With almost 75,000 plays in just two months, Plastician’s Wave Pool mix has helped consolidate a new genre. Now he’s taking it another level and bringing it to the clubs...
Some DJs like to dip their toe in a new sound: have a cheeky paddle, check out a few bits and maybe try playing one or two tracks out. Others like to wade in waist-deep, investing some serious immersion time and adding a new dynamic to their sets.
And then there are DJs who don the scuba gear and dive so deep they hit the musical seabed. They don’t just snack on the catch of the day: they’re foraging for tomorrow’s haul, picking up the pearliest oysters they can find.
DJs like Plastician. Croydon’s Cousteau, his track record for sonic scuba explorations goes back to the fertile dark garage era of the late 90s. His deep-digging, dot-joining discipline has ensured a forefront position in bass music that’s not just mapped but forecasted the transitions and Venn overlaps between UKG, grime, dubstep, the LA beat scene and now a sound that’s so new its name is yet to be officially declared. But most are calling it wave music.
"People are still working out if it’s a new thing or an off-shoot of something that exists," says Plastician. "The press need names, though. It’s very difficult to write about something without a name. I get that. It happened with dubstep years ago. People were like, ‘Is it grime? Is it garage? Is it this? Is it that?’ Genres come and go so quickly that I think people are paying attention, but seeing if it goes anywhere seriously.
"But I feel like even in the last month or so it’s picked up more. I’ve noticed a blog called Lucid Stepps dedicated to it, with interviews with some of the artists. That’s a sign of something strong. Things don’t need to blow up overnight, though. It happens a lot these days, people get carried away before something even starts. But this really feels like something solid: there are a lot of people making this music, all around the world. It feels like the beginning of something."
Regular listeners to his weekly Rinse shows will already know the sound Plastician is talking about; spacey, emotional, unhurried beats, big synth washes, twinkling cosmic arpeggios, purring snare rolls. Take a pinch of Yung Lean’s Sad Boy sound, and add a dash of the deeper side of trap, the weight of classic dubstep, the futuristic, introverted soul of The Weeknd’s early material, the melodic thrust of instrumental grime and the remnants of the 2010 Soundcloud-exclusive odyssey vaporwave.
Created by a new generation of beat makers, some as young as 14, the sound was been bubbling for a while, but in December Plastician brought it to a head with the genre’s first really high profile mix.
"I’ve been playing it on the show for years, but putting it together into a mix and making a statement took it up a level," he states. "I felt like the music was stuck in the depths of Soundcloud so I wanted to give it more of a platform and a voice. Whether it is or it isn’t the beginning of a new genre, it’s definitely got people talking about it and listening to the new artists. It’s consolidated things and made people realise there’s a lot of interesting things going on."
Here’s the most interesting twist (besides the music itself), one that suggests Plastician has identified something bigger than previous internet-born genres. The last few years have seen a whole host of internet genres come and go. Some are blatantly a joke made up by journalists and bloggers as a handy catch-all (aquacrunk, Bristolwave or Instagram house anyone?). Others are real online communities like the aforementioned vapourwave, or the strange pitched-up weirdness of nightcore or even the gnarly, fugliness of deathstep.
These idiosyncratic pockets go one of two ways; they either implode so quickly they’ve not even sniffed a club, or the amount of contributors is so small, and so geographically spread out, that there aren’t enough people in any one place to make a club event work. But with wave music, Plastician is on a mission to consolidate this new sound in physical space. Developing from the regular features on his broadcasts and his online mix, he’s now looking to establish events. It starts 24 February at Survey, at London’s Phonox, with three of the genre’s leading exponents - Kareful, CVRL and Skit - all performing.
"It will be a lot like the radio show," he explains. "We’ll start off wavy before we get heavy. Those guys are all on first. If you get down early, you’ll hear how this music works in the club and experience it outside of Soundcloud."
In the meantime, Soundcloud is definitely the best place to find wave music. Key tags to get you going are Wavemob and Sesh. Dig deep, though: a lot of these producers aren’t particularly easy to find and don’t yell loud self-aggrandising messages like their counterparts in other genres.
"A lot of the artists are mysterious, it’s a bit of a running theme," says Plastician. "They don’t show their face, they don’t have any contact details or websites or Twitter accounts. But there are communities and little stables of artists. Wavemob has been key at pushing the sound and bringing artists together and putting compilations out on free download. They present them like record labels do.
"You have to be pretty quick picking it up, too. A lot of things go up on Soundcloud and disappear after a couple of days. They don’t take time to do proper releases and think about how things can be sold or released or featured. It’s the beatmaker mentality. Bang, it’s done: whack it online, on Soundcloud or Bandcamp, and move on. I’d say about two percent of this type of music is available on iTunes, for example."
There are already signs of legitimacy, though. This month, Kareful has released one of wave music’s first albums - Deluge, on Trapdoor - and last September, Silk Road Assassins appeared on Planet Mu’s 20-year anniversary album µ20. They’re set to follow it up with a full EP this spring. One thing Plastician believes will help further attain official release status is the construction and arrangement. While a lot of mystery and hearsay shrouds the artists, one thing is certain: they’re not making this music for DJs.
"You get these really long fades in the intro and outro, and no beats for the first minute or so," he explains. "That’s fine on the radio but I can’t mix that when I’m playing out. These guys don’t have decks, they don’t know how DJing works beyond playing off Ableton, but I think a lot of producers are now beginning to realise DJs need beats at the beginning of a track, which will attract more labels. And the more labels that pick up on this, the more it grows and is accepted as an actual thing rather than a snapshot of Soundcloud hype."
For now, though, the Soundcloud hype is real and there’s a lot of really interesting beats to be found out there. Like the music itself, though, Plastician isn’t in a hurry to push it too quickly. "Things move far too quickly in music anyway, I’ve learnt this many times!" he laughs. "Let’s just let keep supporting it and see what happens."
"A young London producer. I’ve been playing a lot of his stuff for a few years now. His album dropped last week and it’s one of the first real albums in the scene so far."
"Their sound is a lot straighter than a lot of the wave stuff you find online. They came up through dubstep and I met them at a gig a few years back when they gave me a CD of beat scene-y type stuff. They’ve since honed their sound down to something that’s really distinctive and a lot more DJ-friendly."
"CVRL is one of the many wave producers coming out of Stockholm, the home of Yung Lean - you’ll find a lot of wave music is coming from this direction. He’s got that slightly trappy feel to his sound. Not the Diplo-smashing-it-to-50,000-people trap, but certain production elements."
"We actually put a Wiley remix of his out a few years ago and I’ve been trying to release more stuff since then. He’s one of the figureheads of the Wavemob gang."
"Misogi is everywhere right now: he’s done a lot of beat scene-type stuff and has done tracks for rappers. His productions are really heavy. He’s from Dubai but based in London. I think he’s only 16 or 17 years old."
HNRK & DJ Heroin
"These guys collaborate so well together. HNRK is really atmospheric and garage-y, a bit like Burial with lots of reverb. But Heroin has got a much heavier, weighty, halftime sound. The two of them together makes the perfect combination."
"This guy makes so many beats! He sends over tracks 15 at a time. Very original sounding, with that wave-y, trappy feel but with more club influences and some classic breaks in the mix which you don’t hear from other people."
"A really cool guy making beats in New York. I’ve been playing his stuff for so long I can’t remember how I found him! A lot of people are picking up on him right now."
"Sorsari’s stuff is really vibrant and dark and epic. It’s crazy and I like the structure of his tracks. We’re actually doing a release with him really soon."
"Skit’s been around for a while and he’s a really good DJ so he’s got the understanding of the club nature of the music and how to structure it. We had a release from him in 2014, it’s got that kind of R&B feel but really haunted and bassy. I love it."
Words: Dave Jenkins Plastician pic: Shaun Bloodworth