Icy, emotive synths cut through the air as sub-bass rattles through the speakers, mournful melodies draw a largely female contingent closer to the DJ booth as a kaleidoscope of animated visuals are rendered, manually, on to the screen behind the decks. The sound is fresh, the crowd tight-knit and young, and the man selecting the music is widely known as “the OG of wave”, the new movement which is slowly making the transition from online to the real world – or as one savvy character describes it, “From URL to IRL”. Mixmag is in the basement of the Ace Hotel in Shoreditch where Yusoul are holding one of their regular parties, and the main attraction tonight is Klimeks, the aforementioned OG – responsible for the ‘wave’ title and thought by many to be the first to give this disparate online community a name and direction. Wave may well be the first form of music to have transcended the physical realm, with its formative stages firmly rooted in SoundCloud and Tumblr. It’s one of the new sounds of a generation that has no tangible reference point pre-world wide web, utilising the virtual space and the infinite possibilities offered by endless terabytes of memory.
Developing online has given wave its own nuances and its own ecosystem, which still operates outside of the club world. Many of its main proponents are too young to even get into clubs, which means its sensibilities are inspired more by melody, emotion and song than all-out aggression and testosterone. Wave is a genre that isn’t afraid of sensitivity. It mainly operates in the 120 to 140BPM mark, but unlike London-born genres of the same tempo, it works with a dreamy, therapeutic soundscape that invokes wistfulness and melancholy in the listener – it’s not music that demands you to shake out your demons, it encourages a more philosophical, introspective interpretation... dare we call it ‘emo’? While previous bass-heavy movements have had masculine energy at their core, wave celebrates femininity and innocence - it’s OK to be vulnerable; in fact, it’s important. Sensitivity does not equate to a lack of power, though – the tunes are still very much geared towards heavy basslines and the all-important danceability factor. “Grime can be a bit aggressive,” says fan Thea Mallorie, a student from Brighton, “but this has feminine appeal while still being punchy and tough enough for a good old rave.”
Robyn Allan, a marketing manager from Chingford, agrees: “It’s emotive: it’s great for women, and also good or guys. There’s a good spread of genders here tonight.” At Yusoul, a night run by one of wave’s most prominent names, Skit, there’s an almost 50/50 split between men and women in the crowd and for most of the night, it’s the female contingent who are at the front, moving in tandem with the flow of the aquatic rhythms.
Klimeks is making his debut tonight, having kept himself in the shadows as head of Wavemob, a label and collective that is spearheading the movement. Four years ago, the London-based producer first uploaded a tune with the hashtag ‘wave’. “I really wasn’t intending it to become something like a genre, I saw it more as a descriptive word to separate the sound and vibe of something that had no name,” he says.
It’s creating a whole new dynamic, something a lot of club-goers will never have experienced – soft, self-reflective music. Kareful, another scene leader, tells Mixmag he receives countless messages from fans who have opened up to him about their mental health issues, often crediting his music with ‘saving’ them. Because of this, the music has a staunch following: engaged young people who spread the word immediately, collect merchandise and support artists avidly – fans who understand the power of shares and strength in numbers. Could this be the embryonic stages of a musical revolution?
The enigmatic Klimeks takes to the stage after Skit and proceeds to work through a heavy-duty selection of exclusives and dubs, with a few well-known cuts thrown in the mix too. The atmosphere is buoyant yet woozy – the movement of the crowd centred around flow: men and women sway from side to side as though hypnotised by the emotionally driven music. Some bounce gently, occasionally roused into a hype by a big tune being dropped in. Klimeks rarely gives interviews or makes public appearances, so this is a bit of a coup for Yusoul and marks a pivotal moment in wave’s evolution. How it plays out from here is up to the whole movement.
Klimeks is pragmatic about the sound’s evolution. “I would never have imagined the music being played in a club a few years ago, or even on the radio, and it’s been quite surprising watching the progression up to this point. I guess it could go anywhere from here,” he says.