Rewind is a review series that dips into electronic music’s archives to dust off music from decades past.
When I ask for a stand out memory of “Wut” being played in 2010, Phil Gamble (Girl Unit) and Alex Sushon (Bok Bok) both recall the same moment. Gamble was playing a Night Slugs party at the now defunct Crucifix Lane, a fun, loud and grimy club near London Bridge. “Wut” got a triple rewind, including one before the first drop. Shaky, pixelated videos circulated online. As Sushon points out to me, when the bass hits it looks like the camera lens is vibrating with the subs.
If you’ve heard “Wut” on a big system, it’s hard to believe it wasn’t originally made with the dance floor in mind. The first version Gamble sent Sushon was 20 BPM faster, intended as a “throwaway, skittish, melodic hip-hop instrumental.” With booming 808s and heavyset percussion, “Wut,” “Every Time” and “Showstoppa” all channel Southern US hip-hop. The nods to UK dance music—euphoric hardcore-esque chords and hyper-digital sounds reminiscent of grime instrumentals—are subtler.
Slowing “Wut” down was a masterstroke. At 140 BPM, it was mixable into the kind of music—particularly grime—that Gamble, Sushon and others were playing at Night Slugs parties since 2008. A happy production accident gave “Wut” its satisfying bass weight. “I had taken two 808s, and panned one left and one right,” Gamble told me. “Somewhere in the process, I detuned one of them. They’re both playing different notes so it’s really dissonant, but it gives it this chaotic energy.”
2010 was Night Slugs’ first year releasing music, and it’s one of the most impressive first years of any label I can think of. Across 16 EPs, Bok Bok and L-Vis 1990’s curation was freewheeling but coherent. The cryptic promise of “4×4/Heavy Bass/Gutter House” on the party’s early flyers was a suitably vague description of the hybrid sound taking shape. Dubstep, grime, house and UK funky were the most obvious touchstones, but US hip-hop and club genres like juke and Baltimore club were also there from the beginning.
The turn of the decade was an exciting, creative time for UK producers recovering from dubstep’s collapse. Although they went about it in very different ways, groundbreaking labels like Night Slugs and Hessle Audio seemed to be responding to a similar drive for fresh inspiration. The internet became a powerful tool in this search, introducing Gamble to everything from “classic dance music” to “low bit-rate streams of what some teenagers in Chicago are making,” as he said in 2011.
Other producers in the UK were moving in a similar direction. What stood out most about “Wut” was the starry-eyed, instantly recognisable chord sequence and catchy vocal hook. Bristolian producers like Joker and Guido, who had started moving away from dubstep’s dark and barren aesthetic by infusing their tracks with jazzy harmonies, were important influences in this regard. Meanwhile, in Glasgow, a group of producers including Hudson Mohawke and Rustie were pioneering a parallel, colourful and hi-definition hip-hop-based sound. When HudMo made it big as half of TNGHT in 2012, unleashing a wave of club-based trap music, “Wut” got a second wind of popularity.
Press hype around “Wut” snowballed after its release. On dance floors, it was a recognised classic before anyone could even ID it. In their review of the EP, Pitchfork wrote that “Wut” wasn’t scheduled for release in 2010, but had to be pushed out because so many DJs were playing clips of the track ripped from online mixes. Sushon can’t remember the specifics. “I’m not gonna name names,” he laughed. “But there were definitely some people, particularly from Glasgow, who were playing out dodgy versions.” Who could blame them?