Five years can be a long time in the life of a record label and credit has to be given to Hyperdub boss Steve “Kode9” Goodman for having something to truly celebrate tonight. When I think of the label, I can’t help but draw comparisons with Metalheadz – the high quality control, the always dancefloor-centred, ears-to-the-road but not exactly “road” itself sound, which also lends itself to home/headphone listening while never straying too far into clever-clever electronica territory. Forward-looking, cerebral, technically proficient, progressive. But Hyperdub’s strength is its wider vision of the future, already protecting itself from the one tempo, one scene blind alley that became the fate of Goldie’s once vanguard imprint.
In the last year Goodman has ramped up productivity and cast his net wide, releasing a slew of squiggly synth-drenched, well-it-is-140 BPM-but-wot-do-we-call-it gems from Zomby, Joker and Ikonika, alongside Flying Lotus and Samiyam’s wonked-to-fuck hip-hop, Cooly G’s er, funkstep and Darkstar’s Stephen Hawking vocalling future garage. In 2009, Hyperdub is definitely leaning more towards the hyper than the dub. All of which initially makes the presence of tonight’s first main stage draw, Kevin Martin’s King Midas Sound, a bit of a head scratcher. Kicking off the recent 5 compilation with KMS’s “Meltdown”, a lovely melancholy vocal slipping over a big bassline and slo-mo hip-hop drums, seemed wilfully contrary. Nice enough in a Massive Attack/Smith & Mighty nearly twenty years ago kind of way, but not vital.
Luckily, my judgement proves a little harsh and hasty as, live at least, KMS are more than worthy guardians of the dub end of Hyperdub. Entering to air raid sirens, draped in red light and swathes of echo, Roger Robinson calls us in from the cold as Martin gets to work, spontaneously but expertly twisting, shaping and re-shaping the grooves and showering us in all the right spots with warm effects. And a warm shower it is, luxuriant and enveloping, the flipside of the bomb dropping carnage of Martin’s The Bug and Razor X projects. Where those weld dancehall nihilism to hardcore noise, KMS’s vibe draws together lovers rock and dreampop/shoegaze*. It’s a hazy, twilit sound that soundtracks perfectly the terrible weather outside, simultaneously offering sanctuary from it. By the time second vocalist Hitomi comes out front, everyone is hypnotised, eyes to the front, swaying and nodding in place as it’s far too crowded to skank.
By contrast, Kode9 & The Spaceape are pretty much all about the hyper right now. Bedecked rather tellingly in a Parliament Mothership Connection t-shirt, Goodman goes for colour and funk tonight. The drums are busy, fidgety and about as far from the barely-there bass pulse minimalism of early singles like “Sine” as they could be. Spaceape’s stoned and stretched stylings have also given way to a more vigorous, crowd-facing vocal style. The world-weary sci-fi-meets-dread exhortations remain in place but, patois notwithstanding, the delivery is now more James Brown in the dancehall than LKJ trapped in a machine. Shaking and waving his arms, possessed by the groove, he’s in danger of appearing like he might even been enjoying himself. The only shame is that, with the room rammed to danger point, the enraptured crowd can’t truly catch the spirit and join in with the party that’s happening in front of them.
It’s the uniformly excellent sets from the DJ booths that really get the celebrations going though. When both of Corsica’s rooms are open and there’s space to move and breathe, the event actually becomes a party. Early on, Quarta330’s semi-live set brings his 8-bit videogame-music-in-a-dubstep-shaped-mangle to the floor, where his twisted melodies and pitch bending bass drops induce a fair few grins. The alien tones and sprightly midrange presence set the tone for much of the evening’s proceedings; his remix of Kode9’s “9 Samurai” even crops up underneath Spaceape in their live set – seemingly more in sync with their current mode of operations than Goodman’s original.
Elsewhere, Samiyam (also live tweaking his own material) is so animated, rocking dementedly and mouthing along to vocal samples, his enthusiasm quickly transfers to the crowd. He only loses us when he pushes the beat-juggling trickery slightly beyond wonky and past danceability. Meanwhile, DMZ’s Mala tears up the second room with a slew of dubstep classics.
Later, Cooly G, flanked by a couple of her girls, brings both glamour and depth following sets by Darkstar and Ikonika, who both manage to seamlessly weave Burial’s hauntological 2step into their vivid future funk selections. But the final word really goes to the curator, Kode9, whose epic four-hour set overlaps with all of these. Stepping up to cheers, he begins with what must be a new Zomby dub, all dayglo swirls and offbeat accents. He’s not setting a template though, as within three tunes he’s already into Roy Davis Jr’s gospel garage classic “Gabriel” and soon after he’s guiding us through the (dare I say it?) deep end of UK funky. Navigating every twist and turn of the UK bass continuum, every surprise is a welcome one, not least a half-hour grime classics excursion which in turn eventually leads us into the jungle. ALL basses (sorry) covered.
*If you haven’t done so already, download King Midas Sound’s mix for FACT right now.