Kode9: Beyond dubstep, Hyperdub hits South Africa

Kode9, born Steve Goodman, is a man who could easily be subjected to five full-length feature interviews without any danger of overlap. There’s Kode9, the musician who redefined the darker fringes of electronic dub music with his first release, ‘Memories of the Future‘ (Hyperdub) and continues to chart its outer reaches with ‘Black Sun‘ (Hyperdub, 2011).

Kode9: Beyond dubstep, Hyperdub comes to South Africa
Kode9

* This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Weekend Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2011/12/11

There’s the founder of Hyperdub, started in 2001 to release his early music and mutating into one of the most significant record labels for contemporary electronic music. There’s Steve Goodman, Philosophy PhD and, also the lecturer at the University of East London (the one in England, with a School of Sciences, Media, and Cultural Studies, not the one in the Eastern Cape). He’s also a member of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, the sound-art collective AudInt and the author of ‘Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear‘ (MIT Press,2009), a book informed by post-structuralist and Afro-futurist theories, and dealing with how sound has been deployed by governments, the military and others to produce discomfort and fear. Plus, of course, there’s Kode9 the DJ, about to be showcased at sets across the country, starting at the Rezonance festival.

“I’m excited to come to South Africa,” says Kode9 (it seems inappropriate to use his birthname; this interview is about the creator of music that’s been hailed as “moulding the sound of the underground for years” and, as a DJ, for “mixing dancehall-infused, heavy skanking sound and taking it worldwide”). “Most of my knowledge of South Africa comes from the period during apartheid, which was when the country was most in the news, so I don’t know what to expect now. The fact that one of the gigs that I’m playing is in Soweto seems very fascinating to me.

‘I’ve heard a lot of South African house and kwaito, although I can’t say I know much about it… one way or another, I’ll play something that people can relate to.’

– Kode9, before his first South African DJ set

“I have a few friends who’ve been over, and played some of the places I’ll be at, or with some of the people I’ll be with, and everybody has been really positive about the places they’ve played and the people they’ve met,” he continues. “I’ve heard a lot of South African house and kwaito, although I can’t say I know much about it, so I am fascinated to learn more. I don’t know the crowds, but I play quite a wide variety of music and I’m relatively confident that, one way or another, I’ll play something that people can relate to.”

He raises a valid point. The music that Kode9 creates – especially his work with The Spaceape, one of the Hyperdub MCs – inclines towards a slowly unfurling contagion of eerie and alienating beats and blips, laced with raefied sonic influences drawn from Jamaican and dancehall music, and Britain’s post-jungle, post-industrial musical landscape. Not exactly dance-floor fodder, even for the more leftfield of underground ears. Of course, a Kode9 DJ set features some of the dark-lace music that he creates, but that’s certainly not all. “It’s always useful when I’m doing a DJ set, that people know I don’t just play dubstep,” he says, noting that a misconception here can lead to disappointed die-hard fans. Just as important as what might not be the focus of a set, is the music that is: he’s been DJing for twenty years and describes what he’s interested in as “existing in a diagonal between hip-hop and house, like hardcore, jungle, UK garage, dubstep, grim, UK funky”. Witness, for example, Kode9‘s superb contribution to the revered “DJ Kicks” series. On the 30 tracks, of course there’s a dubstep and darker representation of beats, but there are twinkling gems too, things like a pepped-up synth-line of island steel-pan drums and calypso rhythms that would lift up any sunshine dancefloor.

‘A lot of music is cyclical; some aspects of the dubstep scene are becoming commercial along a similar path to what jungle and drum ‘n bass did.’

– Kode9 on the future of dubstep, grime and electronic music in general

That ties in to a question it would be remiss to ask a figure of the far-reaching experience as Kode9: where is the electronic music scene, especially dubstep and grime, going? “I’ve given up trying to do that kind of speculation,” he says. “I have no idea. It’s been quite unpredictable up to this point, although it is following some patterns that have happened before. A lot of music is cyclical; some aspects of the dubstep scene are becoming commercial along a similar path to what jungle and drum ‘n bass did. But, because it is slower in tempo, I think that it actually seems to be influencing a lot more music. Also, perhaps, because dubstep is less ‘different’ than jungle and drum ‘n bass were, when they first came out.”

For the faithful, though, fear not: these days, when Kode9 is in the house, the Hyperdub catalogue is firmly in evidence. In fact, the record label’s founder and proprietor admits that he is now something of an ambassador for the label’s output. “Over the last couple of years, I’ve been releasing more music that I actually want to DJ with. For the first three or four years, it was never about doing that, it was just about releasing music that I wanted to release. That’s changed recently, probably because the scene has grown and I’m confronted by more people who want to dance to that kind of material.”

Names in the set may well include Hyperdub legends like Flying Lotus, Ikonika, Burial, Darkstar, Cooly G, Zomby and DVA. Also, of course, he has with him Scratcha from DVA, and LV, who released “Boomslang”, featuring South African vocalist Okmalumkoolkat (Smiso Zwane).

On the new Kode9 and The Spaceape album, “Black Sun“, he says, “Certainly the energy of doing a DJ set, and doing the live sets with The Spaceape changed the sounds that we wanted to record for the second album. We found it very hard to play the first album live, because it was a lot more introspective. Those live gigs led to ‘Black Sun‘ being more energetic – and my DJ sets are more energetic than all of that. Ultimately, what makes me the most happy is playing in a very dark room with an amazing sound system and people dancing.”

* This interview by Evan Milton first appeared in the Weekend Argus ‘Good Weekend’ of 2011/12/11

 

Kode9, with Hyperdub artists Scratcha and LV, headlines the Technodubfest Arena of the annual multi-stage Rezonance New Year’s festival. Also on that stage are ex Cape Town glitch-master Felix Laband, the increasingly superb Audophile021 and minimal mistress Monique Pascal. Headlining the trance stage are Daksinamurti, Transwave and Bombax, with a live band stage featuring, amongst others, EJ von Lyrik, The Rudimentals and Teba and EJ von Lyrik (30 December 2011 – 2 January 2012, Contermanskloof Estate, Durbanville Hills, tickets R420 from WebTickets.co.za). See RezonanceFestival.com. On 6 January 2012, Kode9 plays Step Up at Fiction (226 Long St, Cape Town,  021-4245709, doors 7pm) before gigs in Johannesburg (7 January, at Kitcheners). 

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