In today’s music scene, it has become de rigueur for artists to view their work through the lens of a number of different mediums, be they creatively-led visual, audio, and performance disciplines, or marketing-related tactics of self-promotion. Songwriters need to be able to produce, producers need to be able to market It’s not enough to do one thing well, you need to tick multiple boxes in order to register as a blip on the sonar radars of a global audience who are stuffed to the gills with more content than they know what to do with.
Fortunately for North London’s own Wize (Jordan Birch), there are more than enough skills on his plate to carry him to wherever he wants to be – and where exactly that is is decidedly up to him:
“I don't really do one thing - I kind of just go where the music takes me, whether that's production, vocals, DJing, or hosting radio shows. I’ve done that for most of my life.”
In his highly successful “EDITS” series, Jordan removes the instrumentals from musical clips online and replaces them with his own production. It’s gained him way in excess of a million views on YouTube and Instagram.
Wize’s new sample pack 'Sound of the UK' with Loopcloud is an essential grime toolkit that distills his wide range of influence into an inventory of complex percussion and melodies. We caught up with him to delve into his career and uncover the production methodology behind his work.
In a past life, Jordan also hosted the Boiler Room live show Crowdsourced. We could go on, but Wize is a respected craftsman who refuses to be pigeonholed. With such a multitalented and active music producer, the stage is set for a very interesting interview.
I grew up in Highbury Estate, which was notorious for UK street rappers. There was a group called Task Force that I grew up around, I have uncles that were really cool with them and used to make tracks for them. There were always a lot of MCs in the area, and when you’re growing up on the council estate you kind of look around at what everyone else is doing.
Obviously, I was around music a lot, but it initially wasn’t something I necessarily wanted to pursue. I was actually really into drawing, graphic stuff from Japanese culture like Dragon Ball Z characters. Drawing eventually morphed into music creation, because that is essentially what this is all about – creating an idea from nothing.
Back in the day, we used to do these things called promos, which I guess are the modern day EP without the official distribution side of things. You’d put out a five or six track project as a promo on MySpace, and I had a promo called The Blueprint. It’s crazy, because I never knew that Jay-Z did it, I just thought it was a great name! I paid a designer 10 pounds to do the cover and I produced all the tracks, I was so proud of myself. At the time there weren’t so many rappers producing their own stuff, so as a 15 year old kid it was quite a feat that I could do that.
Once I started getting a good reception on that promo, I found that I really liked that feeling. The feedback that I got validated what I had done, because it showed that it wasn’t just a conceited thing that I did for myself – people actually enjoyed it.
I couldn’t get beats! I was a kid with about 200 followers on MySpace – who the hell wants to send him any beats? I’ve got a musical family though, so I had cousins that were producing, and one of them gave me Music 2000 for the PS1. It was one of the most amazing things that I’d ever seen, because until that point the Playstation had been more about Crash Bandicoot, Tekken Three and Spyro, not music creation. I loved it, and it definitely changed everything for me. Thank you Codemasters, appreciate that.
I’ve always been into remixing, and I started doing it quite early in my productions. I’d take an old Michael Jackson song and try to put a hip-hop beat behind it, things like that. When I discovered the American producer Knxwledge, and what he was doing with old Meek Mill freestyles and classic hip-hop freestyles from back in the day, I scoured YouTube comments for days to find out how he was doing it. Once I realised he was using iZotope RX to remove instrumentals and isolate just the vocal frequencies, I started having a go myself.
I started off just sampling on Twitter, taking an old Skepta freestyle, changing the beat and asking people what they thought. It can go either way, because you’re changing classic material. People hold that stuff near and dear, so if you mess that up you can tarnish your reputation. Luckily, because the concept of it was quite fresh in the UK, I think it went down a treat with people.
It’s quite a mixed bag. I go through phases, for example in the last couple of months I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz fusion, people like Thundercat. There’s a guitarist called Mansur Brown who does a lot of straight instrumental guitar, and I get a lot of melodic inspiration from that type of thing. I find that if I get too heavy in the grime bag it almost narrows my view of what I make. If I’m in the drill bag, or the garage bag, it’s the same. I’m a hyper fixator, I do one thing and then I overdo it.
In the current scene, I’m feeling quite a few people right now. Someone who I really like is Rocks FOE, he’s just phenomenal in terms of sound choice. In sound design he just has such an open mind as to how things sound, he could take a dog barking, mix it with a cat meowing and a shark biting someone’s leg off and somehow make it sound good. I’m really feeling Kish Fantastic, and my little brother Griese too. I like where the drill scene is at, because labels are paying attention. It’s become less of a street art and more of a viable career than it’s ever been before in the history of UK urban music.
My mum was a session singer, so I was always influenced by her. She used to bring me to all of her studio sessions and I’d sit there in the vocal booth watching while she was performing, just admiring what she was doing. She taught me how to do harmonies when I was four or five years old, and would always get me to do them for her. I think that’s where a lot of the melody ideas come from for me, because I learned all that so early.
I took those skills from her and sort of honed them in the background because growing up as a kid on the council estate singing wasn’t super cool. Everyone was an MC, so I didn’t want to be the only R&B singer. Recently, my manager has been telling me to sing more, which is a necessary push because I enjoy getting on the mic. I’ve actually got a whole project where I’m telling a narrative, and I sang the whole thing as well as producing it. I think people will be surprised to hear that from me because I’m the Grime guy apparently.
There’s a lot of drill influence there, because that’s where I’m at right now. There’s a lot of 145 and 150BPM loops, complex percussion and funky, Triton-influenced melodies. You’ve got Afrobeat in there, UK rap, drill and more. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m a melody guy, so there’s not a lot of just three note melody loops. The sounds in this pack are pretty much directly from my DAW – this is the kind of stuff I make music with myself. That’s why I’m so interested to see what people do with the pack, and how they can meld the different elements and create something new. Just the way the industry has always been.
The Korg M1 and the Korg Triton. If I didn't have those two pieces of equipment in my life my music wouldn’t sound the way it does today. I took a lot of influence from the Neptunes and Timbaland growing up, who were big Triton heads. Even now the Triton plays a huge part in how I even approach music. The sound of it always resonated with me. Plugin-wise, I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have Nexus growing up. It’s one of those plugins that can do everything, and it was a huge part of my production career coming up. A lot of hip-hop and trap producers will say the same, because it was light on CPU and had like a billion sounds in it.
I've always been pretty on the pulse of what’s going technology-wise, and I find that music gives you an insight to where things are headed in the future. Especially at the moment, with everything that’s going on in AI right now, music is definitely one of the pillars when it comes to technological advancements, and I think that’s why I enjoy it so much.
The other day I got a plugin called auxCord, which allows you to stream latency-free from your phone to your DAW. Let’s say I found something on Tik Tok that I liked, I could sample that directly into my DAW as clean as a whistle. The concept of sampling is changing, because now I can stem things out. I can separate and isolate sounds, without having to EQ off all the highs and mids. You can actually take the bass stem and still have all the artefacts that give it that authentic bass guitar feel, and the same goes for vocals, strings and anything else.
I’m really optimistic about new technology because it makes my workflow easier. I can go from idea to reality a lot quicker. A lot of people are traditionalists when it comes to music, but if the tools are getting better then why wouldn’t you use them? I would hate it if I watched a film in 2023 and they had filmed it using cameras from 1926.
You can get your hands on Wize’s 'Sound of the UK' on Loopcloud.com.