Recommended: Wen – Finesse EP

Wen’s purple patch of releases during 2013 and 2014 propelled him from relative obscurity to one of the most talked about producers in a sub-genre. His Commotion EP outlined his uniquely distinctive sound; dark and bumpy constructions, strewn with snippets of MC vocals that married together the elements of dubstep, garage and grime at 130bpm. The release spawned reels of praise-laden column inches and excitement about Wen’s murky, vocal-flecked mutations of underground continuum club music. Along with a swathe of producers operating in a similar space, the sound provided such a welcome, moody and bass-centric antithesis to the floods of tech-house that was saturating dancefloors at the time. The next 18 months saw Wen continue in this vein; dropping his infamous bootleg of Dizzee’s Strings Hoe, a full length LP on Keysound and releasing on a label he’d followed for years in Tempa. His rise was meteoric, yet he had cultivated such an infectious blueprint, and his tracks were so instantly recognisable as Wen, that he was in danger of sounding too formulaic if he stood still. In a few ways, he set himself a tough challenge in where to take his sound; to refresh the associations attached to his music. After a comparatively quiet period release wise, it’s been intriguing waiting to see what he comes up with next. The answer coincides with a debut on a brand new label – Tectonic. A change of scenery and you suspect another formative imprint for Wen, and one that – whilst celebrating its 10th birthday – remains as relevant as ever, particularly with the recent releases from the likes of Mumdance, Pinch, Acre and Logos.

His production on the Finesse EP is frighteningly three dimensional, and the most striking aspect is how his technical skills have developed. Every crack of percussion, or hulking rasp of bass sounds more physical and tangible than ever. The crushing force of “Finesse” – equipped with the kind of bassweight to shake crumbling paintwork off ceilings – is driven by prodding, deliberately driven low-end that subsides in intensity only when washed-out, 90’s hardcore-esque pads drift in towards the tracks conclusion. His material has always had a raw and unrefined charm but here, the sheer depth and precision of each element slices through the barren, industrial atmospheres with breath-taking impact. For someone that studies architecture outside of music, it is almost as if Wen’s studies are rubbing off on his sound, as he engineers basslines, dynamics and soundscapes that tower above you like giant iron-wrought constructs. Rhythmically he’s clearly in an experimental mood, and both “Finesse” and “Backdraft” brandish a steely, techno-inflected edge with much more of a 4/4 feel to them than the broken, skippy rhythms of his previous releases. Rather than uniform and monotonous structures, though, the patterns remain fluid with percussive switch-ups between phrases. Even more unexpected is Wen jacking up the tempo to 160bpm on “Ghost”, as rude, sub-heavy synth stabs ring out over the kind of slow/fast drum and bass rhythms championed by Fracture and Om Unit. Wen’s minimalistic, monochrome aesthetic sounds absolutely wicked at a swifter pace, and “Ghost” perfectly rounds off a record boasting a freshly nurtured sonic diversity. Building on an already impressive legacy, the Finesse EP perhaps ushers in a new chapter for Wen’s music; one that shows clear progression in a scene that prides itself on keeping things moving forward.

Wen’s Finesse EP is out now on Tectonic

Oli Grant