UK garage legend Wookie returns with his brand new single and video 'Higher', which sees the producer take a smoother, more house direction than ever before. We at THUMP love the garage sound - those warm grooves and decidedly UK vibes - so it's great to know that Wookie is back in the game, with a forward-thinking approach and sound. Featuring alongside newcomer Zak Abel is the sound of Rudimental's trumpet player, Mark Crown. Taking stylistic queues from modern British cinema, the video for 'Higher' sees friendships born through the power of music.
THUMP: Hi Wookie, where've you been?! You released 'The Hype' with Eliza Doolittle a little while ago, and now you've got the new single 'Higher', but what have you been working on in between?
Wookie: I signed a new singles deal with Space and Time, which is a label from RCA, and I released one tune - 'To Us' featuring Rachael Collier - in 2012. That was where I started coming back to music. It was the four years before that, from 2008 to 2012, where I got married, I got divorced, I got a 9 to 5 job - a lot of things changed. The music business changed as well, so I found it harder to work in it. I left Soul II Soul in 2005, and I started doing a few bits in 2006/2007 that were more on a soulful house vibe. I did a track with Lain called 'Live On'. That was released on Defected's label Four to the Floor. I had a hiatus after that, from around 2008 to 2012 really.
When you're in a relationship or married, the music business is really hard to work in especially in terms of getting paid regularly. It's easy when you're single, because you only have to worry about yourself. I did the right thing, when music was slow I put it to one side. I also stopped making music because I was uninspired by what was out there. I'd been doing it 15 years prior, so I thought it was a good time to stop. Then I saw an avenue that my music could work in, because genres are slightly fused. You can't really listen to it and go "Oh, that's 2-step", and then listen to another 2-step record and say "Wait, that sounds nothing like 2-step". The industry became more of a melting pot, which I felt was quite conducive to me.
'Higher' has got a really nice video to go with it, what was the concept for it?
Well, my job is to do the music; I never really have an idea of what I want my video to look like because it's not my field, I wouldn't know where to start! I read the treatment and saw they had some photos from This Is England, which because I'd seen the film and from the imagery, and I completely understood where they were going with it. I don't like to do cliché videos. If you were to go over the videos I've ever done, none of them are videos that you would associate with that genre. I think, again, the video is really tied in with the song. I watched a couple of times and the last time I watched it I actually felt an emotion from it, which I've never really felt from a video before.
It's a really moving video. When I watched it for the first time, I got this vibe of comfort within yourself, and ascension.
That exactly what the songs about! Zak (Abel) and I wrote the song. Zak is a newcomer, so I wanted to give him the space to write the song, because he's got some really great ideas. The concept was all about him and a friend of his who he'd had some sort of romantic association with, but he didn't want to label it as a relationship. That's why he says "I don't wanna put rules to this honey", because it was so free. It was a celebration of how she made him feel but by putting rules to it, it was keeping it at a higher ground.
Listening to 'Higher' and your previous track 'The Hype', I felt the sound leans towards soulful and funky house, would you agree?
I would definitely agree. After the garage stuff, I was going for a more housier vibe. 'Live On' was in 2006 and that was straight soulful house, but this was nothing like how everyone's into it now. It was just before the time funky came about, because funky was influenced by the house. It was around the time that I did 'Falling Again' with Ny, which was inspired by people like Karizma. I was going in that direction from about 2004/2005.
There's been a bit of a resurgence lately from producers making garage, or at least tracks with heavy garage influences. What's your take on this?
On the SoundCloud page for my remix of 'Voices' by Disclosure, someone commented on it saying, "What genre is this?!" It's a really innocent question, but quite profound at the same time. I answered saying, "This is Wookie!", because I make what I feel - especially with remixes. I really couldn't complain about the resurgence of garage. Without it, I wouldn't be working now. It's definitely been enhanced by people like Duke Dumont and Disclosure, who support me and quote me as someone that they grew up listening to and are influenced by, which then causes other people to be like, "Who's this guy Wookie?" It just so happens I'm still making music and DJing now, so I'm able to benefit from that.
It's not even just down the music either: girls wearing crazy Mosch print jeans again, Nike reissuing their OG Air Max 95 and 97 trainers. I was at a club the other day, and really felt like being in an old school champagne dance or something!
It's really funny you say that actually. I was at a soulful house warehouse party the other day with Neil Pierce, and it was predominantly an older crowd in there. I'm dancing next to a friend of mine, DJ SL, and I turned round and said to him, "Right now, I have this feeling of we're back in the 90s." We were in a warehouse and the music – it was more US-house garage, from just before we started doing speed garage in the early 90s – and it really felt like that. It's like we can feel this cycle, and we're in the middle of it.
Sometimes people are there just to cause trouble, though. Three weeks ago I got attacked while DJing in Liverpool. I'm in the middle of my set, and this guy comes on the stage from the side and was trying to hit me with a metal pole. It was crazy! I think he was off his face, but I was like, "Why are you trying to hurt the DJ man?! I'm here to entertain you!" Everyone in the club was having a great time, and it really wasn't that kind of party.
So who are you listening to at the moment?
I'll be completely honest; I don't listen to the radio. I've never really done that. That said, I like Huxley's stuff, it's very garage-y sounding. Jerome Price. There's a group called Hybrid Theory. All the stuff I'm mentioning is house. A lot of it is the new style, but some of it is just straight house, which has been going on for over 20 years. But, good music never dies; it's a good feeling, and you never have to reinvent it.
Are you doing any festivals this summer?
I'm doing Field Maneuvers in August, Outlook festival in September, and quite a few others across the UK.
Connect with Wookie:
Label: ManChu Records
Dir. Lewis Arnold
Pro: Lawrence Mason
Executive Producer: Tom Birmingham
Production Company: Rokkit
Production Manager: Lewis Rungay
D.O.P: Alfie Biddle
Art Director: Luke Harcourt
Focus Puller: Tom Wade
Gaffer: Sascha Bajac
1st A.D: Ben Burton
3rd A.D: Sam Sharma
Make Up: Jane McBennett
Stylist: Joseph Crone
Runner: Dale Chapman
Editor: Claire McGonigal @ Final Cut
Digital Colourist: Matt Osborne @ The Mill
Starring: Suraj Sharma, Kriss Dosanjh
With: Sophie Pulley, Lui Ophelia, Chelsea Newton Mountney, Richard Foyster, Joel Palmer, William Walker
Thanks to: Rajinder Paul Ladher, Alice James.