After-dark inquiry: Kode9
London dubstep doyen Kode9 celebrates the release of his and partner Spaceape's new deep-as-hell opus, Black Sun (Hyperdub), with a DJ set at Unsound Festival.
Tue Apr 5 2011
Photograph: Courtesy of Hyperdub
Unsound Festival focuses on somewhat experimental, even academic music. Do you think of your material as dance music, or more as a thought-provoking act?
I play dance music that I hope isn't functional, nor academic in any way at all. I play music that gives me a shiver, makes me move and inspires me to make music. That about sums it up. I'm not really that interested in other people's categorization of what constitutes head music or of what functional music is. Usually when journalists do that, it has very little bearing on my own experiences of music. I'm not particularly interested in categorizations that import a split between the mind and body into their analyses of music—that's so 16th century, and people need to get over that shit.
Will do. Do you even have a term for the music you make?
I call it bubble and squeak, named after a traditional English dish made from kitchen leftovers. I'm Scottish, so I'm cynical about such things—but for me this dish is one of the few pinnacles of English culture.
The new album again sees you teaming up with your longtime partner, the Spaceape. What do you feel he brings to your music?
He is an intriguing storyteller, and really quite an amazing live performer who definitely breaks the mold of typical MCs and vocalists. On our new album, he is much more energetic than on our first one. We are both essentially learners when it comes to making music, so I just enjoy this learning experience with a friend, instead of some fabricated collaboration, orchestrated by a record label in order to sell units.
There's a variety of rhythms, tempos, sounds, etc. on Black Sun, but the tracks still feel of a piece. Is there a common denominator to the album's various tracks?
I think we have a pretty consistent vibe across our music, even when the tempos vary a bit or the palette of sounds changes. Clearly we don't make perky, happy, good-times music, but also I don't think this album is straightforwardly what most people will pigeonhole it as without even listening, i.e., full of dread, dark or dystopian. But I like to think it's moody and groovy at the same time. There is a synth thread that runs through many of the tracks, especially on the second half of the album, which apart from upping the energy levels in the beats and vocals, I wanted to play with my analog machines a bit more, and take the production off the computer and color in some of the empty spaces. Some of the tracks—like "Black Sun," "Green Sun" and "Love Is the Drug"—I refer to as flatline house—just hovering synths that kind of hold you in suspension. I do have a thing about synth drones that I got addicted to them over the last couple of years. But what also holds the album together is the story that you will find in the artwork, which emerged from the music after we had finished making it all. An NYC-based friend, Raz Mesinai—he's a musician under the name Badawi—worked with us in doing a graphic illustration of our story, so we've ended up with a storyboard to an invisible film about radioactive events, illness and religion, that each of the tracks is an episode from. You don't need to know the story to appreciate the tracks, but it derives from our own experiences. The music coexists in that alternate dimension for anyone who cares to enter and get lost in the labyrinth.
The new album still has a slightly dark and melancholy feel, but the beats and overall atmosphere seem a bit cleaner and lighter than in past productions.
I can't escape the melancholy thing; it's what I enjoy listening to and making. But I don't think the darkness is as overbearing, claustrophobic or catatonic as on [2006 album] Memories of the Future. This album is more awake.
Any hints as to what people should expect to hear at your Unsound Festival gig?
As always, it will be me, bubbling and squeaking.
Kode9 spins at on Fri 8.