Last year was a real breakthrough year for Manchester born, London based producer Willow. Her debut E.P. dropped in September on Berlin label Workshop. Simply titled Workshop 23, it struck a unique balance between atmosphere and rhythm. Whilst also showcasing an intriguing selection of sounds that illuminated a range of influences from Helena Hauff to early grime. The bell sound in A1, the E.P.‘s opener, could have come straight out of Paul McCartney’s Wonderful Christmastime. It’s testament to Willow’s brazen courage and undeniable talent that it works so well, in this unique collage of syncopated synths and shuffling drums. It is her drums that are the real standout throughout the record, always moving things along with urgent syncopation. A conglomerate of rolling hats, subtle rim shots and tuned kicks.
There were various moments when my mind was drawn to the work of other artists such as when the bassline kicks in at the end of B1 and it sounds exactly like Da Funk. Is that just me? And of course the various nods to the genius of Burial throughout, but Workshop 23 overcomes any comparison due to this young producer’s impressive creativity and confidence. The standout track is possibly A2, which was voted 4th in Resident Advisor’s top 50 tracks of 2016 poll. It’s gorgeously discordant vocal refrain, “I’m still doing me” and spacious yet complex instrumental somehow elevate it to another level. You can check out the whole E.P. below.
What is highly impressive about Willow, is that prior to Workshop 23 she had only officially released one other tune. It was a stonker of course. 2015’s Feel Me arrived on Workshop 21 and foreshadowed her more recent work’s deft use of vocals. In this case provided by her sister’s mate, Natasha. “Natasha could be a synth, a bassline, or a more masculine sounding vocal - it just depends on how I work it.” An exciting philosophy that keeps the listener on their toes. If she continues to challenge both herself and her audience then we are in for an exciting ride.
Willow - A2
Before I go, I must urge you to check out her laidback Boiler Room that combines George Best with Pepe Bradock. If that doesn’t sell it to you, I don’t know what will.