Every once in a while, a genre will rise from the murky musical swamp of sounds and styles and grab you by the short and curlies, and right now, that genre is wave music. Based largely on Soundcloud for now, it contains elements of dubstep, jungle, house, techno and hip-hop, but it has merged into a distinct new genre.
A DIY community born on the internet that’s gradually taking up IRL space across Europe and the US, wave music is on the rise. Chances are it’s in your musical DNA already: wave sits in the venn overlap of pretty much all of our electronic and hip hop collections and playlists, yet it's something distinct and special.
The spacy 808 beat swag of trap, the subby rumbles and halftime pace of dubstep, the dense emotion of sad boy rap, the icy melancholy of witch house, the sci-fi savoir faire of instrumental grime, the loose formula-free experimentalism of the LA beat scene and the synthetic aesthetic of vapor wave… If any of those genres have touched you, wave will, too.
The attitude and spirit behind the music heightens wave’s allure: elevating it from an internet genre to a tangible movement, artists who are centrally located (usually in London) are hosting events, and there’s a definite egoless attitude with artists sharing tips, supporting each other’s releases and creating collectives. We've rounded up the key figures in wave music so that you can become familiar with this rising genre.
Wavemob is one of the most prominent collectives within wave music. Home to some of the most exciting and innovative artists in the scene, it should be your first stop if you’re interested in knowing more. Established by wave OG Klimeks, it’s actually been around since 2013 and recently released its second album, Wave 002.
“Yeah we’ve been doing this for a few years now,” grins 22-year-old Kareful from east London. One of the men at the forefront of wave, he became the first artist to release a wave album earlier this year (Deluge on Trapdoor Records). “But it’s only been this year that people have started writing about it. It’s mad how much it’s taken off since the name wave has been decided. Now that there’s a name, more people are talking about it, certain blogs and music sites' press have something they can hold on to.”
Longstanding London DJ Plastician has played a key role pushing wave since its earliest incarnations, on both his Rinse radio show and his label Terrorhythm. He exacerbated the movement with his own Wave Pool mix in December 2015. The mix was the first time a DJ with real tastemaker muscle had brought the artists together in this way and packaged up the sound to the world. The mix has since enjoyed almost 100,000 listens.
“There’s no doubt it consolidated things. Not everyone was happy with being called wave, though. Some people don’t like it to have a name at all. Other people don’t like being put in any type of brackets,” says Plastician. “But it seems to have been accepted by most of the guys now. What’s a lot more interesting and important than any type of name is the fact that there is so much music! It’s seriously in abundance. My Soundcloud sessions are getting longer and longer, and I’m still missing downloads.”
The reasons for this level of proliferation? Firstly, the guys making it are young - very few are over 25 - so they have more time on their hands. Secondly, most are sidestepping the usual time-hungry process of record label releases; they’re just conjuring up beats and putting them on Soundcloud and moving on to the next beat. As the sound develops, each releases inspires the next.
“It’s a collective thing,” explains NY’s Noah B, one of wave’s most active men stateside. “As more people are making more tunes, more people get inspired and it’s this big circle of people influencing and inspiring each other. Everyone is super supportive of each other and there’s a sense that this is bigger than us as individuals. We put our egos aside and focus on the music.”
Noah’s not alone: these egalitarian, ego-eschewing observations are shared by Kareful and Canadian man-of-the-moment Sorsari, too. “You see more units of artists who like to constantly help each other, whether it be providing production tips or reposting each other's music,” he says. “Some good examples would be collectives like Wavemob or Titan Squad. There is also the side where large Skype groups are formed with a lot of people who don't know each other, so a lot of collaborations and friendships happen this way. I feel that electronic music in general is moving forward at a faster pace because of all of these communal activities, and that more genres will arise since the community vibe is getting stronger.”
The next step is to take that collective attitude into the real world. Noah laments the vast space separating contemporaries across the US, but makes a point of collaborating physically with local artists whenever he’s DJing in town and has started hosting events in Manhattan with friend and fellow wave cohort Witchcraft.
Meanwhile, in London, Kareful invites artists to perform on his and LTHL’s monthly Radar Radio show, Liquid Ritual, and events he hosts with fellow London wave front-liner Skit. One particularly interesting observation he’s made is that wave nights aren’t the male-dominated, sausage party vibes that usually occur at bass-related, headsy-style events.
“Yeah, that’s another great thing; we can bring our girlfriends and they’re actually enjoying it,” laughs Kareful, who comes from a dubstep background where women – while always welcome – haven’t always enjoyed the full-throttle bass aesthetic. “I knew my girlfriend wasn’t properly into dubstep nights, but came along because of me. Now, at wave nights, she brings all her mates along and they love it and bring their mates, too.
Wouldn’t it be sick if the crowd was, like, 70% girls? For us to cross over and make an electronic scene that attracts more women than men would be unique. I think it’s also because we’re not so much into getting smashed and fucked up. We’re into vibing and enjoying the experience.”
Boys Do Cry
As well as aspiring to have female-heavy audiences, Kareful has one other ambition that at first seems bizarre, but makes complete sense within the wider context of the times in which we live.“Wouldn’t it be great if our tracks resonated so deeply with people they start breaking down on the dance floor crying?” he grins. “We’re trying to make the most emotional tracks possible. This surely has to be the best result of that?”
“I think emotion plays the most powerful role in any production or piece of music,” agrees Sorsari. “Being able to move a listener with an emotional vibe that you want to exude from a track is probably the coolest thing ever. I want the listener to put themselves into an imaginary environment based on what they're listening to and to resonate with it... The wave genre has been a gateway for me to do that, and play it in clubs.”
With the sweeping synths, sci-fi style space, rich emotions and subtle references to gaming influences, the genre’s strong sense of imagery and escapism is high throughout its spectrum, from the sound’s more ambient quarters right through to the beat-heavy clubbier style. Could these aspects be the soft, emotive tonic a disillusioned demographic requires during some of the most tumultuous, divisive times we’ve been through in a generation?
“Without a doubt,” says Noah. “The reason this is appealing to a lot of people right now has to have something to do with the state of things in the world right now. And, also, in the past I don’t think club music has always had that type of place or space for emotion. Especially from the rap side of things. It’s usually about hitting the club, having a good time and not worrying about the day-to-day drama or emotion. I don’t think that’s what people want right now… It’s so powerful for people to be out and to be touched or reminded of something by the music."
15 Wave Artists to Check Out Now
The genre's figureheads are Kareful, Noah B and Sorsari, so you should start there, but once you've explored their music, move on to these artists next, and read what Kareful, Noah B, Sorsari and Plastician have to say about them:
Kareful: “He’s a wicked producer. One of my favorites. His tracks are totally wave; the melodies are there, the atmospheres are there. They touch you.”
Kareful: “He’s such an OG. He’s been doing it longer than most. He’s a bit like Burial – he’s very low-key and mysterious. No one knows much about him besides the fact he set up Wavemob and does all the artwork and designs. He’s a proper artist.”
Kareful: “Such a fucking amazing producer with strong witch house roots.”
Kareful: “I don’t know much about him but his tunes are fucking strong. He’s got the wave feels on lock; very ambient and emotional.”
Kareful: “He’s from Germany. He’s made some mad industrial ambient stuff and understands how to make things for the club. A lot of people are playing his things out.”
Kareful: “He’s wicked. He’s uploading music all the time. It’s got some great melodies but with that dark feeling, a bit like UK dubstep dungeon sounds.”
Kareful: “He’s just fucking dope! Another scene OG who requires attention on every release.”
Kareful: “I do a radio show on Radar Radio with him. He’s on the more grimey influenced wave, a bit more rolling just with clappier drums instead of trappy drums.
Noah B: “Super talented friend of mine. His music is wavy but dark, and sits somewhere between witch house and wave. He’s collaborated with Foxwedding and produced for rappers. I expect really big things from him.”
Noah B: “All of us are creating something with real emotional quality, and Nvrmore is a fine example of how much emotion you can bring out in the music.”
Noah B: “I love what he’s doing because he leans more towards the ambient side of wave. He’s very maximalist and open-sounding. Some of his tracks have no drums and it shows how this type of music is transcending boundaries.”
Silk Road Assassins
Noah B: “The unofficial originators of this type of music. They’re the first guys I heard stepping into this sound. They’ve played a big part in shaping how things have gone in this scene.”
Plastician: “His stuff really stands out. He’s from Denver making great stuff and his intros are often crazy and have no rhythms.”
Plastician: “Another London man who’s been working at hard at bringing wave into the real world with events. His tunes are really exciting too”
Sorsari: “He utilizes a lot of the gaming elements that I use but he conveys his own vibe in a masterful way... I would keep an ear out for him since a lot of the newer stuff he's been sending me is amazing.”
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