Monday, 28 June 2010

kode9 - DJ-Kicks (Hyperdub)

Given that the last ‘proper’ CD mix from Hyperdub label boss, academic and all-round bass guru Steve Goodman, aka Kode9, was his seminal Dubstep Allstars Vol. 3, way back in 2006, it’s about time a new one emerged. That mix, accompanied throughout by the baritone musings of long time collaborator Spaceape, was this writer’s introduction to the existence of an entire genre – dubstep - that was later to become something of an obsession. The interim period has seen appropriately seismic shifts in that community’s exposure and popularity: in 2009 dubstep became big-room business, and its more outré practitioners are sending its progeny flying off in all manner of strange directions, from the rapid-fire grime stylings of Untold to Joker and Guido’s hyperchromatic hip-hop.

But far before then Goodman was already heading off in a different direction. Obsessed with progression and expansion, his label pre-empted the genre’s sudden explosion with the release of synth-led music from the likes of Ikonika and Zomby, and his DJ sets have become increasingly driven by new UK house mutations. He’s also got the theory to back these moves – having recently published Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect & The Ecology Of Fear, an examination of sound’s role in the modern world, you’d half expect his DJing to be as careful and considered as his academic persona.

So it’s a always a slight surprise to hear him play out; his spectacular recent three-hour set in Bristol was marked by the same restlessness that characterizes his new DJ-Kicks mix, shifting rapidly from track to track and chasing the buzz of a new rhythm or blast of toxic melody. In an interview with Wire last year he discussed his fascination with body rhythm, and how it has affected the structure and sound of his own music. And there is something slightly voyeuristic about the way his sets build up, constantly searching for a new form of motion to observe. Far from exploring every permutation of each track, his trick is to layer them up, creating minute clashes and slippages in the flow of the mix. The result is a dizzying and tense soundclash, punctuated by sudden shifts in mood and pace that seem perfectly primed to momentarily confuse the dancefloor before subverting its patterns of movement.

Following the structure of his current sets, the first half is made up of slower, broken rhythms, from the grimey UK funky of Ill Blu’s ‘Bellion’ through South African kwaito (Mujava’s ‘Please Mugwanti’) and a couple of new vocal productions from seminal garage producer Sticky. The pace is as relentless as you’d expect from a recent Kode9 mix, and just as in thrall to the textural properties of synthesizers. Nowhere is this clearer than in his own new productions – the first since last year’s excellent Black Sun EP – which retain his distinctive sonic signature, smeared with venomous blasts of dissonant melody that induce euphoria and nausea in equal measure. FACT magazine recently described his sound as ‘toxic house’, a term that couldn’t be more apt if it tried – ‘You Don’t Wash’ in particular is stained a sickly shade of green, compressing London’s bass ghosts into an entirely less alien headspace than the chrome dystopia of his Memories Of The Future album. It’s certainly far more engaging on a human level, stripping away early dubstep’s cool urban alienation and replacing it with a sense of visceral, stabbing dread.

After a brief hip-hop tempo interlude, the mix returns to his original stomping ground at 140bpm for dubstep stylings from Digital Mystikz (the gorgeous ‘2 Much Chat’) and Zomby, 808 heavy workouts from Addison Groove and Ramadanman, and Terror Danjah’s ‘Stiff’. The latter in particular is immediately striking; it’s as raw as a spirulina smoothie, and just about as gritty. The pace of this second half is more considered, but hardly relents, assaulting the listener with waves of distorted sub and shocking fluorescent melody. It also draws attention to the tension that lies at the heart of Kode9’s DJing: an ongoing struggle between control and disorder, tightly reining the mix in even as total chaos erupts all around. It certainly makes for thrilling listening.

Words : Rory Gibb

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