tend to just fall together. Sometimes these things happen by accident too.
B: So can we talk about some of the tracks in the mix?
W: Yeah sure. “Closer” is a track i made a couple of years ago with Lex and J-One - they've both been massive influences on me since day one, this track was an eye opener for me of what can actually be done.
B: I don’t really know them, can you tell me a bit more about them?
W: J-One consistently produces mad high quality music, really crisp drums that float over any synth/sample/vocal he puts beneath it. His tracks are really soulful, but not in a slow way, his drums are properly swung and he’s been on the 2step flex for ages and Lex sources these well delicate samples every time, also been on the 2step thing since day. He told me about you two, think he recommended “Margins Music.”
B: Good man! He sounds alright to me.
W: yeah I really look up to them both, they’ve always been really open to listening to my tunes, giving me feedback, showing me new stuff they’ve learnt, makin’ tunes together. Everything they could to help me progress quickly. I’m heavily influenced by them both, I properly started the eastern sampling thing after we made “Closer” and my drums seemed to get solid after that tune, I think I just started looking for stuff that would help me make something on par with that track. Cos honestly it was way ahead of me at that time helped me step up though I’ll pass some tunes on from them once I get permission.
B: Tell me about your interest in grime MC vocals...
W: yeah, I got into grime through my mate Elz. He showed me some random set one time and I was hooked straight away. It just sounded interesting and different, had loads of energy and was to be frank, cool music he started MC'ing, and got good real quick. So I really started to appreciate the lyrics and how clever some of the things the MC's strung together were, even just the vibe that was given off by the choice of words and way certain words were said, that’s before you even consider flow.
W: Quickly got attached to listening to Wiley, Young Dot and Trim in particular. Dizzee was sick too but at that time he was on everyone’s lips. I loved the instrumentals, maybe a bit more than the bars we would sit in his room listening to Logan Sama and sometimes he would turn to me and quote a bar, I couldn’t remember that bar but could hear the beat that was underneath it clearly in my head.
B: OK but what about sampling them?
W: Yeah, the sampling is a kind of way of revisiting those tunes/sets that we listened to including snippets from those tunes is almost handing it to people and sayin’, yeah this is why I started makin’ music, this is a big part of my influence. Sets a mood. If I was 16 again sittin’ listenin’ to those sets I would love to be able to pause it and play my tune that samples it.
B: But, to play devil's advocate, a synth can set a mood. So why sample a vocal?
W: Haha, yeah that’s true. But a vocal in my opinion has a much more presence than a synth (there are synths that I will agree have more, Logos stuff does this really well) but a vocal has words that can have multiple meanings, that is said in a certain tone.
B: Multiple meanings eh?
W: yeah like metaphors. “Road.” That word means loads of things even within the 'grime' language. “On road shotting, clued up.” The original sample says 'good as Road' – that’s another twist, rhetorical question – “good as gold?” But then its fully styled out, 'Nike-d out… hoody’s low… good as road.'
Its offering you to read it how you want. There’s not necessarily a right way to take it, its kinda what I want to come thru the tracks. Trim is just a boss.