The Wah Wah story began in the early 1990s in London, as the brainchild of the late Simon Goss and his brother, Chris, cultivated alongside DJ Billy Whizz and, shortly after, Oscar Goldenchild. The Wah Wah started off modestly as a string of underground parties with a gradually growing legacy earning itself a Jazz Cafe residency, followed by the formation of the label, regular club nights – from the Scala to Oval Space – and subsequently a publishing division.
In 1999, Mouseorgan’s Dom Servini joined the mission, and has since become a pivotal piece in the Wah Wah game. Since Simon’s passing in 2010, Dom and Wah Wah recording artist Adam Scrimshire continue flying the WW45 flag and taking the label to the next level. Three years ago, Dom subsequently co-founded the Southern Soul Festival, which hosts a variety of talent from across the board. Billings for 2015 include BADBADNOTGOOD, Jeremy Underground, Fatimo and the Eglo Band, Max Graef, Gilles Peterson, Dorian Concept, Romare and many more.
We had the honour of asking Dom about what the journey has really been like, and what’s in store for Wah Wah as a forward thinking 21st century label. He has also courteously created a mix which spans musical genres, but is all united by a certain soulfulness, in true Wah Wah/Southern Soul fashion.
Grab a free download of Dom’s mix here. Check out Wah Wah 45’s next release by the Hackney Colliery Band, set to drop on 8th June. Dom Servini also plays Southern Soul Festival, on 25th-28th June in Montenegro.
What motivated you to start Wah Wah 45s all those years ago?
Well, I didn’t actually start it! It was founded by Chris Goss (now of Hospital Records) and his brother, Simon, off the back of their Wah Wah club nights at The Jazz Cafe in London. The idea was to reflect the mixture of vintage soul, funk and new sounds that they were playing at their night. After joining them in the club in 1999, I was brought in to the record label fold a year later, which was a dream for me.
For any readers who are less acquainted with the label, could you offer a brief introduction? How would you describe WW45’s musical policy and philosophy, and where does the name come from?
If we have any music policy at all, it’s that everything we release has something from the soul put into it. That might be a hip hop or electronica act, a folky female vocalist, a nine-piece brass band, a dub reggae outfit or an Afrobeat orchestra – it’s all soul music to us. It’s important for us to sign artists who are great songwriters. We really value ‘the song’. It’s also important that those artists can perform their music; whether it be in a huge band set up, a solo vocalist or a guy with a laptop. We feel that live interaction is essential to the audience’s musical experience.
The name came from the club night, referencing the ‘Cry Baby’ wah-wah guitar pedal that was used heavily in 1970s funk music. ’45s’ was added on because we originally only released on 7-inch records. We’re not simply a ‘funk 45s’ label though. We’re open minded about our musical output and have released sounds that fit into house, disco, dubstep, folk, soul and ambient pigeonholes. We’re also not snobby about formats. We love 45s, but also LPs and 12″ vinyls, and we recognise that people still buy CDs, as well as embracing digital streaming and downloads.
What have been the biggest challenges you’ve faced as a label?
Like most labels, one of the biggest challenges was dealing with the move towards downloads, the near obliteration of vinyl and the restructuring of the market around the turn of the century. Things have improved hugely of late, but I don’t fully buy the ‘vinyl revival’ story. It will never be what it was in terms of overall sales, but it has become an important niche product, and one that you can provide fans with deluxe editions of, etc.
The other is the constant cash flow challenge. We’re a small label which means you constantly have to be creative about ways to bring income in (and therefore for the artists), which is good because we like being inventive.
And what are your greatest accomplishments?
I’d have to say lasting sixteen years when many others have faltered and failed; spreading incredible music across the globe; giving amazing artists a platform to showcase their mighty talents; and managing to do this by working 24/7 and still maintaining some sort of functioning personal life!
Since Simon Goss’ passing in 2010, how have you steered the label in a direction you feel is befitting of his legacy and hopes for the label?
I really hope so, and I wish I could ask him. He was a warm and loving man that was fanatical about music, both new and old. I’m sure if he was here now, he’d have a smile on his face and be nodding sagely.
You’ve been going for over fifteen years now. How has running a label changed for you over that period?
It’s changed enormously. It started out as a ‘hobby label’ releasing one 7-inch single per year, and it’s now a full time job for two of us, and a part-time one for another two or three. We release roughly four or five albums per year on average, plus a number of singles, EPs, compilations, t-shirts, tote bags and mugs! We’re now releasing vinyl LPs too, which is something we never dreamt of in the early days. We have a number of Wah Wah nights that we have to look after, plus DJ spots and live performances all over the globe. Oh, and a publishing company too!
As the digital age dominates, do you still find and sign talent in the live arena, or have you migrated more to digital sources?
Well, to start off with, I feel that the live arena is stronger than ever! The digital world is huge but, if anything, I think it has encouraged bands to come out and play live. Saying that, I’ve found bands both ways. Hackney Colliery Band and Resonators were both signed off the back of a live show at a tiny venue within a month of each other, whereas The Gene Dudley Group were signed off the back of some very interesting mp3s sent my way from one lovely man, and they have since emerged to be a top notch live band!
How did the signing of Dele Sosimi come about?
I’d crossed paths with him a couple of times at a few events, and was a fan of what he was doing and of course interested in his history and legacy. I invited him to come on my radio show as a guest and I guess we just hit it off! We share musical and sporting passions so that was a good start! I felt that Wah Wah45s could offer him an outlet to really tell his story and develop as a band leader and educator. Luckily he felt the same.
Outside Wah Wah 45, are there any labels and producers particularly impressing you at the moment?
Oh yes, so many! BJ Smith, who releases on Nu Northern Soul, is amazing in a Balearic, folky kinda way. A new producer from Brixton called BodyMoves who releases on the excellent Keep Up! [see: Stamp The Wax’s premiere of BodyMove’s ‘This is Gabor’s House‘]. Also, anything on First Word, the small but perfectly formed On The Corner Records for the left loving jazz heads, a new young producer called O’Flynn, and two very special artists out of Manchester that have been around a little while but are worth a mention, Honeyfeet and Gideon Conn.
Tell us a bit about the mix you made for us.
The mix was recorded live at home in the Wah Wah Basement in one take (hopefully that’s not too obvious here and there!). It features artists who will be playing at this year’s Southern Soul Festival in Montenegro, of which I am cofounder and host. Artists featured in the mix include Jarrod Lawson, Lay-Far and Corrado Bucci (with Rainer Truby as Truccy), as well as tunes from Wah Wah 45s and First Word, who will be repped by Scrimshire, me and DJ Gilla respectively at the festival. The mix is a short and sweet representation of the kind of journey that I like to go on in my DJ sets.
What is on the horizon for Wah Wah 45 for the rest of the year?
2015 is a big year for Wah Wah 45. We’ve got Dele Sosimi’s album out this month, then the Gene Dudley Group’s outstanding sophomore LP comes in July, with The Milk’s debut for the label dropping in the autumn. Plus there will be a number of singles, a compilation or two, and a couple more new signings which I’m keeping under my jazz hat at the moment.