Originally they wanted to call this 5 Years of Low End Contagion. They were right not to. Contagions don't spread beneficially, or even neutrally: they pollute and toxify. They mutate only to keep eating. They pillage. But that's not the remit here. Assuming Hyperdub leads from the head—and there's no reason to suspect otherwise—then the ongoing mission is that of mutation without parasitism, an additive reshuffling of codes to create new behaviors and evolutionary lines within them. Hyperdub isn't a record label, or a virus, so much as it's a culture unto itself, and I suspect that at least some part of the appeal of digging through their progress to date is that it turns us all into anthropologists, tracing networks of links and gauging the distance we've traveled from the source.
For this fifth anniversary compilation of consumable memes, Dr. Steve Goodman—DBA Kode 9, Papa Hyperdub—has dumped the history at the back. One of the main knocks against Hyperdub as an ethos has been that it's merely catnip for those already in the know, and depending on how one defines a depth of understanding here, maybe that's true. But considering that the main touchstones for this music are jungle, rave and dub, one would have to assume that the First World humans in the audience have never seen a Toyota ad or played a video game, which seems vanishingly unlikely. And since we're talking culture here, the more mutated the source, the newer the feel. The history of the mutation is often an afterthought to its present state.
None of this goes toward explaining how Hyperdub have become the relative commercial success that they have, and why this compilation often feels so revelatory, even if you already know the classics. In the end, there's very little here, whatever degree of mangling undergone by the source material, that doesn't sound like candy. The older stuff comes off staler now, the shock of the new dissipated over time: Kode 9's "9 Samurai" and Burial's "South London Boroughs," all neutral grays and sharp, tinny beats, barely register with their surroundings anymore, but we're through them quickly. By the time we get to The Bug's roiling, boiling "Money Honey," with Warrior Queen expounding empowerment, and barreling face-first through a mass of concertina wire hi-hats and bobbing bass, we're practically home.
There's Darkstar's effervescent "Need You," pumped full of dejected, tiny little synthesizers and a lovably goofy skipping beat. "Distant Lights," Burial's (and Hyperdub's) breakout moment, hides sleek, modern R&B in a veil of tape hiss, disembodied voices, sharpening knives and broken glass, coming off far more menacing than he's often given credit for. Rustie shakes Zomby's "Spliff Dub" free of its contents, reconstituting and atomizing it, and the needling pock of synthetic percussion can barely keep up.
But since culture is so often present tense, a perpetual now, it's disc one we're all here for, and somehow nearly everything Kode 9 has scrounged up, from within and without his contracted stable meets or beats the reified classics. The Bug's Kevin Martin and vocalist Roger Robinson, as King Midas Sound, barely open their eyes on the silky, lysergic "Meltdown," treating mental instability like a pop dream state. LD pops puff ball oscillators and beveled rave vocals off of spring-loaded ticks and what sounds like four different jungle breaks at once. Cooly G does some sort of inexplicable magic with a pair of wide-phased jacks and a barely-there vocal. Joker and Ginz may be coasting a bit on "Stash," but they've still got the world's greatest laser noises. Flying Lotus slings a great, galumphing stomp over his shoulders, and spends his three minutes being doofy and ridiculous.
The real standout, though, is Darkstar's "Aidy's Girl is a Computer," the sine qua non of the sort of epic left-field nonsense that's made Hyperdub's name thus far: a lonely, lovesick emobot epic, chopped into nearly uncommunicative splutters, quietly devastating, but never maudlin. Your correspondent would love to say that this points to the future of this Hyperdub creature, but everything about this compilation, and the institution that birthed it, makes that a foolish thing to say.
- Published /
Thu / 29 Oct 2009
- Words /