Without a doubt, 2004 should be remembered as a breakthrough year for Kode9. The dubstep scientist made waves on the underground this year by launching his Hyperdub label with the groundbreaking tunes Sign of the Dub, Stalker and most recently Spit. Known for a sub-fuelled, skanked out sound his beats can also be heard on the second Rephlex Grime release, a compilation that features a hand-picked bunch of the scenes most talented producers.
DJing the top parties, and holding a coveted primetime slot on Rinse FM, he has also been working quietly behind the scenes spreading the potent hyperdub virus for some time. Drumz of the South caught up with Kode9 to find out what the hardest working man in South London has in store for the future.
DQ: I’m really blown away by what you did for the Grime 2 comp. Serious sounds. Production wise, what’s forthcoming this year?
Kode9: My Grime 2 tracks were made as a response to the first Horsepower album ‘In Fine Style’, at the end of 2002, beginning of 2003, so in a way its like a timewarp that they got released so recently; they sound a bit different from stuff I’m working on just now. I’m in the middle of a vocal album with Daddi Gee on the mic… should be finished with all the tracks early next year for a release at some unknown date on some unknown label.
DQ: You’ve been one of the dubstep scene’s greatest ambassadors through hyperdub.com, dubplate.net, Forward>> and your writing. Do you have any new projects in the works?
Kode9: Well, I’ve just started a blog which is kind of fun (when I feel like it), especially since the electronic music press is fucked. When I get round to it, after I’ve sorted out some technical issues, I’m gonna relaunch a stripped down dub version of the Hyperdub.com website… graphics free etc. Outside of dubstep, I’m currently bogged down in the middle of writing a book about sonic warfare.
DQ: Can you talk a little more about sonic warfare in relation to underground music or the pirate/soundsystem/hardcore continuum?
Kode9: Well, there’s always been battling within the culture of sound, from the use of drumming by Maroons (Jamaican guerrilas against British colonialism) as a communication network, into music culture, from sound system clashes (using bass as a weapon) to vocal clashes (what Wu Tang used to call ‘liquid swords’), right through to military research into the use of infrasound (subsonic frequencies) and ultrasound (high frequencies), as well as the use by advertisers of sonic brands, what I call ‘audio viruses’, or ‘earworms’ which get inside your head and are impossible to remove. The book looks at all these deployments of sonic force which we tend to take for granted as apolitical, and develops a theory of sonic warfare around these kinds of examples.
DQ: Why do you think the Grime and Dubstep sound has evolved so drastically in a matter of only a couple of years? Do you think it’s a sign of vitality within scene?
Kode9: Ammunition called their club night ‘Forward’ 3 or so years ago. It’s quite ambitious isn’t it! It’s like a challenge to keep movin and changing. I’ve been djing this speed of music for about 6 years, and certain strains of the sound have got into a rut. The important thing is how new sounds throw up new challenges… If you close down to that, then it’s just boring. I’m not really into the idea that some people have of there being a ‘Forward sound’ (even if there is) cos for me, that’s a contradiction which limits what music can be played.
DQ: So what sounds currently in circulation do you think are really pushing things forward?
Kode9: Apart from the likes of the Digital Mystikz, Loefah, Skreams, Plasticman and Mark One, most of the stuff that has excited me in the last year or two is grime riddims made for MCs. The Digital Mystikz in particular have some amazing stuff in the dubplate pipeline, but on the grimier tip, I really like productions from the likes of Terror Danjah, Target, Wonder, Davinche & Wiley, and MCs like Riko and Trim. Outside of garage tempo, I’ve been listening to microrecordings of the ebola virus.
DQ: Rephlex releasing the Grime compilations has helped to establish a good recognition of dubstep and grime within the music industry (not to mention a serious nod of respect from label-owner Richard D. James). Do you think this is a sign of an increasing global recognition of the sound?
Kode9: I’ve been playin this stuff abroad for about 4 years and people have always been receptive, one way or another. I think the fact that the sound has flipped so much since grime emerged a few years ago has added a whole new dimension and excitement. People outside the UK are relatively familiar with the breakier end of things which has been around for ages, since hardcore in fact and it’s easy for them to dance to. That’s an old sound which I find pretty boring and that’s why I don’t play it. Sometimes I don’t really care if people don’t dance. I remember when I dropped Roll Deep’s ‘Salt Beef’ in Australia last year, and people were like ‘what the fuck!’ That’s the kind of reaction I like… sometimes it takes time for people to acclimatise. They may have heard stuff on the net or whatever, but you’ve got to get it straight out, loud, with proper bass on a big system to fully get it.
DQ: What is it about London soundsystem culture that makes it such a potent cauldron for future-minded music?
Kode9: If you put someone’s head in a vice and tighten it, some interesting stuff is going to ooze out. I’m not from London originally so I notice this more. Being an alien, you see that this city is like a vast compression chamber, packing in all these diverse elements, ethnicities, influences, stresses, tensions, so everyone has to wriggle about so as not to suffocate. The power of Afro-caribbean sound system culture is not just about the sonic influence of dub, reggae, dancehall and soca, but a whole set of microcultural practices for not just avoiding suffocation, finding breathing space, but for finding some kind of way out. The futurism comes via the competitive pressure, which forces rapid change, recombination and mutation as a matter of survival. Of course, as we know, East London does that in a specific way, and that has a specific sound. It’s the same with South London, that sound has its own particularity. I’d say pirate radio is pretty fundamental to the vitality of the music scene in London. It gives producers/djs/mcs a zone of autonomy from the bullshit of the music industry to just get on with stuff, create new sounds, find new audiences etc. I’ve got loads of respect for the station that I play on, Rinse Fm, and the fact they give space to all the strains of the post-garage soundscape.
Interview by Dave Q