As well as being Kode9, Hyperdub label boss and producer Steve Goodman is also an academic, holding a PhD in Philosophy and publishing a book on his own mimetic approach to sound, Sonic Warfare. Aside from being the type of thing to get pretentious music blogs hot under the collar, the title of his book is a perfect summation of the lurching, ominous sound of dubstep, a movement that Goodman was instrumental in bringing to the fore of the British underground music scene. For anyone who has heard a DMZ production through a proper sound system, the phrase will make perfect sense. Whilst brutal ‘sonic warfare’ may have defined Kode9’s early career, in his role as label boss he has become more subtle, veering towards the more recondite corners of bass music; a fact that is evident in recent Hyperdub releases and the array of artists on show in Camden. With Actress absent and Chicago Footwork DJs Rashad and Spinn closing, the bulk of the night was dedicated to Hyperdub artists showcasing material from albums released this year.
In opening up the night by DJing, Kode9 showed off his full oeuvre, mixing together classic Burial with some of the newer additions to the Hyperdub roster. The untitled, beguiling tenth track off Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland’s Black is Beautiful may seem to have little in common with dubstep but when mixed into Burial’s epic ‘Ashtray Wasp’ the connection between the two is manifested. As a teaser of what to come, as well as a celebration of what made the label, Kode9’s set was perfect, and really when you have the impervious ‘Archangel’ on hand as a set closer you cannot go too wrong.
Laurel Halo is next to take the stage, perched behind a monolithic series of machines. With hair down to her waist she morphs to look like Grimes or a Manson family member lost in the Science Museum. This offbeat impression is in keeping with her music. She proceeds to play songs off her
debut album Quarentine, using a vocoder to turn her voice into an element in the vast soundscapes she weaves. Equally psychadelic and demonic, tribal drums bubble under soaring synths to turn Koko into a sonic playground, the antiquated venue proving perfect for her idiosyncratic approach as every nook and cranny is filled with off-kilter sounds. Unfortunately her enthusiasm was wasted on a crowd that never really went with her, lightly tapping their feet with confused expressions at best, or blithely making small talk at worst.
London’s own Cooly G got a warmer reception as she arrived on stage. Playing songs from her eagerly anticipated album Playin Me, the 27-year old, who recently became a mother, gave the most polished performance of the night. Despite admitting to being nervous and her stage presence amounting to little more than awkwardly flitting between treating the laptop and solitary microphone respectively as shields, she delivered an incredibly personal set; her amazing voice backed by rolling bass and woozy melodies. It would be lazy to say ‘imagine if Grace Jones made dubstep’, but seriously imagine that and you have the sexy, bass heavy kind of music Cooly G is making. Suffice to say her album is sure to be a must-have.
The final live performance of the night was courtesy of the effervescent Scratcha DVA. Renowned as much for being the breakfast host on Rinse FM for six years as a purveyor of UK funky and grime, Scratcha earlier this year made a step towards credibility with his debut album Pretty Ugly. Of course artistic sentiments have not suppressed his personality and he duly bound onto stage with a ludicrous visor on his head. His music consists of a cerebral take on UK funky, creating 4 minute suites with live vocalists, a host of who appeared live on stage. The standout was the stunning Zaki Ibrahim, flown in from South Africa especially, who beguiled the crowd with her self-conscious beauty and threatened to overshadow Scratcha himself. But having finally got the seemingly reticent crowd moving, Scratcha did away with the rarefied atmosphere by announcing ‘f**ck it I’m gonna have to move over to the right to DJ’ before promptly almost strangling himself with his vast array of cables. This off-the-cuff moment seemed to break the crowd out of their respectful and reserved
stupor and his brief cameo behind the decks confirmed this as his selections of dancehall, grime and garage cuts went down a storm, the highlight being his own edit of So Solid Crew’s classic ’21 Seconds to Go’, an out and out banger that warranted a personal rewind by Kode9 himself.
Making a triumphant return, Kode9 graced the stage once again, this time to a rapturous crowd finally freed of their inhibitions and ready to dance. Aided by his long-time sidekick, the MC/poet/force of nature ‘Spaceape’, Kode fully implemented the ‘sonic warfare’ his earlier set had merely hinted at, launching into a raucous set of Dubstep, Grime, Garage and Footwork. Spaceape, dressed like a young Fidel Castro, addressed the crowd as ‘soldiers’ and launched staccato political slogans over snare clicks and bass wobbles. The ensuing frenzy reached a fever pitch when Rustie’s mighty ‘City Star’ is dropped, launching limbs, minds and gun-fingers all over the place. With the
night coming to a close, Kode9 leaves the dance floor survivors in the capable hands of Chicago footwork dons Rashad and Spinn, safe in the knowledge he has shown both sides of himself, sonic warrior and arch curator.