Exploring Wave, Beatport’s Newest Genre
Exploring Wave, Beatport’s Newest GenreApril 15, 2021
Jordan Mafi speaks to wave heavyweights like Plastican, Deadcrow, and Thomas Greco to get the lowdown on Beatport’s newest genre.
Picture a community of bright, young producers whose entire sound and aesthetics have been inspired by neon lights, Bladerunner, and an original spin on trap music that sounds from the future — that’s the wave scene, a growing community of fans, artists, and label owners who are held together by their innovative approaches to electronic music. To commemorate the launch of Beatport’s newest genre category, Trap / Wave, I spoke to some key members of the wave community, including Plastician, Deadcrow, Klasey Jones, and Oskar Barczak, to find out everything I could about the genre.
“Wave music, to me, is mostly an amalgamation of trap, grime, synthwave and ambient, taking key elements from all those genres and combining them into one,” says Deadcrow, one of the genre’s key artists.
But according to Plastician, one of the scene’s most renowned artists and the founder of Terrorhythm Recordings, the wave we’re hearing now is very different from his own definition of the genre.
“When I first began playing the early styles around 2013, I would say the sound operated in the gaps between dark garage and mellow trap,” he says. “It was kind of like hearing what Metro Boomin might have done if he sampled Burial. Today, though, with all the new influences that have come since, it can sound like almost anything. The lines have been blurred considerably in the past couple of years, but that OG wave sound is still the most unique when put next to other existing genres for me.”
One newer subgenre of wave is called hardwave, which combines trance and hardstyle for a pounding and energetic yet melody-driven and emotive sound.
“Producers came into it and took the ideas of emotional chord progressions and reese basses but ramped up the production to a cleaner, more clinical ‘big room’ finish,” Plastician says. “Big drops and harder basslines paired with trance-like pads and lead riffs. Hardwave for me is closer to Trap / EDM than it is to the OG wave ideology. It’s built for festival stages more in the traditional vein of what the EDM community feels ‘festival’ music should be built like, making it more accessible to the mainstream and less of a challenge for a DJ to play if they’re following a dubstep or trap artist on a big stage.”
Armed with a sound that made more sense for the dancefloor, wave music made its way into nightclubs and festivals just before COVID-19 hit.
“Since wave has been getting more energetic and DJ friendly, it has gotten a huge boost in the last year or so,” Deadcrow says. “I think once shows are up again, you might be seeing a bunch of (hard)wave artists on festival lineups and such. And that’s really cool. I personally always wanted wave to grow to the point where we can actively play shows and have a bigger listening audience, and also for wave to become more energetic and playable in the clubs.”
Despite the growth of hardwave making the community more accessible for EDM fans, some of the artists in the scene try not to split hairs within the genre.
While you may have heard of “chill wave,” this term is actually meant to describe wave in its purest form.
“People who use that term have probably joined the sound late on and are using it as a counter to the more current trend of hardwave,” Plastician says. “It’s the OG style. Laidback, emotional beats often drowned in melancholy riffs and bordering on lo-fi with a bit more of a UK bass orientation — little flashes of grime, garage and traditional dubstep or deep 140, as people may know it now. Hardwave was born out of this sound as it spread into the EDM community more.”
Plastician says he always enjoyed the challenge of introducing true wave to those audiences, and it seems these artists feel they can offer the best of both worlds during a DJ set.
As an active member of the wave community, Thomas Greco says wave has always been about the feeling, and he tries not to categorize its subgenres. “Unlike most genres, wave comes in many shapes and forms but the common denominator is that it holds such an emotive style focusing on warm basslines, liquid trap beats, and euphoric melodies very similar to trance.”
Greco runs The Wave Stage, a label dedicated solely to the sounds of wave, which has built a devoted fan base since its 2020 launch. Similarly, BROTHEL says wave has more to do with the emotion rather than the execution. “A lot of people can figure out how to make this kind of stuff, but not everyone is going to be able to capture a feeling, and I think that’s what makes wave, wave. Capturing pure vibes and emotions and putting it in our music.”
While it’s easy to get technical when defining the many styles within a modern genre, something palpable about this community is the people. Whereas EDM communities are sometimes known to stir the pot on social media, wave was built on respect and support for one another in a way that’s rare for a music scene.
“I feel like for the most part, people are very welcoming in this scene, partially because it’s still relatively small — a lot of us just want to see the genre grow,” Deadcrow says. “And for a lot of people, it’s also just nice being part of a community of people who like the same kind of music. I think the music itself being emotional also plays a big factor, because it might mean that people who struggle, or people with similar struggles, come together because of a music genre”
From Greco’s perspective, wave exemplifies true acceptance. “I feel compassion, love, and acceptance more than ever within the wave community,” he says. “Music should be a safe place for everyone. Our new label, The Wave Stage, held its first virtual showcase last summer on Twitch and I was so touched by the amount of support we received from the wave community.” The whole scene often shows up for virtual events, another demonstration of the community supporting one another.
“I think it’s a truly global community that’s almost entirely producers and labels at the moment,” Plastician says. “All the parties, labels, and collectives are run by people who are producers themselves. It’s super DIY for now and it’s open for anyone to come in and add value to the ecosphere.”
Beyond their attendance, these artists and fans showed up for one another throughout the wrath of COVID-19, according to Klasey Jones. “With COVID-19 destroying the live music scene, it was a bit daunting for the wave community as artists were starting to gain exposure from the sound. Lots of us were getting bookings in 2020 but, unfortunately, we were hit by the pandemic; however, as the community is strong, more amazing music has arrived, which I think in the future will only progress into something extraterrestrial.”
Now that we’ve been living with the world on pause for over a year, I asked the wave community what they think the future holds.
To Plastician, the community will remain strong, but the music will be pushed to further limits. “The pace of growth is such that I believe the hardwave sound will totally eclipse everything that the OG wave sound created before it, with many newcomers completely missing anything that dropped pre-2018 and losing the essence of the sound as new influences are compounded atop the more recent successes of hardwave. I think we will probably see that sound get gradually harder and creeping into more sets on big stages by established EDM DJs. We’ve been seeing this happen a lot already and it’s only a matter of time now before a wave act is hitting the big stages in the USA.”
Much like Plastician’s hypothesis, Liquid Ritual founders Kareful and Oskar Barczak. believe we’re going to see a lot more household names of EDM either releasing or remixing wave music. “Hopefully after the pandemic subsides, we are going to see more wave artists at festivals, maybe even wave stages at festivals,” they say. “In terms of the sonic, we feel that the sound will continue to merge and borrow from other genres, but the core emotive element will remain. Although hardwave has a much more aggressive tone, the sounds and melodies still invoke that ‘Why am I crying in the club?’ feeling that wave possesses.”
To Juche, we’re reaching the highest of heights for the genre. “This is the exciting point. The decentralization of the movement. I compare this to the cities — the more a country decentralizes its social and administrative systems, the more this city will be fluid and rational. Our community is almost everywhere, worldwide.”
Brett Hapoienu (AKA Djedi) of vibe.digital says the future of wave is live events. “The sound truly becomes another animal when experienced live and not in the bedroom. Even the slower ‘chill wave’ slaps harder than you would think when the reese bass hits in the club.”
To Greco, the future of wave is incredibly bright. “I really feel this is the future of music right here. The timing of it all seems so perfect, too. Wave kept my spirits high during the pandemic. I fell hard for the music, but the community is seriously something special.”
Jordan Mafi is a freelance writer and a Curator at Beatport. Find her on Twitter.