Hyperdub at 15: that fast-slow sound, several labels within one label
November 29, 2019 7:31 PM   Subscribe

Fifteen years ago, a minimal dubstep (in the melancholy UK sense of the term) cover (Discogs) of Prince's Sign O' The Times (YT) kicked off a new label that championed new UK sound(s), marking Hyperdub's transition from webzine (Archived view) to proper label. Back in 2012, Resident Advisor had a chat with label manager Marcus Scott, where he laid out the history and then-future of the label. To mark their 15th anniversary, Hyperdub recently teamed with Adult Swim to release Hyperswim (streaming compilation).

If you browse the catalog (Discogs), you'll see that the label was first focused on singles and EPs, initially by Steve Goodman, AKA Kode9, producer, DJ, writer and Hyperdub's founder and his collaborator, Stephen Gordon, aka Daddy Gee, and later The Space Ape, alongside some post-rave ting, from the anonymous Burial, whose South London Boroughs EP (Bandcamp) was an ominous taste of things to come from the artist, and to a degree, the label.

Over the next five years*, the label would only release four albums:
  1. Burial - Burial [Bc] (HDBCD001)
  2. Burial - Untrue [Bc] (HDBCD002) [finally unmasked himself ahead of the Mercury prize, per Digital Spy]
  3. King Midas Sound - Waiting For You... [YT pl] (HDBCD003)
  4. Ikonika ‎- Contact, Love, Want, Have [Bc] (HDBCD004) [*this was released after HDBCD005, despite having a catalog number before it]
And at the five year mark, the label released HDBCD005, a 2 CD set of tracks, available as official audio on YouTube.

- Bonus interlude: Kode9's All Hyperdub Mix of 2012 (official Soundcloud post), a half-hour set released as a promo CD (Discogs) for the label's Japanese tour.

At the 10 year mark, Kode9 (aka Steve Goodman) looked back in an interview, and the label released 5 CDs as an exclusive boxset, with over 6 hours and 100 + tracks. Long sold out, they also provided a handy Spotify playlist. If you missed that release, it's also available as four individual volumes:
  1. Hyperdub 10.1 [YT pl] (HDBCD025) -- one disc looking back, the second looking forward, which Pitchfork gave a 8.5, and marked as "best new music"
  2. Hyperdub 10.2 [YT pl] (HDBCD026) -- Pitchfork rated 6.7, and said "focusing on the label's self-professed R&B offerings"
  3. Hyperdub 10.3 [YT pl] (HDBCD027) -- Pitchfork rated 6.5, and noted this volume "focuses on the ambient, minimalist, and experimental side"
  4. Hyperdub 10.4 [YT pl] (HDBCD028) -- Pitchfork rated 8.2, and noted that this volume "looks at the more danceable end of the imprint's wide spectrum."
In this latest period of retrospection on the label's history, Burial also has his own anthology of EP tracks from the past eight years, in the forthcoming Tunes 2011 to 2019 (Bandcamp). Because it's a retrospective, you can already listen to all the tunes in this handy fan-made playlist.

And if that's not enough diversity of sounds, you can find most of the singles, EPs and albums on or from Hyperdub's Bandcamp site.
posted by filthy light thief (18 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Final note: the post title comes from RA's interview with Marcus Scott, which notes that Goodman settled on Hyperdub because "it captured that fast-slow thing that was in a lot of the music that I thought would be the focus."

And later, Scott or Goodman said "I didn't mean it to be an eclectic label, and I don't really want it to be an eclectic label. And what has occurred to me is actually there's several labels within a label. So what we've been trying to do is work out what those stylistic clusters are, find the purism in the eclecticism."
posted by filthy light thief at 7:34 PM on November 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

OK, final final note: this is so much more than Burial's Label, though it sounds like he sells the most for the label, which allows them to carry on promoting new and unique sounds.

Like Labyrinth by Doon Kanda, released today. Listening to the first track and I'm hooked. It's kind of dramatic style I can't describe better than The Guardian's review, which calls it a haunted fun fair.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:41 PM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

posted by Ahmad Khani at 8:10 PM on November 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

also here's the unedited transcript of the December 2012 Wire interview between Burial and Mark Fisher
posted by Ahmad Khani at 8:18 PM on November 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Burial is an elegy for the hardcore continuum, a Memories from the Haunted Ballroom for the rave generation. It is like walking into the abadoned spaces once carnivalized by raves and finding them returned to depopulated dereliction. Muted air horns flare like the ghosts of raves past. Broken glass cracks underfoot. MDMA flashbacks bring London to unlife in the way that hallucinogens brought demons crawling out of the subways in Jacob's Ladder's New York. Audio hallucinations transform the city's rhythms into inorganic beings, more dejected than malign. You see faces in the clouds and hear voices in the crackle. What you momentarily thought was muffled bass turns out only to be the rumbling of tube trains.
k-punk (Mark Fisher), LONDON AFTER THE RAVE (14 April 2006)
posted by Ahmad Khani at 8:21 PM on November 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

That Wire interview is really great. I'm only half way through but Burial sounds like the kind of person I could listen to for hours.

I don’t really go on the internet, it’s like a ouija board, it’s like letting someone into your head, behind your eyes. It lets randoms in.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:38 PM on November 29, 2019 [2 favorites]

By the time those first Burial releases hit, the world was already taking notice, the shift already beginning. The sounds and ideas percolated through the 'old guard' of the hardcore continuum - Rephlex, Planet Mu - and underground titans like Ninja Tune and XL Recordings were able to shift to newer, weirder sounds (The Bug/King Midas Sound, GAIKA, Mumdance, Zomby, etc). They revitalised dub poetry (Spaceape vale); let the freaks from the wilder fringe of LA's beat scene in; abstracted garage, dubstep, and jungle into the etheric wastelands of urban England. Hyperdub's influence will be measured on a tectonic scale.
posted by prismatic7 at 8:51 PM on November 29, 2019 [4 favorites]

Burial did something pretty special - he arrived on the scene with an absolutely fully formed musical vision. And even more remarkably he was, with the help of Mark Fisher, able to explain exactly what it was about in a way that made perfect sense.

He hasn't really been that prolific in a few years and some of the stuff Hyperdub has put out from him lately feels like it's sort of scraping bits and pieces from his old hard drives. I wouldn't be surprised if the pressure of living up to his reputation is just impossible to deal with. But man, it's hard to overstate the impact of those first few releases.
posted by atoxyl at 9:36 PM on November 29, 2019 [3 favorites]

Agreed that Burial has a remarkable talent but I'm going to have to take issue here.

Hyperdub's influence will be measured on a tectonic scale.

With due respect I think it is in fact quite possible to overstate the impact. My perspective is someone who's been following the continuum since the mid-90's. None of it would have mattered without drum & bass. To me Burial is like the garage/dubstep version of Photek, the sophisticated innovator. Except Photek was more central to his respective scene, and from a 90's perspective garage and dubstep always seemed a little like watered down versions of jungle and breakbeat 'ardkore.

Regardless the continuum is without a doubt still thriving. I could understand how for someone who came up and peaked early during the new millennium it might seem like Burial was an elegy for the music but in truth it is far from dead. I appreciate some of the other commenters pointing out that the likes of Mumdance keep the spirit in fit shape. Although I'm not sure what he's been up to this year.
posted by viborg at 11:49 PM on November 29, 2019 [1 favorite]

With due respect I think it is in fact quite possible to overstate the impact.

Well, "impact" can mean a few things and I will say I don't know that I really meant, say "influence." The thing about Burial as an influence is, again, the Burial thing is very specific, so there's not a lot of middle ground between just borrowing some element like pitch shifted vocals or unquantized drums and completely ripping off the whole deal.

To me Burial is like the garage/dubstep version of Photek, the sophisticated innovator. Except Photek was more central to his respective scene, and from a 90's perspective garage and dubstep always seemed a little like watered down versions of jungle and breakbeat 'ardkore.

Not at all a bad comparison but that Burial was not actually central to much of the rest of what happened with dubstep is in line with what I'm saying about him being relatively sui generis. And part of the unique thing about what he was doing is that it's all very consciously drawn out of a nostalgic view of that whole lineage of music yet put together in a way that sounds extremely distinctive and personal. Whereas Photek I think you can tell (listening to the really early stuff) came from a similar starting point as other people in the youthful genre but then focused on certain aspects and took them to a higher level than anybody else.

I might be getting a little overwrought here - as I said the Fisher interview is a big part of the mystique for me because together they are able to articulate the whole project so well. I don't think that happens very often in music.
posted by atoxyl at 3:11 AM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

I had some other thing I was going to work in there talking about some old records but it is extremely late here so I'm just going to link one of the most remarkable and timeless (no not the Goldie album) old jungle tracks.
posted by atoxyl at 3:17 AM on November 30, 2019 [4 favorites]

Oh boy. Thanks for this.
posted by clockwork at 10:02 AM on November 30, 2019

I was the DJ on a tour of Scotland with the two Steves just after Sign Of The Dub came out. One of the nights on the tour, in Aberdeen I think, was an absolute disaster - the bar staff outnumbered the punters! - so to make up for the lack of a crowd Steve played cheering and applause samples after every track while Stephen bowed ostentatiously to the empty dancefloor.

A lot of artists would've been pissed off and refused to play, but they turned it into a great night for the handful of folk there, were just incredibly kind about us fucking up, and made us feel better by reminiscing about disastrous nights they'd put on in the past. So, yeah, incredible music/poetry and lovely people to boot. RIP The Spaceape.
posted by jack_mo at 10:27 AM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

No I think you did a fine job of clarifying atoxyl. I can see your point about Burial being sui generis. However I'd also say that garage and dubstep are actually much more narrowly defined genres than d&b initially was. So in my view, if Burial had been active ten years earlier and had been working at about 20 bpm faster he would have been accepted as a d&b producer. I could well be wrong though.

I'm also not so familiar with the other Hyperdub artists so my remarks are mostly just specific to Burial. I'd love to delve into the whole label catalog but there's just so much 'classic' music to listen to! (I appreciate the Source Direct link, I always liked their stuff although I don't know that choon. For a sample of the sounds of d&b on the cusp of that 'intelligent'/techstep split, I'm very partial to Bukem's Mixmag Live Vol 3 Mix - [mixcloud] - [discogs] )

In general I know it's been mentioned on Metafilter before but I Love Music is a decent place for music discussion. (If you encounter snark there don't take it personally, it's just their nature.)
posted by viborg at 1:22 PM on November 30, 2019 [3 favorites]

I should say it sounds like you were more "around" in the 90s than I was - I was alive but I was a kid. I'm just a guy who is interested in the history of electronic music. I was fairly "around" for dubstep albeit in the U.S. - I lived in a large communal house with (and for a while directly above) a couple of DJs who were getting into what was coming out of the U.K.... probably at least a year behind? But I got exposed to a whole bunch of it as it evolved and it really blew me away at the time. And I'm still pretty into the deeper darker side to the extent it exists.

But yeah my impression is that Jungle as it was coming out of Hardcore didn't have a lot of rules - maybe one reason you have these certain genius tunes that still sound fresh - and then at some point after it becomes "DnB" it gets very sub-genre-fied and most of it now is at 174 with the 2-step kick/snare pattern.

But that seems to be a common path for new genres. I think Dubstep was also pretty broadly defined for a couple years, because you had stuff that was more like El-B and garage and stuff with breaks at 140 and stuff that was pretty experimental and ambient and somewhere in there somebody discovers half-time. Eventually half-time thoroughly takes over and that splits between the old school, and the ravey stuff, and the super aggro stuff until people are asking (as I have seen many times online) why Burial is even considered dubstep, because much of what defines the genre now doesn't really apply to him.
posted by atoxyl at 2:03 PM on November 30, 2019 [1 favorite]

However I'd also say that garage and dubstep are actually much more narrowly defined genres than d&b initially was.

I'm not sure that's true - all three genres are all over the shop. Good old Happy Days-style MoS afterparty garage, lurchy 2-step and pop remix speed garage are as different from each other as jungle, D&B and breakcore. And dubstep has to be one of the most widely defined genres ever - most of the tracks played at FWD>> wouldn't even be recognised as dubstep by American dubstep fans raised on Skrillex.
posted by jack_mo at 2:07 PM on November 30, 2019 [2 favorites]

Did someone say "garage"? If you missed it (or forgot it), here's a brief history of Garage from empath, posted over a decade ago, where he linked 2-step garage to (UK) dubstep.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:10 AM on December 1, 2019

That 'brief history of Garage' post is a bit off, UK-wise, in that it's too linear - should be a lot more wonky (pun sort of intended!) - and focuses on tracks that hit the pop charts more than what was happening in nightclubs.

For one thing, it misses out the huge influence the Paradise Garage had on nightclubbing in the UK, predating the mutation into UK Garage by a very long time - the Haçienda was directly inspired by the Paradise Garage, Heaven had a Garage night alongside the usual Hi-NRG in '88, Ministry of Sound had staff from Richard Long & Associates flown over to do their first sound system, plus an addled and dying Levan playing. And it misses the link between hardcore and UKG - the MCs, obviously, but also Happy Days was a direct spinoff from AWOL, a hard as nails hardcore/pre- jungle night (I think Kenny Ken & Mickey Finn were the residents?).

Also, it was the change in London licensing laws more than ecstasy that drove the increase in tempo. Folk would be dancing all Saturday night to soulful diva vocal-heavy garage and house at Ministry, which closed at 9am, then popping round the corner to Happy Days at the Elephant & Castle pub, which opened at 10am on the Sunday - everyone was just utterly fucked and wouldn't hit the dancefloor unless the tunes were fast and hard. (This doesn't only apply to garage - Sunday morning clubbing increased the BPM all over London: Trade at Turnmills was 3am to 1pm on a Sunday, so house there got harder and harder, and Sunny Side Up - which started at the Charlie Chaplin across the road from the Elephant & Castle - ran from from noon on Sunday to... sometime on Tuesday if I remember rightly, and played pitched-up hardbag, hoovers and horns, &c.. God, I miss being a teenager.)

The dubstep/grime bit at the end of that post is... just totally wrong, but I've been wittering on too long.
posted by jack_mo at 1:53 PM on December 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

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