Guest Selector: Wuh Oh

From the perfect pop song to killer chord progressions and elusive countermelodies, Peter Ferguson – aka Glasgow-based electronic composer Wuh Oh – talks us through ten tracks that have left an indelible musical mark

Article by Claire Francis | 06 Oct 2016

A supporting slot for DJ Shadow's Glasgow show back in July may have been Wuh Oh's biggest platform to date, but multi-instrumentalist Peter Ferguson has been playing, composing and alchemising tunes since childhood. With an upcoming live show at SWG3's The Poetry Club, the burgeoning sample-master and producer introduces us to ten selections that “are by no means my top favourite of all time, but each one holds a special place in my heart for its own reasons. 

"Several are tunes I’ve been listening to for most of my life and repeatedly go back to when I want to be reminded of my own musical DNA, so to speak,” he explains. “A few are ones that I simply don’t understand fully and so listen to over and over in an attempt to learn new tricks. Each and every one of these picks has either made me, or inspired me to try to be, a better musician. I love them all dearly.”

California Dreamin’ – The Mamas & the Papas

I rediscovered this track recently and over the following week or so started to find myself zoning out of in-depth, unrelated conversations with friends and family as I attempted to figure out exactly what makes the countermelody so unbelievably good. There must be some perfect mathematical/musical equation that the composer of this song sussed out and put to use on that god damn countermelody line that I can only dream of comprehending completely. I mean, just listen to how they rise by one note mid-word on ‘brown’, ‘grey’, ‘walk’ and ‘warm’ in the opening verse. I honestly think I’ll still be trying to figure out the secret on my death bed.

I Try – Macy Gray

Everybody has their own set of criteria for what makes a ‘perfect pop song’ and this tune ticks all the right boxes for me. I used this as the 3am closing track for a DJ set in Glasgow recently. Hearing a roomful of drunken Weegies singing along to the choruses was goose-bump inducing. Macy’s impassioned ad libs at the end of the track work perfectly with the warm sound and uplifting mood, making this one of the few pop songs I’ve heard that is truly deserving of a full blown descant over the final refrain.

At the River – Groove Armada

What I like most about this song is that I can’t put my finger on what school of tunes that trombone line is of. It simultaneously sounds one of a kind and like a thousand other songs that came before it. The way Groove Armada utilise it over two different but complementary chord progressions really appeals to me. I also love that the vocal sample only presents to us the first half of a sentence: “If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air; quaint little villages here and there…” It leaves so much to the imagination. What if I am fond of sand dunes and salty air?

Sit Down – James

My brothers and I grew up hearing The Best of James on almost every holiday car journey. I remember one morning my dad put on this song in the car and, realising that my brothers and I didn’t recognise it, tried to remind us of its title by saying ‘Come on, it’s the only song in the world that the Ferguson family have our own lyrics to!’ He then proceeded to sing ‘Oh shut up, oh shut up, oh shut up, shut up next to me’ over every chorus. It sounds like such a lame bit in hindsight, but at the time I was pissing myself laughing in the backseat.

More recently I realised that this track contains one of my favourite lines of all time: ‘Now I’ve swung back round again, it’s worse than it was before. If I hadn’t seen such riches, I could live with being poor.’ Not many lyrics have had such a profound effect on me and helped me to confront what is potentially a key cause of many peoples’ discontentedness in life.

Get Me Away From Here I’m Dying – Belle & Sebastian

Belle & Sebastian were by far my greatest influence in the formative stages of my music-writing. Through my teens I continued to hold on to them tightly and I still reckon they’re one of my main influences, their go-to chord progressions and melodic ticks forever seeping into my compositions, at least on a subconscious level. They were the first band I remember seeing live and this track was one of the highlights of that night. It borrows heavily from Pachabel’s Canon in D like so many of my favourite songs do for some reason, and features one of my favourite B&S lines of all time: ‘Nobody writes them like they used to so it may as well be me.’

5/4 – Gorillaz

This track is the first I’d ever heard that incorporated multiple time signatures at once and it completely blew my mind. Though the guitar part is in 5/4 time, the kick and snare keep a solid 4/4 beat throughout. This makes the song at once off-kilter and danceable, which is the effect I’m always going for in my music. My drummer brother and I have geeked out together to this on more than one occasion. I love a geek-out.

Harder Better Faster Stronger (Alive 2007) – Daft Punk

This cut from Daft Punk’s 2007 live show features elements from three songs, each from a different album of theirs. It absolutely blows my mind that they managed to so successfully merge into one song a collection of material they’d produced over the span of about eight years. My laptop broke recently and I lost all of the electronic music I’d produced up until that point. This track, along with the rest of the Alive 2007 album, inspired me to recreate some of those lost tracks in the hope of one day dismantling them and repurposing their various components in fresh contexts during live shows.

Garden Dog Barbecue – GoGo Penguin

Right around the time I decided that setting limitations might be useful for my electronic music writing and started experimenting with the idea of making tracks using only a small handful of live instruments, I discovered Garden Dog Barbeque by this experimental jazz trio. Immediately I felt one step closer to figuring out how one might produce powerful house music with instrumentation as basic as piano, bass and drum kit. Partly because of this track, these days I try to write as much as I can at the piano so I can create a strong musical core without the added bells and whistles of synths and samples. If at the end of this process, I feel I’m only a bassline and drum beat away from a release-worthy track, I know something’s gone right.

Unicorn Kid – Holding Hands

It was after hearing Unicorn Kid when I was 15 or 16 and playing in a synth pop band that I became inspired to start making chiptune music on my computer. Being able to mastermind all elements of a song, like I had when recording four-track acoustic demos a couple years earlier, reminded me that I’m at my happiest when I have complete creative control. My band once supported Unicorn Kid at a Halloween themed gig in Glasgow that I showed up to wearing black lipstick and full vampire outfit before quickly noticing I was the only musician in costume. This song provides a brutally unsympathetic underscore to that harrowing memory.

Piano Piece for David Tudor #1 – La Monte Young

This piece isn’t one that I would ever need or want to listen to in full, but it brings back very fond memories of the hyper-pretentious ‘contemporary music’ classes I took at uni, where you could literally piss into a French horn and make a case for it being a legitimate piece of music. The instructions that the composer wrote for the performer are as follows: “Bring a bale of hay and a bucket of water onto the stage for the piano to eat and drink.

"The performer may then feed the piano or leave it to eat by itself. If the former, the piece is over after the piano has been fed. If the latter, it is over after the piano eats or decides not to.” This class marked my first foray into absurd musical performance art and after three months I started to understand that if you commit completely to the music you write or perform, no matter how weird, you can get away with a whole lot more than you might expect. 

Wuh Oh plays The Poetry Club (SWG3) on Fri 14 Oct