Werkha Interview \\ The producer tells us why he loves it up North and how “Manchester screams opportunity”
Werkha is a man who follows his feet as much as his heart. The electronic musician has had his music reworked by the likes Henry Wu and Contours, and he’s toured with live heavyweights like Bonobo and GoGo Penguin. From a windy park in Glasgow, Werkha AKA Tom A. Leah called Tina Edwards to chat about We Communicate, his playfully textured new EP. Only, their conversation leant towards a complimentary but unexpected theme; the strength and future promise of Glasgow and North-West England’s music scenes.
For a UK based musician, there can be an assumption that if you’re looking to build a career, you’re most likely to build it in London; “Well, I’ve got an interesting insight on this”, says Werkha. “I’m largely Manchester based in what I do. I consider Manchester to be my London, although I live in Glasgow at the minute. I’ve been here for over a year. It’s been a really interesting change because that whole sort of idea of where the centre of your industry lies becomes really apparent when you move away from where you’re used to”.
“Manchester screams opportunity to me…I find it important to locate myself outside of London”
“Glasgow for me doesn’t posses the same depth in certain areas of music. I’m sure people would contest this but in some of the more modern new age jazz and electronica, it’s at an earlier stage in the process. It’s better at other things; It’s wicked at techno. It’s better than Manchester and potentially better than London. The art school [in Glasgow] produces some amazing acts. Specifically it feels like a smaller community, but Manchester screams opportunity to me. It’s such a burgeoning scene there. London is always gonna be the big sponge that soaks everything up — the nature of it being the capital— it’s always gonna be the place that people talk about going. I think for me to be able to continue what I’m doing, I find it important to locate myself outside of London… to have an identity that isn’t London-centric. I love London but when someone says they’re moving toLondon it’s almost like you you’ve lost someone. It’s like, “don’t go to the belly of the beast!”.
The Scottish wind batters the phone line for a moment, and we find our feet again. “On the northern creative thing, I’d say the North—West has a lot to offer. Glasgow feels like it’s developing as well; there’s new links being made which are identifying the importance of grassroots music culture. It’s when you get the support and links and collaborations between different scenes that you start to get interesting attention drawn to them. You’re seeing it in Manchester with Gondwana records; Matthew Halsall, GoGo Penguin”.
“It’s nice to see that Manchester’s carving it’s own fresh musical identity away from The Smiths and this classic Manchester music stereotype. Having said that, I grew up in the countryside where there was fuck all. The thing I spent a lot of my time doing was learning to play jazz music with a wicked musician there called Jilly Jarman; it’s her daughter that I collaborate with regularly”. He’s talking about Bryony Jarman Pinto, the vocalist who appears on We Communicate‘s opening track, Shakedown Radio. Resonant gloops underpin Jarman-Pinto’s lullaby vocals before pacing vocal snaps and snares accelerate the pace, elasticated by the pull of fluid synths.
“[Glasgow has] opened me up in different ways”, says Werkha. I can hear him sliding back onto his bench, getting comfortable, but his enthusiastic stream of thought doesn’t slow. “There’s some really promising things up here, interesting little labels. I’ve got mates who are involved in Handpicked Cassettes who release tapes of various hip hop acts here like Kayak and Bessa. In fact, they’ve just started to do 7 inches. There’s interesting jazz influences creeping into that, more from a sample perspective. I didn’t know too much about those guys before I came here or about the nights going on here. It’s been nice to use it as a source of inspiration and stuff. It felt good being away, and I will appreciate being back around Manchester”.
“If the music is about anything it’s got to be about community”
Although he’s spent a year in Glasgow, a city recognised for it’s burgeoning arts scene, it’s clear that Werkha still thinks of Manchester as the nucleus of his musical processes. He says, “generally speaking, the people I work with tend to be through friends or networks”. He mentions Berry Blacc, a Mancunian rapper and producer, and vocalist LayFullStop. Berry Blacc features on the EP that will follow We Communicate, to be released later this year. “Bryony is also on there and I’m sampling strings from recordings I’ve done with Simmy Singh. She’s been involved in the Manchester Camerata— fantastic violin player, composer, arranger. She did a lot on my album for Tru Thoughts a couple of years ago. It’s a really interwoven affair. If the music is about anything it’s got to be about community. Everyone I work with is first and foremost a decent person; it’s the first reason why I work with someone”.
“Moving forward”, says Werkha, “I’m always interesting in trying to expand the pool of people I’m working with, and in trying to take those influences back into what I do on my own. I have a few other collaborations I’m working on before I knuckle down to work on the next full length release again”. As with We Communicate, just don’t count on it being recorded in London.
JS | Tina Edwards