Little White Earbuds Interviews Kode9

Photo by Joël Vacheron

As the founder and head of the esteemed Hyperdub record label, Steve Goodman is undeniably an influential figure, arguably responsible for helping to popularize dubstep and discovering producers like Burial, Zomby, Darkstar, and Ikonika. But he’s more than just a boss man: Goodman has been producing and releasing his own idiosyncratic brand of sub-heavy electronic music as Kode9 since 2002, and his DJ sets are known as blinding journeys through the furthest reaches of dubstep, hip-hop, jungle, garage, UK funky, and more. Having released his paranoid and hazy debut album Memories Of The Future of swampy digital dub with chief vocalist and partner in crime Spaceape in 2006, Goodman is finally releasing his second album. Black Sun is a confident and complex statement, extroverted where Memories was unfriendly and introverted; incorporating the bouncy, intricate rhythms of the UK funky Goodman has been championing for years and broad washes of synth, it’s an aural trip through the disparate influences informing the Hyperdub catalog replete with a more active and intense performances by Spaceape. In the midst of preparing for the album release and embarking on a North American tour which includes the Unsound Bass Mutations event in Brooklyn on April 8th, Goodman found time for an interview with us to discuss the album, Hyperdub, and the state of what used to be called dubstep.

First and foremost, how does it feel to be in the midst of a press campaign for a rather highly anticipated and awaited album?

Steve Goodman: I don’t know really. I’ve only been involved in this kind of thing once before with my mix for !K7 last year. All my previous releases have been much more low key.

For how long, and where, was the new album recorded? Was it a difficult process amidst touring, book writing, and label managing?

Yes, very. It was probably started about four years ago, and was constantly interrupted by other commitments such as finishing the book, running the label and working with artists on their music and DJing. Spaceape also has been very busy, and more recently distracted by health problems. So yes, it’s been a complicated time to finish an album. I went through a couple of years of not being able to finish any music, and I’ve hardly released anything over the last three years, to be honest, and the scenes I’ve been in contact with have changed a lot. I think I lost track of what I enjoyed in the studio.

Was there a lot of hardware used in the making of the album? There’s something about it that sounds very autonomous, and some bits that sound almost unquantized, like the beats are coming apart at the seams.

Well there is no unquantizing at all. It’s all built totally on the grid, but I made much more effort to give this album more rhythmic dynamic and detail than our first album. I think it’s much less downbeat, and yes, some of the rhythms are quite scattered. I use a couple of analog synths on most of the tracks as well as soft synths, and I think you can hear the difference quite radically.

Why did you choose to center it on “Black Sun” — is there something particularly special or important about that track to you, and what does the “Sun” motif signify?

The original was a special track for me, as it’s one of the first times I’ve heard a track completely in my head, and been able to, for better or worse, replicate what it sounds like in my studio without the friction that usually makes my tracks end up in unintentional ways. The “Black Sun” signifies a lot of things to us, but my favorite one I came across recently is from the J.G. Ballard story “The Day of Forever.” In this story, time has stopped, so the characters in the story live in a permanent present. Night never comes, and no one sleeps and that’s what the “black sun” refers to. It’s a pretty surreal landscape. No one dreams, but their waking reality has become a dream.

How does an electronic (or dance) album function for you? Do you feel there is a difference or a similarity with more rock-oriented ideas of the album statement? What did you want to accomplish with Black Sun as an album, as opposed to just releasing more singles?

I think we are just masochists who like to punish ourselves with challenges. Making a single is infinitely easier. An album is an album, it doesn’t matter what kind of music it is. You are still modulating the listeners attention and emotion over almost an hour using music. Our main intention was just to make something more awake, more vivid and dynamic than our first album.

Spaceape’s role seems much different than on Memories Of The Future. I feel like he’s much more at the forefront of the tracks he appears on, and obviously his voice is less manipulated than it was before. Is this a purely aesthetic change, or is there something more? What fueled the change from pitched-down drawling to something closer to rapping?

His voice is still quite heavily manipulated, but now it’s more like a transmission from another place, rather than low pitch drawl. To be honest, Spaceape is a really lively performer in a live context, and nothing like what he sounded like on the first album. So we wanted to capture more of that energy, while at the same time tuning into him in another dimension, tuning into what he would sound like in the world of the black sun.

Cha Cha, who appeared previously on “Time Patrol,” is credited on quite a few of the album tracks. Who exactly is she, how did you meet her, and what is her role on the album?

Cha Cha is a great vocalist I met in Shanghai. She is the partner of a friend of mine Gaz who runs a venue in the city in an underground bomb shelter, called The Shelter. I’ve played there a few times now. Cha Cha has MCed for me there a couple of times and I really liked what she sounded like. I recorded with her on “Time Patrol” a year or two ago. When I was back there in 2010, our album was nearly finished, but I could hear that it needed another vocal to contrast with Spaceape’s so we went into the studio and did some backing vocals on four or five tracks. Even though Spaceape wrote the lyrics to “Love is the Drug” she actually ended up the main vocalist on that track. I also really love what she did on “The Cure” — she really took that in a direction I hadn’t foreseen.

Kode9 by Georgina Cook

It’s easier to draw parallels in Memories Of The Future, but has your conception of Sonic Warfare at all influenced Black Sun, its composition, production, and/or recording?

Only in the sense that Black Sun takes place in a sonic fiction, and I write a little about sonic fictions in my book. That’s it. When I go in the studio, I switch off most of the conceptual machinery of my research. Working in the studio for me is about emptying my head.

Black Sun is clearly not a dubstep album (barring some tempo similarities), just as Memories Of The Future was not. But Memories was somewhat closer to what might be commonly considered “dub” music. How do you figure Black Sun into this context — would you consider it as part of your idea of “dub” music, and if so, why/how?

I don’t really see any relation between this album and dub. It’s just not where we went on this album. I would say that finding some diagonal between hip-hop and house was more what we were trying to do on this album, rather than anything specifically related to dub or dubstep, despite the tempo resemblances. And it’s not a particularly bass driven record.

You’ve spoken about not wanting Hyperdub to be nailed down to a specific sound. But would you agree that there a Hyperdub “family,” and what does that mean for a label that refuses to be pigeonholed? Furthermore, what does it mean for the label when some of your biggest discoveries (Ikonika, Cooly G) go on to start their own labels?

I’m delighted that artists on our label start their own labels. What I like about all the artists on Hyperdub is that they all have their own independent vision and are keen to do their own thing as well as release on Hyperdub. Hyperdub is a small enterprise, but if we can help artists have a platform to try out their ideas, and get some attention, while building their own platforms, or even moving on to bigger labels to develop their careers, then that’s good enough for me. Cooly G, Ikonika, Terror Danjah, Funkystepz, Scratcha DVA all run their own labels — I think it’s a natural part of being a DJ these days. Since our fifth anniversary, we’ve started doing Hyperdub parties which bring together the live and DJ side of the label — we did one for our birthday in 2009, an off-Sonar party in Barcelona in 2010, and took over the Berghain in Berlin last week. I’ve been amazed how well they have worked and how it feels more like a loose collective, rather than a record label. I think it helps that really, I’m just another artist on the label, and not just some dickhead with delusions of being a CEO. I do hate that, when people that run little labels start referring to themselves as CEOs. My friend Mark Fisher wrote a great book called “Capitalist Realism,” and that’s a great example of business ontology taking over people’s brains and giving them delusions of grandeur.

Do you think that the ever-rising number of boutique labels — such as the previously hinted-at labels Dub Organizer or Hum & Buzz — contributes to the niche-making in electronic music, what you’ve previously called “everybody talking, nobody listening?” It seems like everyone associated with bass music is starting up their own imprint in the past two or so years. How do you feel this affects the music, its distribution, the dialogue around it, and its consumption?

Music is not in hyper-niche mode because artists are setting up boutique labels — that’s a symptom more than a cause. Music is in hyper-niche mode because the music industry is in a quite chaotic transition due to the impact of several waves of digital transformation, and people trying to build some little zones of autonomy from the bottom up.

Kode9 and Spaceape by Georgina Cook

Lately there’s been a lot of retro-themed nights, people playing sets made up completely of old jungle, UK garage, early grime/eski, and so forth. What does this say for UK dance music to you? Does it signal a healthy interest in the past, or a dangerous reliance on nostalgia? What does it mean when people try to recreate entire nights and old scenes?

I think people are just fishing around for inspiration and variety in a period when there is not one dominant organizing principle in the music. I’m ambivalent about this to be honest. I do it myself, play an old school UK garage set, an old school jungle set, a set of new material, a set of ’80s funk, whatever. I like to keep an element of uncertainty in my sets. Sometimes going back can feel fresher than playing something new. Depends on the context.

You’ve talked about how online journalism has sped up the electronic and dance music narrative to extremes. How does that relate to the considerable press campaign you’re creating for Black Sun? Is there a particular strategy in doing so much press so long before the actual release of the album?

I don’t know. I’ve never done it quite like this before. It’s an experiment to see what difference it makes. I’m constantly learning how to run a label, be a producer/artist/DJ and etc. All I can do is keep trying things we’ve never done before and see what happens. Everything is an experiment.

Do you feel that the current crush of electronic music journalism — both professional and amateur — is a positive or negative thing in 2011? Is the music becoming too fashionable, or is it an inevitable quality merely being accelerated?

The obvious thing is how fast the spotlight shifts from the latest micro-phenomenon to the next one. But thats just the tip of the iceberg. Life goes on, as slow as you want it to be under the surface, especially when you turn the Internet, and its babel of voices off.

You recently did a tour of North America, a place where dubstep is rapidly growing in popularity, both in underground dance circles and in some cases even the mainstream consciousness. What was the reaction to your sets like, and how do you feel about the type of “dubstep” that has become popularized in North America? (I’m thinking Rusko, Excision, and the like.)

I don’t really know much about the side of dubstep you are referring to. I parted ways with that aspect of the sound quite a few years ago and haven’t looked back since.

As it spreads even further and finds new homes in all corners of the globe, there is more confusion than ever about what “dubstep” is. Do you see “dubstep” as a defined aesthetic, or some sort of catch-all term for something more spiritually connected? Is “dubstep,” nominally or musically, still useful to you at all?

I don’t answer these kind of questions about dubstep, thanks.

doc  on March 30, 2011 at 8:39 PM

dig it.

Steven Coyle  on March 31, 2011 at 5:29 AM

“I dont answer these kinds of questions about dubstep”

brilliant answer

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