The default descriptor for WAKE has long been something along the lines of “experimental hip-hop group,” but these days that seems far too limiting. Certainly the band embraces the sounds and ethos of hip-hop in the most classic sense of the term, with Bomb Squad-style production setting the tone for fiery socio-political rhymes focused on forming community and battling the many inequities of capitalist culture. And in regards to their penchant for experimenting with sound and texture, give their new EP, Manifesto, a spin and you’ll discover a group of musicians eager to push the envelope. From the jagged dissonance of opening cut “(Guilty) Jackkkson” to the low-slung stomp and sneer of the title track, the six-song release features some of the group’s most left-field excursions yet.
But when WAKE launched their initiative, wakeATL: Call to Action, last August in an attempt to build a bridge between that art and activist communities, it was clear they were no longer content to blast their songs of protest from the sidelines. Since then, the collective has united forces with organizations such as the Housing Justice League and ATLAntifa to bring awareness to issues of gentrification, racial and economic justice, and police brutality to local music audiences. Furthermore, each installment of the Call to Action series has come with a special zine curated by WAKE’s Alexa Lima, featuring original works from local artists, writers, and activists (similarly, each cassette purchase of the new EP will come with a curated a zine/lyric book). As a result, William and Lima, along with their cohorts Matthew Borland (Yung Matthew) and Adam Venable (Obeah), have come to step the outside the narrow box usually reserved for local musicians in order to adopt more meaningful roles as activist leaders and organizers.
Recently, we spoke with rapper and producer Keith William ahead of the group’s release show at 529. We discussed the new record and where it fits in WAKE’s musical evolution, in addition to the impact wakeATL has had on the local community. You can read our conversation below, as well as stream Manifesto in its entirety before its official release this Wednesday.
Given the title, my assumption is this record is united by a single theme. If that’s the case, can you talk a little about the concept behind the record?
It’s our mission statement as a collective. The previous albums were about self-discovery for ourselves. Seeds was the inception. Strangers was a take on Joseph Campbell’s classic idea of a “hero’s journey” and Manifesto is what we have learned up to this point and are bringing back to the village so to speak.
And what are some of those lessons you hope to share?
I am not sure that we are in any position to share lessons of any kind. I wouldn’t even say we have learned lessons necessarily. I would say that we have gained experience and discovered truths both individually and collectively and hope that through our particular ethos we are able to connect with people in some way in hopes that these experiences and truths are shared with listeners.
More specifically, I think it ranges from police brutality to the effects of gentrification to the disgust of white supremacy in this county to the disappointment in the apathy of a lot of people in this country in regards to “leaders.”
From a production standpoint, how would you describe the record?
I would say that we approached it more as a band than our previous work. These songs were written in a small practice space together as opposed to me writing the music and then having other members add to it after the fact. Stylistically, I would say it’s inspired by Bomb Squad era Public Enemy as well as noisy, early industrial stuff like Throbbing Gristle, and even some Sonic Youth. We really experimented a lot with textures and noise. Side B of the cassette is a live improv set that is only available via the cassette release.
I was going to say the I can hear shades of your work in Dialogue carrying over into this EP. Was that something you expected to happen?
Well, honestly I think Dialogue was created out of these sessions. WAKE would get together during the writing process a few times a week and just set our gear up and play for hours… and we have always experimented with live sampling and noise during our live set. So me and Alexa were just like, “What if we just made a whole album that was the stuff that we do in between WAKE songs?” And that’s how Dialogue came to be.
Do you have a favorite song on the record?
I think my favorite song would probably be “FIREPIT.”
Any particular reason?
I’m really happy with the instrumentation of that song. It has this quality to it that reminds me of old dub records and I really dig how I actually start on the last bar of Adam’s verse so our verses kind of pour into each other seamlessly.
How has the response been to your Call to Action series?
It seems to be well received so far. The whole idea was to gather people in a room that may not necessarily be in the same space normally and create a dialogue between members of the music/art community and the activist community. Lots of connections have been made and it’s a different type of crowd than any of our other shows. We hope that it inspires other musicians and artists to do similar events on a regular basis. We won’t be playing the next one because we want to start separating the band from the wakeATL events. The last one we did a beat set.
That makes sense. It always felt like wakeATL was intended to be a movement rather than just an extension of the group.
Absolutely, and a lot of people that have been introduced to WAKE through the wakeATL series will call the band wakeATL and confuse one for the other. Also, we don’t want it to seem like the events are just a way to promote the band because it’s not. As you said, it’s a movement that we are hoping to continue to grow.
We spend a lot of time focusing on the negative because, frankly, there’s a lot terrifying things happening in the world right now. But let’s check that for a minute and talk about some positives. What are some good things you see happening in Atlanta in regards to politics or just culture in general?
I think that there are a lot of amazing people and collectives in this city that continue to be an inspiration like the Housing Justice League and their commitment to protecting communities affected by gentrification. Lots of people that have not been politically active in the past are becoming more and more engaged, which is essential. Atlanta has this really unique sense of community, especially within the music and art circles. Most of my favorite bands and/or most of the music that I listen to is local stuff.
Talk about your release show. What are you most excited about?
Excited to play the album front to back. We haven’t played a full show in awhile because Adam recently moved out to Denver, so it will feel good to get back on stage together. Our set is an hour and 20 minutes so we will be doing a lot of improvisation and experimentation throughout the set, which is always a blast.
Last question. Describe the new EP in three words.
Music For Riots.
Manifesto is out April 19 via Underground Field Recordings.
WAKE will celebrate the release of Manifesto on Wednesday, April 19, at 529. They will be supported by Astrea Corp, Lingua Franca, and Victor Mariachi. Doors open at 9 p.m. Donation accepted at the door. 21+ to enter.