Alongside Epoch, Logos, Rabit, Murlo et al, 22 year old Wen finds himself at the centre of a community of producers that represent a musical vanguard of sorts. Prospecting the rich and pliant seams of UK underground music around 130bpm, a distinct sense of influence from movements fossilised in the digital age emerges; something well realised on Wen’s aptly-named debut LP Signals.
It wasn’t till his second release, a digital EP on South-Fork Sound in January 2013, that Wen’s own distinct direction began to take form. The slowing tempo of his productions open up the deep soundscape to a width that lends every sample or percussive flourish a certain urgency and precision often missed. A deeply referential sense is present too, with surgical applications of Trim samples (on Lo-Fidelity) and strange ethereal voices (on Takin’ Over), deftly placed as if coming over a grainy FM band.
From this sophomore effort, to the moment immortalised on the album’s Nightcrawler VIP (where grime’s Grand Vizier and a host of old hands spray down over his track on 1Xtra), Wen’s meteoric rise is at least partly the product of a fond retrospective. However, this is no hackneyed attempt at simple replication. Wen’s vibrant palette is applied to the skeletal forms of inchoate grime, dubstep and UK garage with an inflection far from a carbon copy. Any such attempt would be doomed to failure, and Wen masterfully treads the line between reference and reapplication.
Harking back to those days (far before Wen’s time) is not just straight sentimentalism. He is channelling that same visceral, geographic sense afforded by the pirate radio scene and medium, in a time now seemingly devoid of any equivalent format. Though the album is a deeply percussive and spatial exercise (as anything imbued with the spirit of that time should be), the vocal samples add a dimension altogether more geographically defined. London – at least principally – conceived this music. The care taken in encoding these moments, trimmed from long forgotten sets – the dust and static dimly perceptible in the texture of the music – marks Wen apart from your average nostalgist. Bridging the vacuum of time – across which grime lost that certain something – elicits a novel strain, distinctly viral and expansive in its scope.
In this deft sublimation of the UK underground continuum, imbued with all the neurotic atmospheres of the pirate radio scene, Wen encodes a sense of a ‘signal’ travelling along an axis of time, rather than the radial source pirate radio provided. “Signals were sent out from inner city London to whoever wanted to listen, via whichever medium was available”, Wen suggests. “It only feels right to send something back”.
Catch Wen at Rinse’s Easter Party at Fabric on 17th April.