The presence of trusted filters is vital now more than ever. As journalists and listeners alike reach absolute saturation point trying to keep abreast of the sheer quantity and breadth of new music, having people who’ve got a proven track record in highlighting good new music put you onto things is a real touch. It’s one of the reasons why we exist but we feed as much of other journalists, DJs and kids on tumblr as anyone does. Your man Elton had it right when he sang about the ‘Circle of Life’; I don’t think he had the underground music scene post DMZ and Skream’s ‘In For The Kill Remix’ in mind when he penned it with Tim Rice, but that’s the beauty of appropriation in’t it? It works for whatever.
As a source of new and groundswelling talent, Dusk & Blackdown’s Rinse FM show has one of these proven track records in unearthing talent, playing the music of people to watch and shouting producers doing something different that generally fits in with the duo’s refined outlook on club music. Blackdown’s obviously the most vocal of the two – or he was until his Pitchfork column got culled back when – being a journalist and a sort of spokesman for some of the more digestible theory that helps define sonic trends that rely on sub bass as a unifier, but together it’s their selective brains and broadcasts that have helped people find new stuff for a long time now.
Blackdown wrote about a cluster of fresh talent that was coming through and populating their show tracklistings back in July, explaining why people like Visionist , Logos and Beneath were dominating their sets by noting that “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.”
Wen was also one of those producers he was referring to with that statement and in Wen’s showcase mix that was broadcast on the guest laden cluster show back in August , you get to see just what the filters in Dusk & Blackdown were finding so exciting. Like Beneath, Wen draws from a particularly greyscale palette of drums, bass, samples and space creating this purposely sparse music whose directive seems to be in line with that of early dubstep, even though it’s not 140 and is running slower at more of a UK funky type of tempo. Take his collaboration with Epoch, ‘Hydraulics’, which was recently released on the Egyptian Avenue label – it’s got the same tribal clatter you’d expect to hear at FWD>>, the same swamping bassline and rough sampling techniques the Firstmen* used but the tune’s slower tempo gives it’s clattering snares more time to impact and provides a greater field for the whole thing to brood across.
Ahead of an appearance at the Keysound curated Room Three takeover at FABRICLIVE on 16th November we caught up with Wen (aka Owen Darby) to reignite our mix series and he graciously provided a mixtape that helps realise the slow burning power and moreish-ness of his and his contemporaries output…
Sonic Router: What got you into making electronic music? I’ve read you mention Wiley a bit before in similar questions; he seems to be a unifying entry point for a lot of people but I mean, what was it that made you want to dig further and further?
Wen: I think it had a lot to do with my friends. At the time when I first started there was different circles of music being listened to within different circles of people, but it was all kinda related. I got introduced to Wiley’s Tunnel Vision series and the F*** Radio shows at a similar time to being first hearing of Four-Tet and Bonobo, so was keen on the organic instrument sampling but at the same time wanted to inject it with some of the energy and fire I was hearing in grime…
Wiley was the first grime emcee I heard about, which I probably why I mentioned him before.. But to be honest I hold Dot Rotten, Skepta, Ghetto and Trim up there with him, it’s just I heard about them in a different wave to Wiley . He was kind of doing it on his own at that time; making his own beats, recording his own vocals, selling his own CDs and records… or that’s what I was exposed to anyway. Other guys were about… they just didn’t have the presence he did. It’s all about presence
How would you describe the music you make?
Recently when people ask me this question I tend to say it’s a bit of a hybrid of grime and garage and it probably leans more to the latter. But if I answered this question a year ago I would have said, dark, bass heavy music… I tend to change the words I choose to describe it depending on what they mean at the time. I quite like not really knowing what it is, so I wont make up some new genre for it
You’re being pushed by Dusk & Blackdown a fair bit on their Rinse show and you’re appearing at their takeover of Room Three at fabric in a couple of weeks. How does that feel? I mean you’ve not really released that much music yet you’re getting coverage and a lot of ears are pricked in your direction…
Yeah, 2012 has been overwhelming from the beginning. Dusk + Blackdown started playing my tracks in the first couple of months and this became consistent. Blackdown said something along the lines of “Wen, I think you’ve found a home in our show” and that felt emotional [laughs]. We had an in depth chat about my music and that became an interview feature on his legendary blog, accompanied by a showcase mix – which was a cool to take a step back and reflect on my productions. A few months later I got asked to play on their Rinse show with Visionist and Beneath, which was a crazy opportunity having listening to and learning from Rinse since I got into this kind of music properly.. They’ve been dropping bombs on my life all year long but fabric is the most unbelievable one though. The thought of being a part of that Room 3 line-up in such a prolific club has properly stunned me
A lot of your music (and your SR mix) feels quite cold, not in an overly isolating way, I guess it’s just the way it comes off considering its quite sparse and peeled back but is that intentional do you think, to keep it sparse and give it a bit of that early grime like menace? If yes, why so?
I definitely like my music cold and spacious. Whenever I’m in a dance and I hear a track that has intense space in it with some cutting edge sounds I find it really creates a mood. The room seems to become bigger. Even if you’re shoulder-to-shoulder with people and the air is sticky, that tune gives off something fresh and numbs everything else – the atmosphere just feels and sounds cool… It’s those moments that I tend to remember, so I try to achieve that vibe in my music.
Bit of a loaded question I know, but do you think the success or output of certain producers influences the music you make? If yes, can you let us know who and how they influence you? I’m thinking a bit of this cluster of producer Martin’s mentioned before like…
[laughs] Yeah, I dunno if it’s necessarily about success, if music reaches me that I’m really into I will be feeling it regardless of it being released on a certain label or format. I think it’s just the fact that I get to hear the music that will determine if I’m influenced by it or not. I haven’t really hunted for music for a long time. All of the tracks in the mix have been sent to me by people I ‘know… some of them I grew up around, some are from the other side of the world, but we have a connection that’s happened through the music being passed on.
The cluster is a strong influence, but it’s a kind of a reminder of what I’m about. Like, before it was mentioned I had been feeling a lot of Visionist’s stuff and got influenced to mess with vocals and synths a lot, same with Beneath and experimenting with my drums. This was all through listening to the Keysound show on Rinse, so that influence relied on the success of their show gaining my interest, not Visionist and Beneath releases. But the reason I started listening to their show was the existing Keysound releases… so yeah, a loaded question [laughs].
What have you got coming up, release/production wise?
I’ve planned a few releases with friends who are starting labels. ‘Hydraulics’, a track I made with Epoch just came out on his new label, Egyptian Avenue, with his remix ft. Joshua Idehen. I’ve also got another single forthcoming on South Fork Sound, a label just started by Blind Prophet, a guy I’ve been talking to since I set up my soundcloud account.. These labels are based in NZ and NY, which is interesting, but I have some projects closer to home in the pipeline for 2013
Can you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve made for us?
The mix is quite versatile, but it’s all music I think is really relevant right now. Drums are always something that appeal to me the most in a track, so those patterns vary a lot and lead the flow of the mix. I didn’t choose tracks to go together because of their harmonic key or tempo or anything, it was entirely the drums and the vocals responding to drums.
DOWNLOAD: Wen – Sonic Router Mix #147
Horsepower Productions – Rain [Tempa]
Wen – In [unreleased]
Balistiq Beats ft. Jamakabi – Concrete Jungle (Yardman Riddim) (Beneath remix) [Forthcoming Keysound]
My Nu Leng – Run [unreleased]
Epoch – Bodywash [unreleased]
EOMAC – That Boy [Hsuan]
J-One – Sacred [unreleased]
My Nu Leng – The Grid [Forthcoming 877]
Visionist – Control This [Forthcoming Signal Life]
Wen – Nightcrawler [unreleased]
Epoch – The Steppenwolf [unreleased]
J-One – The Truth [unreleased]
Blackdown – R In Zero G [Keysound]
Wen vs Epoch – Hydraulics (Epoch Bass Mix ft. Joshua Idehen) [Egyptian Avenue]
Catch Wen at FABRICLIVE a week on Friday:
Title Photo: Sam Allard
* allow the cloaked Game of Thrones reference. I am of course referring to people like Youngsta, Loefah, Mala, Plasticman etc.