François Kevorkian may have been born in France, but he’s inextricably linked with the sounds of New York disco and house. Coming up with the likes of Larry Levan and David Mancuso at such dance music institutions as the Paradise Garage and Studio 54, his nearly forty years in the city that never sleeps saw his star rise quickly as a producer and remixer, working with artists as diverse as Loleatta Holloway, Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode, while also becoming a revered DJ at his Body & Soul party, held together with veteran selectors Joaquin “Joe” Claussell and Danny Krivit. Having celebrated his sixtieth birthday this year, Kevorkian could easily rest on his laurels. Instead he has taken his now eleven-year-old dub-inflected clubnight Deep Space at Cielo in Manhattan to new heights. Here, for the uninitiated, François K takes you to Deep Space in his own words.
This is the extended version of the text that appeared in the Summer issue of Electronic Beats Magazine. To read a Covering Tracks: Deep Space Special, go here.
Throughout my career, especially when I started going in the studio somewhere around 1978, I found myself very attracted to a lot of production techniques that clearly came from people using a lot of effects processing and delays and things. Whether it was more like traditional dub records from Jamaica or experimental records that came from krautrock in Germany, or whether it was some of the avant-garde free jazz that incorporated elements of tape music, like the Teo Macero productions of Miles Davis. All of these things, they had a confluence: astute producers were making heavy use of electronic music production techniques to enhance the live playing, whether it would be jazz, reggae, rock or whatever else. It was immediately clear in my work in the studio, and I became quickly known for being one of the people within the “dance music’”or “disco” world who could deliver the trippy elements and exaggerated processing.
Others were great at extended versions of songs or transforming them into something that had more muscle for the dancefloor. For me, it was that dub element—be it more electronic, like my work with Yazoo, Kraftwerk or Jean-Michel Jarre, or on a more traditional reggae tip, like with Black Uhuru, Jimmy Cliff, or Bunny Wailer. I could work within a pop context, too, like when I did dub versions for Mick Jagger, Diana Ross and Foreigner. But for the people who were hiring me to do these remixes, this idea of the dub was always the thing on the side, rather than the main A-side version they were normally after. Obviously I was getting hired to do a specific thing for people, even though in some instances I just turned out a dub version and said, “There’s no vocal, that’s my mix.” I did that for several big acts who accepted it and put it out, like The Fatback Band and Midnight Oil—I ended up producing them after that.
Then, in the early 2000s, I was approached by the owner of Cielo, Nicolas Matar, and he offered me a night. We were close friends, and being a DJ himself, he dug what I was doing. It was pretty much with the understanding that it was going to be something related to house music. I think they were really surprised when I came back and said, “First of all, I don’t want to do a big night, like the weekends. I want to do something as obscure and out of the way as possible. Monday sounds great.” Because when you do that, you’re guaranteed that the big weekend crowd and fist-pumping advocates are going to be at home getting ready for their job the next day during the week.
In the context of what the club looks like and how incredible everything is there—the soundsystem, the intimate setting that allows for a lot of seating around the dancefloor area for people not to feel awkward if they don’t dance—I figured I wanted to focus on trying to do something that was going to be totally unique and in some respect related to dub. Even though dub had been a very integral part of my career and what I was doing since the beginning, it was never an acknowledged thing. It was just like a bonus. But I felt it was the time for things to change. Instead of just starting another night where I would just be playing authentic Jamaican reggae from 1975 by Lee “Scratch” Perry, King Tubby, and Niney the Observer, it was more going to be about trying to showcase and connect the dots for people to incorporate that dub aesthetic into all sorts of different backgrounds. Or in conjunction with that, to take songs that would otherwise be very ordinary and to actually do whatever processing and treatment to them, sort of an abbreviated version of what I’m doing in the studio, but live and in front of people. Which is why it says, “François K live on the mixing board.” It’s not that I’m playing multi-tracks and doing remixes, but with technology today there are a great deal of things that are available in order to do things that are pretty close to that. And after having done a few thousand remixes and spent a few decades of my life in the studio, I have a basic understanding of what it takes to do it. There’s a real separation between the idea of DJing—i.e. playing records—and being in the studio where you’re fully making sounds from scratch. What I’m striving to do is show that those boundaries don’t exist; that you really should be able to do a little bit of all that while you’re in front of people.
Deep Space represented an opportunity to bring this to the forefront. We courted dub poets, DJs, or other artists who we felt were compatible with that aesthetic and somehow they’d accept and do, say, “special” sets around this point of view. In that sense, another turning point, even though we were already established, was somewhere around 2006 when we started hearing all of these rumblings from London and all these strange new types of music that no one had ever heard before, like Digital Mystikz and dubstep. It made sense to me right away, but the crowd took a little time to catch on. When I started championing that music it sent a lot of people into a tailspin—they thought that Deep Space had sold out because now we were playing this so-called crap dubstep. They weren’t used to it, they just wanted the smoothness of what they already knew. Until we actually proved that there were a great deal of people who wanted to hear this music I needed to get people’s ears used to that new sound. We became, in New York, a very significant supporter of many artists visiting from the UK or other parts that were very much into that dubstep sound. Because no one else wanted to book them, it was pretty easy for us to get almost anyone we wanted. People were just delighted that there was anyone in New York interested in giving them a chance to play. Most clubs just want to have house and techno. Ultimately, I’m trying to approach sets at Deep Space with a totally open mind. It’s really a matter of consciously aiming to create a certain amount of contrast because I think it’s really necessary in music, especially as everyone else is striving for uniformity and sameness. I think that my mission, my role, is exposing that, even if it means taking risks.
The evolution of what’s been happening at Deep Space has actually caused me to reconsider a lot of what I was doing previously as a DJ, music creator, and generally. It has made me realize how much I value improvisation, the instant of creation, that moment where you’re standing in front of a crowd and there’s thirty seconds left to play on the record. You haven’t yet decided what you’re going to play next, and you have to look through all of your records and find something and put it on, mix it in, and make it all sound effortless and entertaining. It’s an unbelievable amount of pressure. When that happens somehow you shed all the unnecessary baggage and what comes out is the one thing that you know you should be playing because, really, if you’re a DJ, you know what that is. Sometimes things that came from that voice were very crazy, completely strange, and totally odd. But if somehow I was going to be truthful about trying to be an artist, I needed to defer to that voice and not stay focused on logic. Showing that inner part of the creative process is what it is to be a DJ, for me. It’s still a work in progress. When you do stuff like this, you go in front of an audience and you don’t know what you’re going to do but that’s what’s honest about it. When I step in front of the crowd there, I am actually striving to give them my soul—not some pre-programmed, pre-packaged, pre-digested slice of predictable fodder that might make them feel good at that very moment, but they’ll have forgetten about ten minutes later. I’m going to give them something that might shock them, that might profoundly offend them, or make them feel uncomfortable, or totally thrilled, blissful, and in heaven. Deep Space definitely has been the vehicle that has allowed me to do this. ~
Light a candle. Draw the required sigils. Now, raise your arms above your head and slowly, gently, exhale your soul. You won’t need it here. This is Audioccult, and it’s time to get low. Illustration: SHALTMIRA
Few things are more comforting ‘pon a chilly autumnal eve than a warm cup of good English & an X-File on in the background. My ears certainly need a break from my headphones; despite a few low points the last week (apparently “Nick Blinko’s cover art for Salò’s’ Procne EP is really inspiring my thought process lately” is not an acceptable addition for your CV) I’ve been fairly fucking upbeat from all of the wonderful music that has been finding its way into my life. The new releases from Nguzunguzu, Death Grips, Azar Swan, ERAAS, and Kerridge . But there’s one that I think is worth devoting this edition of my column to—not just because the music itself is great, but because it showcases just how far the artist—that would be Johnny Love, AKA Deathface— has come since his early work.
At least in dance circles, Love is probably best know for his Trouble & Bass EP Fall of Man and its New Order-sampling rager “Bloodrave“. That’s certainly how I first discovered him. Fall of Man‘s filthy dubstep grinds and hardcore-inspired vocals were instrumental in helping form the aural shape of PURGE, the first party I ever did with my partners in Berlin. Dance purists, however, are not overly fond of Americans touching dubstep, and what might contextually be seen as industrial thrash-punk by one pair of ears could also be perceived as overly-aggressive bro-rave by those with more subtle taste. I myself like the nastier, less club-friendly mutations of dubstep. There’s also some damn good underground groups contorting the genre to fit their own misshapen forms, But whatever you think of his earlier work, his nineteen-track album Cry For Black Dawn is more grave than rave. Some of the hardcore elements Love expanded on with last year’s From Beneath EP are intact, but the industrial influences are clearer than ever, and come in flavors classic—samples of pig squeals, minimal EBM, a fantastic cover of “Warm Leatherette”—and contemporary, from rattling trap snares to digital hardcore. Like the recent CREEP debut Echoes, there’s a bevy of guest vocalists who each bring something unique to their track, including LIL INTERNET, Tamara Sky, Heartsrevolution, and (my favorite, duh) Pictureplane. It’s also, Love says, extremely difficult to shop around to labels thanks to the stigma that dubstep has developed. “I’ve had multiple people—including one today who I sent my record to—tell me ‘It’s all dubstep’ or ‘This is hard satanic shit.’ You can tell they didn’t even listen to the record.”
For all the darq bros out there with a fever for the flavor of fresh new industrial that displays its various, multi-generational influences proudly and well, Cry For Black Dawn is going to be an essential release. If you’re a regular reader of this column, I highly recommend you check out this album when it comes out because you will almost certainly love it. Legalize dapping in goth clubs. ~
In this feature taken from our new Summer, 2013 issue of Electronic Beats Magazine, we arranged a meeting of post-dubstep and electro-goth minds. Above: Austra (left) and Mount Kimbie (L-R: Kai Campos and Dominic Maker) both photographed by Hans Martin Sewcz in Berlin.
Second albums: with very few exceptions, respectable musicians have to make them. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy, especially not for acts whose debut releases have critics’ expectations for follow-ups sky-high. For Kai Campos of post-dubstep reformers Mount Kimbie and Katie Stelmanis of shadowy electro-goths Austra, however, the hype has been less of a double- edged sword than for most. Keeping their safe distance from the flighty sensibilities of their respective scenes, both have managed to make impressively unself-conscious second LPs with a focus on analog electronics. In the case of Mount Kimbie’s Cold Spring Fault Less Youth, this has meant moving away from the limitations of exclusively computer-based composition and plug-in abuse towards a poetics of imperfection offered by electric instruments and hissy outboard gear. Oh yeah, and the human voice—an instrument whose potential for perfection the classically trained vocalist Katie Stelmanis has actively sought to temper on Austra’s recently released Olympia. Here, the two let us know where they’re at and how they got there.
Katie Stelmanis: Kai, in terms of the UK music scene, dubsteb and garage belong to a culture I’ve been watching and glorifying from afar and obsessing over—especially growing up in a place like Toronto and coming from a classical music background. I’d be interested in knowing how much of the music you make derives from being part of a scene. Or is it a more independent thing?
Kai Campos: I grew up in a really rural part of England where there was no real music scene of any kind. So most of my alternative music education came from the radio, especially John Peel and Gilles Peterson. I would always tape them—especially John Peel because he played such a diverse collection of music. In a sense I took it for granted that people listen to music like that. But I think, by definition, you make music to fit a certain context. The thing is, our music never really worked in clubs, so you wouldn’t hear it in places we went to. We’ve only been in London since late 2006, so that was kind of the start of the end of what was interesting in dubstep. When we made our first LP, we were starting to lose interest, really. We actually decided to stop playing club shows for that very reason: playing before or after a DJ just sucked every single time. We just had to recontextualize what we were doing. It had nothing to do with what was going on around us. And since we’ve started Mount Kimbie, we’ve not been at home so much, so I’m not so clued up as to what goes on. We’re good friends with musicians, but there’s not much of a sense of community. Or rather, there is a community, but it doesn’t have much to do with what we do artistically.
KS: I’m curious to know what it was like making your second record, as that one’s always associated with certain difficulties. I know I didn’t feel any pressure making Olympia, because there were so many things I wanted to change from the first one.
KC: It’s remarkably similar for us actually. We finished Crooks and Lovers what feels like ages ago and then we felt like we were done with that kind of music; we’d said about as much as we’d wanted to say, really. And then we toured it and that was the longest I’d ever gone without writing music. When we stopped touring we dropped off the radar a bit, which was good for us. We didn’t have a label because our deal with Hotflush was over at the time—after two EPs and an album. It was a very amicable thing. But I will say that dealing with hype isn’t always easy. We want people to like the music and for it to be a success and to have this as our jobs. It’s important to make good decisions. But it’s all stuff that comes after you’ve made the record.
KS: I don’t think Austra ever really got too hyped. That’s why I never felt like we had to live up to hype or some idea. With Olympia, we just wanted to do something bigger. We toured Feel It Break for so long that the songs became something very different on the road, which was a good thing.
KC: I think being onstage is sometimes the only place where you can hear how other people hear you music.
KS: That’s true, because you also rarely know what format people are listening to you on. I’m imagining people listening with headphones . . .
KC: If you’re lucky! I think most people do it over laptop speakers and only listen for thirty seconds before, like, making a comment about it on Facebook or Soundcloud.
KS: At least you have good radio. I’m very jealous of the radio you have in the UK.
KC: They do their best to make it worse. Was radio an important thing for you growing up?
KS: Well, I came to making electronic music by accident when I was nineteen or twenty. I came out of the classical world and wanted to write orchestral music, which I then started to do with MIDI. But in Toronto, nobody was doing that. There was an insane amount of pressure from people to play “real” instruments. All I heard was, “Your voice would sound so pretty on these types of sounds.” But there’s been this massive cultural shift since then.
KC: I was playing in bands for a while until around sixteen when I had a really good teacher who taught me about multi- track recording on a little tape deck. From that point on, after I figured out how to overdub, I asked myself, “Why would
I ever be in a band again?” Then I started making really, really bad electronic music for around the next ten years. Now it’s come back full circle. By the way, I hope I didn’t disappoint you before about the “scene” in London . . .
KS: It makes me happy, because now I don’t have to be jealous. But I feel like I would never even be part of it anyway because
I’m not super into club culture. I’m a homebody. I love dance music and electronic music but I rarely experience it in a club.
KC: There are a lot of people like that—especially DJs and producers over here. DJs obviously have to go to the clubs to work, but a lot of them wouldn’t be there if they weren’t working.
KS: Are you guys into mostly analogue stuff or do you do a lot of programming and plug-in work?
KC: Our first set-up was almost all digital, but with this album, all the mixing and mastering was analogue. I think before you make the leap, the difference is not something you hear that much. But then you notice them in certain contexts. And even if there’s only, say, a ten percent difference when using digital, I wonder why anybody would sacrifice that ten percent.
KS: It’s one thing to sacrifice ten percent of a sound for a single instrument. It’s an entirely different thing when you do that for all instruments.
KC: Yeah. And lots of software today leaves little to no room for it to be misused. Loads of moments on our last record were just accidents. We were abusing our equipment—pushing it to do things it wasn’t designed to do and that’s when you find your own unique voice.
KS: I feel like there’s been a big shift towards analogue recording methods recently, at least amongst artists I’ve talked to. Five years ago they were like, “I can do everything on my computer in GarageBand! It’s amazing!” And now, suddenly, they’re feeling very different about the sounds they use. Now everybody has access to a laptop, so you have to try harder to make something different.
KC: These things really do go in circles. When you’re younger you end up making sweeping statements about what you’re never going to do, but I try not to do that anymore.
KS: Ten years ago I used to say I could never identify with folk music. But these days I absolutely love it.
KC: What do you love about it?
KS: The songwriting and the way that artists are really communicating a story, like the last Perfume Genius record, Put Your Back N 2 It. I used to pay much less attention to lyrics, but now it’s become an important part of what I focus on as an artist.
KC: There have been times in the past where I could sing along to an entire album and still not really know any of the lyrics. When we were writing the songs for this album, there was a lot of space where the vocals should be, but we didn’t want to have an album featuring a bunch of different people. I had all these ideas for the vocal parts and because I’m a bit of a control freak, I just ended up doing it myself. That was quite a new thing. It wasn’t particularly scary because it felt like the right thing to do. I felt like with this record we just had to put more on the line. Honestly, I really enjoy the vocal performances where people can’t sing. Even though I sometimes wish I had gone for singing lessons before. But it is what it is. Now I know that for the next time.
KS: I love non-singers, though I come from the opposite end of the spectrum, and I’ve been criticized for singing “effortlessly”. That’s an aspect I’ve also heard in other singers: great voices that do absolutely nothing for me.
KC: It’s like with equipment: when people don’t know how to use it, it’s interesting. I like using something before I’ve read the manual. It’s like a route to . . . yourself.~
Read the entire issue of the Summer 2013 edition of EB Magazine below, and watch a video of Austra’s performance from EB Festival Cologne 2012. Read Daniel Jones’ review of Olympia here.
We untangle the history and many activities of the leading British DJ and producer and get his reflections on his label Hyperdub, one of the most consistently rewarding imprints in underground music.
Photo by Georg Gatsas.
Kode9, aka Steve Goodman, is well-known as a producer, DJ, and the founder of leading electronic music label Hyperdub Records, but his talents and interests have seen his operations expand far beyond. Tracing his history from his youth outside of Glasgow to key rave introductions in Edinburgh and PhD studies with illustrious British philosopher Nick Land at Warwick University—where both were part of the now recognizably-seminal thoery/cyberpunk/pop culture cooperative Cybernetic Culture Research Unit—Goodman’s subsequent move to London only stoked his already deep engagement with British dance music.
In 2006, the year dubstep broke, Kode9 was at its forefront while Goodman also held down a full-time job as a lecturer in sonic culture at University of East London. In 2009 the “sonic research collective” of which he is a member, later to name themselves AUDiNT, had their first installation in Berlin’s Akademie der Künste, and the following year he published his first book Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear—a theoretical text based on the politics of frequency. In 2011, a commission from Poland’s Unsound Festival resulted in Her Ghost, an ongoing collaborative reinterpretation—with video artists MFO and theorist/performer Ms. Haptic (Jessica Edwards)—of Chris Marker’s groundbreaking 1962 science fiction film La Jetée.
Tell me about the first proper party you went to.
I think the first proper thing would have been the first time i took ecstasy, 1992 I think, club called Chocolate City in Edinburgh. They were playing Herbie Hancock, Jbs, etc. I particularly remember the synth on Fred Wesley’s “Blow You Head”. Anyway, the next day I bought turntables. I had some vinyl, but properly started collecting after that night: funk, jazz, hip hop, house, and early hardcore like SL2 “On a Ragga Tip”. I also used to go a club called Pure in Edinburgh occasionally, which was my first exposure to extreme glow stick, hardcore nosebleed techno, and a big rave near Edinburgh called Rezerection.
K—it was a melting pot of Ks. Josef K from Kafka, K from the german spelling of cybernetics, K from K-waves in Kondratieff theory in economics, Ko from the I Ching, etc etc. K was in the air.
What was the impact of the CCRU in your life?
Well, my early experience was seeing [noted writer, theorist, artist, and lecturer] Kodwo [Eshun] and Mark talk about dance music culture using the kind of theory I was into, but hadn’t yet bridged into using it in relation to music. so CCRU fused my interests in philosophy and jungle into one. That must have been around 1995.
What do you think it is about British dance music that lends itself to theory?
Intensity. Where the words you have available are unable to capture the intensity of experience you are undergoing, so you have to fabricate a new language, a new conceptual schema to catch up with the sonics. Of course most philosophy is not engaged in anything so interesting.
Intensity could be a word used to describe rave culture in general. Is this specific to British dance music, or a general rave thing?
There have been various moments of psychedelic theorizing in conjunction with music. i think mid-’90s UK was one of these theory/music singularities, just like the late ’60s was for the acid explosion.
Both of these seem to be tied to drugs?
Yeah, the conjunction of drugs, sonics, electronics, and concepts against the backdrop of socio-economic upheaval.
Is this something you feel you can tap into now or any time after experiencing it, or do you wait for it to come along?
Well, right now I’m trying not to theorize very much around music. I’m trying to empty out and focus on simply making tracks, because when the conjunction doesn’t work its quite destructive of music making. Zen and the art of making beats.
Before you were an artist, there was Hyperdub. Hyperdub was a party and a webzine before it was a label. Can you talk a little bit about those early days?
Hyperdub started as a web mag in 2001 in Brixton. I wanted to collect together my favorite writers such as Simon Reynolds, Kodwo, and Mark alongside coverage of late UK garage as grime and dubstep were starting to wriggle out of the carcass. We also did some nights at the Bug Bar in Brixton with Darren [Cunningham aka Actress] and Gavin [Weale, co-founder of Werk], and had Benny Ill from Horsepower play at one of them. This was in 2001, before [seminal UK dubstep/grime club night] FWD>> started. We called the night Hyperdub 130 because I was playing garage, broken beat, and early dubstep, Darren was playing techno and house, and Gavin was playing electro, breaks—so really the only thing that held it together was a rough tempo. We also did a night at the ICA called “Speed Tribes” where Darren performed live, and Mark, Kodwo, etc, gave talks, and we showed [Black Audio Film Collective’s essay-film on Afro-futurism] The Last Angel of History.
Weren’t you a resident at FWD>> in the early days?
Yeah, I played some of the early ones. There was around 12 of us on rotation.
You also used to have a regular slot on [former pirate, now licensed London-based radio station] Rinse, which is now operated by the same posse as FWD>>. You’ve DJ’d and had artists like Wiley on the mic.
I was on Rinse from 2003-2008 hosting the FWD>> show. At that early point FWD>>/Ammunition were separate entities—they only became the one entity later on, I think.
I guess your earliest known tracks were on the Rephlex Grime 2 compilation?
Well, I had a release on Tempa with Benny Ill and the Culprit around 2002/3, and then the first Hyperdub release in 2004. the Rephlex Grime compilation came after that. Before all that, CCRU had a label called Katasonix that did one release in 1999—I had a track on that, so did Mark.
Who still has that??
Don’t know—I still have a copy of the record somewhere. It think 90% of them are under someone’s bed somewhere.
That’s one way of putting it.
Kevin Martin [The Bug/King Midas Sound] once told me that he had urged you to start Hyperdub to put your own tracks.
It’s Kevin’s fault I started the label. I went to interview him for XLR8R in 2002, I think, and gave him a CD with “Sine of the Dub” on it. He linked me with a distributor and suggested I start a label to put it out.
At what point did DJing become as big of a concern, something more than a hobby, as big as your academic career?
Well, I’ve been DJing for over 20 years, but maybe only seriously since around 2003 when I was only playing brand new, unreleased dubplates of a scene that was still congealing. And then a couple of years later, when we actually started getting bookings, etc. It’s been a gradual increase, really.
I was really impressed by your life a few years back. It seemed like you were juggling three full-time jobs: teaching/lecturing, DJing, and running the label.
I found it slowly became unmanageable juggling all of these things, and doing them to a standard that didn’t constantly feel like you could be doing everything much better. Teaching got the chop last year—it was becoming a bit of a rut, teaching the same thing every year.
Has working on your own music taken the place of teaching?
Thats the intention. It’s been good the last few months. I remembered how to finish tracks again, but I’d been away from it for a couple of years, so I kind of had to go through the same process as back in the mid ’90s when I started dabbling with sampling, etc. I had to teach myself from scratch again. The hardest thing is learning how to disconnect from communication devices from long enough to create something instead of RT’ing. Twitter is full of producers just twiddling their thumbs in between presets
I’ve seen you DJ literally dozens of times. You’re one of the few DJs worth seeing that often because you keep it fresh. What does that kind of drive as a DJ mean for your work as a producer? And how will you know if you’ve mastered the art of producing to the same level you’ve mastered DJing?
Thank you, that’s very kind. Well, I’ve never really played much of my own music. DJing like this sets the bar very high as a producer, and my own productions rarely fit into my sets for various reasons. I’m rarely happy with the technical side of my production, in terms of playing it in a club. Some of the things you have to do to make your tracks really bang in a club are also some of the things that make tracks outside of that context dry to listen to—like isolating every sound, avoiding too much clashing of frequencies, etc. I’ve got a lot to learn on the technical side of things. I will know I’m there when I’m happy to do a DJ set of all my own productions. I’m a long way off that. It may never happen, but it’s about the thrill of the quest.
In his own words, Kode9 on key Hyperdub tracks and artists.
Cooly G – “Narst”
It’s such a hard question because we’ve released so much stuff now. My head is in a spin just thinking about it. Cooly G’s “Narst” and Scratcha’s “Natty” are two amazing tracks that bring back good memories of when funky was exciting. Except Cooly was never a UK funky artist, really. Her tracks weren’t that important to the scene as such, but maybe like a lot of Hyperdub artists she was on the periphery doing her own thing—dark yet soulful. Her stuff is generally much more minimal than most of the funky that was floating around; really tracky, yet slinky. Both myself and Marcus [Scott, Hyperdub’s label manager] had heard some of her stuff on MySpace, and we reached out to her on the strength of the tunes she had on her page. I think I just had a screw face when I heard “Narst” for the first time [laughs]; I think that’s the appropriate response.
The Bug, featuring Killa P & Flowdan – “Skeng” (originally released as a 12″ on Hyperdub)
He’s a free spirit, Kevin Martin. After the initial push he provided, I was just really happy to release him and Warrior Queen on the label. I don’t think the “Money Honey” release was their best work by a long way, but at that moment it fused grime and dub techno with a dancehall flavor, and that was where our heads were at in 2004/5. We would share a lot of tracks we were both making and I enjoyed what he had been doing with his Rephlex releases at that time. Enjoy isn’t really the right word, actually. I respected their intensity. I remember at the launch party for the first Rephlex Grime compilation at The End where his sadistic obsession with mid-range frequencies actually made me collapse in the club. I got carried out by the bouncer and came to in the gutter. That was a personal highlight, obviously. “Skeng” is probably the track I’ve had the most fun playing over the years—I had an amazing trip to Japan with Kevin that led to my “Skeng” remix where we went around getting taxi drivers, school girls, and pretty much everyone we came across to say “skeng” into our voice recorders. You can hear that in the intro to my remix.
Darkstar – “Need You”
The first Darkstar release was pretty emotional. “Need You” just fused my obsession with synthetic speech and vocoders with garage, 8bit sounds and a sad song. It came in a run of tracks that started with the computer game sampling I did on “Find My Way” and ran through Quarta 330, Ikonika, Zomby, and that generation of artist releases from 2006 to 2008. But Darkstar had their own path they wanted to follow, and while “Need You” and “Aidy’s Girl” are amazing tracks, it’s probably good they didn’t rinse that sound—because if they did, we wouldn’t be looking back so fondly on those tunes.
Burial – “South London Boroughs”
Burial used to send me letters with drawings and CDRs of tunes from back in 2002. There was quite a few CDRs, actually—I noticed in 2004 that I was still listening to some of them, and was playing “South London Boroughs” in my sets, and was listening to “Broken Homes” a lot. And I got the idea that the label should not just be for my own stuff. He was a fan of the website and the stuff like El-B that we were featuring. The writing was like a magnet, or to use a Burial-esque image, it was a searchlight into the darkness that picked him up. We sent out the troops to capture him, interrogated him, and then locked him up.
His music has a weird, intoxicating, obsessive effect on his fans and some writers—there was one Belgian journalist who really, really took offence to the Hyperdub robot woman who used to grace our promos. We’d sent him the Burial album, and he was so disgusted that we’d drawn a moustache on the Mona Lisa that he refused to review it. We get a lot of abuse generally for not providing 24/7 access to Burial’s hard drive.
Hype Williams – “Bad Mind”
Kelly Price W8 Gain Vol II, what a fuckin’ record—thats the kind of record that makes me happy. Like, if you don’t like that record, you can just fuck off [laughs]. The Hype Williams and Laurel Halo stuff were less surprising for me than for most people, I suppose. For me, I was just reconnecting with where the label started, which wasn’t really a dance music label in any conventional sense. The timbre of both the Laurel Halo and Hype Wiiliams albums fits quite comfortably into our back catalog. Hyperdub is not a group of friends that decided to start a label. It’s not a clique like that. It’s the other way around really whereby the label has forced a lot of artists from very different music backgrounds together, and helped them find connections and musical friends they didn’t know they had.~
Kode9’s new single Xingfu Lu is out now via Hyperdub. His new Rinse mix CD is out on May 20th. This summer, AUDiNT publish their book Dead Record Office—which charts the history of the weaponization of sonic hauntology from World War II to the present day and catalogues their 2011 installation in New York—through Art in General Press.
From the perspective of an American, the UK dance music scene can get rather complicated—particularly with something like dubstep, which according to many English people is something we’re not really allowed to do.
When sounds and ideas do filter out of the morass, however, it’s hard not to be inspired. Burial’s Untrue brought the sounds of ambient garage and two-step to thousands of virgin ears, while 2010 ushered in new interest with the rise of Night Slugs and their stream of hyper-kinetic ‘future bass’ releases. Hearing Girl Unit’s “Wut” for the very first time was on par with my young punk self discovering Bauhaus (though admittedly without the pleasure of making fun of David J’s perm). Three years later and I’m holding Kahn‘s self-titled EP, a deft combination of reggaefied dubstep and grime with trip-hop and pop elements woven throughout to brighten up an otherwise gritty aural landscape. With a slightly nostalgic air hovering about it (“No More” in particular, with its Tricky B-side vibe and Portishead samples), the EP has something of the feel of a love letter to the Bristol-based producer’s influences.
It’s certainly a tragic romance; apart from the booming and bombastic single “Badman City”, Kahn lurks in the waters of half-tempos and melancholy. This has the effect of making a couple of the tunes feel a bit listless at times. Guest vocalists are supposed to lend weight, but here they’re occasionally crushed. The slouching and sullen flow of Jabu (fellow Bristolians Amos Childs and Alex Rendall) takes a backseat to the spacey stabs and liquid production of “Snake Eyes”. Black Canvas‘ Rider Shafique breaths more life into the sparse, roots-influenced “Prophet”, preaching arcane doom upon mankind beneath snapping hi-hats and rumbling bass, yet again it’s the instrumental that captures the most attention. Roll Deep MC Flowdan is the exception, spitting out a powerful growl on “Badman City” that almost feels as though it could stand on its own. The track itself is classically massive, with booming bass and compressed synths that hark back to earlier productions like “Dread“—the mood is still heavily ominous, but this is a party. It’s difficult not to consider it the highlight of the EP; Kahn has shown that he can turn a banger like a beast, and experiencing this huge tune in the middle of more introspective vibes is a bit awkward. It’s rather like having your rave shut down by the cops ten minutes after the headliner comes on.
What keeps the ear engaged is Kahn’s talent for subtle moments of emotion. The half-buried plaintive vocal moans that twist into desert wails, the delicate vocal interlude of “Cover Me”, “No More”‘s shuffling, intimate half-step…each lend a touch of bleak beauty to what might otherwise be merely a collection of nice, bass-heavy tracks. It’s always enjoyable to see musicians step outside their comfort zones to tread new paths, and while this one is still strongest when he’s making subwoofers strain, Kahn shows that he can make heartstrings twang as well. While the five tracks within don’t contain any revelations, they do pack a lot of loveliness, a few surprises, and one powerful floorkiller to boot. ~
Kahn is out now via Black Box. You can listen to “Badman City” here.