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Interviews

Traversing an Ephemeral Culture with Kode9 & the Hyperdub Crew

13 December 2019

Celebrating the release of the Maharishi x Hyperdub x AIAIAI collaborative capsule and the 15th anniversary of Hyperdub, END. present an exclusive interview and editorial with Kode9 and the Hyperdub crew.

Hyperdub crew outside Maharishi's Soho store for END.
Encapsulating a snapshot of contemporary electronic music, Hyperdub's core has always revolved around the pursuit of the cutting edge and the diverse. Since the label was started in 2004 by Kode9, neé Steve Goodman, from the ashes of a webzine of the same name, Hyperdub has contemplated the effects of fringe dance music and released some of the past decade's most important electronic releases.

Charting the early days of Dubstep in Croydon to the rise of Chicago Footwork, the London-based record label has dedicated fifteen years to digging deep and sourcing unique talents and inspirational aesthetics of sound from around the world. Forging its own path through the myriad of trends that have come and gone, Hyperdub's talent is founded in its ability to shirk convention and hype, building a universe that feels cohesive yet unrestrained by the divinations of musical discourse.

Releasing seminal works from Burial, Kode9 & the Spaceape, Fatima al Qadiri, Laurel Halo, Dean Blunt, DJ Rashad and Ikonika, to name a few, Hyperdub's influence has cultivated an expressive world of electronic music that evolves and expands boundaries. Not contained to any one genre, the South London label's sensibility tends towards one of heavy bass and complex rhythms, but encapsulates all forms of experimental music. From the deconstructed club sounds of Mana to the wry UK Hip-Hop of Babyfather, the seminal UK label has provided a voice to those who stray from the norm.

Teaming up with Hardy Blechman's London-based streetwear label, Maharishi, and minimalist Danish audio design brand AIAIAI, the Hyperdub crew present their limited edition capsule collection with this exclusive editorial featuring Kode9, Ikonika, Shannen SP, Scratcha DVA and Nazar. Sitting down with Kode9, END. discuss the past 15 years of the label, the future of electronic music and their collaboration with Maharishi and AIAIAI.

From the origins of Hyperdub, the music you’ve released has somewhat shifted from bass-oriented sounds to more experimental projects. What specifically instigated the shift in overarching sound?

I don't really see it as a shift, and I don't necessarily see these two strains as mutually exclusive. The label started in 2004 with a cover of Prince’s ‘Sign of the Times’ called ‘Sine of the Dub’ stripped down to a bass pulse and the late Spaceape’s spoken word – so right from the beginning we’ve been a bit off key. But yeah, from around 2008/9 onwards, the label did start to spread out a bit wider in terms of both the dance and non-dance music we signed – every few years we go through a refresh in order to stay excited.

Has it been difficult to manage and maintain the stylistic intent of the label over the course of its lifespan?

This is a balancing act – you need to be a bit of a control freak to keep a steady direction in a musical world flooded with micro-niches, ultra fast boom and bust cycles,  everyone on the hustle and everyone proclaiming that blah blah blah is the next blah blah blah. At the same time if you’re not listening to, and staying open to the outside, you can end up spinning around in a black hole. I’m not running a label to reinforce my own taste, but rather to sometimes have it challenged, redefined and upgraded.

Reflecting on the past 15 years, what moments stand out to you as highlights?

There was a particular Hyperdub event in Japan with myself, the late DJ Rashad, Laurel Halo and Ikonika, which was a very special trip, especially seeing the amount of love that footwork and Rashad got in Tokyo. This was in 2014 – also in that year, for our 10th birthday, we took over all 3 rooms of Fabric with around 20 different artists. All our events have been highlights to me, but those ones definitely stand out.

The electronic music scene is notoriously malleable and diverse. What helps you focus when releasing music – both as Kode9 and via Hyperdub – when the influence of so much experimental and dance music is pulling in opposite directions?

We’re a small label with limited resources. So it’s important sometimes to do nothing, to sometimes ignore the hype, and people telling you so and so is hot and that as a label, we should get involved because it would be good for us. We’ve been around the hype cycle enough times to see how ephemeral an industry this is. You can’t really force or rush decisions, but rather circumstances make decisions for you at the right time. Just because I like something, doesn't mean to say I want to sign it. In most cases, I prefer to just be a fan. Anyway, its not just me – the whole Hyperdub team help filter incoming music.

Your past discussions of music and composition take a scientific approach to describing the way music cultures spread, referring to them as a “virus”. Has this virus theory been stunted by a state of distribution that is primarily based on using algorithmic processes to determine listener’s habits?

I can’t pretend to be using the idea of ‘musical viruses’ strictly from the point of view of a scientist, but I do take it literally, but rather as someone interested in pop culture, science fiction and also a musical lover who has had their life infected, mutated and transformed by various styles of music. The main idea of audio virology is that musical cultures are forms of contagious collective intelligence that traverse populations.  Viruses usually have a negative connotation but really that depends on perspective, whether you are a host, a contagious carrier, an incubator, a victim etc. The mode of algorithmic capitalism that the digital music industry is now increasingly dominated by is a kind of predator virus, which parasites off the more general process of automation of art and culture.  This environment lends itself to a kind of predictive virality whereby ‘surprise’ musical encounters have been laid out for you as a kind of attention trap. This is the least interesting use of AI in music, and just tends to reinforce peoples tastes. But there are plenty of counter viruses out there that worm weirder paths through cultural networks.

We’ve been around the hype cycle enough times to see how ephemeral an industry this is.
In a world of information, with vast quantities of electronic and dance music available at the click of a button, what was once considered niche and obscure has been somewhat ingratiated into the norm. Where do you think true experimentation lies in contemporary music now?

Well I think we’re going through a period where the somewhat arrogant assumption that Europe and the US will always or still dominate electronic music can no longer be taken for granted and the number of vibrant regional electronic scenes in Africa, Asia and South America will only make this colonial hangover seems like more and more a thing of the past. Similarly we don't know what the musical effect will be of the ‘genderquake’ in electronic music that has been going on for the last few years. And we also don't yet know the musical implications of artificial intelligence. These all signal a period of transition and experimentation.

When producing your own music, does concept or content come first?

If I take the example of my last album Nothing, I could only take the music composition process up to a certain point before needing a concept to help me to finish the tracks and gel it together into a coherent album project. So it seems in this instance that content came first, but I already had some kind of intuitive concept in terms of tempo/sounds etc. without which I wouldn't have got started in the first place. For me concept and content and intrinsically intertwined and you can only deny that by fundamentally misunderstanding the creative process. You don't need to be conscious of a concept for a conceptual frame to be guiding your actions.

What initially inspired your decision to collaborate with Maharishi and AIAIAI on this capsule collection?

For the last few years, since I started DJing with USBs instead of CDs and vinyl, I’ve been turning up to play with my sticks and my AIAIAI headphones in a Maharishi waist bag. So the functionality of this combo has been tried and tested. I chatted with Hardy around 2015 around my last album about potentially doing a collaboration but we just didn't get around to it – our 15th birthday was the perfect opportunity.

Both Maharishi and Hyperdub could be described as central pillars of British culture, in fashion and music respectively. What parallels can you see between the way you both approach your art?

I think there is a few interesting parallels. I definitely think there is a shared love of the film Apocalypse Now. I bought an embroidered camo canvas from Maharishi years ago entitled ‘Apocalypse Night’ that still looms over my living room. That design was a big influence on the cover of my book Sonic Warfare from 2009. That cover was designed by a friend Manuel Sepulveda (Optigram) who has functioned as Hyperdub’s unofficial art director. We connected back in the day over our love of op art and weird and novel camouflage patterns and it turned out he also used to do some design work for Maharishi.

I’m still a massive fan of Maharishi’s book DPM which is an amazing encyclopaedia of military camouflage designs, but also looks at the function of visual deception in nature, and traces the mutations and spread of camouflage through the music and fashion worlds. Anyway, my book shares with Maharishi the recognition that the military often gets the best tech and clothes first, but it’s unacceptable for it to have a monopoly, so there is a perhaps a shared agenda, whether with Maharishi and camouflage or technical clothing, or in my book in relation to sounds or sonic technologies, to accelerate the proliferation to wider civil society and to actively encourage the appropriation, abuse and repurposing of these innovations otherwise confined to the military. As the author William Gibson once famously put it, ‘the street finds its own uses for things’.

Make Up by Imani Naghten Mua
Maharishi x Hyperdub x AIAIAI collaboration for END.
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