SHÈN is the Next Step in Franky Wah's Creative Evolution
Mar 6, 2023
Alexander Dias & Katie Knight
8 min read
When Franky Wah emerged in 2017 with a slew of funky tech house releases, he couldn't have imagined launching a multi-disciplinary brand at the scale of SHÈN only five years later. And while the vision for the record label, events, and fashion line has rolled around in his head for the last three or four years, the speed at which it’s taken shape since its launch in April of 2022 is remarkably indicative of his tenacity and talent.
The release of the anthemic breaks doubleheader “More Than You’ll Ever Know” and “Surrender,” featuring a soaring topline from Clementine Douglas, cryptically announced the label. Wah quickly proved that his abilities as a skilled selector translated into a deft ear for A&R. EPs from Korolova, Shadow Child, OUT OF MIND, and his own (second) collaboration with the legendary Sasha followed.
The genre-defying heterogeneous Franky Wah sound permeates the SHÈN catalog, and that’s intentional. “I think the main ethos of SHÈN, the identity that we want to build, is this melodic/progressive tribal sound,” he explains. “That earthy, organic tribal sound [that] leans into a bit of emotional breakbeat—Balearic sounds as well. Because I’m quite eclectic when I play my DJ sets, I want my label to reflect the same taste.”
Franky also reveals that everything about SHÈN brims with the same deliberate intention, from its name to its visual aesthetic.
“Shen is actually a Chinese word that stands for ascending into a higher consciousness, which is sort of what I’d like to say happens at our events.” The name itself holds deeper meaning for Franky, he explains, “my name Franky Wah, actually comes from my granddad, who’s Chinese, Harry Wah.” Even the feathered accent soaring over the letter E in SHÈN is another positive symbol of ascension and transcendence.
In Chinese, shen is associated with yin,—the spiritual aspect of humanity and the counterbalance to yang—awareness, and consciousness. In a scene bereft with artist-led brands, starting one seems natural but must be intentional, employing both sides of the yin and yang. Franky mulled over SHÈN’s creation for several years. Ultimately deciding to move forward emerged from both his sharp business acumen and an acute spiritual awareness that it was the right time. As we discover throughout this conversation, Franky’s self-awareness, his application of shen, is a prime factor in his success.
Over the last few years, Franky has become a figurehead in the progressive scene. Brilliantly finding the balance between old-school sensibilities and modern capabilities, he’s risen to the forefront of dance music with a slew of uplifting originals like “Under The Sun,” collaborations with Carl Cox and Sasha, and memorable DJ sets around the world.
“I sort of stood on my own two feet, moved away from doing lineups and events, and I was actually moving to hard tickets and selling out my own shows,” he explains about how he knew it was time to take action. “I thought, ‘Yeah, you know what? There’s an audience here. I’ve got a lot of traction.’”
Franky Wah at Creamfields 2022
He says that while some use a brand as a tool to build their career, he felt he could do so much more piggybacking on his already established reliability and fan power. “It’s easier to attract artists to your label. It’s easier to put on your own event. For instance, doing your first-ever label showcase at one of the best venues on New Year’s Eve is just mind-blowing. I dream big, but that wasn’t even something I was thinking was possible.”
His debut label showcase at Mia Beach Club in Tulum was a beautiful way to start 2023. For the first two weeks of the year, all eyes in dance music are on the Mexican beachside paradise. With events like Afterlife and Damian Lazarus’ Day Zero dominating the calendar, it was an honor for Franky to be able to compete. And throwing a party in the same space that legends like John Digweed occupy proved he could stand on his own two feet.
“It feels like what I can imagine (because I’m not married) what your wedding day must feel like. It’s a really touching feeling. You can play the lineups for different brands and you don’t really know who’s there for you and who’s just there for the brand, who’s there to see another DJ on the lineup. But when you do your own thing, you ultimately know that everyone’s there for you.”
Launching the brand as his career was exploding, fully realized another dream: his debut album This Is SHÈN. Released in November of 2022 and announced by a winding, gorgeously layered, and composed 27-track mix and YouTube stream to accompany its release.
“One of my first projects, when I sort of got established, a bit of an audience, was a mixtape and it did so well. But then I moved along into the singles world, which is how a lot of people do it now. I moved into that to keep building and then I sat down with my team and I said, ‘You know what? I’ve got so much music, like I’ve got over 1000 unreleased demos. What are we gaining from this music just being sat on the hard drive?”
YouTube approached Franky to work together on a visual component for the mixtape. What initially began as eight records (some of which were over four years old) ballooned to 32 that he whittled down to the beautifully programmed 27 that ranged from the deep progressive breaks of "Pandora" to the emotive uplifting synths of "Rise."
The album was an unsurprising success. “I expected the diehard fans to really love it but never in my wildest dreams did I expect top six. It was number six in the Spotify Albums chart. Number one on Beatport. I had high hopes, but it exceeded any expectation that I ever had. It’s told me that that’s the way I need to keep it going. I’m already working on the next mixtape.”
The next step in the life of SHÈN is a return to New York, where he will present his first label showcase in the United States. Coming back to New York holds immense sentimental value for him. The site of two sold-out headlining shows, he’s overjoyed to work alongside promoters that genuinely believe in him and his vision.
“it made sense for me to do it first in America with the brand that I believe sort of believed in me the most. Gray Area and Joey and MJ, they believe in this. And that works. You need to work with promoters that believe in you. It’s not about who’s got the biggest checkbook. It’s about who believes in you, and who wants to actually build some something that’s got some substance, longevity.”
When you consider that so much of the brand’s ethos is rooted in the sense of spiritual reverence that comes from a deep love for dance music, it’s no surprise that the power of manifestation played a distinct role in so much of its progression, including his upcoming 16 week Ibiza residency in summer 2023.
Last summer, while in Ibiza, he was chatting with BBC Radio 1 DJ, Danny Howard and some other friends about the power of manifestation over dinner. As the conversation moved on, Franky’s plans for next season came up, and he mentioned he wanted to do his own thing, maybe at Club Chinois, which he felt had an excellent vibe for his brand. Several minutes later, Danny Whittle, one of Ibiza’s most celebrated nightlife icons, came by the table to talk to Franky about doing a residency at Club Chinois, which he was now running.
“And Danny Howard was like, ‘what the fuck? You’ve just been talking about manifesting,’ and then this residency sort of dropped on my lap. And then when we went into it, three weeks prior, I had sent my manager a photo or a video from the club saying, ‘Do you know about this club?’, It turns out that day was the day that Danny [Whittle signed] the contract to join.”
Franky Wah & Hot Since 82 on Radio 1's Dance Party with Danny Howard
Going further, Franky explains that even his residency at Club Chinois embodies the spirit of SHÈN. His grandfather Harry owned a pottery shop. In the club’s restrooms, he says, are sinks nearly identical to a matching pottery set Harry gave his mom and two sisters as wedding presents. Running through the club are three large pillars covered in gold feathers.
Franky has spent his career paying attention to the signs and manifesting these moments for himself. SHÈN isn’t just the culmination of his creative power, it’s proof that dreaming big, working hard, and trusting your most powerful inclinations leads to success. All signs continue to point to the incredible rise of Franky Wah and SHÈN.