Random Facts: Wookie
Wookie's string of garage classics have transcended genre and assured him a place in the history books. His sound is instantly recognisable; jazzy riffs chopping over gnarly basslines, a mix of roughneck dubplate culture and smooth songwriting that defined the best of UKG. The Wookster can still be heard DJing worldwide, dropping old favourites such as Battle, Scrappy or Little Man to sit perfectly against his current warm, bassy house productions. He's also one of the nicest men in dance, chuckling through our interview, talking candidly, and behaving coming across like a consummate gent. Over the course of an hour we touched on Shrodinger's cat, Brian Harvey, the nutjob who's trying to sell America an anti-Muslim gun, and the problem with Wookie impersonators…
R$N: I just bribed my son with the iPad so I can have this conversation. Have you got any kids?
NO! And I’m trying to keep it that way. Hehehe. My girlfriends like, yeah we can have kids, but I’m like, you know what, I’m good. I don’t want any of the little bastards. I love kids, but they’re just gonna eat away at all your options..
I doubt that’s the end of that conversation…
Yeah maybe hehehe
OK, I’m gonna start off with a modern fact: Facebook addiction disorder has now been diagnosed as a genuine thing. Is it something you suffer from?
Umm. My girlfriend would say I do. Hahaha. My view on it – my activity was much higher when I was single, not cos I was looking for a girl, but my interaction with other people was much higher. I don’t go out raving a lot, so when I was at home I’d be on facebook, writing things a few times a day, having some interaction with people. This was my own personal account though, I never used the Wookie account in the same way, because I didn’t know the people so I don’t know what to say to them. That’s probably why I don’t use twitter much either. I used to be on facebook every day, writing something, sticking up photos. I used to hate when people would write on their status, oh facebook’s boring man! Like, facebook is just a visual email account, what are you expecting from it? If you’re looking for something from it you need to look elsewhere!
Do you ever get caught in online beefs? It’s pretty hard not to..
I learnt a while back not to. I remember a mate of mine’s brother wrote something on my page – I ain’t seen him in years, and he wrote something against someone else, kinda slagging them off. And the other person wasn’t having it. And other person was one of these dudes who’d go look for you. And I was like, oh shit! I had to delete the comments and say ‘it’s just a little banter..!’ Keyboard warriors man.
It did happen to me on twitter though. I got caught up in trolling. I was being trolled by some kids. What happened was they wrote on my Wookie facebook page, ‘oh we came to see you at this place and you pushed past us and my friend was really upset…’, and I was like, what? I don’t behave like that! You sure that was me? So I was asking, ‘where was this?’ Then I realised when they stopped responding that they were winding me up. I really took offense though, I don’t like things making look bad. Especially when I haven’t done it- I’m so not a prima donna! I’m not like, I want Grey Goose! I won’t play unless I get Grey Goose! And there are quite a few DJs who are like that.
I booked a fairly well known rave outfit a while back and they were pretty specific with the levels of champagne they wanted-
Hahaha how the fuck did you know?
Well there’s only one real old skool duo-
It could have been Shut Up & Dance… It could have been Ragga Twins..
Shut Up & Dance, I’d call them jungle. Could have been Ragga Twins. But I just got who it was right away.
We had an entertaining night looking after Rat Pack. Legends that they are.
I’m not really like that- I’d feel embarrassed if I asked for something and didn’t get it. Like when people go up to club doors and say, do you know who I am, or, I’m this person, I’m not on the guest list but what are you saying. I’m expect them to say, well, you’re not on the guest list, fuck off! We don’t care if you’re Wookie!
Have you ever had that happen?
No! Because I’ve never gone up to the door and tried it! I tell you one funny story though. I played in Cardiff, and I arrived at the club. The women let me in, and I went back out and said ‘I want to put some names on the guestlist, I’ve got some people coming.’ And she said, ‘ahh you know what, I gotta be honest with you, someone came here earlier and said they were you. And I let them in.’
The thing is it was a white guy! You don’t know what I look like – a white guy showed up and said he was Wookie and you let him in..!
Do you think the guy knew what you looked like?
Well I think so.
Hahaha. He was really trying it then..
Absolutely. If you knew someone was black and you were white… He got in the club..! I was like wow..! That’s funny. She let him in with one or two other people.
I’m trying that next time you’re playing. Anyway, this is a fact that made my head hurt. If Pinnochio says ‘my nose will grow now’, it creates a paradox.
Unless he says a lie first. Then his nose grows. He’s not lying – he’s telling you he’s going to – ahh – wait, he’s stuck – ahh. It’s a bit like Shrodinger’s Cat
I’ve never been able to get my head around Shrodinger’s cat
Me neither. It’s just rubbish, if you don’t know you don’t know. If you don’t know, it’s possible.
You’re probably the first DJ I’ve spoken to who’s bought up Shrodinger’s Cat
I discovered the concept about a year and a half ago – I saw it on someone’s post and I went and looked it up. I like looking at science stuff, but I didn’t understand quantuum physics – I still don’t. It’s just theory really. Everything goes round in circles. Everything that you do has been done, you’re not doing anything new.
Does the music scene feel like that to you?
Oh definitely. I’ve seen the cycle, if you’re in it to see when it comes back around, you’ll see the cycle.
I’m old enough to remember house the first time, and I’ve always been surprised to see it come back so prosaically.
Yeah, everyone is into that 90s sound, using the M1 keyboard again, that classic house keyboard.
I feel that when people were using the M1 in the 90s they were looking to the future rather than trying to sound like the past.
The problem was, the Korg M1 was a very, very popular synth. Everyone was using it. Everybody. So when I started, I didn’t buy an M1, I bought an MSonic which was an American make. It was similar to the M1 but had slightly different sounds and algorhythms.
Talking of when you started, there are over 9 different artists on Discogs with the name Wayne Marshall-
Yeah? Hahaha, there’s quite a few Wookie’s on there as well. There’s a new one, but he spells it Wuki. I saw his name about 2 years ago, and I saw it last week on a flyer. Or maybe it was Beatport.
Where did you get the name Wookie from?
It’s from my surname. My surname’s Chew, so everyone used to call me Chewbacca and Chewie. And I thought Chewbacca would be a wack name. My mistake was thinking that no one was gonna use the name Wookie, and there’s millions of them on twitter…
Are you a big Star Wars fan?
No! not really. I watched it like everyone else did in the 80s. After Return of the Jedi, I stopped. I didn’t see the Samuel L Jackson one that’s for sure
With Wayne Marshall, how did you meet?
I met him through Music House, the dubplate place. My brother and my dad used to work there. The guy who owns it is a family friend, so I was going to Music House as a little boy, from when I was 10 or 11 to see the dub cutting process. Wayne Marshall used to work there in the early 90s, and I worked with him from 91-94. I’d make music on my keyboard then go to Music House to record it on DAT tapes. I had no way of playing the DATS! I just thought you had to present your stuff properly. A few years ago Wayne wanted to do some work, but when we split it wasn’t really a happy split. I felt I was being shut out of some publishing stuff, so I left and went solo.
And talking of former collaborators, do you have many dealings with Jazzy B these days?
Actually, I went to a dinner party at his house a few months ago- it was the first time I’d been to his house in 10 years. I’m over the business injustice that I felt I suffered back then. Jazzy’s a cool guy. Just businesswise he’s very shrewd.
That’s a very diplomatic expression. Looking back, there’s not really been an English soul act since that have done it in America in the way Soul II Soul did.
Absolutely; they smashed America. There’s a few generations in the States that could cite Soul II Soul as an inspiration.
It must have been weird for you to join up-
Yeah – when I was first working there it was just grabbing vocals off a DAT and making stuff, remixing stuff, working on the back end. I was there for the last album and a half, from 94 – 97. I went to Soul II Sooul as an inhouse producer. I was only about 22-23, and I was going there every day. I used to make RnB/ hip hop. But in this country there were no acts. There’s only like Lemar, East 17 – I’m talking about acts that were signed. I remember East 17 used to want to do a lot more black RnB music, but the label would never let them because they were a pop act. Brian Harvey was a massive RnB fan, and they stifled him.
Do you think English labels don’t get UK RnB?
My take on it, is that I don’t think it’s their fault. It’s the market. We live in England. RnB isn’t a massive thing here. Back in the day the big acts like Jodeci used to only sell 4- 5000 copies of the album. It’s the demographics of the region. But then RnB in America has died out. It’s not what it used to be. I grew up with people like Guy and Jodeci. All the RnB singers nowadays sound like girls. They don’t sound like geezers! Back in the day they had deep voices, they were crooners, they sounded like men..! Even like, Bobby Brown-
I don’t think anyone’s arguing that Bobby Brown isn’t all man
Hahaha well, yeah, you understand what I’m trying to say, I hear singers now and they sound like girls.
OK, so back to the Random Facts – there is a new technology developed in America that allows you to control the safety catch on your gun from your smart phone.
Why don’t you just do it on the gun? Wasn’t there a gun they developed over there that was an anti-Muslim gun?
Come off it.
Have you ever fired a gun?
No, I’m so anti-violence. I couldn’t hit someone over the head with a bottle or anything like that… OK, hold on, I’ve found it – gun makers create anti-Muslim gun complete with bible verse. The weapon is sold for $1,395 with a life time guarantee. This is in The Independent. A Florida gunmaker has created a gun that is designed to prevent Muslim terrorists.
I dunno man. Just look up anti-Muslim gun
Wow. I mean that’s one thing about social media, it exposes you to mad people who are into this shit.
Well, my uncle says, the thing about social media is you have to pick sense from nonsense. There’s some mad stuff. You’ll find whatever you’re looking for on there.
Do you think England’s got worse or better over the last 10 years?
Oh, it’s definitely got worse. My stance is that when there’s no money around and people are scrimping and scraping and trying to make ends meet, you start blaming everyone else for what’s going up. You turn round and blame the new people. It used to be the Eastern Europeans, the Polish, the Croatians, now no one really talks about them too much cos they’re embedded in our system, like we all have been. But it’s definitely got worse, the governments changed. You never see a bobby walking down the street
Well I live in Hackney, so the police aren’t too popular. There’s a lot of tension between them and the local kids.
Still? That’s been going on since the 80s. Stoke Newington Police Station, back then, for a black man, you did not want to be taken in there. The cells downstairs were notorious as a place where you’d get the shit kicked out of you. Sandringham Road used to be the frontline. My dad used to be there all the time, it’s where the West Indians would hang out. It’s funny seeing how the place has changed – back when I was a kid people didn’t want to be round there. My mate’s mum just sold her house in Highbury for £1.8 million. It’s crazy, it’s been in the family since the 50s – they probably paid £500 for it.
Yeah, but that money’s only any good if you move out of London – it’d cost you that to buy another place
Or if you wanted to go back a home country– but you can’t go back to your original home, because the people there are looking at you like, you’ve got money now, and you’re likely to robbed and killed, even. In Jamaica that was happening a lot. My mum and dad were both born in Jamaica – my mum came her when she was 6, she’s very British. My dad was 14. But if you move back, family betray you. It doesn’t have to be Jamaica, it could be China, anywhere, if you’ve been living in the West they believe you’ve got money and that you’re rich, but they don’t realise you pay out a lot more money to live.
Did you ever consider moving to the States to become a producer?
I know a few people who did. Dready works in the States, there’s a few people who’ve done it, but a lot of people end up coming back home. It’s a very different world. There’s only one person that I know that went to America as a nobody and made it there, and that’s Marsha Ambrosius from Floetry. She’s signed to Interscope, and she’s on 4 or 5 tracks on the new Dr Dre album.
Have you ever considered working in a production team?
I’d need to find the person who adds what I can’t do. I’m not a great keyboard player. I play all my own stuff, but I wasn’t taught to play so it takes me a while to sit there and find what I want to do. I was advised by a friend of mine who’s a jazz player, and he said, you know what, all you really need to do is practice your scales, because you have an ear – if you get training you may strip all that natural stuff out. When you learn to play you learn a certain way, but when you don’t know if it sounds good, you’ll do it. If you if listen to Little Man, musically, keywise, what is it!?
Have you been surprised how that tune has come back?
Honestly, it’s always been around – it always used to get played in garage sets, it’s just that garage has come back around. I get 18 or 19 year old kids coming up being, oh man, Little Man! or Battle! And I think, dude you were 2 years old when I made this… How do you even know it..?!
Wookie is playing at Toddla T's Winter Carnival, XOYO on December 12th – tickets are onsale here.