Here at NEST HQ, we feel a connection between the foods we eat and our life experiences: the foods we enjoy reflect our past, and the foods we choose reflect who we are. As an act of expression, food touches many of the same cultural cornerstones as other lifestyle expressions such as art and music. With projects like the NEST Eats Cookbook, we try to explore the connections between different planes of artistry. For the latest in the NEST Eats series, we’re inviting artists to join us at restaurants that honor their heritages, where we share mealtime conversations with them. We also asked the artists to share their restaurant food picks as a reflection of their own personalities: they even took the photos themselves!
This time, we went to get Szechuan food with Wuki, the forward-thinking breaks and house-inspired producer. He got his start as a musician during the early days of OWSLA and NEST when he did a number of releases with both labels, and now he’s preparing an imprint of his own, WUKILEAKS. His background is pretty unique, having previously been part of the band Innerpartysystem before starting his Wuki project. He had a lot of really cool things to say while we ate fish stew, toothpick lamb, and pork ribs at Chengdu Taste in southern California. Check out our interview below:
So how’d you get started as Wuki?
Actually, when it was part of the Drip.fm from OWSLA, my first original EP as Wuki came out on NEST.
Framework EP, right?
To this day, I still get people that ask me for those songs, and I still love that record so much. It actually really brought me into this world a lot more, because my sound was all over the place. I had like a dubstep track, an electro house track, I wasn’t really sure what I wanted to do. But when Durante heard the first one, he was like, “Yo, do you wanna put this on OWSLA IV or NEST IV, or whatever it was then?”
Yeah, NEST IV and it was huge for me, man, because it was on the OWSLA SoundCloud, they tweeted about it, all that stuff. Sonny used to play that one track out all the time and yeah, that was a really big milestone for me, for Wuki to get in the scene for real, you know.
But even before that you had some music projects before Wuki, right?
I was in a band for a long time, we toured all over, signed to Island Def Jam and yeah, a bunch of hard band travel days. It was like four guys in a van and trailer, but long story short, we broke up and I still wanted to keep doing dance music. It was really popping off at the time, like really starting. It was like when Porter and those guys were kinda blowing up.
Did you get to meet those dudes? Or any of them through that old stuff?
So actually, my old band Innerpartysystem toured with Skrillex because his old band (From First to Last) toured with us, so we knew him through that. Then he invited us to tour and I met all those guys then, but unfortunately around that time was when the other guys [in Innerpartysystem] didn’t want to tour anymore, so they were just done and we broke up.
But for me, I was just getting into the world I wanted to get into, so it was like, “I’m not stopping, and I’m going to keep doing something,” and that’s what Wuki is. There was one or two years where I was just writing, I was living at home – kinda mooching off my parents – and then I had a track get supported by Knife Party which is pretty sick, like an electro-house track. And then, I had a couple of releases on Main Course. This is like four or five years ago now, and then I had the OWSLA/NEST EP and that was another big milestone. The EP actually helped sign with my management, helped me sign with an agent, Super Music Group. They do like Amtrac, Ape Drums, DJ Craze…
Dude, I saw Craze at Dirtybird Campout East Coast, it was crazy. On Day 3, Sunday, it rains and all these people don’t wanna party and get drenched, so they brought their easy-ups from the campsites and created a makeshift roof over the entire dance floor.
That must have been really cool.
Yeah, this was at the main stage. Meanwhile, Craze is playing at the other stage, he’s the last act there, but because most people are huddling where the easy-ups are, very few people make it to Craze. Still he went wild, it was one of the best sets of the weekend.
What kind of sets does he play? Was it like jungle or…
He went really jungle, really breaks & beats.
That’s how he started, as like a jungle DJ, and he kills that shit too, he’s so good.
I’m surprised because I’ve seen him do turntable stuff and hip-hop and dance music, but at the bigger festivals he doesn’t like usually do this old-school of a set.
Well, I know like the Dirtybird heads are really into jungle too, like one of the Martin brothers has like jungle mixes on his SoundCloud and shit.
Claude and Justin did a drum and bass b2b too. I feel like drum and bass is a genre that ties everything together in a way.
It’s kinda like a break beat, yet it has dubby, wubby sounds.
I’ve found that people who can produce drum and bass, they can then go and produce dubstep or house.
The best producers are definitely drum and bass producers, they’re under-appreciated actually, because that shit takes a crazy skill on the drums to make it sound right in the groove.
[The toothpick lamb arrives.]
That looks awesome. I love spicy food.
Me too. Where were you raised?
I grew up in Pennslyvania, outside of Philladelphia basically: Redding, PA. A small town, pretty dreary, almost feels like Midwest.
Your parents meet there too?
They met in Jersey, I actually lived in Jersey until I was like eight.
You consider Penn to be where you grew up?
I mean, that’s where I became a person, you know. I really don’t remember much in NJ.
Do you have contact with anyone from back home now that you moved out here? When did you move to the West Coast?
I got some friends in Redding, I got plenty of friends in Philly and I lived in Denver for a long time too and I have a lot of friends there.
Oh yeah, you were in Denver when Wuki was kicking off.
Yeah, when I signed to OWSLA that’s where I was living, after the band broke up I moved to Denver.
And then you did a whole bunch of stuff dude, all sorts of labels, I remember you did that “Deep Down Low” remix, that was huge.
Yup, I did a remix for Anna Lunoe, “Bass Drum Dealer,” and then I did “Deep Down Low”, did a remix for Kill the Noise, I did a remix for HeartsRevolution – so actually, OWSLA really fucking put me on, honestly. I know that maybe I haven’t done too much recently, but like I’ve done a lot with y’all, OWSLA/NEST.
So lately what have you been doing? Into a lot of remixes still?
Right now, I’ve been focusing on my WUKILEAKS, which is kinda organically turning into a label.
You put out “DADADADA” and that one with Kayzo.
They’re really just bootlegs, but I’m realizing that I have the platform now that people are really engaging with to kinda turn it into a label and I can just run it in my own way. On Twitter I just released a song and then anyone who retweets it, I’ve just been sending them stems, just DMing them.
Really? Are you like automatically doing it?
No, I’m doing it by hand.
How many people have you sent stems so far?
Like 200 or so.
I don’t know. I think half of our fans are producers themselves now, and I think engaging with them on that level is very important, because there’s so much fucking talent out there and it’s hard to get your foot in the door now – it’s really hard – like everyone’s trying to do it and the caliber is so high. Kids are so fucking good, so I’d be happy to put people on.
It reminds me of what Andy from the M Machine did with dog logic, where all the stems are available as part of an art project, or last year when Jacques Greene shared the samples for Feel Infinite with everyone. I think it changes people’s relationship with a piece of work when you do it.
Agreed. I already got one remix back that’s awesome, and that I’m going to play. So it’s also good for your sets and stuff, and if I’m running the label and it’s really dope, I can just put it up on Spotify and hook this kid up with a release, you know.
That’s gonna be really sick.
Thanks man, yeah I’m excited about it, it’s doing better than I thought. A-Trak’s playing it out, a couple other guys have played it out, I think even Chainsmokers played it out. It’s called “Chop It.”
Yup, I’ve heard it.
Yeah, so it’s going good man, it’s tight, I’m really excited about that right now for sure.
And you own it too. Do you guys distro WUKILEAKS on Apple Music/Spotify?
This one we did because it’s all original, I couldn’t do the other ones because they’re samples. I haven’t done anyone else’s original music yet.
What do you look for?
In music? Really, anything that’s just kinda raw. I realized I like stuff that just has some kind of raw creativity to it that I just haven’t heard before. I usually listen for some kind of hook that’s going to grab me, because there’s so many bangers. I mean, it can still be a banger, but it needs to have some kind of hook. I feel like Daft Punk are the masters of writing a hook inside of a dance tune.
They’re my favorite group.
They’re the best. I was just listening to their live record from ’97, it was like a bootleg one, it was really fucking dope man.
The first record that got me into dance music was their Alive 2007.
Oh, I saw that show live at Coney Island, and then I dropped out of school and was like, “I’m doing this shit.”
I would have went if I was able to go then, but the times change. You were doing Innerpartysystem, then the times changed and you pivoted into Wuki and you really made it work. I feel like a lot of artists and me have been talking about this pivot they’ve had to do too, and they feel this trend has emerged where things are stagnating in dance music. People like you who have already established themselves will be fine, but you can’t do what you did with Framework and come up so quickly like that in 2018 the same way.
You’re right, you know during that time I came out with Framework, I think one of the reasons it did well is because it was the big room era, where everything was big room and static and homogeneous again. So I think that’s gotta happen again, someone’s gotta break the mold and do something totally different and that’s the shit that’s going to turn heads, just really unique and good, basically.
Yeah, we’ve been trying to sign not just records, but artists. You should check out our latest NEST release, it’s a group called Chuurch.
I feel like I’ve seen that name on SoundCloud or something.
They’re sick. What are you working on this year?
Well, I have a bunch of originals lined up for my own label. Everyone asks me all the time when I’m putting out my Bingo Players’ “Devotion” remix and, I guess all I can really say is that we’re working on it, so hopefully it’s gonna be an official Spinnin’ release.
Do you think you’re gonna do this for the rest of your life?
Um, I hope so, but touring gets hard. Like, I don’t want to maybe necessarily, unless I’m like fucking Diplo flying private jets everywhere. I’m not sure I could do this when I’m like 50 years old, but I definitely want to do music for the rest of my life. I can’t see myself doing much else, like I always have to make music, I wake up and I have ideas in my head and I gotta get them out. But I don’t know, I can see myself doing some other things, I like to write a little, to write stories. I wrote this story about a dog and I was thinking about trying to do a screenplay.
Have you ever made music videos?
No, I really want to though.
It’s a great way to test out that screenwriting world, or you can just pull the FlyLo and just make a straight up movie.
Oh yeah. Never seen it but I’ve heard that he did that though. Is it just visuals or an actual movie?
I haven’t seen it either, I’ve heard it’s an actual movie but like..
Yeah, and gory.
How did your parents feel about you doing music stuff?
I had to fight my dad a lot actually, because he’s very like typically Indian-like, math is super important, and he was definitely not happy that I was doing music and I went to six months of college, one semester and I just fucking hated it, man. I hated it so much so I just basically told him that I was gonna drop out and that you don’t have to support me but this is what I’m gonna do.
And what did he say?
Okay, so my mom was always really dope with my music stuff and she was always really supportive, and it basically became a compromise for a year off. I could take a year off and figure something out. And that’s when the band started actually, so it worked out pretty well. And when we signed to Island Def Jam, I was like “dad, look, I don’t have to go to school.” I think school wasn’t for me, unless you wanna be like a doctor, engineer or something, where you really need a degree.
So what do you think of alternatives like production schools, say Icon Collective?
I think it depends on the person. If you don’t know much about music and you really wanna get a good intro, something like that could probably really accelerate you, hands-on learning. You get a lot of good experience with that. But if you’re motivated, you can learn anything through YouTube. Some of the best producers I know are just YouTube guys.
I think it could be accelerated into two months at the most, you can probably learn everything you need to know if you’re going everyday 9 to 5. I don’t know why you would need to go somewhere for more than a year just to learn how to produce music. If you want to learn music theory, then you could go to school forever, though.
Yeah I have friends who have been doing it, and they have mixed feelings too, because some people, like, really make their careers off this, sort of like that three in a thousand that they can list off, and say, “Oh, these are our alumni and kids be like, oh I want to be like Jauz.”
I think it really comes down to the individual, like I bet if Jauz didn’t go to Icon Collective he would have figured out a way to have some success.
I totally agree, his talent is his talent whether he went there or not.
You can’t teach talent.
But I also see how, if you are talented, getting those relationships you get there is valuable.
Also, you can learn the technical side, but the other stuff comes with just doing, and, like, as soon as something becomes schooled, you sort of suck the fun out of it too. My favorite time to make music is at 2 a.m. when I’m a little tipsy or a little high or something and go make some weird fucking shit and go to a different world, you know. I don’t want to sit in a classroom. I hate classrooms, tests, but I mean I don’t know if it’s like that.
So, you got WUKILEAKS that is going to be putting out all these people’s music but you haven’t found anybody you imagine a future with?
Right now, it’s mostly just my music. I’m going to get some remixes done, but I’m thinking about trying to put together a compilation with a bunch of my friends or something. I’m going to work into it, I’m not gonna stress about it, just have fun with it. I just really like being able to make my own schedule you know, with like other labels you have to deal with all their schedules and shit.
Find the rest of the photos from our time at Chengdu Taste below, and check out Wuki on tour soon at any of the following dates:
May 4 – Temple Nightclub, Denver, CO
May 17 – Chess Taipei, Taipei, Taiwan
June 1 – Elektricity, Pontiac, MI
July 14 – New York Expo Center, Bronx, NY
September 1 – 45 East, Portland, OR (with Rusko)
September 6-9 – Dancefestopia, LaCygne, KS
September 7 – Emerald City, Louisberg, KS