Tom A Leah finds himself in a precarious position musically, straddling different music scenes both within his native Manchester as well as more broadly in the musical landscape as he sees it. With the forthcoming release of his Beacons EP on Tru Thoughts, he spoke about how signing to a label he’s followed for years prompted him to assess where he stands musically.
“I was wondering where I fit in – it’s an interesting one for them, because where I see myself at least is partly in that world of Tru Thoughts, Gilles Peterson [he also featured on Peterson’s Brownswood Bubblers compilation], that more international, electronic music scene. But then at the same time I have links with a lot of the guys at Eton Messy and people who operate in that scene, like Pedestrian and Maribou State, which in some ways are scenes that don’t necessarily cross paths with each other very much.”
For people familiar with Werkha’s music, the fact he locates himself between these different fields should come as no surpirse. His music is extremely dance-able, but it is by no means straight up dancefloor fodder; both on his Cube & Puzzle EP of 2012 and on his upcoming release, it’s easy to discern an eclecticism behind the principle framework of electronic music he works in.
This also derives from the different groups he is involved with in Manchester, such as the grime and bass-driven collective Levels, and jazz musicians like Matthew Halsall. “I’m still finding my sound and it’s my place where I sort of wedge between it all. But I definitely feel comfortable amongst those different groups. And it’s also nice to introduce different ideas across those different situations, like bringing jazz productions to the grime situation. I love bridging musical gaps like that, I always like having my foot in the door of lots different musical areas.”
This eclectic approach has guided Leah to develop a live show, to accommodate his vision for where he wants his music to go, centred around an MPC controller, a guitar and effects pedal. “I was really inspired years ago by Mount Kimbie’s earlier shows where it was just the two of them, and the emphasis on the live looping. Because things weren’t perfectly in time and it kept that fresh, live feel to it, which is really important. Because hearing something perfect is nice, but, for me at least, you want to feel the music, you want to feel the groove, and ultimately that’s down to inflections and details like that.”
This simple approach allows the possibility for the show to develop organically, with Leah envisioning it incorporating live musicians and singers in the future. And having spent the past year or so playing DJ gigs off the back of his first EP, it has affirmed his belief that he has no desire to make tracks simply to slot them into the mix. “Ultimately I would be compromising what I see as important in the structure of song. I don’t want to make music for utility, I want to make it for itself.”
Reflecting on the new EP, Leah looks on it partly as a mixture of approaches, with the material gathered together over the past year or so bridging a gap between his first release and the material he has lined up for 2014. “I see it as a little bit more erratic, a bit excitable. It still feels quite energetic, but also like I’m getting much more comfortable with what I’m trying to do with my music and what sound I’m going for now.”
Werkha’s Beacons is set to be released on Tru Thoughts on March 24.