By Lucy Kaufman
I sat down with Kareful, one of the founders of the electronic music genre ‘Wave’, to discover more about this cutting-edge genre, and where it’s headed in future.
You can be forgiven for never having heard of Wave; Kareful says this huge underground music scene is one of the “best-kept secrets” of the music world, yet is poised to spring into the mainstream soon.
I am no newcomer to Wave. I’ve been there since its inception in 2012, before this innovative genre even had a name, and when it was a few kids making music on their computers in their bedrooms. Before they found each other online, on Soundcloud, and formed friendships and collectives spanning countries, cultures and diverse backgrounds.
Now Wave tracks are getting “millions and millions of plays”, Kareful says, and what started out as a few individuals online has grown into a thriving, worldwide scene, with a multitude of producers and huge fan followings in China, Russia, Poland, America, among others and, of course, here in the UK, where Kareful and some other pioneers originate.
Wave is dear to my heart, not only because I admire its ethereal, creative style, but also because Kareful (AKA Jude Leigh-Kaufman) is my son.
Over the years, I’ve witnessed the transformation of Jude from baby to adult, then into music producer and record label owner, but also the transformation of the genre from its humble roots on the internet, to what it is now: an online and real-life movement connecting young people through their shared love of this music. For years, my home was filled with teenage producers from all over the world, come to London to play at Wave nights and meet each other in the flesh.
Kareful has toured and played at festivals in Europe and Asia, as well as been championed by the electronic music pioneers of past generations. He supported the legendary Orbital at the 02 Apollo Manchester and Hammersmith Apollo in 2017 and remixed their song for their 2018 album Monsters Exist. His label Liquid Ritual was the first in the scene to focus solely on Wave tracks made for festivals and clubs.
For anyone who’s never heard it, Kareful describes Wave as “A lo-fi, underground offshoot of the EDM/ Trap movement, which plays with similar rhythms, but mostly focusses on a much more emotional, atmospheric sound. It takes a lot of influence from UK-based music but the rhythm is more American, Trap-influenced, and features a lot of trancey sounds. The term I use to describe it is ‘Half-time Trance’.”
He says Wave is important because, “It’s different, it’s new. It’s been the best-kept secret for a long time. There was a whole community, so many producers, who all had their own flavours — so talented — all of them completely unrecognised. It’s unique, because there are not so many rules, or boxes, as other genres had before. When you had to DJ vinyl, a lot of the tracks had to be around the same BPM, whereas with Wave there’s no set BPM, it can go between 100-190. Some people are doing some really cool stuff at the moment which is really fast and I like that.”
Kareful believes people should listen to Wave for two reasons: “One: it’s good music made by real people, and we’re at the stage where it hasn’t been ruined by commercialism or big labels. So, it’s very honest, very unique. You have to remember the music you are listening to is just some kid in their bedroom. Some of the people making this genre are 16, 17. Two: it’s beautiful music, really emotional. That’s important, because a lot of music you hear on the radio is pretty soulless. So, to hear some honest, emotional music, especially in electronic music, is interesting, because a lot of people say ‘that’s not real music’. The most important reason to listen to it, is because it’s new.”
Kareful recommends getting into the scene now, while it’s still at the beginning, with opportunity to discover the music and scene for yourself. “There aren’t huge blogs telling you what to listen to,” he says. “You can dive down a rabbit hole and get lost, immersed. You can craft your own opinion, your own journey, just by following Soundcloud links or Spotify playlists. And because the artists are young, they’re really active on social media, so you can get immersed in their actual lives. They haven’t yet hit that celebrity status where everyone moulds into one, where every tweet you’re reading is what their manager told them to post. Everything you’re reading is real people.”
Wave is evolving. Statistically, 2020 was the biggest year for Wave so far, with artists who were small a couple of years ago, now getting millions of plays. The Hardwave sub-genre of Wave, in particular, which has more of an American influence, is growing big. “When COVID ends, we’re going to see a lot of those artists getting managers, or being signed to big record labels. A lot of them will be playing festivals, doing tours, organic live shows. We’re going to hear loads of good music. I think we’re going to see more commercial artists making Wave songs. For example, big DJs who make other genres, are famous for Trap or House. We’ve seen bits of pieces of that already, but I mean someone big. We’re definitely going to see some big official remixes soon and I wouldn’t be surprised if it wasn’t someone like Grimes. I think it’s a case of when, not if, really. It always has been.”
Kareful is not trying to follow the trends of the scene but is continuing to do his own thing, and something different, as he always has. He is making a lot of music, he says, but is mostly focussed on the label, and enjoys seeing, and helping bring about, the success of others. He really likes a lot of the commercial, more formulaic music some of the artists are currently making, because “these producers are really good.”
He imagines, in the post-COVID world, some of these artists who have become successful during the pandemic will start getting booked once the festivals and clubs reopen. “It’s a shame this happened during COVID,” he says, “because they’ve missed out on a lot of that and I hope things are just as popping when things go back to normal. I hope there are even clubs left, or festivals left, for them to go jumping back into.”
I invited Kareful to imagine how Wave might transform the world. Thinking back to how the Dubstep genre was a huge phenomenon which changed music, he believes Wave has the potential to do a similar thing. “It dripped into adverts, it dripped into TV, into chart music. That fully changed the world and pushed the boundaries of what music could be. Wave is a very different genre from Dubstep, but I think it might make Bass music emotional. Wave’s sad, emotive sound really matches the whole COVID mood, because Wave is essentially a social commentary.”
So, how has being a big part of the Wave scene transformed Jude, the person?
“Getting popular, my music getting popular, spearheading a whole movement and touring around the world has actually humbled me. For most people, it probably does the opposite. I didn’t need to prove myself any more. I became less cocky, grew up a lot and it mellowed me. I didn’t care about what I looked like any more, or care about making people like me, or worry about what anyone else was doing, I just became tunnel-visioned to what I was doing. I’ve got a lot of younger friends and they’re so obsessed with their social media, how they look and how people perceive them, and I see a lot of myself in that when I was younger, but when you get older you realise what a load of rubbish that is.” These days, he is only impressed by “real stuff” in a friend. He says, “Love, and how they care for other people, how socially aware they are, or empathetic they are, rather than how many followers they’ve got.”
When Jude was born, we lived with my parents and brother Julian for his first few years. My dad and Julian played guitars with Jude and music was all around him. Jude attributes watching his Uncle Julian, a song-writer, making music on a computer using an early version of Cubase, as among his earliest influences on his career in electronic music. “I remember wanting to have some input but not having any musical experience and so there was nothing I could really add, but thinking, ‘Oh let me have a go, let me have a go,’” he says.
Later, we got our own house, and an electric piano, and Jude would play around with the sampled sounds. Once he was a teenager, he played guitar in bands. “And then I went to college and started seeing my friends making music on a computer, and how they didn’t need to be good at instruments. It was just playing around, really, pretty much inspiring myself, which is a weird thing to say, but a lot of the music I was making, I’d never heard anything like it at the time. I realised the only way to be truly unique is to do your own thing. When you’ve got an absolute craving to make music and you don’t know how, you have a million ideas. It’s really magical when you start out, because you haven’t got any of the bias that you do later; now I know certain things are wrong. Because you have no idea what you’re doing, you just create. Now, I overthink every step of the way. I wish I could go back to that mentality when I first started.”
I asked Jude, if he could go back ten years, what would he say to his 16-year-old self?
“Don’t worry,” he says emphatically. “Stop worrying. What was I worried about? I was so concerned about the future when I was 16. School puts so much pressure on you: you’ve got to get a job, got to pick a career. How can you pick a career at 16? It makes no sense. You’ve got to live. If you’re on the breadline, you haven’t got a choice. As soon as you’re old enough to work, you’ve got to work. But if you can just get a part-time job, get enough money to pay your parents a bit of rent, whatever; just spend all that free time exploring who you are. Get out of the house, meet people, travel to places, have life experiences, listen to all different types of music; that’s real college, right there. That’s where you really learn about the world and you’ve got to make mistakes, and through those mistakes you learn as a person and, hopefully, you come out the other end a decent human being; maybe with a little inkling of what you actually want to do. Maybe you’ll meet someone along that journey who does the thing you’ve always wished to do, or maybe they’ll show you how to do it. Or at least push you in the right direction. Music is the most stupid job to pick because there’s no money in it, and it’s so hard to get into, so competitive, but it is so rewarding! I realise some of the things I’ve done in my career, there’s people out there who couldn’t pay to do those things! The unique experiences. I’ve had no money and now I’ve got some money I don’t spend it. I’ve got nothing to buy. Because there’s nothing I want. Because music is truly the most fulfilling thing.”
What advice would he give to a young person who has a dream?
“Do it,” he says. “What’s stopping you?” A lot of people don’t have the confidence to push themselves forward, he suggests, because they don’t see people like them represented. Only four per cent of electronic producers are female, so a lack of seeing women platformed perhaps puts other women off from trying. Even his own girlfriend took two years to pluck up the courage to admit to him she produces her own music. Now they collaborate and she releases her own tracks. Kareful would love to see more women submitting tracks to his label.
“The fear of rejection is a greater motivator than being content,” Kareful says. “There is a fan-base for everything at every level. Essentially, there are two approaches: there’s those who spend years perfecting one thing but never put it out so no one sees it, and there’s the people who consistently put out new content. Because we live in an age of content, you have to put out a new track every week, every two weeks. And that’s how you grow. So yeah. Do it!”
You can connect with Kareful on Twitter: @KarefulUK, on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=kareful and on Instagram: @karefulofficial
You can listen to Kareful’s music on Artist Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/artist/7y4breKexfBWgdyMgHMEHK
And other artists from the Wave genre in the playlists curated here Liquid Ritual Spotify (playlists): https://open.spotify.com/search/liquid%20ritual
Hailing from Romford, east London, Kareful has played a pioneering role in one of electronic music’s newest genres ‘Wave’, laying the foundations of the sound before it even had a name. Back in 2014, Kareful made a name for himself when his unique amalgamation of various electronic styles (including UK Bass music, Witch House and Trap) became popular on Soundcloud and Youtube. His debut album Deluge, released on popular UK label Trapdoor, solidified Kareful as a spearhead in the Wave genre, and an ambassador for the movement. He was one of the first artists to tour the sound internationally. Kareful has continued to develop Wave by co-founding Liquid Ritual, an independent label focusing on a harder twist of the Wave sound, with the night clubs and festivals in mind with every release. Liquid Ritual has worked with artists such as Skeler, Ytho, Øfdream, Mystxrivl, Deadcrow, Sorsari, Dyzphoria, to name but a few.
Kareful has also made some splashes in the Rap world, being credited on the production of Bexey’s breakthrough single ‘Suitcase’ which boasts over six million streams across various platforms. Alongside producers Dyzphoria & 2ravens, in 2020 Kareful co-formed rap instrumental trio ‘Nocturna’.
Lucy Kaufman is a playwright and author. Thirty-five of her plays have been performed around the UK and Australia. She teaches Playwriting and Screenwriting for Pen to Print.
Glossary of terms:
Bass: Used to describe several genres of electronic dance music and hip hop which focuses on a prominent bass drum and/or bassline sound.
BPM: Beats per minute (the higher the number, the faster the music).
Dubstep: A genre of music originating in south London in the late 1990s. It is generally characterised by sparse, syncopated rhythmic patterns with prominent sub-bass frequencies.
EDM: Electronic Dance Music, a commercial genre made for clubs and festivals.
Electronic music: Music, instruments and sometimes voice created digitally on computer.
Trance: A genre of music which layers sound to mimic a trance-like state.
Trap: A sub-genre of hip-hop, generating from the southern United States in the early 90s.
The fear of rejection is a greater motivator than being content... There is a fan-base for everything at every level.