+44 WU’S CALLING
I enter through the understated wooden door of KILN SOHO to find Kamaal Williams seated nonchalantly at the stainless-steel bar. Dressed head to toe in Jil Sander – an ensemble designed by none other than LUKE AND LUCIE MEIER – his light hazel eyes concealed by dark sunnies reflect the burning embers from the kiln blazing in the open kitchen just opposite him. Kamaal is a man of many monikers, but tonight he represents Mr. Henry Wu, a DJ and musician who slings moody electronic beats and transcendent melodies.
Henry Wu is a man of warmth and friendly gestures. He greets me with a smile and suggests wine as we get to conversing against an ambient sound of curated vinyls at our corner of the bar. “I don’t know how to introduce myself, it can’t be done.” He says as red wine flows from the decanter into my glass. “Henry Wu, Kamaal Williams, there are too many different… It’s so hard to introduce myself basically.”
While identity-wise Kamaal and Henry are one and the same, each of their individual artistic practices were born from a desire for different kinds of musical expression. Kamaal is a regular ROY AYERS slash MARVIN GAYE funk fiend whose spiritual sounds are rooted in the very essence of London’s burgeoning music scene. Henry, on the other hand, is the go to mastermind for producing bouncy electronic anthems that possess a naturally-groovy, almost effortless rhythm. Though perhaps the distance between the two is not as cavernous as you might think. One of Wu’s main intents as an artist has always been to bridge worlds; spatially and culturally, geographically and sonically.
Haters would say that Wu possesses too many personas – too confusing for the average Joe. Henry Wu is not for everyone. Those who can’t be bothered to understand his multifaceted concepts should go put on a DJ Shadow record, flaunt that Tiffany Hardwear and get themselves a Gucci Marmont belt subscription.
Raised in Peckham, London, and of Taiwanese descent, Wu was brought up on West African beats, hip-hop, grime, garage, and later on classic jazz artists from the 60’s and 70’s introduced to him by his father. His music defies many strictly defined categories or genres, but on a more human level, it’s simply a reflection of the cultural diversity of his upbringing and worldly experiences. This is the sound of London after all.
Sophisticated is the word to describe Henry Wu’s taste. Kiln is currently his go-to Diné Privé which he has been frequenting with his architect mother – a heavy influencer of his early aesthetics and understanding of design. One by one, dishes cooked over chestnut and oak logs are presented to us – sour curry of mussels with winter squash and slabs of succulent, ember-charred lamb loin – each small plate proudly articulating Northern Thai flavors, as Wu succinctly presents his music philosophy. Tonight’s meeting is special, it comes just ahead of the release party for Henry Wu’s new single PHONE CALL, which, in a few days, he will introduce to a select audience at an undisclosed location in Fitzrovia.
Wu chooses his audience, not the other way around.
“Henry Wu has more obvious electronic and techno elements at the forefront. But I feel like it’s not really up to me to describe what my sound is,” Wu tells me.
Wu turns down interviews often, maybe too often. Though tonight, between bites of a juicy aged cull yaw and cumin skewer, he offers me rare insight into the inspiration behind the first track off his latest EP. “That’s all it takes – one phone call. One phone call for something to change; to initiate a new life, take you to the next level or open one door”, he tells me enthusiastically.
Following weeks of being taunted by teasers spread across social media channels, fans’ reception of Phone Call was nothing short of sensation. Demand for a glimpse into the artist’s fascinating mind was higher than ever; hungering to know more about the elusive artist behind the moody beats and changeable sounds. “Henry Wu has more obvious electronic and techno elements at the forefront. But I feel like it’s not really up to me to describe what my sound is,” he tells me.
Snap shots of a menu
July 15th is a scorching day in west London. Henry Wu is a busy body, a regular perpetuum mobile, already enroute WhatsApp-ing with his team at the record label BLACK FOCUS about his Australia tour, preparing his DJ set for the big night, and to add a bit more playful tension to the day, he has also scheduled his video shoot with director Greg Barnes for Phone Call. Not too precious to have his classic Mercedes washed and cleaned for the shoot himself. It seems only right that the taupe R107 should have a place in the video; it appears in the shots as a natural extension of Wu. He is a car-lover at heart, even going so far as to name his label Black Focus after another one of his favorite rides; a black Ford Focus.
Cut to tonight’s main location: 17 Little Portland Street. Following Wu down a blue velvet staircase, I emerge in an intimate basement with a state of the art sound system (hand-made by Munich-based audio specialist MARTION), concrete covered walls and a mustard yellow leather couch straight from the seventies. 17 Little Portland Street is the lavish new it place to be in – but not seen in – a club that has no social media or sneaky snapshots present on the internet. Save for it being the center of a few discussions on Discord, there is not a single obvious trace to be found in the digital realm. Not yet anyway.
Similar to Wu, 17 Little Portland Street’s unsuspecting facade conceals a wealth of juxtaposed culture and experience behind a singular entity. The building’s two floors are home to a sceney member’s club and a restaurant, which patrons have reported feels similar to dining in a Star Wars-esque galaxy. The restaurant is walk-in only, with enough space for 20 to 30 guests to dine underneath a sky of twinkling blue stars – I’m not talking about the London sky of course – and softly illuminated mini moons strung from the beige burlap canopy. Whether it conjures images of galactic Star Wars or Arabian Nights in the Sahara Desert, it can be agreed upon that Chef JOHN JAVIER’s broadly Middle Eastern Asian Fusion dishes are nothing short of exceptional. Naturally, the menu is just as hush hush as the rest of the venture, but here’s your exclusive sneak peek of the menu that London’s elite foodies are dining on: hummus with saffron brown butter and ash, grilled cabbage with spiced butter and lime yogurt, and roasted turbot with kabsa and monk’s beard all generously topped with MONARCH caviar.
Downstairs on most days of the week, you’ll find international big-name DJs making secret appearances to spin tunes from across the world. The tightly-knit organization operates on an invite-only basis to ensure a like-minded crowd, rather than one willing to pay however many pounds required for necessary social exposure.
May I remind you that in London everything comes with a price tag, and money talks – fluently.
17 Little Portland Street is the lavish new it place to be in – but not seen in – a club that has no social media or sneaky snapshots present on the internet.
Henry Wu and John Javier
Collaborate on an evening’s Menu
SERVED at 17 Little PortLAND STREET
As the evening progresses, Wu conducts the crowd from his pedestal in the center of the intimate room as guests move in succession under the glow of red lights to the electronic synth beats pulsating from the surrounding speakers. The first few notes of Phone Call are a type of synesthesia, an embodiment of the uncertainty and ambivalence that takes hold as you wait for your call to be connected before easily slipping into a soft yet transcendent base that reverberates off the concrete walls. Phone Call is performed and produced by Henry Wu, THANKGOD4CODY, Filipe Pampuri and Grammy awarded Daniel Pampuri.
Wu is an expert at drawing in his audience. Just as they are transfixed with him, he too is inhaling and exhaling their every move as he shifts his fingers effortlessly between the candy-colored buttons on the mixer. Simply put, his DJ sets are volumes of poetic rhythm, electric bass-heavy build-ups and ethereal releases. He takes a track and decomposes it completely, before bringing it back together in an eccentric distinctly “Wu” version. Elements of house, breakbeat, funk, soul, grime and hip hop all permeate his work, resulting in a devastating sonic effect that leaves listeners wondering what just hit their eardrums – brain melting. This and exactly this is the difference between Wu and any other electronic act. While others set up a track list, Wu composes a new track completely from an eclectic range of genres. Music makers and beat-choppers have been praising Kanye West even prior to THROUGH THE WIRE for his god-like ability to research, compose and decompose a track – 2,800 samples to-date says WHOSAMPLEDWHO.COM.
Well Ye, Henry Wu has entered the scene as a new key player.
Phone Call Release
17 Little Portland Street
Wu has managed to fuse his lifelong love of seventies jazz with sounds from London’s contemporary underground scene; synthesizing acoustic and vintage electro mechanical sounds from his NORD ELECTRO 6 with subtle jazz funk undertones to create his signature sound. Pulling together the different expressions he’s explored over the years, each track ties into one another as the beat grows progressively bouncy and experimental. This sound signals the beginning of a new era, a new level of musicality for Wu.
This is precisely one of the reasons why !K7 Music asked him to collaborate on a limited repress 2LP vinyl: DJ-KICKS KAMAAL WILLIAMS DJ MIX. The sold out album features four of his own exclusive tracks and hints at the various sounds that have influenced his musicianship. Tracks by Kamaal Williams live in Atlanta that sit next to Steve Spacek’s Hey There on side A, while on sides B through D, Ratgrave, Hard House Banton and, yes, our one and only Henry Wu pave the way for listeners to the final symphonic instrumental track: Shinjuku by Kamaal Williams (DJ-Kicks). Aptly named, the first few piano bars bring to life visions of standing in an animated scene of Tokyo, moving slowly as people rush past – perhaps there are even cherry blossom petals floating on a soft evening breeze. Magical would be the word to describe it.
Black Focus Records releases Phone Call
Global Campaign starts in London Mayfair
July 15th 2022
Henry and Kamaal are one and the same, though their individual artistic practices were born from a desire to share his diverse musical and spiritual inclinations with the world. Whether he’s producer Henry Wu grinding out beats on his piano pre-owned by Andy Warhol in Roy Lichenstein’s Oakland studio or acclaimed multi-instrumentalist Kamaal Williams conducting crowds in a live arena, his music has been a game-changer for London’s music scene, and has influenced an entire generation of up and coming like-minded musicians. He has brought back the entertainist musician and presented him center stage to a younger more impressionable audience.
Black Focus Records releases Phone Call
Global Campaign London Soho
July 15th 2022
Henry Wu is a complete insider. The musician of musicians; if you know, you know. And if you don’t?
Then you’re probably not at 17 Little Portland Street.
Call him Henry Wu or Kamaal Williams, it is him who is part and parcel of bridging two music genres: jazz and electronic. Djing while simultaneously playing multi keyboards and conducting saxophonists, cellists and drummers – his own personal orchestra with which he commands attention. But most importantly, he is the sole entity behind each of his multifarious personas which have contributed to making him one of the most prominent electronic-jazz artists in the UK, and the international music scene, of the last few years.
Henry Wu is a complete insider. The musician of musicians; if you know, you know. And if you don’t? Then you’re probably not at 17 Little Portland Street.