It’s been nearly a month since the release of Wen‘s debut album ‘Signals’ and yet it feels like an LP with the scope to be debated, digested and ultimately understood for a good while yet. Intrinsically dark in feel, it’s a body of work that embodies the spirit of the UK underground better than anything in recent memory. Through tapping into the UK’s bass heritage and recontextualising elements of Funky, Jungle, Garage, Grime and Dubstep within his own murky, spacious templates, Wen has created an album that is as sonically authentic as it is fiercely innovative. Received to widespread, almost genre-less acclaim, ‘Signals’ feels every bit a landmark release, a future classic in waiting.
After catching him at his album launch party at The Waiting Room in London, from which the featured snaps were taken, we caught up with Wen to see how he feels about his debut LP now its out in the world. Recent comparisons with Burial may be a little off the mark, but from speaking to him’, it is clear that, like the reclusive producer, Wen is firmly focused on letting his music do all the talking…
First off, congratulations on the album. How was the whole process for you?
Thanks, I really enjoyed it. It was hard work, but I’m definitely pleased with the record and how it shaped up in the end – it definitely feels like the timing was right.
Did it feel like a big step to go from the ‘Commotion EP’, as well as the ‘Strings Hoe’ white label, to an album? Did you feel ready for it?
I think the ‘Commotion’ EP sits nicely as a stepping stone to the album, it was a strong introduction to the harder side of my production. If I’m honest it took me a while to get my head right for it, I always imagined I would write an album one day but didn’t expect it to come so soon. After the EP I kept writing tracks until we had a long list of about 16-17 contenders and from there we narrowed it down to the strongest tracks, before piecing it all together. During the time I was working on it, I knew that collectively it needed to maintain the niche I honed in on with the previous Keysound record, but spread across a broader range of styles that I’m into.
Grime is a key reference point, but your sound draws influence from all over the UK underground – who / what would you cite as your biggest influences on the album?
Well the label certainly was a big influence, particularly some of the albums that have become go-to long players when I’m working. Otherwise, it’s just generally UK stuff I find myself surrounded by; culture, environments, locations, music, clothing, TV and film, art. I guess it’s just certain things that involve some form of creativity and attention to detail that I admire. I needed to hold on to particular influences to finish the album though and I did a lot of travelling while I was writing it – I feel in a slightly different place in terms of influences now.
Riko is a stand-out feature on ‘Play Your Corner’. Do you think it was important for an MC to feature, almost to join the dots between your interpretation of the music with it’s past?
Yeah it was always going to be a key ingredient to complete “Signals”to be honest but it felt right to just do one track. Riko was the perfect MC to feature because he’s really underground but highly respected and people recognise him. Plus, on a sidetone, nobody else has really worked with him in my field which was quite important for me, which is kind of the same way I approach sampling. I did have a lot of people saying they wanted to hear more vocal collaborations but the album wasn’t about that, so that tune was a good opportunity to bridge the gap between my sampling style and a straight vocal track.
You also include a devil mix on the track list, another iconic reminder of how deep-rooted your sound is with regards to Grime. Do you think it’s important to look back before looking forward?
I’m not sure about deep-rooted but I definitely feel influenced by it and nah, I think looking forward is way more important because it’s all about progression for me. Looking back is just a device to help me include sounds or vocals that otherwise aren’t really accessible. Well, maybe they are becoming accessible now, but a year ago I certainly didn’t have the chance to work with MCs. Sampling existing material and twisting it into my beats is the only way I know how to make new music.
On a more general note, you seem to embody the homegrown, new school Keysound ethos best. How does it feel to be part of such a talented producer set? Do you feel any pressure to deliver?
I’ve never felt pressure with Keysound to be honest, only a little at the very beginning when they first played my track on radio because I needed to send another to catch their attention, but since then its always been calm in terms of production. I did feel a little tense when we were deciding on the artwork, but that’s just because the music was ready and we wanted it out there. It’s good to be frequently in contact with the Keysound family, we get to play together a lot and test stuff out in clubs. There’s a lot of creativity and hunger involved so everyone bounces off the energy of one another. There’s a strong sense of focus despite the wide palette of styles, so it’s really healthy.
Now looking back, track for track, how do you feel about ‘Signals’? Could you talk about the emotions that come with producing and ultimately releasing an album..
There’s quite a varied mood within the album and I wrote most of it while I was still studying. A lot of the time I would be working on projects through the day till late at night, which was stressful at times. If I felt I needed a break I would usually start a beat and I guess the stress filtered through in a considerable amount of tracks; the sense of urgency on ‘In’, ‘Play Corner’ and the Commotion EP in general all reflect the stress of approaching deadlines..
I think the weather in the UK rubbed off on the mood of my album production too – grey, cold, dark, always raining. It’s mostly winter music on the whole but ‘Swingin’, ‘Signal’ and ‘Vampin’ are more summer orientated. Then there are the chilled floaty tracks like ‘Lunar’ and ‘You Know’ which I made after just submissions and when I was chilling with my girlfriend, enjoying some downtime – they are still quite cold but there’s lots of emotion in them. The Intro track is also especially personal because it was an opportunity to reflect and give thanks to my friends and family, the scene in general and just anyone who’s somehow been involved in or on the receiving end of my music.
‘Signals’ is out now on Keysound. Buy it here.
Interview: Tomas Fraser
Photography: James Clothier