Scott pours coffee and suggests we go down to "the log" for a chat. Our destination turns out to be a crumbling bench by the entrance of the small Peckham industrial estate Hyperdub calls home. From here we can watch the label's neighbours come and go through the large metal doors of the industrial units, cracked open to let in the early spring sun.
This situation is pretty new. A couple of years ago, Scott was running the label from home. It's only in the past 12 months that he's started to employ people. Given that Hyperdub is celebrating its tenth birthday this year, this sort of growth seems overdue. Scott, who speaks with the quiet thoughtfulness of someone who's comfortable being behind the scenes, disagrees. "I think it's sometimes better to evolve slowly and learn, rather than grow really fast," he says. "Because you set more solid foundations. There's lots of things that I would've liked to have done a few years ago, that I've maybe been a little bit frustrated about. But actually, now that they're getting done, I'm glad they're happening now."
Scott is well acquainted with the workings of an established label like Hyperdub, having worked at a few in his time. Growing up in Cornwall, he went to school with Grant Wilson-Claridge of Rephlex. "I saw he was wearing a Prince badge and a Public enemy badge on his blazer, and I was just like, 'I've got to get to know that guy!'" he recalls. The association led to a job at Rephlex, and it was there that he met Goodman, when the latter was enlisted for 2004's Grime compilations, an early (and confusingly titled) showcase of the burgeoning dubstep scene.
Scott went on to work at Warp—he would introduce Goodman to Flying Lotus—but his tastes never quite fit the label's profile. "I think whenever I was involved in labels I always brought a kind of mutant twist on things, because I'm not really an IDM fan," he says. It's perhaps not surprising, then, that Goodman's resolutely mutant label caught his eye. "When I wanted to leave Warp I asked Steve if he needed a hand, because I could see he was running the label on his own. You know, bringing in lawyers, getting contracts sorted out, signing up to all the relevant societies—just making the thing work a bit better. And it just built from there."
When Goodman arrives, he's effusive about Scott's contribution to the label. He's generally in good cheer, in fact, after a productive couple of weeks in the studio finishing off a new EP with Spaceape. We chat on a threadbare sofa just outside the office, occasionally pausing to wait for the sound of nearby drilling to subside. "In a way Marcus has always been there—he's always been around as a beacon of good taste in music," Goodman says. "When he joined he helped take a lot of the label management weight off me, and now he really does an important job of helping people get the press they need. Because obviously most of the artists we sign want to get as good press as possible. They want their music written about properly and they want people to know about it. So he's amazing at that. He's in charge of that and label management stuff, basically."
The exception to that rule is Burial. Hyperdub's first signing—beyond Goodman himself—has never needed a press campaign. That hasn't stopped him from becoming the label's most widely admired artist. Scott joined Hyperdub around 2007, just as Burial mania reached fever pitch with the release of Untrue, the then-anonymous artist's second album, and its subsequent nomination for the Mercury prize. Most of the attention was manageable, Scott says, with the exception of The Sun's bizarre campaign to unmask the producer.
"There was no intention to find out about the music, or anything else around the culture of the release," Scott says. "They were basically interested in invading his privacy." How do you handle that sort of attention? "The fans just bombarded them with wrong ideas. Sent them in the wrong direction, which was quite fun," he laughs. The strategy clearly worked: The Sun eventually pointed the finger at Fatboy Slim.
"All the stress kind of just happened over there," Goodman says of the period, gesturing off into the distance. "Like, behind a glass screen. You could see people babbling and pulling their hair out, you know, going crazy, but it's kind of muted. It's a weird feeling, actually. Almost like it's got nothing to do with you at all. Like you've done something and it's created this frenzy, but"—he holds his hands up in innocence—"'it wasn't me!'"
Was he worried about Hyperdub being seen as a one-artist label? "Any label that stops being just a small label needs an artist like Burial. All of the medium-sized independents—Ninja Tune and Warp and so on—run on the record sales of breakthrough artists. So Burial was our version of that. It just took a bit of stress out of running the label, made it possible to make A&R decisions that weren't guided by units sold. The percentage of people that have listened to and liked Burial swamps everything else on the label, really. I don't have a problem with that. If we can lead some of those people into the other artists on the label—that's all we're trying to do."
Hyperdub's current standing as one of the most significant British electronic music labels could hardly have been predicted from the outset. The label began not as a business plan, or even an aesthetic, so much as a concept. Back in the mid-'90s, Goodman, then a jungle obsessive and philosophy student at Warwick University, heard a talk from writer and theorist Kodwo Eshun. Eshun's vivid "sonic fictions" convinced Goodman that his two areas of interest weren't so distinct. "I saw him talking about whatever it was, jungle, using the kind of theory he was using," Goodman says. "And I'd never seen anyone do that before, bringing these two sides together. So it opened up another way of writing about music that I'd never seen before."
The experience led Goodman to launch the Hyperdub webzine in 2000, with the intention of creating a "depository of powerful concepts." A rummage through the zine's archive yields a rich trove of writing on turn-of-the-millennium dance music with, as Goodman puts it now, "a specific focus on the influence of Jamaican music on electronic music in London". Alongside Goodman, established critics like Simon Reynolds, academics like Mark Fisher and fellow enthusiasts were invited to contribute.
The writing style was a heady mixture of blogger's zeal, freewheeling cultural theory and dedicated scene reportage. As for the name, Hyperdub was one of a number of neologisms flying about, including "hypersoul," "yardcore" and repeated references to viruses and infection (Goodman would expand on his theory of "audio virology" in a 2009 book, Sonic Warfare). Goodman settled on Hyperdub because "it captured that fast-slow thing that was in a lot of the music that I thought would be the focus."
With early articles charting the transformation of UK garage into something darker and sparser, the Hyperdub zine was well placed to catch the beginning of dubstep. "At the same time as I started Hyperdub as a website, Ammunition started dubplate.net," Goodman recalls. "And I knew Neil [Joliffe, Tempa founder] and Sarah [Lockhart, Rinse FM station manager] quite well. We were kind of working together to promote the same sound. I ended up working for them to maintain dubplate.net, getting grime and early dubstep dubplates and putting them online with a little blurb. And we were doing very in-depth features on Hyperdub. Not necessarily a lot of people in the UK noticed, but both of those websites definitely helped with the overseas spread of dubstep."
Goodman also began to run nights at Brixton's Bug Bar under the Hyperdub banner, with Gavin Weale and Darren Cunningham of Werk Discs. A larger event at the ICA featured appearances from his friends in Warwick's maverick Cybernetic Cultures Research Unit, alongside a live performance from Cunningham under his Actress moniker. Goodman's writing also began to appear in FACT and XLR8R (both then print magazines), but a music journalist's life wasn't for him. "All I wanted to do was have chats with some of my favourite producers," he says. "And after a year or two I kind of ran out. You know, when you have a favourite producer you tend to mythologise them. Then when you meet them and they're mere mortals... that kind of drained my motivation to be a music journalist."
Inspiration for Hyperdub's new lease of life came from one of Goodman's interviewees. "Kevin Martin had been writing stuff, in his sleeve notes and so on, about 'macro dub infections' and this kind of thing. He was interested, in a similar way, in the spread of this dub methodology outside of the world of reggae and dub." After speaking to Martin—known as The Bug and, these days, one third of Kind Midas Sound—for XLR8R, Goodman passed over some of his own tracks. Martin was impressed, and put Goodman in touch with Bill Dolan, who was then working as label manager at London-based distributors Cargo. The tracks became Hyperdub's first single.
"Sine Of The Dub," a sub-zero re-imagining of Prince's "Sign O' The Times," found success in unexpected quarters. "It came out of the dubsep scene, but it wasn't something that people were going to play in those clubs necessarily," Goodman says. "The guys who work at Hard Wax were into it. Through that I met Mark Ernestus, people like that. So it went down well in that world." The record's outsider status has been a boon. "It's probably the release of mine that's gone down the best," he says. "It's had a shelf life, and people keep going back to it, because it was quite an odd release."
Perhaps Goodman learned something from that first single. As he reels off a list of forthcoming Hyperdub releases—conceptually-charged grime from Fatima al Qadiri, leftfield pop from UK funky innovator Cooly G, a new LP from arch provocateurs Hype Williams—it becomes clear that he's still drawn to eccentrics and outsiders. "A lot of the artists we sign are slightly oddball, slightly homeless," he says. "I just got a bit cheesed off with genres, the life cycles of genres. I've been round it enough times to realise that the oddballs in a scene are often doing something which stands outside of the boom-bust lifecycle of a genre."
These days Abdel-Hamid is a lynchpin of Hyperdub, but she arrived during a turbulent period for the label. Even as the success of Burial and the expansion of dubstep brought Hyperdub a new audience, Goodman was beginning to feel ambivalent about the direction of the scene. As early as 2006 he remembers experiencing an "oversaturation with dubstep nights. Just so much intense bass that it would swamp all the other sounds, and the end result would be a bit grey, a bit monochrome. It's not that I wanted to diminish the bassweight thing, but certainly I could already begin to feel that it needed a bit more colour."
This colour surfaced first in Goodman's own productions, notably a videogame-sampling remix of Massive Music's "Find My Way." Other signings soon followed. "I've noticed that I'll tend to release something and then there'll be a wave of signings that I make in the slipstream of that," Goodman says. "It's almost like throwing a stone into the water, seeing how deep the water is, seeing what kind of ripples it has. And then throwing a brick in," he chuckles, "and another brick."
Ikonika's 2008 debut single, Please, was one such brick. Abdel-Hamid was one of the dubstep faithful. She reminisces about being in DMZ's ever-lengthening spiral queue by 9 PM. But the cartoonish melodies of her music stood in stark contrast to the moody minimalism or midrange aggression that was then considered the dubstep norm. She wasn't alone, either. With Bristol's swaggering "purple wow" sound, Zomby's glutinous sonics and the synthetic ballads of Darkstar, a movement seemed to be emerging.
"I was playing all these tunes as well," Abdel-Hamid recalls of her peers. "We really understood each other's music, we were all on the same page. And Kode9 spotted that early and started releasing a lot of this stuff. His sets were, at the time, really colourful. It felt really ravey."
Up to this point Hyperdub had been firmly London-centric, but now Goodman was finding like-minds far beyond the UK. Quarta 330, a Japanese producer who debuted on the label with a garish 8-bit remix of Kode9's "9 Samurai," was one such artist. Connections were also forged with LA's beat scene. Samiyam was signed for the queasy Return, and he and Flying Lotus appeared on 2009's Five Years Of Hyperdub compilation.
Before long, journalists began to group this activity, loosely characterised by lurid synthetic tones, de-quantised beats and bold melodies, under the name "wonky." But Goodman has never embraced the term. Both he and Scott seem to prefer "neon." It's easy to see why: Hyperdub's take on the sound seemed to focus less on its wonky qualities than on its sorrowful potential. Goodman memorably referred to Darkstar's "Aidy's Girl Is A Computer" as sounding like "circuitry crying." When asked about her musical approach, Ikonika once cited a description on the inlay of Five Years Of Hyperdub, "camouflage of a sad song." It's not just that era, either—Scott says recent signing Jessy Lanza has "the grace to sort of pull back a bit. It's shy music, in a sense. There's a sultriness to it. That seems to be a trait of Hyperdub."
So why does Hyperdub release so much sad music? "I'm definitely on the couch now!" Goodman laughs. "I've released a lot of fucking sad music, it's true. What a miserable bastard." He ponders the question, the sound of sawing coming from downstairs. "A lot of dubstep was melancholy, but it wasn't just dark and cold—it was downcast music. That emotion is something that's always made me happy. The melancholy stuff we've released has got this kind of—the same way that rain runs down the window, so what you see on the outside is all blurred. It's got that slightly smeared—that emotional smearing going on."
"Obviously Burial's stuff is the saddest of them all," he continues. "I would get into Burial's stuff when travelling back from gigs overseas and not sleeping. For me it's not night bus music at all, it's early morning airport music. I mean, a lot of the clichés about Burial's music that have come out of the press, like the whole 'nostalgia for the rave period' thing, mean nothing to me. It was more that a lot of this melancholy stuff is like an audio duvet that's just very comforting to listen to when you're fucked up, when you're feeling a bit damaged."
This duvet sensibility is clearest in the more abstract corners of Hyperdub's output—the windswept dub of King Midas Sound, Darkstar's North, Hype Williams' Black Is Beautiful. As Goodman sees it, this "weird listening music" is one of five overlapping waves of Hyperdub's activity. Otherwise, there's the "neon" wave and the dread-filled early years. 2009 saw a streak of UK funky-inspired releases, including Goodman's own "Black Sun" and records from the likes of Cooly G and Ill Blu. More recently, the signing of DJ Rashad signalled a turn towards footwork.
But even these categories don't really encapsulate Hyperdub's breadth in recent years. Few labels can claim to have signed artists as disparate as grime veteran Terror Danjah and US avant-gardist Laurel Halo. "Certain labels, you know what's going to come from them, and that's kind of that. It's not interesting for me," says Scratcha DVA, birth name Leon Smart. "I've always liked different shit. You might only know me for grime, or you might only know me for funky, or Hyperdub releases. But if you listen to my radio shows, I'm playing all different music all the time. Kode9 and Marcus are exactly the same—their influences are ranged from everywhere. So that's why it works, totally."
Hyperdub is the perfect home for Smart, who's been roaming London's dance underground since the early 2000s. Having initially surfaced as a low-key presence in grime, Smart joined Hyperdub in its UK funky phase. At the time he was riding off the success of 2008 funky anthem "I'm Leaving." Needless to say, it was a far odder production that caught Kode9's ear. "I was in the process of making 'Just Vybe,'" Smart recalls, "but my Mac G5 blew up. So it only got as far as the beat." Goodman heard Cooly G playing the track's hollow, lolloping groove and got in touch with Smart, asking to release what would become "Natty." "I said to him, 'I'm actually in the middle of doing this soulful thing, it's not finished.' And he's like, 'Nah, nah, nah, I'm just gonna put it out like that.'"
To hear Smart tell it, Goodman's A&R approach isn't without its idiosyncrasies, something he experienced when he finally got around to finishing "Just Vybe," adding lush chords and a vocal from Fatima to "Natty"'s skeletal frame. "He listened to it and he was like, 'Naaaah,'" he laughs. "That was in the winter—then it became summer and he got it." Once it was finally released on Hyperdub, "Just Vybe" went on to be one of 2010's most memorable dancefloor anthems.
Often, though, Goodman seems to know exactly what he wants from his artists. "He doesn't like it when I try to be normal," says Abdel-Hamid of the process leading up to her second album. "I think he hates that. With Aerotropolis, it's quite familiar sounding, so there was a little bit of a tussle. But I think he realised that I needed to go there. Life after dubstep, almost. So he gave me that space."
DJ Rashad, one of Hyperdub's key artists and the man who inspired a new, footwork-influenced phase in Hyperdub's evolution, tragically passed away this weekend. Steve Goodman remembers the man who became known as one of footwork's most creative and widely-known artists.
"I was honoured to release music from Rashad on Hyperdub. I've only known him for around 3 years, but he had become a good friend and one of my biggest musical influences. He was one of the funniest, most positive people I've ever met and a true innovator. Everyone at the label is devastated by his passing and wish to send our sincere condolences to all his friends and family in Chicago, the Teklife crew and anyone anywhere who was graced by his presence and uplifted by his music. I'll never forget singing duet with him in a karaoke bar in Tokyo."
Allowing artists the freedom to experiment is central to Goodman's approach. This could also explain the label's growing diversity, arguably its defining vector in the past five years. "It's drifted apart," Goodman agrees, "mainly because you give more and more autonomy to the artists." The more established the artist, the more open he is to them "trying something different from what they've done before. And the more you do that the more the whole label starts to diverge."
It's something Goodman is trying to get to grips with as he and Scott assemble a series of compilations to celebrate the label's tenth anniversary. "I didn't mean it to be an eclectic label, and I don't really want it to be an eclectic label. And what has occurred to me is actually there's several labels within a label. So what we've been trying to do is work out what those stylistic clusters are, find the purism in the eclecticism." The first compilation will focus on the label's "dance floor dimension." The likes of Mala, Scratcha, Kuedo and members of DJ Rashad's Teklife crew have contributed tracks unified by, as Goodman puts it, "a dark, aggressive energy." The 2-CD compilation features 16 new tracks alongside a disc of older material. With three more compilations in the works, the amount of ground covered is vast.
Remarkably, as the label continues to diversify, its sense of common purpose seems undiminished. Smart, having hosted Rinse FM's Grimey Breakfast Show for six years, now heads up Hyperdub's monthly slot on the station, where he balances playing Hyperdub material with indulging his own far-ranging tastes. "I would prefer to do that than just my own show," he says. "Because that's my team."
Abdel-Hamid, meanwhile, always looks forward to label shows. "Recently me and Kode9 have been playing loads of shows together, and it's always really nice to get together with people. I think the last mental one was at Outlook festival. We did a boat party and we were hanging out with each other for three days straight. We take the piss out of each other, we have jokes, we get drunk together. It's great. I think if I was stuck in another label where everyone was a little bit dry I'd just lose it."
Goodman agrees. "No matter how broad-based the artists are, when we do events I've always been amazed at how well everything coheres. We've done two tours of Japan, one a couple of years ago and one this year, and both of them worked amazingly in that regard. The first one we had Hype Williams start with a weird drone set and then King Midas Sound, and then me, then Scratcha. Then this year we did Laurel Halo, then Ikonika, then me, then Rashad. That kind of thing works amazingly, because you're giving the full spectrum of the label to audiences, but the intensity kind of builds across the night. It made me realise it's not eclectic at all. In a way it's like a barometer of the intensity of how you want a night to evolve. There's a tension there, but it's always been a productive tension."
Filesize: 78.9 MB
Hype Williams Intro
Kode9 - Black Sun (Edited Mix)
Kyle Hall - Kaychunk
2000F & J Kamata - You Dont Know What Love Is
Laurel Halo - Noyfb
Kode9 - Xingfu Lu (Helix Remix)
Pressure ft Warrior Queen - Money Honey
Ikonika - Millie
Joker - Digidesign
Mala - Expected (Level 10)
Massive Music - Find My Way (Kode9 Remix)
Cooly G - Love Dub
Burial - Nite Train
King Midas Sound - Earth A Kill Ya (Instrumental)
DVA - Mad Hater
Darkstar - Need You
Fatima Al Qadiri - Shanghai Freeway
Walton - City Of God
DJ Rashad ft Spinn & Taso - Feelin
Terror Danjah ft Bruza, D Double E, Hitman Hyper, MC Fun, MC Melo-D, The Ragga Twins, Shabba D, Skibadee & Triple Threat - Creepy Crawler (Jungle Mix)