South London stand up. Right now the spotlight is on the south-side of the river, with everything from grime to soul to drill and jazz helping to boost the area’s international prestige.
Somehow, Wu-Lu manages to encompass virtually all of these genres and none, while still nailing the spirit, the atmosphere of South London right now. He’s been a key figure in that underground community, an easy-going presence whose ability to link sounds and people is a cultural accelerator in its own right.
His own music, of course, is a heady, potent brew of dub, post-punk, jazz, neo-soul, and a whole lot more. From a musical family – his father and brother are both musicians – new EP ‘S.U.F.O.S. (Save Us From Ourselves)’ has lengthy roots, with the songwriting and recording process taking years to complete.
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“It’s a long time coming,” he laughs when Clash pins him down for a phone call. “I’ve been ready for this for ages, it’s just been about timing.”
“I only really put it out when I feel like it’s done its course in my studio. It’s all about feeling, basically. I mean, the whole idea behind what I do is that I’m not trying to fit myself into one category – I just love so much music, and I just feel like there’s a way of collaborating to juxtapose those styles.”
‘S.U.F.O.S. (Save Us From Ourselves)’ features some astonishing juxtapositions, somehow containing performances from both Morgan Simpson (drummer of math rock titans Black Midi) and jazz firebrand Nubya Garcia, amongst many others.
“It’s all who was around at the time,” he enthuses. “Nubya lives really close to my studio, and Morgan I met through doing a youth project. I kept his number and he told me about Black Midi after we were playing for a while. And I was: mate, this is nuts! It all fell into place. But he’s amazing. All of those guys are just a massive influence in their own right, as well.”
Songwriting is done in a mixture of ways – sometimes solitary, sometimes a group endeavour. Murky, complex, but completely fascinating, Wu-Lu makes Wu-Lu music – it nudges on many genres, while establishing its own boundaries.
“A lot of earlier stuff – and going forward – is just building riffs,” he says simply. “That’s where I really want to be, just building riffs on the guitar. Writing the song before I make the production happen. Heavy MPC user! The music comes from the community around us; the musical community where I’m based, friends and family”.
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But Wu-Lu isn’t simply dealing in sound, there’s a meaning to what he does. This new EP tackles themes such as identity, police oppression of black youth, the struggle single mothers face, and more, with each song displaying incredible empathy.
“The lyrical content comes from having conversations with different people,” he insists. “Being able to relate different situations that a lot of us go through. Looking through the eyes of myself but opening up conversations. That’s the ethos of the whole EP – the relationships between people, be it family, friends, mentors. Seeing how we can open up that conversation.”
As we talk, it becomes clear just how important the people around him are to Wu-Lu’s music. He’s currently working on songs with the incredible Ego Ella May, while his involvement with London’s vital Touching Bass collective is helping to further these curatorial juxtapositions.
Indeed, when Touching Bass founder Errol Anderson returned from Japan with a present for Wu-Lu, he inadvertently helped link two generations of South London talent, a vinyl wormhole that centres on This Heat’s dubbed out offshoot Lifetones.
“I was like: this sounds like what I’m making now but I’ve never heard this… and it’s from Brixton! What. The. Fuck? It affirmed a feeling that I’ve had for ages about the people around me,” he says. “When I was 18 there used to be this thing called Soul Jam that happened at the Ritzy, it had this sick house band. Just from seeing people jump up, it felt like there was something bubbling in South.”
“I kept thinking, there’s something here, but no one knows it yet… and at some point it will happen. At some point the penny will drop, it’ll go bang!” he shouts, before laughing with joy. “And it feel like that’s what has happened.”
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'S.U.F.O.S.' will be released on April 26th. Catch Wu-Lu at Brixton Windmill, London on April 25th.
Photography: Tom Rowland
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