The Hyperdub brand is synonymous with all things intriguing; since the mid-2000s, the label has put out some of the most evocative, melancholic and perhaps the most important records relevant to dubstep history and beyond. Throughout that catalog, there are only a few full-length albums, two of which are courtesy of label owner Steve Goodman, a.k.a. Kode9, and frequent collaborator The Spaceape. Black Sun, the twosome’s newest record, is an enchanting, ecliptic ride that journeys between light and dark in a multi-purpose format, supplied by eerily soothing vocals by new collaborator Cha Cha. Kode9 chats with URB about the journey he took into making this new album, its differences from its predecessor, and of course, Hyperdub itself.
URB: This record is different from Memories Of The Future, even with Spaceape this time around, his delivery and his messages, this record seems like there’s less space than its predecessor.
KODE9: That was more important to us on the first album, to have reverb and echoes. It’s not necessarily more aggressive, but more direct. It’s not mellow; you either hate it or you love it. It shows true color, and we wanted it to be more colorful than the first album; whether it’s a nice color or a toxic color, I don’t know…
URB: It’s noticeable, especially with the synth sounds; even if it’s soft, they’re still subtle. Along with all that, the musical scene where you’ve been rooted from has seen a shift from dubstep to funky, with producers now referencing house and techno, past and present. Where do see these influences as opposed to the record five years ago?
KODE9: Production-wise, there’s more analog synth on this album as opposed to the last one, which had none at all. It’s come from the music I’ve been listening to, but it’s also because those synths are much more prevalent in music right now; whether being from the UK or California or whatever, people started using these synths much more. It’s become the current formula; also I wanted the music to be more upbeat, so I was influenced by particularly funky by also RnB, like soft, dark syncopated stuff relevant to dark UK Garage. Tracks like “The Cure” and “Otherman” rhythmically are harking back to the rhythms that influenced UK Garage to start with.
URB: You have another collaborator on this record, the vocalist Cha Cha. How’d you find her and why was she so important to Black Sun?
KODE9: I had played in Shanghai a couple of times at this underground party at a bomb shelter, called The Shelter. So the guy who runs the night, a Manchester native, his girlfriend is Cha Cha, who is from Shanghai and sings over reggae stuff and such. We just had her sing on some tracks, like on “Time Patrol” and stuff, and we really liked the way her voice worked with Spaceape, there was less fear and less of a male presence. It brought balance to a lot of his lyrics; like in “Love Is The Drug” I couldn’t quite get Spaceape’s voice to fit with that sort of track; when I went back to Shanghai in September or October we were recording and she did one thing on “Love Is The Drug” where she sounded like a late ‘80s/early ‘90s house vocal. I never tried to use voice like that before, and then it became clear that he would do backing vocals and she would do main vocals on it. I felt like it needed another voice, it was too male at times.
URB: But Black Sun is different from some of the stuff you’ve released on Hyperdub; it’s more of a headphone record, similar to King Midas Sound as opposed to Ikonika’s full-length and Terror Danjah’s Undeniable.
KODE9: The Ikonika and Terror Danjah albums are an anomaly, because they’re not miserable and shit! *laughs* OK, this album isn’t miserable either…less miserable than the first anyway. When the label was specializing in melancholic records, the Terror Danjah and Ikonika records were a breath of fresh air. But actually some of this record isn’t just headphone stuff; it can actually work on a dancefloor, which is unusual for me.
URB: Everything you’ve put out is definitely distinct, whether it’s the debut full-length five years ago or this current album or even the single releases, everything has its certain place sound-wise, why is that?
KODE9: I make a lot of stuff that doesn’t sound like me, I don’t have a sound; maybe I do have a sound but I always like making new stuff. I do tend to make tracks differently from stuff like “Black Sun” and “Green Sun”, apart from “You Don’t Wash”, I don’t find many ways to make a house/funky tracks with Spaceape, because his delivery is kind of more dancehall. It made more sense to put those tracks out on their own terms; his voice is very specific and lends itself to more hip-hop-based rhythms. It could be considered 140BPM but it can definitely vary at times.
URB: Does it surprise you, the lengths that Spaceape went on this record? He definitely transcended his presence in a big way from Memories Of The Future.
KODE9: Yeah, he’s learning; learning about his own power, his own capabilities. He had never made music before the first record, only had done spoken word!
URB: You’re always busy though, not just making tunes; you’re teaching, and I believe you used to do a show on Rinse.fm.
KODE9: I stopped doing the show regularly about four years ago, it got to a point where I kind of wanted to slow down. I didn’t want everyone to hear what I was playing every week, I wanted it to be more private. Like if you come to my gig, you know what I’m doing, if not then you won’t know. It was just better to move at your own speed, because the shows are podcasted every week and people are overly familiar with what you do. I had to back away and not listen to Rinse for a few years, just because I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t listen to all those great DJs, because if I did I wouldn’t have finished tracks. It was a way to find my own footing.
URB: Thinking about now, it’s unusual how the label has evolved from the early melancholic, distinguished sounds into currently something more progressive and expansive. When was there a turning point from the previous melancholic, half-step vibe into this current expansion?
KODE9: Sonically, I think the turning point was when I did the “Find My Way” remix, with weird sounds from Street Fighter, that was the first release where there was something “bleepy”, before the stuff from Quarta 330 which took that sound to the extreme, as well as “Bad/2 Bad” which was housier. You sometimes get really bored of staying in the same tempo all the time. That’s kind of what it comes down to.
URB: You’ve also had people splinter off in the best way possible, previous artists on the label like Ikonika, Terror Danjah and Cooly G all have their own labels; Ill Blu recently did a NUMBERS release…
KODE9: Once you provide a platform for someone to do it for themselves, they see the benefit of running your own label; not necessarily to put out your own music but to help you promote other artists, that’s what those guys are doing. They’re not going to necessarily to release a lot of their stuff on their own labels, but it gives DJs/producers less pressure to put out their own music, because if you put out other people’s music people still want you because you’ll have something fresh. I think it’s a great thing for all of them.
Special thanks to Gamall Awad.