Wen – ‘Signals’ (Keysound)

With online hype building across the past year following a string of heavyweight releases for Badimup and South Fork Sound, 22 year old producer Wen steps up to the long player format with 12 tracks of UK-centric rhythm and bass works for Martin ‘Blackdown’ Clark’s exemplary Keysound imprint. In fact, the refrain “it’s UK, it’s real”, icily bedded in the confines of a spooky 2-step riddim on opener ‘Intro (Family)’, could be viewed as a mantra for Wen’s representative outlook throughout the course of this outstanding album.

Weaving together a deeply referential story of UK soundsystem history, ‘Signals’ builds from the ground up, echoing Nico’s legendary No U-Turn logo in the artwork, and settling into something akin to mid-90’s jungle atmospherics within it’s expertly handled sound design. The stark rhythmic palette of 130bpm snare hits, peeling sub-bass and shuffling percussion make for lethal ingredients in the hands of this young producer, brought to creeping life on the strictly heads-down melancholy of ‘You Know’, or futuristic Arabian grime of ‘Persian’. The LDN version of Wen’s excellent ‘Swingin’ is a ruthless update on the original that sees added keys and bubbling bass that could sit alongside the very best of Lewis Beadle’s 2000-era garage reductions.

And then of course, there are those vocal samples. Having come to the attention of many through the use of cut and paste grime vocals that create keen narrative across many of Wen’s tracks, in the latter half of this album the voices sampled help build the outline of a composition that the listener goes on to complete. Painting visceral images of all night lights-down rave-hopping in the excellent ‘Vampin’, breaking down Bollywood-meets-Bow swinging grime hybrids on ‘Time’, sampling Wiley and Ghetts’ infamous on-air conflict via album highlight ‘Nightcrawler (Devils Mix)’ – the choice of vocal refrains and the development of narrative makes for vital listening when conveyed alongside a clattering rhythmic backbone – never more so than on closer ‘Play Your Corner’ featuring Roll Deep’s legendary soldier Riko.

Often cast into the same group of Boxed-generation grime producers such as Slackk, Mr. Mitch, Inkke and Rabit, Wen’s tempered production and trademark use of chopped MC samples stands this young talent’s skills aside from that starkly creative micro-scene, aligning him closer with peers like Beneath or past-generation jungle idealists Photek and Digital. Seemingly cataloguing garage and grime’s finest ingredients to create a highly original world that is both referential and progressive, ‘Signals’ shows a developing talent with a remarkable handle on the finer points of sound system culture. Superbly sequenced and delivered via a label that continues it’s development into a dynamic reference tool for the past two decades of underground music, ‘Signals’ allows the UK scene to puff it’s chest and stand tall.

‘Signals’ is available now via Keysound Recordings.

Louis Cook