In the opening seconds of South, the fifth track from Miles Romans-Hopcraft’s debut album as Wu-Lu, the artist sounds almost defeated: “I used to live in south London/ There’s not much of it left.”
Immediately after, the listener is pummelled by maniacal screams and intense, fingerpicked guitars and furious drumming head-shattering instrumentation that’s reminiscent of early Death Grips. A palpable mournfulness then cuts through the noise as north London rapper Lex Amor appears for the final verse, exasperatedly spitting, “Embers know of homes swept away by the furnace/ Ever seen a city burn alert?/ You learn to worship the dust.”
It’s perhaps inevitable that incandescent commentary on London’s gentrification and the Grenfell Tower tragedy seethes at the heart of Wu-Lu’s debut album. The genre-agnostic south London artist, has lived through a divisive era of austerity, watching his hometown disappear into a corporate dystopia that only serves the rich, while disadvantaged communities are pushed out of their homes (or worse). This unbreakable tension, present on all of the album’s 12 tracks, is the powerful undercurrent on which the album flows.
From post-punk and indie to drill and jazz, and all underpinned by experimental electronic production, Loggerhead is a collection of the sounds that make up the capital’s music culture. Significantly, and likely intentionally, the album’s collaborators are also south London locals: Mica Levi, Ego Ella May, Morgan Simpson and Demae all appear to offer their unique perspective on Wu-Lu’s home turf, though they all remain anonymous on the tracklisting. Simpson’s skilful drumming features on Blame and Road Trip; Levi’s subtle string arrangements are heard on Calo Paste; and May lends her backing vocals to Take Stage and Slightly.
Loggerhead is defined by the element of surprise. The record, released by Warp Records, freewheels indiscriminately with little regard for genre and style. With its groove-led rhythms, the almost-lackadaisical Take Stage would be just as home on a Giggs track as it would on a Nubya Garcia loosie. Tracks like Times, Road Trip and Blame are charged by high-intensity drum kicks, while Broken Homes is an insightful anthem, carried by screeching riffs, with lyrics that stay with you for days: “Stand, hold your crown/ You’re bigger than this shit,” Romans-Hopcraft confidently encourages. Calo Paste, also featuring the French-born, London-based singer Léa Sen, gently considers the position of someone struggling over delicate guitar strums: “I don’t want to see your mental health go to waste/ When you’re trying so hard.” It’s a poignant meditation on the inextricable relationship between mental health and the state – specifically, how the latter shapes the former.
Loggerhead’s lyrics are incisive and affecting, acting both as a cracked mirror held up to broken British society and a hopeful impetus for a generation that has so much to fight for. But despite its vital messaging, there are moments where the record falters. Ten, notably, falls a little flat. “I have to check myself before I wreck myself,” runs the opening line – on an album defined by inventiveness this dip into cliché is fleeting but noticeable.
Overall, though, Romans-Hopcraft has achieved something special here. Powered by artistic freedom and sense of urgency, this accomplished debut is an apt reflection of our times; an era marred by inequality, division and unrepentant greed that is inspiring art that is equally tumultuous. But unlike the difficult subjects it confronts, Loggerhead, and its creator, are most definitely forces for good.