Ever since 'Takin Over' dropped in midway through Etch's Hedmuk Exclusive Mix, Wen has been firmly on the "to-feature" list. Someone else with their ear in was Blackdown, who stirred things up by asking 'what's all the commotion about?' Those in the know, of course, already knew - and that the track referred to was to fill out 12 inches of wax a few months later on the Keysound imprint came as no surprise. This, for many, was the first introduction to the abrupt rhythms, guttural space and stretched synths of the young producer from Margate. And a successful introduction it proved to be. Since then - and by then, we mean since the 'Commotion EP' sold out entirely - Wen's tunes have been picked up and rinsed by everyone from Kahn, Akkord, Elijah & Skilliam, My Nu Leng and, of course, the interlinked collection of producers who have spent the last year and half bouncing off each other and providing us with some of the most forward-thinking music the UK underground has to offer. Producers like Facta, Sepia, Underclass, Threnody and Etch have featured heavily across Hedmuk's pages and work within context of the UK's rich underground heritage - and with the releases mounting, it may not be long before they're commanding their own shared shelf in the record stores that have been at the heart of that heritage.
Hedmuk: To introduce those who might not already know, how would you describe your sound?
Wen: Dark and kind of violent, I guess - there are moments of cold emptiness interrupted with bright bursts of energy, there's a sense of urgency in the rolling versus stop/start pace of it and lots of contrast in the palette of sounds.
H: Your beats are minimal in the sense of leaving a lot of pregnant space, in the same way in which a lot of early grime instrumentals were very stripped back, and yet they don't seem to be as inviting to an MC: do you ever find yourself writing beats with an MC in mind? Is working directly with an MC something you'd be interested in doing, perhaps in the future?
W: I make my beats to hold their own on the dancefloor, it's never really been about making instrumentals for vocalists. They are sparse for the sake of being spacious and giving the rhythm some silent groove, not really to be filled with vocals. It's fun to chop vocals in like verses ([see] Patwah, Lo-Fidelity), but I prefer the impact of occasional lyrics - something to hold onto while the drums and bass roll out. So that's probably why they aren't inviting. Most of the time when I use vocals it's of a moment I enjoyed in a set, so I do write with that particular MC in mind, but I'm just trying to catch their vibe and energy, accentuate it a bit and take it further my way. I’d love to have the opportunity to work directly with an MC though for sure, it would be a completely different way of making music
H: And how does it feel to hear the likes of Wiley, Riko, Scratchy and God's Gift riding your beats on radio?
W: Yeah that was something else; it felt like a massive accomplishment, something I aspired to do when I started to make music and still will, it's not something that’s ticked off the list by any means. If I'm honest I kind of lost hope of that aspiration when the freestyle radio shows slipped away - Logan's show and Westwoods short lived 1Xtra Grime slot, they were the major ones I listened to potentially send instrumentals to. I sent stuff to a couple of blogs, Hyperfrank used one for an intro to a Griminal freestyle once, which was a bit of a tease, so it was great to finally hear some MC’s over my tune.
H: Your debut 12” on Keysound was one of the label’s biggest to date; how did you get involved with the label? Do you feel that working alongside a label which has a deep-rooted sense of influence and musical narratives with regards UK-based electronic music has helped with giving you a certain fixity and confidence when it comes to producing and pushing your own take on the underground electronic music of the last decade or so?
W: It feels right to be a part of Keysound, there's a lot of energy and a sense of focus within the crew. I got hooked on the label when I heard 'The Bits (feat. Trim)', it was one of those edgier instrumentals that Trim's known for but was actually accessible and had a path to follow (in contrast to Brain / T-Spark / Jerzey etc. who you didn't hear of, aside from on his mixtapes). I started checking Dusk + Blackdown on Rinse and eventually sent them some music. I think as a label it’s always been really quick to expose new sounds and make sure what it's doing is innovative. And that process feels continual, I find that important, it’s reassuring to know I can do my thing; I'm not expected to make tracks like the ones we did with the EP, it's more “cool, that was fun... let’s keep the momentum going".
H: In recent interviews with Threnody and Underclass, we touched on the idea of hybridity: in the mixture of influence, sound components and tropes or styles of music. Is this something that you can relate to in terms of your own music, and its apparent refusal to fit any preconceived or notional genre?
W: I think that’s interesting, and I agree with the hybrid influences in my own music, but that’s probably as far as I consider it. I just draw from styles I like and found some space in 130 to try to do my own thing, the main reason I started to make beats at that tempo was 'cause I was listening to the Keysound Rinse show. I held that as a catalyst that I wanted to be a part of - through 2011 and particularly towards the end of that year there was something really exciting building, I wanted to be involved in that movement. I could never predict what they were going to play but I knew it was going to be cutting edge. I wasn't intentionally refusing to fit in with dubstep or grime, I was just addicted to this alien sound I discovered on their show.
H: Is this hybridity something that you see reflected in the 'cluster', as Blackdown himself puts it, of producers currently peddling this darker take on 130bpm music?
W: You can narrow it down to 'hybrid' but I feel it's quite dismissive, there's a lot more than a two-fold hybridity going on with us lot; if that was the case I'm sure a genre name would have been coined by us to label it and call it our own. We share a gravity, which is, in my opinion, UK underground music, LDN, no doubt it's the origin everyone draws considerable influence from. Blackdown talked about this idea of satellites before, it's the sickest image, every producer being a satellite, worldwide. It's important there are other styles and clusters in this thing, I kind of feel I need the colourful synths/rolling funky/zero rhythm grime/4 to the floor energy/swung 2-step/warm (and cold) jungle nods. All these sounds compliment each other and give me something to draw influence from, the scene's so healthy at the moment - "these are fine times".
H: You’ve since followed the Keysound release up with a vinyl-only 12" on Baitface’s Badimup; how important is it to you to be releasing your music on a physical format?
W: It's even more important than I thought it would be. I did two digital releases before the debut 12"; once that dropped and I held the full artwork record it completely changed the way I wanted to see my music being out there and represented. The first one with Epoch felt real 'cause he cut a few dubplates of it, so I did get my own physical copy. I'm not against digital by any means, just strongly prefer the idea of people buying my music in a tangible format. I felt really proud when I saw the record in shops, friends sending me photos of them buying it etc. I didn't feel that way when I saw my music up on a website for instant download - maybe a little bit at the time, but in hindsight it didn't compare at all. It's funny actually, I was more excited when my EP got leaked: despite it being annoying that someone we trusted had shared it, it was a compliment at the same time. Growing up hounding the grime forums for Rapidshare links, you know the hot music gets uploaded quick, so I'm quietly grateful. Anyway, yeah, the 'Swingin' vinyl: I felt I needed to balance out the physical/digital with the Badimup record, I'm glad Baitface was supportive of doing vinyl only. There was no process in choosing the tracks, I just sent him those two and they clicked with him instantly. In fact I thought the decision was kind of brash a couple of months later, it was a situation where there was such a big impulse connection between my music and Baitface it left me feeling it shouldn't have been so smooth, the whole thing was a natural process; even when he mentioned about 180g it felt like it would have been rude not to.
H: Bootlegs and versions have always been a big part of grime, and your ‘Strings Hoe’ refix has caught the attention of some of grime’s biggest DJs: how does it feel to be picked up on by the likes of Elijah, Skilliam, Score 5 and Logan Sama?
W: Yeah my favourite Dizzee instrumental. It was always a bit of a gamble doing that bootleg, but it seems to get nothing but love. Glad I finally have that connection to some of the grime DJs, particularly the Butterz guys I love what they're about.
H: As your music begins to attract more and more attention, do you feel a greater pressure to deliver or do you see it as an opportunity to push at your own creative boundaries?
W: It's all positive to be honest, pressure is good for me, I welcome it. I probably feel more pressure from the way my friends are getting exposure to be honest, not really in a seriously competitive way but there's this whole one-up ethos going on amidst the entire family moving forward. I'm just having fun with it right now, enjoying 2013 so far.
H: Tell us a little about how you went about putting together the mix you've done for us.
W: It's a collection of music I feel has been influential on me lately, lots of producers included who are new on my radar and others who I'm always listening to.
H: Finally, what do the coming months hold for Wen: are there any forthcomings or anything else in the pipeline that you'd like to put the word out on?
W: There will be new Wen records out before 2013 is over. Doing a small tour of Australia at the end of August, gonna finally link Epoch out there - he's just moved to Melbourne - and Arctic too, hopefully be the grounds of some new collab projects. Also come join our bi-monthly Sunday Keysound Sessions at The Waiting Room, London - the E.M.M.A album launch was special.
Download: Wen - Hedmuk Exclusive Mix
Skepta - Mastermind [Boy Better Know]
Walton - Haze [Dub]
Self Evident - Calgary [South Fork Sound]
My Nu Leng - Waltaknocks VIP [Dub]
Arka - Innamorta [Dub]
Akkord - Compound [Houndstooth]
Neana - Bow Kat [Dub]
Elmono - Shadows on the Moon [Cold Recordings]
Dizzee Rascal - Strings Hoe (Wen Refix) [Dub]
Luthor - STL [Dub]
Elsewhere - The Espers [Mindset]
Wen - Persian [Dub]
E.m.m.a - Nostrum (feat. Sully) [Forthcoming Keysound]
Facta - Hieroglyph [Dub]
>>> President T - Heard What I Said [Adamantium Music]
J-One - Ask Me [Dub]
LAS - Liketha [Forthcoming Signal Life]
Etch - Rise [Soundman Chronicles]
Teeth - Black Thigh Snakes [Forthcoming Signal Life]
K-Lone - Crunch [Dub]
>>> Lil Nasty - Firework [Rock N Rolla II]
Mickey Freeze - Carbon [Dub]
Kahn & Neek - Thief In The Law [Bandulu]
Dot Rotten - Give Me The Money [Ghetto Platinum Productions]
Epoch - The Steppenwolf (Gantz Remix) [Dub]