» News and Features » Werkha interview: 'Every single show I try something different'
Werkha interview: 'Every single show I try something different'
We got to chat with Werkha who recently released his new album.
Date published: 19th May 2022
Manchester-based musician/producer Werkha is one of the most consistent names within the scene. A frequently collaborative artist, he has worked with a range of influential vocalists and it is a key part of the Werkha sound. He recently released his new album 'All Werk Is Play' on April 29th and we thought we'd learn more about an incredibly intriguing talent.
Let’s start first by asking about the name Werkha. It’s intriguing. What’s the significance of the title, if any? Where did it come from?
"Well, I came into creating this music from a place of applying myself pretty intensely to trying to make music work as a living. I see it as a craft, a trade, applied in lots of different ways and for different purposes. I wanted to capture that".
"I also like spelling something out phonetically and I remember being told when we say a ‘K’ sound it’s rare we don’t attach an ‘H’ sound immediately after it. A bit of sonic detail there. It’s also been really useful that nobody else is using or has come up with it in an age where everything is something already haha".
Starting out producing under the moniker whilst at university, how did you first get into making what’s been described as ‘broken soul-funk’ music?
"I’d listened to jazz, and had been guided through on a fairly aural basis by Jilly Jarman who was and is running Blue Jam (a local music organisation I learnt with and now work for). So I’d be thrown onto bass guitar to play Herbie Hancock & Chaka Khan’s ‘Essences’ before I really knew how to play the instrument. And we’d attempt covers of Abdullah Imbrahim. So ambitious for a bunch of kids".
"The opportunity to study at Salford introduced me to Brendan Williams, recording and producer extraordinaire. As soon as he showed me in his first lecture that he’d just recorded Matt Halsall’s ‘Sending My Love’, I was hooked. By this point in time, my exposure to this record had come via staying up late to listen to Gilles Peterson on Radio 1".
"All of that said, I am not a jazz musician per se. Production and writing felt like something that matched my skill sets better. So here we are. Somewhere between those realms".
From your most listened to artists to your surroundings, the things you might read or the experiences of your personal life - What inspires and influences your sound the most?
"In all honesty, it’s stories and experiences. Go back to my very first release. ‘Cube & Puzzle’ is a reference to a time I hitchhiked from Salford up to Glasgow with my mate Dan. We got a lift on the M6 all the way to the gate of Kelvingrove Park (mad lift to get), where some of my mates were chillin in the sun. That night, Elphino was Djing at Subclub. It was a sweaty, ceiling slapping, taps aff night - a dreamy couple of days".
"That club night was run by my mates and was called Rubix - which Cube & Puzzle is in reference to".
"Dan is sadly not with us anymore - rest peacefully. So capturing these moments in life as they occur not only preserves the energy and stories, it reminds you of the people and the spaces. It immortalises them and sets them into a kind of audio stone. That for me is the role of music. To preserve and share experiences for whoever is listening and whoever comes next".
You’ve recently released your sophomore album, All Werk Is Play via the reputed First World Records imprint (Yazmin Lacey, [ K S R ], Children of Zeus). Is there a concept behind this particular body of ‘werk’ and how does it differ in general from your first album release, 2015’s Colours Of A Red Brick Raft?
"It’s more refined for me musically than my previous album. It feels like the page it sits on makes a bit more sense".
"Conceptually, it is a bit more outward-looking than COARBR. Using stories as a platform for the music, it’s about how we progress or build ourselves through the fun and difficult games we play in our lives - moments of positive bliss, required protest, frustration, of loss or rejection, or calm and curiosity".
"This is particularly the case in a lot of the work I do in music as I continue to (and always will) work in a social context with it, so working with organisations and care providers north, for example, music really serves the needs of people. It has a function".
"I don’t mind owning the fact that I work in those capacities either, and I want to stress that about music and being an artist. It’s my philosophy that music is not about being up or down a ladder. It is an outward-facing thing. It’s a very unique form of communication. Something we should cherish and something we should use to serve one another".
The album features a handful of vocal link-ups with some notable names, Manchester legend MC Chunky of Levelz and Swamp81 being one of them. What’s the process behind finding and agreeing upon a collaboration with a quality act such as MC Chunky?
"Conversation, food, spending time with these artists - who are friends - and feeling like there’s something to express. And then it’s a case of you both being happy with the music really! The process of creating May Day was really fun and that helped us both enjoy it. At the moment, it was an antidote for us both creatively I think".
A prolific yet still somewhat under-the-radar name, having collaborated with some of the most respected names in jazz and soul - from Quantic and Bryony Jarman-Pinto to Marcos Valles and Andrew Ashong - how has the scene changed since you first started releasing music over ten years ago?
"Yeh, it’s mad that this September, it’ll be ten years since my first release. Starting to feel like part of the furniture haha. I think we or I have to be careful to pass judgement on the scene ‘changing’ because there is nothing more fucking annoying than somebody being like “oh I feel sorry for you lot, you never had this, or got to see this, or went to this place”.
"Truth is, I don’t know what a 21-year-old’s experience of Manchester is now, which specific things they might be buzzing off. I can only speak about my own experience - and it was reeeeally exciting then. Scruff was playing at Music Box, James Blake was playing at Hit & Run, we had the Roadhouse which hosted loads of great nights (including So Flute of which I am resident)".
"That said, representation was much poorer even that recently. We are seeing a much better cross-section of artists from the LGBTQ+ community in music now for example (we’re still not there yet but it is better). Access to music-making is incredible now, and the means to do it all yourself are truly at your fingertips".
"For me, it is a blessing to keep trundling along in music for this long. I made a little promise to myself when I started out on this path not to get dragged into the mud of putting my ego before the craft, and that consistency and continuity would mean success to me".
"I’ve had some amazing experiences. So far so good! I am happy here".
You’ve supported a list of acclaimed electronic talents over the years, heading off on extensive tours with the likes of Bonobo, Chet Faker and Mr Scruff. How has the exposure to these events changed you both as a recording artist and as a live performer?
"The live stuff I learned a lot about. I think without getting the chance to tour a live set-up just as I was learning it - I literally created it for the Bonobo tour; the first show in Wiesbaden to 2000 people haha - I wouldn’t have forced myself to find a way that works for me. And it changed my approach to shows".
"Every single show I try something different, a tweak or a change, and I try to review it afterwards. Mostly that’s based on how it felt to play - did it have the right energy, I am trying to stick to the produced version when actually I need to let it fly a bit more on stage".
You’re set to appear at a number of summertime events and festivals throughout the season, including Stockport’s Moovin Fest and Gilles Peterson’s We out Here in London. Where else can music fans expect to see Werkha live in 2022?
"I’m going to do a couple of bits at Glastonbury, that’ll be a hoot and my third time playing there (praying for no mud). I’ve got a double headline with Rebecca Vasmant in Glasgow at Stereo in June after a show in Leeds. There’s a festival up in Cumbria called 42 Degrees I’ll be back performing at this year, and we’re looking at squeezing in a potential summer show in London. After that, I’ll be looking to autumn tour stuff".
Looking ahead to the rest of the year and going beyond into 2023, what are your big ambitions? What do you hope to achieve with the new record?
"I want to achieve global superstardom, win a bunch of awards, set up a new streaming platform that I think will blow people’s minds but actually it will flop, and throw all of my principles out of the window because I’m so dirty rich".
"But failing that, I want to really enjoy the music in its live capacity. Come to a live show. Decide if you like the music after that if you want. That’s my big thing. Because when we’re in a room together, we’re all so much more present with the music, and I’m recreating and each time enjoying it as much as the moment I first made it".
"You described me as a prolific yet under-the-radar name. I quite like that. It reminded me of somebody being once described as their favourite producer’s favourite producer. To keep getting plaudits from people I respect on the airwaves and by featuring in people’s record bags is a blessing".
Werkha will be playing live throughout 2022, appearing at various festivals and venues. He will also be celebrating the release of his new album 'All Werk Is Play' at Wilson's Den in Manchester on Thursday 19th May. He'll also be appearing at this year's Moovin Festival and you can find tickets for both here.
Check out our What's On Guide to discover even more rowdy raves and sweaty gigs taking place over the coming weeks and months. For festivals, lifestyle events and more, head on over to our Things To Do page or be inspired by the event selections on our Inspire Me page.