When interviewing an artist, you don’t expect to walk away with your own record label as a result. But when Steve Goodman went for a tête-à-tête with The Bug for XLR8R mag, he hooked him up with a distribution contact. Hyperdub was born.
In those early days he took to releasing mainly his own work as Kode9 – the hair-raising dread of ‘Sine Of The Dub’ being the inaugural 12”. Meanwhile, his residency at FWD>> at Plastic People pioneered the ‘death garage’ sound (the word ‘dubstep’ didn’t exist yet). But in 2005, Steve passed the baton on to an unknown, esoteric producer.
“I noticed I’d still been listening to this ‘Burial’ CD that he’d given me years ago, so it made perfect sense to broaden the remit of the label from just me to him.”
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Kode9 + The SpaceApe – ‘Sine of the Dub’ (2006)
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I’d been doing music before for years, but this felt real…
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A Family Affair
Fast-forward 10 years and Hyperdub has mutated into a slightly hectic, albeit closely-knit family. Boxes of T-shirts and tote bags pour into their Peckham HQ, as Cooly G’s son swings from the top of a forklift truck in the warehouse. “How’d you get up there?” she marvels, more impressed than anything, while clutching newly seen vinyl copies of her EP.
“Have you seen her little girl? Ultra cute,” smiles Kode. He and Ikonika laugh at each other in their blackout shades. We then find out that Terror Danjah’s just been in a car accident, writing off his vehicle, so – understandably – can’t make it. Scratcha DVA’s running late. Label manager Marcus Scott isn’t wrong when he describes it as “a bit like herding cats”.
Straightening her hair while employees Bill Dolan, Kris Jones and Marcus juggle cups of tea, Cooly G reflects on how it began for her.
“It was at a stage of my life when I didn’t really know if I was even gonna carry on doing music. I’d just had a kid. Marcus ‘n’ that sent me a message on MySpace – I’d been doing music before for years, but this felt real.
“And even when you’re doing shows, you know, Scratch will bring me breakfast in my hotel room – it’s just stuff like that, proper family love.”
Laughing, Ikonika offers, “Cooly will be DJing and I’ll slap her arse really hard – it’s that kind of comfortableness.” Scratcha met Kode through Cooly, after picking up an “only producers can play at this rave” flyer at a record shop, with her number attached.
“You can be on labels where you release tracks and that’s it, but somehow [Kode]9 finds the time to help you,” Scratcha stresses. “With DJing, even with some personal life shit. That’s the good thing, they’re people as well.”
Ikonika met Steve, fittingly, in the smoking area at a DMZ night. “I used to watch him DJ a lot – he was different to the other DJs. His sets were slightly brighter than just the dread dub half-step that was going on at the time. At the time I wasn’t quite sure of my own direction and didn’t have any confidence in my sound, and he helped in that he said it was okay to be a little bit weird and off-kilter.”
Previously synonymous with the hefty bassline pulses of dubstep, the label saw Will Bevan’s ‘Untrue’ incite global fever.
“Burial came out at an underground level and went mainstream without compromising the music,” Steve explains. The breakthrough artist allowed the label to “carry on like we have for 10 years and grow, not just carry on surviving”. But as the electronic continuum extended tendrils that spidered out spontaneously, Hyperdub left its humble origins behind to explode into a multi-genre entity, crossing geographical borders – a fierce resistance to pigeonholing its main ethos.
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Burial – ‘Raver’ (from ‘Untrue’, 2007)
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With Hyperdub I don’t expect anything. And I end up liking 99% of whatever happens on it…
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Soldiers Of Fortune
One loyal foot soldier of the resistance is Scratcha DVA, whose productions furiously unite wild rhythms and styles.
“There are some labels (that are predictable). For example, I love Swamp, but I know what I’m gonna get from them,” the lively ex-Rinse presenter offers. “I expect this thing from Numbers, or so and so. But with Hyperdub I don’t expect anything. And I end up liking 99% of whatever happens on it.”
His recent EP ‘Mad Hatter’ showcased that carnivalesque, unhinged funk, but he thinks that his music “takes people a while. I see that with my shit. Same as ‘Natty’, same as a lot of the stuff I put out on Hyperdub. It’s a hard battle but I’ll always want to do new things.”
He pauses. “I was saying the other day, obviously there was that big dubstep period and lot of people might associate Hyperdub with dubstep – but imagine it had stayed that way. Imagine it was still releasing that sound!” He beatboxes a cartoonish dubstep rhythm. “F*cking boring.”
Emerging as a left-of-centre dubstep producer, Ikonika has also morphed with the times, with recent LP ‘Aerotropolis’ strutting out as an ’80s freestyle house affair.
“I never really wanted to be trapped in a formula,” she shrugs. “That’s just not how I am. And I’ve never been into pigeonholing, labelling things. I’ve had it a lot, first with ‘wonky’ and then ‘future garage’ and then ‘post dubstep’ and now no-one knows what to call anything any more.”
She smiles. “I grew up with a lot of R&B and garage, and then found my way into hardcore and metal, then went back to underground hip-hop and eventually dubstep and grime.”
So can we see traces of that hardcore and metal past in her current work? “Yeah, through song structures and what’s acceptable in a club environment,” she answers. “Even my name comes from ‘iconoclast’ – a rebellious side. I think that’s quite fitting for Hyperdub. I didn’t see it before… but I see it now.”
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Ikonika – ‘Mr Cake’ (from ‘Aerotropolis’)
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My name comes from ‘iconoclast’ – a rebellious side. I think that’s quite fitting for Hyperdub. I didn’t see it before, but I see it now…
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Flights Of Fantasy
Cooly G’s forthcoming LP, ‘Wait ‘Til Night’, is a departure from prior sounds too. “It’s based on fantasies, night-time fantasies,” she grins enigmatically.
“There’ll be a time when I’m lonely and stuff innit, so any time I think of anything sexual is at night, when the kids are in bed, so the album’s based on me waiting ‘til night to be having any thoughts or smiling at things. It’s gone all fast but it doesn’t sound fast – it’s 140/145/160 – there’s all different styles of tempos on there; slow jam, R&B… It’s basically me when I was 16-years-old.”
Her excitement is palpable. “Doing this album was totally different from doing the last album (‘Playin’ Me’) – I was pregnant and fat and dramatic, having all sorts of different emotions. I prefer to be single. I don’t wanna get messed about again by no guys, know what I mean? I’ve been messed about before.”
Having craned its neck away from South London, Hyperdub has embraced global sounds from other neighbourhoods, districts and streets.
“The UK’s not doing anything particularly groundbreaking right now – it’s the guys over in the States that are running things,” suggests Ikonika. “You can see that with Jessy Lanza’s album, Rashad, Spinn, Taso, Fatima [Al Qadiri].”
The latter’s recent ‘Asiatisch’ LP blended fantasy with cultural commentary to paint an ‘imagined’ China – using appropriated sounds and images that reflect how Oriental themes have dripped into Western culture. It fits into the idea of ‘sinogrime’ – a term that Kode himself created in 2005 via a mix that united Asian-sounding synth patterns in grime music – the product of young producers’ interest in kung fu films and videogames.
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Kode9 – Sinogrime Minimix (2005)
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And for the label chief, the most interesting track of their back catalogue is Hype Williams’ ‘Badmind’: “It’s got a weird, Chinese-type instrumental with some random guy reciting poetry over the top of it… we don’t even know who he is!”
Japan is now the label’s favourite place to play. “They’re generally quite educated about the music, they go f*cking ballistic,” beams Kode. “It’s not like here where people might be rubbing their chins, standing in the corner – they know their shit and they party like kids, like children.”
The intro to his remix of ‘Skeng’ is a catalogue of one Japanese tour with The Bug: “We went round with a recorder like this, speaking to schoolgirls and taxi drivers, just getting them to say ‘skeng’, with them not knowing that it’s a gun. Then at the beginning it’s [Japanese DJ] Goth-Trad just before the drop saying, ‘You don’t want to see me get evil.’”
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Hype Williams – ‘Badmind’ (2011)
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When running an independent label it’s important to be a control freak, otherwise there won’t be any definition to what you do…
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A Progressive House
Consistently moving with the changing face of electronic music, Hyperdub has Steve and Marcus’ forward-thinking, prescient curation to thank.
“I think when running an independent label it’s important to be a control freak, otherwise there won’t be any definition to what you do,” Kode stresses. “But I’m gradually giving my control up. Really, my only role left is picking the music, but that’s the line in the sand beyond which I’ve lost the plot altogether!”
The author of Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear (published in 2009 by MIT Press), Kode has a keen interest in how certain sounds affect consciousness, and recounts some of his individual musical discoveries – label curation, of course, being a personal endeavour.
“I’ve had a few epiphanies in raves where you’re probably on drugs, and you have complete certainty about what you’re hearing and what you’re feeling,” he details. “I’ve learnt more in those episodes – there’s probably been a handful of them over the last 20 years – that you spend the next five years gradually unpacking all this certainty that you received in this moment of rave bliss. Dancing to jungle in the ‘90s. So we’re always hunting for that experience, producing it in other people as well as having it yourself, as a consumer.”
His labour of love this year has been piecing together four mega compilations of Hyperdub releases, old and new. ‘10.1’ showcases the label’s reign of the dancefloor, with itchy cuts from Funkystepz, Mark Pritchard and Champion; while ‘10.2’ casts a glance back at the last five years of their vocal-led songs rather than brooding instrumentals – with appearances from Fhloston Paradigm and Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland.
He’s not prepared to divulge the themes of the next two, but promises that they’ll be “different from the first two – different colours.”
Since Clash’s visit to the Hyperdub office, ‘10.3’ has been announced – an assembly of mini-soundtracks of films-to-come, that, as the press release details, are “reduced to a gaseous remainder, leaving only synthesised, sampled or looped textures that often hang like a cloud of gas, or rotate without friction like mini cyclones”. Ikonika – whose ‘Completion V.3’ and ‘Time/Speed’ feature on the compilation – studied film at university and got “really into sci-fi, obvious stuff like Blade Runner, all that textbook stuff”. Which she now uses as production aids, too: “Sometimes I’ll play those movies in the background and write to them,” she explains.
While the year should be a champagne-flavoured celebration of the past decade, the earth-shattering news of DJ Rashad’s passing has left a dark mark.
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DJ Rashad – ‘Double Cup (ft. Spinn)’ (2013)
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“I’d just played a set in Switzerland, I was pretty f*cked – drunk and high,” remembers Steve. “I went back to my hotel, went on Twitter and saw ‘rumour of Rashad dying confirmed’. And then I just completely collapsed. I had some weed, I was just hanging out my hotel window smoking, in total shock.”
The Chicago footwork pioneer has been revered in a series of commemorative parties by the label, with his skittering productions going down monumentally in the club. “I know you don’t have a choice over these things, but learning that a friend has died via Twitter is f*cking horrible. I wouldn’t wish that on my worst enemy.
“Thank f*ck he’s left us with so much amazing music,” he concludes with a sigh.
Above all, the birthday compilations reveal the incredible, overwhelming longevity of Hyperdub records. Which is why Four Tet recently described The Bug and Flowdan’s ‘Skeng’ as a “record from other dimensions… still destroying clubs always”, while Scratcha cites 2000F & J Kamata’s ‘You Don’t Know What Love Is’ as a track that “still stands up today”.
He goes on to add: “Classic Hyperdub tunes don’t sound old. [Steve’s] just someone who likes good music – interesting shit. And that’s it.”
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Words: Felicity Martin
Photography: Pani Paul