The films were the work of Lawrence Lek, a London-based media artist best known for creating virtual, video game-like environments that seek to challenge our understanding of the society around us. These ideas are a perfect fit for Hyperdub, which has continually explored themes of urban alienation and futurism through its bleeding-edge output. Lek and Kode9 worked together on audiovisual project The Nøtel, which expanded on the Hyperdub bosses's ongoing interest in nothingness, a concept first explored on 2015's Nothing LP.
At first Lek's pieces seemed to baffle visitors—they huddled at the edge of the space, unwilling to move forward, as if seeking some graspable meaning. But as the night wore on the main room became more of a chill-out area, where dancers took a break from the intensity of the music to chat and idly watch the videos. As people grew more comfortable, these surreal explorations of virtual spaces started to make more sense, provoking tangential conversations and even laughter.
Next door, Kode9 was playing a five-hour set, his first all-nighter in London since 2010. He pushed the crowd from the start, steadily raising the tempo from brutal bass mutations through UK garage, dubstep and grime towards a manic footwork finale. While his sets tend to be restless and fast-paced, traversing myriad genres and moods, at Ø he allowed himself to go deeper on certain styles, such as venomous early dubstep and soul-soaked footwork. His trademark punishing drums were ever-present, though all manner of other sounds found their way into his rampant performance, from church bells and hip-hop a cappellas to the signature strings of Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. He also deployed a few wildly-received crowd-pleasers, like Groove Chronicles' "Stone Cold," Omni Trio's "Renegade Snares" and The Bug's "Skeng," which got its obligatory spinback.
The common thread through Kode9's selections was an air of anxiety. It seeped from the dry rhythms, abrupt melodies and sudden left-turns. If he is constantly looking to the future, it seems like a dark place. Even so, his set was brilliant and the willing crowd showed that there's still as strong an appetite as ever for challenging music. That's always been the secret to Kode9's success: finding and playing records that stimulate people intellectually as much as physically. Some will have left Ø inspired, their heads full of thoughts and ideas, and some will have just left happy and exhausted. As I wandered out into the freezing January morning, I felt a combination of both.