Hyperdub’s Steve Goodman lives a double life, juggling a career in academia, running his label, and making some of the headiest dubstep on the planet. Here’s an unpublished interview Zack Kerns conducted with Goodman in New York City back in 2011.
“Dubstep as a world has become so complicated and diverse, to the point where the word is almost meaningless. In a way, that’s great for the music because there’s not a direct correlation between the word and a sound.” Coming from Hyperdub label boss, Steve Goodman, better known to many as Kode9, this could be one of the only generalizations that rings true anymore in regards to the loaded genre descriptor. For those who have followed the scene’s trajectory over the course of the past decade, it might seem almost surreal that the term has been stretched this thin, somehow encompassing everything from James Blake to Skrillex. Still, what is equally striking is that, in the midst of all the decontextualization, Kode9 could very well be the most qualified person to definitively make that statement.
Before bloggers were grappling with micro-genres and pop stars began singing over half-time wobbles, “dubstep” was a niche term used almost exclusively to reference the dark, bass-heavy two-step mutations that Kode9 and contemporaries such as Loefah and Digital Mystikz were producing back in the early to mid-2000s. And yet, in spite of the runaway inertia now characterizing the music’s evolution (as well as its rampant over-saturation), Kode9 has forged one of the more thoughtful and respected pathways into the present day. After introducing the world to Burial and cementing his own talent with his production work, he’s managed to constantly build upon his credibility by taking on an increasing number of roles, at the core of which is Hyperdub. As a label, it’s one of the most admirably influential imprints to take shape in the past decade, one that is continually broadening its scope without ever compromising its principles. As it stands, in 2011 he is a successful DJ/producer and a noted author/philosopher/teacher — in essence, a true renaissance man of low-end culture. Now officially an international figure, he is set to drop his sophomore album with long-time collaborator, MC Spaceape, entitled Black Sun, nearly five years after their debut. Of course, in these accelerated times, five years is almost a generation, and so it seems that this particular sunrise will be shedding light on a radically altered landscape — one in which they are originators and innovators, but once again, merely wanderers in a strange new terrain.
On first listen, you’ll notice that they’ve instinctively re-oriented themselves to this environment — Memories of the Future was almost singularly rooted in meditative tempos, brooding toplines, and the pure physicality of subsonic bass pressure, yet right from the start, opener “Black Smoke,” charges into the unknown with a bold intensity that had been previously withheld.
“We didn’t want to do anything quite as heavy or catatonic as the first one,” explains Kode9, “‘Black Smoke’ is almost like our exorcism of the first album —getting it out of our system…it’s actually quite an uplifting track as it builds and becomes more frantic.”
“It’s still that post apocalyptic, fictional world in which that album takes place, but it’s dealing with: different moods, and different colors…literally, it’s not such a dark place.”
The cleansing does make way for new shapes and sounds, and even five years down the line, they are still in command of a distinctly unique style. Like before, many of their tracks are driven solely by the swell of bass pulses and ambient percussive textures — in some instances it can even catch you off guard (Oh wait, I’m not actually hearing this drum-work, it’s just being implied). “It’s something we like doing occasionally,” says Kode9 about these stealthy rhythms that wind their way through the negative space. “How can you get momentum going without any drums? That’s our own little sub genre called bass fiction.”
Of course, this bass fiction was being actualized on Memories of the Future as well — in fact, the dynamic between Kode9’s moody soundscapes and the creeping tension of Spaceape’s raspy poetry was tailor-fit from the start — but it’s how they’ve fleshed it all out this time around that really gives it a sense of progression. In addition to the expanded sonic palette, the claustrophobic nature of their first outing has also given way to a greater sense of freedom, as well as a noticeably wider range of emotions.
“It just doesn’t have so much on its shoulders; it’s not so weighed down,” admits Kode9. “I mean, it’s still that post apocalyptic, fictional world in which that album takes place, but it’s dealing with different things than the first album dealt with: different moods, and different colors…literally, it’s not such a dark place. I think it’s quite a surreal place, but it’s not just one characterized by…dread.”
In some ways, it’s not too surprising that much of that nervous anticipation has been funnelled elsewhere. Sure, traces of dread still linger, but so much has occurred in and around the fictions that they’ve constructed over the past few years, it’s as if many of the events they foretold have literally come to pass. In that sense, they are traversing the aftermath of their own vision, one that has exploded across an array of consciousness, and at this point, they have no choice but to inhabit this mutant terrain.
On the other hand, something about these compounding parallels seems to have had a sobering effect as well. Spaceape’s lyrics in particular seem much more grounded topically, and his confessional tales about relationships and physical decay can seem disarmingly real amid all the sci-fi abstractions. And Kode9’s productions come across as substantially more alert throughout: even on the final track, “Kryon,” a collaboration with Flying Lotus that has been surprisingly stripped of its rhythmic propulsion, the layered wall of synths creates a stark yet demanding kind of ambience, something that you wouldn’t have come across in the first album’s deep, contemplative haze.
As to the specifics behind the message they’re sounding? Well, that is ultimately up to interpretation, but one thing is for sure: they have been at the core of a powerful idea for some time now, one that continues to radiate outwards in fascinating ways. Despite that, there are signs that indicate it has grown too massive and might already be buckling under the gravity of its own weight. It could all be inevitable, but if the energy is still there, maybe this darker breed of light can escape that pull, unveiling new future sonics in the wake of its shadowy glow.
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