Franky Wah: Unity

You might find yourself hard-pressed to find a prominent house music DJ who equally loves the chaos of the Ibiza Summer parties to morning walks with his dogs in the green expanse of Yorkshire. But it’s a healthy and mindful approach to life that has seen artist and producer Franky Wah achieve featured radio slots from Annie Mac and secure collaborations with the likes of Duke Dumont and Jessie Ware. It’s also how he’s managed to stay content and productive during the UK lockdown. That, and the infectious ‘90s house sounds he’s currently putting out, notably recent single Come Together.

“It was all about production for me,” Wah says from his rural Yorkshire home, with matching Yorkshire accent. “A lot of people do it backwards these days, getting out there and DJing, then realising they needed their own songs to get out there more. I never wanted to do that. I remember one particular gig, in a basement of a club in Huddersfield. No one came, so it was just me and my friend. I played, and he danced. It’s part of the process — I think it’s important to start from the grassroots. I’ve played to thousands of people, warm-up sets, peak sets, but I think it’s important to appreciate every part of the journey, even when no one is watching you. I learnt my craft that way.”

I remark that you occasionally hear fully established artists saying that, after playing so many sold-out arena shows, they begin missing playing in the tiny, grotty venues to a small huddle of people.

“Well, this can go on the record,” Wah says. “In case anyone wants to hold this against me, but they won’t be able to! I certainly endeavour to still play a certain number of underground sets per year. A few hundred people cap. I’m not firing shots, each to their own, but a lot of DJs who get silly money, 40 or 50k booking fee for a festival, aren’t then going to stand there in a small intimate club for a couple of grand. But it’s very important to give back to your fans, I believe, at an affordable price.”

Wah dropped his single Come Together shortly after the lockdown laws came into effect — an irresistible tune that would have had hands in the air as the keys kick in, if clubs were open, that is. However, I double-check with Wah that the lyrics are about coming together in spirit, rather than urging people to violate the lockdown.

“No,” he confirms with a laugh. “It’s not a literal message, but there’s a message there nonetheless. I’m not telling people to go and hug each other but to reinforce the truth that we are stronger together. As we’ve seen with instances like that old gentleman doing laps of his garden for the NHS, and lots of other people supporting. I think we have gained a bit of unity back, after those episodes of people running out to buy bog roll and not thinking about anyone else.”

It’s important to appreciate every part of the journey, even when no one is watching you.

And in terms of life in lockdown, Wah tells me “it’s not been a huge change for me personally! Different day, same thing really. I get up, I walk the dogs, I go and train in my gym, and then go and make some tunes — that’s pretty much my day! I suppose I’m playing a lot more piano, writing more music and listening to more music. I’ve learnt to cook alright as well [laughs]. I’d say I’ve used the time wisely.”

Wah, like contemporaries such as Duke Dumont, is a prominent figure in the dance music scene who is deliberately looking to subvert the expectation of a dance music artist to churn out singles and never release an album, with his debut album on the way.

“It’s something I wanted to do ever since I started,” he says. “To showcase consistency within a real body of work. I do get why people don’t, but music has become more disposable than ever. I’m sure I was told that up to 18,000 records a day are uploaded to Spotify. Each song on my album has its own message, and I’m so looking forward to releasing it. Maybe some of them will get lost into the abyss more than if they were released as a single, but I’m sat on 300 unreleased records anyway!”

We then chat about Wah’s home studio, commencing with plugins: “Well there’s so many amazing plugins out there and I absolutely love that you’re almost never done discovering new ones,” he says.

“One of my favourites that springs to mind is called Soothe. Given the current situation and money probably being a little tighter this is a very effective plugin that doesn’t break the bank. It’s amazing for pulling bad resonance out of sounds but still allows the sound to keep its character and cut through mix; often just basic EQ can pull the bad resonance out but kill the sounds and make it sound dull.

“For my soundcard, I have the Universal Audio Apollo interface. I'd say the build quality is amazing, has better latency for recording and the ability to use the amazing UAD plugins. Plus the sound quality through the monitors sounds a lot better.”

And in terms of speakers, Wah has “worked with quite a few speakers over the years but for me, nothing compares to my Focal Twin 6 BE. They’re perfect for getting that low-end tight and I really feel I know them inside out. I did previously have the Adam A5X speakers as they were a great reference speaker, but I sold them to put towards some new hardware.”

There’s never been a more apt time for Franky Wah’s message of unity in trying times — be sure to check out Come Together, and let’s do so, in spirit (while social distancing). Because, as his other recent single reminds us, You’re Not Alone.