Go! Magazine wrote:Kode9
I think, therefore dubstep
Kode9 brings the future, but the future doesn't look any better. It's raining on neon city, human being wears bionic implants under the skin and aryan race is an illusion sabotaged by the afrofuturism reality. His dubstep, condensed in the glacial "Memories of the future", compresses a thousand and one ideas attached to science fiction ideology, evokes a dubious and slightly esoteric tomorrow, like if space-time continuity could be altered any minute. Half Philip K. Dick, half Iker Jiménez, Steve Goodman came to put a serious patina, drag and mystery to the rhythm of the moment.
Text by Javier Blánquez.
Kode9 was theoretical before DJ. An alias only for the net, and only for texts, conceived by Steve Goodman on those days when cultural studies related to cybernetics boom and the post-internet information society were on the agenda in the UK, and specially related to the transformation of organic music in electronic music. The same that happened to journalist Kodwo Eshun -with who he shared a spot in e-zine Cybernetic Cultural Research Unit (www.ccru.net
), breeding ground for any kind of postmodern lucubrations about rhythm genetics-, Goodman changed his field of vision with the irruption of jungle at the beggining of the nineties, and since then his musical quest went parallel to the mutations of rave culture in the UK. If Eshun, in his mindblowing essay "More brilliant than the sun" (99), puts forward as conceptual axis the ideas of sonic fiction and afrofuturism, the key concept to Kode9 is 'hyperdub'. He explains it like this: "What I call hyperdub is the particular dimension on the continuity of UK hardcore scene influenced directly by Jamaican soundsystem culture. Hyperdub is not a genre, but a cultural virus: it's a musical transformation force identified with Jamaican music, bass pressure and the use of computers".
Let's make it intelligible. The idea of 'hardcore continuum' coined by journalist Simon Reynolds, implies that since the born of of rave music until now UK music has evolved in a continuum of numerous variations but no breaking point, a temporal diagram with a straight line which begins with hardcore breakbeat, follows with jungle, drum'n'bass, speed garage, 2step, UK garage, grime and finally dubstep. Kode9 doesn't just admit this continuity, but also encouraged it for years, first with a second e-zine, this one exclusively his (www.hyperdub.net
, now defuncted and converted in his label's web) and dedicated to publicize interviews and news related to the UK garage universe -more specifically, it was where Junior Boy, Dizzee Rascal, Ms. Dynamite and Skepta got famous-, and second with his mixes and music. Kode9, as any other bored junglist at the end of the nineties with the way drum'n'bass was taking, jumped into 2step. "Between 1998 and 2000 I had the feeling I was listening the same tune on every record. What sounded fresh a few years ago was sounding more stuck every time. It was like everybody on drum'n'bass scene wanted to sound deliberately dark, evil and extreme, and felt stupid. I had to change direction quickly".
In 2000, betting on UK garage was risky: the more R&B influenced 2step carried the burden of being a mainstream genre, and by then still wasn't any sign of artists like, i.e., The Streets, Digital Mystikz, Burial or Hatcha. But it existed, buried in London underground, the seed of dubstep, a seed called Horsepower Productions. "For me they were a revelation; that was the sound I was looking for: rhytmic, passionate, very minimalistic and with some voices. I think I heard them for the first time in 2001; then I interviewed them for Hyperdub, I made them a remix which was released on Tempa by 2002 I was completely into that scene yet".
Genetics and larynx
In 2002 the word dubstep was already coined; what it didn't have was an audience or an interest by the press, and hardly existed a scene out of the small borders of the label Tempa, the night Forward>> and the Big Apple shop in Croydon. What existed, however, was a reinforced breakstep aeshtetic -from El-B, Zed Bias, Ed Case and more- which modelled 2step in a more experimental, polirhytmic, bass driven way, and from there started to emerge all the slow trickle. Anybody surprised by the sudden boom of dubstep on 2006 must be warned that history was being written under the table since 4 years sgo, and that Kode9 was one of the few Djs and theoreticals who were writing the statements for it, together with Martin 'Blackdown' Clark. He was also one of the invited to cross the border of dubplates and get in Cd format on the second compilation "Grime" (Rephlex, 04), and in a certain way there is where starts the truly story of that Kode9 who, besides thinking and writing, also performs and composes. "Those compilations were sold under a wrong name, but I consider it to be a lesser evil: they helped a lot to the developement of the secene. You don't need to radically split grime and dubstep: both come from garage, but their background is different. For me they're two London micro-scenes connected. I play them equally".
In fact, Kode9 is one of the few DJs on the dubstep scene who has no problems to promote the vocal side, together with Digital Mystikz. If the latters have Sgt. Pokes as Mc, he has The Spaceape, heir of dub-poetry of Linton Kwesi Johnson and the ideal complement for a music wich is the soundtrack for a world scared of the future, submerged in a shadow of doubt. Indeed, "Backward" was used on the OST from Alfonso Cuarón's masterpiece "Children of men". "The Spaceape is a friend of mine from a long time, and I like his lyrics because they're abstract, not very clear on their meanings, and I think they work very well with my music. He is not a spokesman for my ideas, The Spaceape is author and responsible of his own messages: there's not a correspondence between my intentions and his, but I do think it's important that together, his word and my sound, offer something else that what is heard at the clubs". Indeed, "Memories of the future" (Hyperdub / Red, 06) is not an uptempo album; more of a depressive and contrite one, the equivalent in dubstep to Photek's clinical coldness in drm'n'bass days. Not in vain, both are linked by fascination for Japan and choreography of sword war: while Photek had his "Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu", Kode9 has "9 samurai", an smoked iceberg which looks like a funeral praise for the current time.
"Our album", assures Kode9, "is a projection of the future from our today. I don't see it fully distopian, but one thing is for sure: I can't stop thinking that the title is a paradox, since those memories of the future are in fact realities. The title is based on 'Blade Runner', a very important movie for those of us who started on the jungle scene. But Blade Runner's future is not that impossible to imagine anymore; a little more each time, that future starts to put on top of our persent. It scares me a little". This thought links with another of the grounds of Kode9's speech: even though he is a Glasgow scottish white as milk, his music belongs inside the large tradition of futurist black music, Eshun's afrofuturism, or that musical science fiction from an afroamerican root which starts on the idea of black man feeling like an alien in this world and, therefore, looking for inspiration in equals. "In this society there's enough shit to feel like an alien and a stranger, yeah. I think that's the only sci-fi that matters now. Sixties and seventies naivety has been lost, the humanist speculation from "2001: A space oddysey". That doesn't make a lot of sense anymore, even less when current society is so extremely confusing . That's why I'm attracted by the idea of afrofuturism, because this idea was the first which, in music, assumed that you can feel like an alien in your own planet".
Kode9 had the kindness to record for Go Mag a mixtape of his favorite tunes of the past few months that came up from the dubstep swarm, close in plot and content to his fantastic "Dubstep allstars vol. 3" (Tempa, 06): if you spend the money, you'll be able to acquire it with this month's issue. You'll also be able to listen to the streaming through the Sónar web (www.sonar.es
), since it's one of the menus selcted this year for the section "Música a la carta". This mix condenses a lot of ideas, but specially two: Steve Goodman is an oldschool DJ with a polished mixing technique -he ordered a new mixer to get an even better sound quality of what he already could get from his old one- and he knows exactly how the scene is moving; he controls the different trends and he's alert about its current possibilities and its future prospects. Here you have some gems to conclude these lines. First, about the risks that can entail an excessive boom of dubstep. "I'm afraid that the history can be repeated like it happened to drum'n'bass: first a creative explosion, then a stoppage. I detect a lot of similar dubstep out there, that's why records like Burial's are so exceptional for me. I'd be surprised if history wouldn't repeat, because I can see on dubstep the same trends that killed jungle. Something I see clearly is that, in case of dubstep being exceeded, something new will be born. Hyperdub has a long life still". What risks is Kode9 talking about? "I'm afraid that one of the different families of dubstep will gain more prominence than the rest. Right now is happening with wobblestep, that humming bass sound making wow-wow-wow. It could become a formula which lead to an impasse. What I don't see that dangerous, and on the contrary very interesting, is the texture and rhytmic fusion with techno, technostep. I don't see it deliberately dark, but very investigating. Labels like Skull Disco and Punch Drunk are on a very good moment right now". And he concludes his diagnosis like this: "I don't think there's gonna be a world expansion of dubstep, but it's gonna become a succesful community for a while, which will attrach fans from all over the world. It's the good thing, and also the bad thing, of being an underground genre in continuous mutation. And let's not forget that the best from Skream, Burial and Digital Mystikz is yet to come". Holy word...