At the End of the Tunnel: crwn and August Wahh Come Out Stronger with Labyrinth
crwn and August Wahh’s glittering collaboration feels like a buoyant blue dream
After a long break from music, singer-songwriter August Wahh has collaborated with crwn (the producer and musician otherwise known as King Puentespina) to create the soulful, hypnotic Labyrinth. The lushly produced record sounds like a collection of bops, so it comes as a surprise that August has dubbed it a “depression album.” Labyrinth was written and recorded over a two-year period, during which the singer was recovering from a depressive funk and healing from emotional wounds that had shaken her personal life.
In the wake of a tumultuous breakup, the R&B-inspired singer needed a breather. She sought solace and refuge in her hometown, General Santos City, where her family is based. “I locked myself in for like a year and I painted and wrote and made music,” she would later tell me as we stood outside the large metal door of Limbo, the bar where Labyrinth’s listening party took place on May 25th.
I had arrived at that spot a few hours prior, wondering if I was at the right venue. Limbo had been hard to find: a nondescript façade on an unassuming street in Poblacion, only a broken backlit sign marking its place.
Inside, the spacious, sparsely-furnished bar-cum-gallery was awash in red light. A low ceiling gave an intimate feel to the venue; half of the floor was made of particleboard and elevated up by a step. It would serve as a makeshift stage for the evening, the performers’ equipment laid out on a long table adjacent to the cozy bar tucked into an alcove in the far corner of the room.
A few art pieces tastefully adorned the walls. The works that stood out the most, though, were the vibrant, trippy paintings printed onto the tote bags, stamps, stickers and posters laid out on the merch table. These paintings were made by August Wahh herself over a three-month period. The singer-songwriter had truly put her whole heart into creating the Labyrinth universe. I got the sense that she did this out of emotional necessity, switching gears from one art form to another whenever inspiration ran low. During our conversation, she admitted, “The writing part was hard to do at first, just ‘cause like, sometimes you get to [your] lowest point and you can’t write for shit. My cure [for] that block was painting a lot, which is this shit that you see right now. Every time I felt like shit, I was like, ‘I don’t wanna feel like this’ and I just painted. And [then] I wrote after.” One piece that grabbed my attention was a portrait of the artist sitting under a violently neon-hued tree, next to a uniquely Technicolor version of her musical partner, crwn.
This personal touch—that the merchandise was yet another original creative output from the EP’s singer and lyricist—was a clear look into how close Labyrinth is to the hearts of its creators.
The DIY-nature of the work lent an intimacy to the overall event, as well. They began their sound check half an hour before the first set, a solo DJ performance by crwn. In true crwn fashion, the music he played for the first hour was smooth, funky, rhythmic, tinged with synths and catchy samples as much as it was with eclectic percussions and booming bass lines.
|Meanwhile, a steady stream of people began to trickle in—vintage-clad Cool Kids ambling into the bar in groups and pairs, standing at first at a respectable distance from the stage. Bobbing their heads politely. Drinks in tattooed, be-ringed hand. Midway through crwn’s set, the crowd—now spilling onto the stage—began to loosen up and dance, bopping to the music.
And then August Wahh waltzed on over to join crwn to play the record they had slaved over for the past two years. “If you wanna dance, close your eyes, feel free to do so, but we’d love it if everyone could please be quiet for twenty minutes,” requested King of his exuberant audience. They had poured themselves into this project, they said, and wanted very much for their listeners to hear the fruits of their labor in its entirety, pure music with no distractions. Close friends of both crwn and August happened to be situated on top of the stage half of the room, behind the DJ table. They took on a more solemn air, swaying to the first song: a jazzy, syrupy track called Gaslight. While playing their music over the speakers, CRWN and August grooved in place, singing along to their own tracks. As Gaslight ended, August gave a brief description of the song, stating simply, “Basta, just live it up. Gaslight.”
I’ll admit: from the get-go, neither the sound nor the lyrics of any of the tracks in Labyrinth sounded to me like they were from a depression album. It was upon closely listening to second song Seasons, that I would later realize why. Seasons sounds like early morning sunshine. It’s a deceptively bright track about someone leaving a lover who isn’t giving her enough. August sings over glimmering keys, “Seasons moving/Heart is changing/Can’t hold on/Got no more to give to you.” It reminded me instantly of Corinne Bailey Rae and the happier, tamer R&B side of K-pop. The song is about realizing your worth, coming to terms with the reality of a situation and moving on. Labyrinth isn’t so much about depression as it is about getting out of depression, and the stronger person you become after a dark phase in your life.
Before playing the third track, August declared, “Y’all probably already know this one,” and promptly hit the play button. A couple of notes in and the crowd started screaming, excitedly singing along and dancing with one another. Sahara, the first single from the EP, had been released only on April 9, though clearly it had already made its mark as a crowd pleaser. “Sahara…is about coming out of a funk,” August would later tell me. “Like, yeah, I’m pissed off about everything, but like, who gives a fuck? You know what I mean? I’m just gonna do my own shit.”
The admiration and respect was touchingly mutual. Later, August would share how privileged she felt to have worked with crwn, stating that it was an honor she felt fortunate to have experienced. The superb production on the record is only a testament to how much the already-talented producer has grown throughout his music career. The understated coolness left over from his bedroom pop Soundcloud days, catchy hooks gleaned perhaps from being a member of the inimitable indie band She’s Only Sixteen. Everything melds together in perfect harmony throughout the record.
|The crowd cheered again when the fourth track began to play. Blue Dreams is a song that August says is “about like, when you go through this shit, you kinda have to have your coping mechanisms, trying to like, push yourself to do better when you know you’re in a funk.” It had also been released as a single, and I instantly saw why it had already been so well-received. Blue Dreams is a dynamic yet sensual soul-inspired song, as fun to dance to as it is to rap-sing along to. August began to dance to the music, and the crowd started to gyrate along, almost as though in unison. Her lilting vocals and crwn’s effortlessly sophisticated production seemed to put everyone into a trance.
“We’re down to our last song,” said King, although the sentence was quickly drowned out as people booed, wanting more. “You guys have no idea how much this means to me and crwn right now,” said August. “We’re down to our last track––”
“But we’re still gonna party after,” interjected King.
“I’mma preach right now,” declared August, holding up a drink. “If y’all are fucking depressed, it’s okay. Y’all are gonna get through it. This is two years in the making right now. I fucking made it. We’re all gonna fucking make it.”
The last song on the record, Can’t Want You, is slower, honey-like. It felt like a late-night drive. A perfect ender to a clearly monumental night for two unique yet sonically connected artists.
Of Can’t Want You, Seasons and Gaslight, August said, “[Those] songs were about just facing yourself in the mirror and like, telling yourself about all your bullshit. And like, owning it and accepting it and knowing that and moving forward with it.”
After closely listening to an unreleased copy of the record crwn had sent me, I later mused that perhaps Labyrinth sounds so carefree because that’s what all its songs are about. You emerge from heartbreak changed. The light isn’t only at the end of the tunnel, it’s coming at you full-speed. To me, that was what the experience of listening to Labyrinth felt closer to.
When I asked August why she had decided to call the EP Labyrinth, she explained, “The whole EP is like, um, it’s a journey. Labyrinth. When you’re in a funk and you don’t know how to get out of it, it’s a labyrinth. It’s a maze. You don’t know where the fuck you’re gonna go. You just gotta trust yourself, right?”
Words Niki Colet
Photos Niki Colet and Celina Cruz
Art Alexandra Lara