“Meet Wen: the 22-year-old production prodigy with his own bass-heavy sound built on a pulsing rhythmic backbone, a nuanced sense of environmental texture and coded vocal samples that interject like pulses. You could call the latter signals.”
In the current climate it’s harder than ever to truly stand out from the crowd. Producing music has become cheaper than a night out in central London; with a midi keyboard setting you back a few quid and your run of the mill DAW taking about half an hour to download il/legitimately. With that in mind, the thought of moving electronic music in a new direction and doing something original or exciting can be daunting. Achieving that goal and then going on to write a full-length album is something else entirely; but considering the work rate and quality of Wen’s output recently it’s almost unsurprising that he’s managed it.
In terms of genre, Wen’s production style is difficult to pinpoint on the usual ‘chemical-records’ continuum of house –> bass. It’s too slow for dubstep, it’s too shuffled for grime but it’s certainly not UKG. I think that’s the point though, it’s not supposed to be categorised in any obvious way. The producer seamlessly moves between both BPMs and styles but takes influence from them all. The now infamous pairing of Commotion VIP and Wiley on Barley Legal’s 1xtra show was the departure point for Wen’s journey and his new album Signals on Keysound is definitely the first of many highlights.
It may make sense to review Signals from the top down, but it’s Wen and I’m in an unconventional mood so I’ll start with the album’s last tune, Play Your Corner, with grime legend Riko. There are markers of Wen’s style; intricate sub arrangements alongside heavily swung percussion and those signature haunting strings, matched with Riko’s voice and untouchable bars. This tune has it all and more – it’s going to be damaging dance floors for years to come.
Moving back up the album, another favourite is Galactic which sits solitarily at 140BPM. It opens with a moody but nonetheless memorable hook and rapidly switches into a sub-heavy, pseudo-grime beat with gritty synths layered over it. After instigating a broad string section, Wen strips it back and lets it roll out for the remainder of the tune.
One thing that strikes me about Signals is Wen’s ability to utilise sub bass to great effect. Maintaining the level of movement in the sub-section that he does is notoriously difficult, but Wen achieves it perfectly on tunes like Lunar (one that features Keysound owner Blackdown) and the LDN revamp of Swingin. The pinnacle of the album for me lies in the title track, Signal, which combines an energetic UK Funky-style snare loop with a number of eminent grime samples and a hard-hitting synth section.
All in all, Signals has the makings to go down as a classic. From the intro to the end it’s packed full of soundsystem-orientated tracks and stamped with Wen’s unique and unbeatable traits. We were lucky enough to have Wen up to a Brotherhood Soundsystem event in Leeds on the cusp of his album release and he absolutely smashed it.
Make sure you reach the launch party in London on Friday 14th March; but more importantly make sure you buy the album on March 17th and support the artist!
Track list (CD/ digital):
- Wen – Intro (Family)
- Wen – Galactic
- Wen ft. Blackdown – Lunar
- Wen – You Know
- Wen – Persian
- Wen – Swingin’ (LDN mix)
- Wen – Vampin’
- Wen ft. Parris – Time
- Wen – In
- Wen – Signal
- Wen – Nightcrawler (devils mix)
- Wen ft. Riko – Play Your Corner
Peace, love and respect.