Will Clarke’s first breakthrough record was “Big Booty.” A hooky booty-bouncing beat signed to Worthy’s Anabatic Records in 2015. In a post EDM world, it was the perfect dose of weird and womp. As part of the rotating cast of Dirtybird players, he helped redefine tech-house. And while that music helped soundtrack thousands of nights out for a generation of clubbers, Clarke says his latest work is his most meaningful.
“I think the thing with dance music, “ he says. “Is that a lot of the time, it’s just for the club. And that’s absolutely fine. I think clubs have a real important place in our lives. But I think there’s actually more to [dance] music than just the clubs.”
His sound began to turn in 2018 with “Mercy,” a peak hour techno tune centered around an impassioned gospel vocal. You could tell that he was toying with something deeper, and more emotional than the club bangers he’d been known for.
In 2019 he marked a new era with the launch of his label All We Have Is Now. An outlet for his most personal work. His emotionally charged releases “U Take Me Higher,” “Hallelujah,” and “Place Where I Belong” prove dancefloors can be moved with purpose and intention. They are also the most heavily supported tracks of his career. His audience has fully embraced his message.
“I'm trying to write songs that have a bit of a meaning,” Clarke says. And for many of his fans that message is loud and clear. Yet he recognizes music without traditional structure doesn’t always translate deeper messages to broader audiences. "Because I'm not writing songs that have full-on lyrics. It's kind of hard to get that across to people and [that's] what I'm trying to get at and with the videos."
Filmmaker Matthew Freiheit masterfully interprets Clarke's music in emotionally reverent pieces of visual art. Clarke isn’t interested in tired tropes he says, “I didn't want to just be like, Oh, it's a rave and a dude or chick is just taking some pills. And it's just a generic dance record video.” We’ve already seen that video a hundred times he explains. “I'm not there to promote, getting high and shit like that. I'm there to like, actually give a bit of a message out.”
The video for “U Take Me Higher” incredibly sets that tone. It’s a realistic portrayal of the desperate life of a drug addict is heartbreaking. While the vocal hook seems uplifting, the song’s melancholic chords are punctuated by the dark content of the video. It accurately depicts a cycle of abuse and failed attempts at rehabilitation. Something Clarke has witnessed first-hand.
“My family-run drug and alcohol rehabs. And I've always been around addiction in my life through working at the rehabs for my parents. So, I wanted to give a little bit of a message about that.”
It’s not all serious work though. His collaboration with MK, “My Church,” came with an abstract journey through the birthplace of techno. Detroit is where Clarke lives when he’s in the US, and where MK is originally from. So, it was important to both that the Detroit they know and love feature heavily in the video.
It comes with an uplifting message he says. “This sounds really cliche, but I class a club as a church, as a community. I'm not a religious person. But I'm a true believer of what religion does to a certain extent. And it just brings people together. And I think that's what clubs do in the best possible way. You can have God knows what views and no one gets judged in a club. And I think that's what's really important to me.”
His artistic vision is now wholly focused. And he feels like he’s doing his best work yet. Because he says he’s not interested in following trends or making anything generic. “I don't see the point,” he states. “If I'm kind of pulling on the emotion chords of someone, then I've done the right job. In fact, that's what I kind of set out to do.”
Clarke is as honest and vulnerable in his music as he is with his podcast. These qualities are probably why the show is so bingeable. His winding and fascinating conversations with people like Walker & Royce, Oliver Heldens, and Patrick Topping allow his guests the space to settle and share in ways they don’t have the opportunity to in any other context.
He says he wants to encourage people to communicate better. “People need to talk more. We live in this world where even our music listening [or] how we watch things, we want everything now. And if it doesn't get our attention within the first 20 seconds, then we fuckin turn off. Long conversations [are] actually what we need. Because I think long conversation can be the way that we all grow as human beings.”
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