Artist to Artist: Henzo & Mosca
Ever heard of wow beats? Neither had we.
We’ll leave it up to Mosca to do the explaining on that one. We caught up with the Rent label head, together with Manchester-based producer, Henzo, off the back of their recent collaboration.
‘Iron Lighter (Mosca’s Ferromagnetic Version)’ was released in November as a single anticipating Henzo’s 4-track EP on Manchester imprint Left, Right and Centre. With a BPM of 100, a syncopated, dembow-type rhythm and a constant battle between double and half-time, it aptly embodies the kind of dancehall-indebted sound currently taking the underground club scene by storm.
Having been in online correspondence for years due to the similarity of their music tastes, the two artists see eye-to-eye on what makes a track club-ready: ones with a rhythm pattern that challenges its listener without skewing their groove. In this conversation, the pair discuss both the ‘science’ and the ‘art’ behind the wow beat’s fine balance. Along the way they touch on the hardcore continuum, production techniques and the life cycle of new genres, somehow making it digestible even to those who aren’t familiar with phrases such as ‘tighter low end’ (not as vulgar as it sounds, promise).
Puns aside, we’ll let them do the talking…
Henzo: Set the scene for me. Where are you in the world and what’s it like?
Mosca: I live in Spain now, in the south between Granada and Malaga. It’s about as Spanish as you’d imagine. I hear live flamenco and people singing in bars, reggaeton bumping from cars, all of that. In terms of UK club stuff, there’s nothing though. What’s Manchester saying at the moment?
H: Manchester at the moment feels vibrant, I’d say. There’s a perpetual energy for partying and the core community is sincere in trying to push things forward socio-politically and musically. It’s still difficult to try and plan things when the rug might get pulled out from underneath you, but we have to try. Outside of Reggaeton in cars, do you have much of a scene where you are?
M: No, nothing that I’ve found at least. There’s stuff going on in Madrid and Barcelona, obviously, as in DJs from around the world playing there. But in terms of a scene that I’m interested in, no, not yet. Techno and Tech House seems to be the rule. Eduardo De La Calle lives near me, for example, there’s some great talent from Spain, but yeah our scene – whatever you’d call that – nada. How did the link up happen with Left, Right & Centre?
H: I met Connor and Wakil just after I finished my degree. We had a lot of mutual friends and they were both working in a venue on the other side of town to the venue that I was working at. We had some conversations at dances and at people’s houses and became friends pretty quick. It wasn’t until before lockdown that we decided to work together though, just one of those things. I originally had different tracks selected for the release that I had made pre-lockdown, but after a fertile writing spree I felt like it made more sense to change tact and work with those. It felt like a more honest expression of where I was (and still am), you know? And you also seemed way more excited at the prospect of remixing ‘Iron Lighter’ than you were at the previous tracks we’d picked out.
M: Yeah the other one was shit 🙂
H: It really was!
M: Haha, no! It was just that the bassline already fit excellently into the thing I’ve got going on in my head. It had that doubletime energy, which is hard to nail down. Trust me, the last couple of years I’ve really discovered this, there’s such a fine line between something that sounds sluggish and lazy at 100BPM (ish) and something that has got that hurried, rushing, forward vibe. It’s the same with finding a melody or rhythm that works in 4/4 as well as 3/4. There’s some science to it but it’s an art too, a feeling. Maybe I should back up a bit and explain the 100BPM ideas I have?
H: Yeah, tell me about 100BPM/Wow Beats.
M: What I call ‘wow beats’ has a crossover with this 100BPM thing but this idea is probably a bit easier to explain as a genre, it’s more cohesive. Or at least less wide open. Obviously the tempo is important, but anything from about 90BPM to 105BPM works, maybe 110BPM for crazier stuff? It’s one of three new genres I have in my head, and I’m not sure how I can explain it without sounding like an idiot, but I’ll have a stab. It’s definitely club music and it’s mainly about balance I guess. I mean everything in life’s about balance but with this almost seems like a balancing act. There’s a few elements that make it really work. Sound and genre wise, there’s obvious inspiration from dancehall, dembow, reggaeton, the more kinda Latin end of things too, cumbia and whatnot, but also marrying that up with a more UK and European tradition – slow techno, dubstep, grime.
Those are the obvious reference points, but also stuff like gqom, singeli, tarraxinha / tarraxo, minimal d&b, afrohouse, IDM, hard drum, NOLA bounce, EBM and no wave and punk even, trap hats… When you get into this new groove it feels slow and fast at the same time – 200bpm is obviously too much to sustain for any real period of time and I do see it as a genre that DJs can play with for a bit, in the same way that mixing techno into techno is greater than the sum of its parts. A decent section of this in the club can really open your mind to new rhythms and new ways of dancing. A lot of the current kinda ‘whiteboy dancehall’ stuff is often quite tight and robotic and slow sounding. So yeah, that ‘Iron Lighter’ bassline was already spot on, it had that balance.
H: I completely agree with what you’re saying about playing slower tracks in clubs. I’ve been trying to push it for a while now, and people are finally warming to it! I think it was Bok Bok that had talked about playing music slower than the average resting heart rate that instigates a very specific response in people rhythmically (I could be wrong though). It’s less about keeping up and more about leaning back into the half-time. There’s so much room for groove when you start slowing things down, even if it’s still four to the floor, those gaps in between are really fun to play around in.
It’s less about keeping up and more about leaning back.
M: Well it’s that dissonance that I’m interested in, rhythmically. That comfortable headnod thing, but then that crazy kinda caffeinated hyperactive bounce that’s too fast to sustain unless you’re a breakcore person… It feels strange, kinda like no waaaaaaay can the track be this fast… Maybe the DJ is playing something at the wrong speed? What is going on here? I’m always down to stretch the limits a bit but without the smug kind of pride some people take in wrongfooting a crowd. Always got to keep that groove and not knock a dancer’s confidence.
H: That’s the thing, I think the longer you play at 90-105BPM, the easier it becomes to get in the zone and dance to it. I fell into making slow music by playing things at the wrong speed – I reckon it’s helped me out when people recognise a track that’s just slowed down massively. I know you’re not a trance fan, but I heard Croww play Robert Miles – Children at 100BPM in a smoked out club at 5am and it went off!
M: Ha! No, I don’t know it, but yeah I think the dancing angle is important to both of us. I was a little bit worried that when the clubs reopened, it might have triggered a regression, you know? People were so happy to be back dancing, and may just have wanted to listen to comfortable stuff. Like Tech house and obvious bangers and not pushing things forward musically. We haven’t had a distinct period of the hardcore continuum for ages now, if that’s still important… Plus all the headphone gear that people have been making during various lockdowns might be too complicated for dancefloors so it’s important, as a producer, to keep reminding yourself that simplicity works in the club. I’m not talking just straight Techno or whatever, but more like I’m guilty of adding too many elements in a track, for example. Then get to the club and realise I need to pick a few elements to highlight, to do the work, and then drop the rest.
I’m always down to stretch the limits a bit but without the smug kind of pride some people take in wrong-footing a crowd.
H: This kind of segues nicely into something I wanted to pick your brains about. We’ve spoken privately about production techniques, the real nerdy shit (which I’ve found very helpful, thank you). I’m not technically trained at all, which is something I’ve learned to lean into. So, what’s your take on doing things “correctly” against doing things “organically” for want of a better word? Following your gut and just using your ears yada yada ..
M: I’m not technically trained either mate, but I’ve been doing it for longer I guess. Certain rules – or let’s say guidelines – seem to work. Mono bass for a tighter low end, not too much splashiness in the highs and all that. It comes back to balance again, and part of balance is overshooting one way or another and learning from it. Maybe a super wide stereo bass might work for you, who knows? You need to make mistakes, and I do pick up on a certain vibe from newer producers, like a fear of getting it wrong. They feel a pressure to get it spot on from day one. Like there’s a single right way, a path they need to walk to get everything right all of the time – maybe online tutorials have a part to play in this? And the polished nature of social media and endless branding. Nobody’s out there making a tutorial telling you to get offline and stop watching tutorials and just put the hours in, fiddle around, make mistakes, get it wrong. Learn from yourself. So yeah to answer your question more directly, gut and ears all day. You tend to work quickly, you often send me a batch of tunes, so you must feel like you’re making great progress towards ‘getting a feel for it’ no? I still get stuck micro-messing a lot of the time, although I am definitely getting better. The ‘Rent’ label has helped.
H: I tend to work in 2-4 week manic sprees where I’ll write quite a lot, and then have a break for a couple of months where I’m ingesting new ideas and influences, picking up new samples and plugins and just getting a feel for what they can do. Until fairly recently I was operating almost entirely with stock Ableton fx, and now I’m trying to branch out a little.
M: OK, seen. I don’t know Ableton but yeah effects are so important.
H: I won’t flog the dead horse about it, but I think there’s a good reason that it’s so pervasive amongst newer producers. I’ve tried other software, but with my weird habits of writing a lot in a short space of time, I haven’t found anything else that allows me to get ideas down as quickly.
Nobody’s out there making a tutorial telling you to get offline and stop watching tutorials and just put the hours in, fiddle around, make mistakes, get it wrong. Learn from yourself.
M: When I mentioned these new genres earlier, for me, it’s important to start something but it’s not necessary that I then have to stick to it. When a sound grows, it has that inevitable life cycle, you know? Bags of potential at the start, a no-rules approach, then certain themes or signifiers gain ground – you can think of it as panning, stuff is being shaken all over the place and certain elements naturally rise to the top, and some sink. But then it becomes a caricature of itself, when the bros jump on it and you get this grotesque kinda Spitting Image situation.
So, at the moment, which hasn’t always been the case, I have all of these ideas that I’m hungrier than ever, I want to inspire others but I’m not going to go down with the ship. For me, that’s a mentality of fear really. Fear that if you stop doing a certain sound then you’ll somehow run out of ideas or the new stuff you make won’t be seen as successful. I don’t think that’s a problem for either of us, to be honest. As for the hardcore continuum, it’s a useful enough term. It’s just ‘home’ I guess. Like the foundations, it’s ‘ours’ as people from the UK and it doesn’t feel as if we’re stealing. I love middle eastern music, for example, but I know I’m never going to start making a career out of making middle eastern music.
H: Couldn’t agree more on the life cycle point. I think NKC’s tongue-in-cheek references to “The Golden Age Of Hard Drum” being 2016-2019 or whatever it was, was actually a really sincere notion of the awareness for how these things inevitably grow and then collapse. Hard Drum was different in the sense that it was a deliberate push into new territory, but I think that there’s a certain degree of insincerity when people make Jungle or Garage in 2021, for example. There are producers younger than me that make tracks in those genres that are wicked, really well produced and all that, but it’s a bit disingenuous to make something that’s nostalgic for an era that you were never a part of, know what I mean? Kinda like the difference between an original painting and colouring in. And I agree with not going down with the ship. I’m happy doing my thing, this slowed down stuff, but I know that eventually I will be over it. I’m not going to die on the hill of a tempo!
M: Agreed. My take has always been to try your hand at whatever you want, the more styles the better sometimes. But making a whole career out of an almost 30 year old sound seems off to me.
H: Init! I really like the one-offs aspect of Rent! As somebody that’s followed what you’ve been doing fairly closely for the past decade, I reckon it’s some of your best work – really interesting, but that wouldn’t have made sense as an album.
M: No course not, but it still gets the point across that I’m all about versatility and just a sheer love of music you know? I’d love to hear certain other artists do a similar thing, let people into the shit they make behind the scenes. Part of it has always been about NO SIDE PROJECTS either. Not sure why I’m so adamant about it, but I really want to be seen as just a person who’s into different styles and tempos, not some neatly packaged, easily digested content provider. Do you make anything ‘weird’ that wouldn’t fit on any of the EPs you’ve put out?
I really want to be seen as just a person who’s into different styles and tempos, not some neatly packaged, easily digested content provider.
H: Ah mate, I’ve got some atrocious stuff in the hard drives. Tracks that I’ve just made for fun that I send to mates or have played at Strange Riddims parties. Everything from Donk edits of Avril Lavigne and Coldplay, to blends of Linkin Park and Justin Bieber (100% serious about all of those). I don’t consider them side-projects in so much as they’re just a cheap laugh or an experiment that would imply “Henzo is a fun-time party animal” over “Henzo is a lover of all music”. Part of me would love to put all my cards on the table, but I’m also happy with the music I choose to put out being the face of what I do and the rest is just for me and whoever I choose to share it with. On that unplanned confession, anything else you need to get off your chest?
M: Avril Lavigne yeah? Boy, not sure I could top that
H: Few have to be fair
Buy the Iron Lighter EP below