After Kode9 and Burial’s Fabriclive mix and on the five-year anniversary of DJ Rashad’s, Double Cup, Getintothis’ Dominic Finlay explores the label under which all three have released: Hyperdub.
Hyperdub is certainly among them: it has garnered a reputation for being fiendishly inventive and eclectic, marrying mainstream dance scenes with more esoteric sounds. What was a webzine (the archive of which is available here) is now a burgeoning and well-regarded record label. Founder Steve Goodman, aka Kode9, once described Hyperdub as a virus: ‘Hyperdub is a mutation of British electronic music, infected by Jamaican soundsystem culture’.
So that’s where the ‘dub’ came from. What about the ‘hyper’? Was dub strapped to a table (carefully – you shouldn’t ‘Scratch’ Lee Perry) and given 1000 volts? In the beginning, this primarily UK and Jamaica-based sound was the bulk of Hyperdub’s output, but this is not so true today. Here’s a condensed story.
Before dubstep became much like a sinking ship – watered down, wobbly with a big drop – Kode9 was lurking in sub-bass. Many releases on his Hyperdub label came to be classics of the scene, like the famous 9 Samurai, or The Bug and Flowdan’s intimidating dancefloor deathmarch Skeng.
Then along came Burial, who found himself thrown under the dubstep umbrella, despite being something of a unique beast. Such a success was the once-anonymous Will Bevan that he helped swiftly propel Hyperdub to a far larger audience.
His self-titled debut was named The Wire’s album of the year, his follow-up Untrue was nominated for the Mercury Prize in 2008 and his style became iconic, spawning a variety of imitations; Moody Good’s track Raindrips or the album Tramp by Russian producer Volor Flex are just a few.
Yet Hyperdub grew into far more than simply That Record Label With Burial On It. Big signings continued in artists like Ikonika, Cooly G and Terror Danjah, as well as releases further away from UK influences in Samiyam, DJ Rashad and Jessy Lanza.
So while Hyperdub undoubtedly came from dubstep’s primordial soup, and in many ways still carries its spirit of experimentation, its roster of innovative artists has come to reflect founder Steve Goodman’s DJ sets – not always focused on one category, but spanning many different genres and disciplines.
Throughout their fourteen years of history, they’ve achieved some important milestones. We present to you 10 tracks that each say something about the history, style and impact of the great label: some from its illustrious past, some from its healthy new crop of artists – with a playlist to boot below. Enjoy.
Cooly G – Magnetic
Appearing in Hyperdub releases from 2009 and still going strong, Cooly G has been a mainstay of the label year after year. Magnetic is a perfect example of her work: no more than it needs to be, a balance between a pulsing bass and mesmerising, reverb-laden vocal sighs. Along with its title, the hypnotic track conjures up feelings of lust and desire.
Darkstar – Aidy’s Girl is a Computer
Almost as if the titular girl is trying to talk to us, a robotic vocoder-like voice speaks throughout this classic Hyperdub track. Aidy’s Girl… sounds like an android trying to find its humanity. The instrumental tones seem upbeat and positive, though; perhaps we have both lost and gained something in this synthetic future of ours. This lovely headbobber is miles away from the pensive ambience of many of Darkstar’s Hyperdub peers; it feels like a breath of fresh air.
Proc Fiskal – Dish Washing
Dish Washing is a track from Proc Fiskal’s recent LP, Insula. Its lush production is playful and smile-inducing, similar in some respects to a producer like Iglooghost, albeit with a more grime-oriented twinge. If Hyperdub can consistently sign new talent like Proc Fiskal, they will undoubtedly remain a label at the forefront of music. Though the Hyperdub sound might be dark, its future will be bright.
Kode9 – 9 Samurai & 9 Drones
We’re cheating. Here are two of the label founder’s tracks for the price of one. Both using the soundtrack of Akira Kurosawa’s legendary Seven Samurai brilliantly, they represent the varied interests and changing styles of Kode9’s sound. 9 Samurai is a well-known and important track in the history of dubstep, very much exhibiting its dub heritage with echoing drums and a Jamaican-accented vocal line, but combining the esteemed film OST with sawtooth synths. There’s a sense of placelessness despite the influences – it’s a deeply atmospheric track that feels quite a distance away from its dance-oriented 2-step ancestor.
Nine years later, Kode9’s alternative take on the sample is far removed from his past effort. Samurai morphed into drones, dubstep into footwork. It’s clear that the Chicago scene became a great source of inspiration for Kode9, and his love of the genre is on full display here, chopping up the film soundtrack to fit it with a rolling footwork drum pattern. Once at the cutting-edge of dubstep, now Kode9 is at the forefront of pushing a footwork movement in the UK.
DJ Rashad – Let U No (feat.Spinn)
Along with his Teklife crew, Rashad was part of the incredible growth of ghetto house, juke and footwork in Chicago’s music scene. The late innovator released his genre showcase Double Cup in 2013, presenting a rich tracklist that pushed the image and conventions of footwork to new heights. Though he tragically passed away the following year, he was already cemented as an icon of his scene, and his music marked an important era in Hyperdub’s releases.
Let U No is unquestionably one of the most gorgeous tracks to ever come from Rashad’s MPC2000, a whirlwind of high-BPM drums whisking the listener away to a wistful place, chock full of shimmering synths and soulful samples. Let U No proves that footwork has worth not just in dance, but also in careful, mindful listening. Hyperdub founder Kode9 was so fascinated with footwork that he even began to produce his own tracks in the same vein. For anyone interested in the Chicago footwork scene, or the genre in general, I urge you to watch the Tim & Barry documentary, I’m Tryna Tell Ya.
The Spaceape & Kode9 – Black Smoke
In 2014, Hyperdub lost a label legend. The poet Spaceape was a distinctive voice in the dubstep scene – the deep, arresting tone of an enigmatic prophet. Black Smoke is a grand exhibit of his skill, and, paired with Kode9’s excellent production, perfectly encapsulates their collaborative friendship.
Fatima Al Qadiri – Szechuan
Sinogrime might just sound like another obscure category of music to add to the ever-growing list, but it accurately describes this track, taken from Fatima Al Qadiri’s album Asiatisch. The BPM and bassline are fresh out of London, but the synth trills and overall sound design are inspired by China; more specifically, the ways in which the country is viewed from the outside.
That might be a difficult concept to reflect in an instrumental track, but the Hyperdub artist does manage to capture it. Choir sound effects, spaced-out drums and swelling, droning bass combine to form a very cold, formidable tune. It’s one more example of Hyperdub’s adoration of culture from around the world, uniting them in their diverse musical project.
Zomby – SDYF (feat. Rezzet)
Zomby is an often overlooked champion of the UK underground, but, given his mask and shroud of mystery, he might appreciate the quiet. Such quietness is more than made up for in his discography. After several singles on Hyperdub, he released his bombastic and brilliant debut LP Where Were U in ‘92? – a maximalist ode to British dance culture in the 90s. Garage, jungle and rave. Oh my.
Since then, the genre-hopper has expanded his repertoire even further. In 2016 he released Ultra on Hyperdub, an album containing various collaborations. Our selection is S.D.Y.F., one such collaboration with Rezzett. The guest artist brings his trademark warm lo-fi fuzz, creating a lovely effect when mixed with Zomby’s delicately plink-plonking melodies and breakbeat drums. It’s both fast-paced and cosy, like driving down an empty country road in a well-heated car.Ultra (HDBLP033) by Hyperdub
Lee Gamble – Ghost
Described astutely as an ‘abstract club album’ by James Pearce on Allmusic, Lee Gamble’s Mnestic Pressure is one of Hyperdub’s finest releases of the past few years. In channelling UK scenes like techno and jungle, all through his own unique lens, the London-based producer created something special. It’s often unnerving, as in the relentless advance of pounding drums in UE8, but at other moments easily accessible, like the melody of A tergo Real. Ideally, listen to the entire album.
For this article, our pick is Ghost; sounding like one of the more experimental singles from the Metalheadz label, it augments jungle breakbeats with a bubbling layer of elegant synths, which occasionally bursts through the membrane of drums into a luxurious lull of pace. Like much of Hyperdub’s catalogue, it’s simultaneously grounded in tunes emanating from UK clubs and experimental bedroom producers.
Burial – Truant
Though a mystery of a man, it’s hard to write anything about Burial that hasn’t already been said. From the beginning, Burial was a golden goose of Hyperdub; for many, he was their introduction to the label, either with his impressive debut, his Mercury Prize-nominated masterwork Untrue, or his numerous long-form singles in the following years.
Truant is our pick here, not simply to avoid an obvious pick from his Untrue tracklisting, but because it’s an astounding piece in its own right. Filled with the usual Burial tricks: vinyl crackles, vocal sample motifs, but shifting in order to carry the listener across several different musical and emotional landscapes, it’s a journey to treasure without distraction.