Photography Rashidi Noah

Wesley Joseph is making music inspired by horror and Studio Ghibli

The 24-year-old artist is creating whole new worlds with his work. Here are 10 things you need to know about him and his new track ‘Ultramarine’.

by Douglas Greenwood
29 April 2021, 9:00am

Photography Rashidi Noah

There’s a reason why you only hear drips of what musician Wesley Joseph is up to. The 24-year-old artist managed by Transgressive — home to Mykki Blanco, Arlo Parks and the late SOPHIE — has a scrupulous eye for detail and instinct for control. Of the four tracks he’s dropped so far, each one has been through a next-level internal vetting process. “Nothing comes out if i’m not happy with it,” he says. 

Wesley isn’t prepared to make his work in progress moments public. If it’s got his name on it, you know he’ll stand behind it fully. This is true of his latest track “Ultramarine” too. A future-funk soul record, it’s about the ways in which danger and love coexist, and the maddening extents we’ll go to to feel them. What’s more, the video for the track is premiering exclusively on i-D, directed by Wesley himself.

Born in Walsall outside Birmingham, Wesley cut his teeth back in his hometown as a founding member of OG Horse, a music collective that included Jorja Smith. In 2016, he moved to London to study film, and has since developed his skills earned there into a 360-degree practise. Music, film and art hold equal levels of importance in what he creates, so much so that any of them — not just the sounds — can act as a creative starting point.

Here are 10 key things you should know about Wesley, his multidisciplinary approach to art and the new single’s wild, alter ego-led video.

1. No two days are the same for Wesley right now
“Four days ago I was composing a live rendition of my music for a performance, then the day after that I was grading my next film with the colourist. The day after that, I was in the studio working on new music with Leon Vynehall. The day after that, I was at home making beats and trailer scores. The work is continuous, but it has lots of different pockets, I guess.”

2. How long to write a song? He can do it in 12 hours
“Normally songs get finished quicker and there’s a tangible end point when I'm thinking the least. When things happen almost spontaneously, the expression comes first and the consideration last. I can finish a whole song in a single moment, sometimes 12 hours or less. After I come down from the high of that, I realise I don’t want to touch it.”

3. But some take way, way longer
“[My old track] ‘Thrilla’ took nine months to finish. There were 25 different versions. I had this super high bar for what that song had to do, and there were loads of boxes I needed it to tick. I wanted that song to be the perfect record, [so] that if I got four minutes with someone I idolised, they could see my full capability in one record. It had to be a rainstorm of emotions but still feel seamless. That was the challenge of the song, and it took fucking ages.”

4. As a kid, Wesley wanted to work at Pixar
“When I was nine or 10, the first job I ever wanted to have was to work at Pixar, because of the nostalgic feeling I got from watching scenes in those films: someone running into a sunset, or music playing and there was a certain key of strings that I didn't comprehend. I feel things very strongly and internalise them, then reflect on them and understand how they’re made. Over the years, I've been attracted to anything that made me feel something. Ultimately, film, music and art are those things.”

5. And was enraptured by the Gorillaz music videos
“When I first saw the ‘Feel Good Inc. video, that was one of those moments where I was blown away. I’d rush home everyday and have the CD player next to my bed. I’d play it over and over until it wore out.”

6. So he went to film school, where he learned about ‘decoding emotions’
“You might be shown a Hitchcock film or an old movie, then when you rip apart how the emotions are portrayed and how actors need to be guided or how the lighting [is framed], it changes things. It allows you to have a decoding mentality. I was taught that the emotion on screen and the language used to explain that emotion are two different things. That alone I’ve applied to so many things in my life.”

7. That’s been channelled into the wild concept for “Ultramarine”
“I kind of realised midway that I was living as a character; a product of my imagination. His name would be Frederick, and he allows me to completely express my emotions in the most extreme way. That allows me to speak metaphorically about my own emotions and put them in crazy situations. The track and video is some tripped out nightmare romantic horror film in the form of a future-funk soul record, from the mind of Frederick: an insomniac with a warped perception of love.”

8. He’s made a beat inspired by Studio Ghibli
The Red Turtle was the last film I made a beat to. It’s completely silent, and has so much metaphoric context and meaning that you look at it in a million ways. When I make music for stuff that already exists, it usually turns into a score-like piece of music. You’re looking up and touching around for what’s in front of you. Looking back upon it, it’s quite profound.”

9. He’s got some thoughts on the modern music video
“It's a depressing way to look at it but I think, future tense, music is feeling more and more like entertainment instead of its deeper purpose, so videos are following that pattern. They’re parallel things that are attached together and need each other for an artist to exist in full form. As music becomes more about entertainment and everything feels quick, and everyone’s asking ‘What’s next?’, going crazy trying to make something big, less people are like ‘What statement are we making?’ If something’s making a statement with meaning, then that’s a beautiful thing. That’s what art should be for.”

10. And has achieved his childhood dream already
My first one was to live and survive and be comfortable through music. Now, I get to wake up and make whatever I want. That’s my 13-year-old dream come true.”

Follow i-D on Instagram and TikTok for more new music.

10 things