Social context and aesthetic project: Hyperdub releases records only from friends, becoming the best label in the world.
Exceptional producer with an eye for the undergrowth: Scratcha DVA. Image: Meg Sharp/Promo
No institution of the music industry is questioned as much as the record label. These companies are often said to be superfluous today, since artists can take care of their own promotion and distribution on the Internet. Those who argue in this way forget that labels, whether they publish pop, rock or electronic music, are never merely a means to an economic end. They establish something else: an aesthetic and a social context. One such example is the curatorial work of the London-based platform Hyperdub.
It was founded by DJ and producer Steve Goodman when he wanted to release a maxi under his pseudonym Kode 9 in 2004. "Future Shock," being woken up by an idea of the future. The term often comes up in conversation with the 41-year-old. Goodman studied philosophy at Warwick University. There, along with author Mark Fisher, he was part of the CCRU, the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, which recognized in the accelerated breakbeats of Jungle an aesthetic counterweight to the nostalgic Britpop of the mid-1990s.
Hyperdub has since become one of the few electronic labels that is appreciated by fans and producers alike. "I’m a fan of everything Hyperdub puts out, which was even before I recorded for the label myself," says Ikonika, as the young London musician Sara Abdel-Hamid, who has been releasing on Hyperdub since 2008, calls herself.
Integration figure Burial
Various Artists: "10 Years of Hyperdub", 1 &2 (Hyperdub/Cargo).
"10 Years of Hyperdub" live., 13. June at Berghain, Berlin, with Cooly G, Kode9, Scratcha DVA, DJ Spinn & Taso, Laurel Halo and Kuedo.
The label’s history divides into several phases. Initially, Hyperdub emerged on the fringes of London’s dubstep scene in 2004, irritating from there with tracks that stirred up the dance floor with particularly heavy bass or anime futurism. Hyperdub gained notoriety, however, when it released the first tracks by a musician considered the epitome of the sound of the noughties, Burial. "I first noticed his music on London’s pirate radio station Rinse FM," says Scratcha DVA aka Leon Smart, who hosts the Hyperdub radio show every month on the influential Rinse FM station and has since released records on Hyperdub himself. "From then on, Burial was on headphones, and his music became a staple on the radio show."
To this day, Burial remains Hyperdub’s most popular artist. It was a coincidence that his music was published at all. "He had sent me home-burned CDs and written letters about them when Hyperdub was still a webzine," Steve Goodman says. "His music had a resonance; years later the tracks were still working. And so I decided to release them." The rest is history. In 2008, Burial is nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. As a result, the tabloid The Sun is eager to expose the anonymous producer through photos.
Last year, Burial released a self-portrait and an EP on which he sampled a transgender director’s speech against bullying. "Burial is a friend," says Steve Goodman, describing the pair’s relationship. "If he wants to release music, we’re open to it. We don’t put any pressure on him." Little has changed in this approach since the label’s early days. Artists still mostly find their way to Hyperdub through word of mouth. "We really only release music by friends and friends of friends," Goodman explains. And the label is still in the same place: from the edge of the dance floor, it perceives the sound in the clubs, which it can therefore mix up all the better.
"As a DJ, Steve puts on what he thinks is right, whether the audience likes it or not," explains Scratcha DVA. His music has been released on Hyperdub since 2010. At that time, the label had just begun to be infected by the mutations of the London bass music scene to dubstep. And that meant first and foremost: UK funky, this house style that is hardly known in Germany, which has meanwhile spilled over to mainland Europe via Nigeria.
After the half-time beats of dubstep, London had rediscovered funk. This was also true for Hyperdub. Ikonika garnished her tracks with 16-bit video game melodies, and Scratcha DVA reduced and complicated the underground house rhythms of the London bass music scene by crossing them with modulated synthesizers of the Afro-psychedelic school. "Funk got me into hyperdub," says Scratcha DVA, whose 2012 album Pretty Ugly is considered a largely overlooked masterpiece of British Afro-futurism.
Today, London’s dance underground is no longer the main catalyst for Hyperdub’s label sound. "Music from London is not that exciting right now. There are some capable grime producers, including the likes of Mumdance, but unfortunately far too much boring house and techno." Ikonika is also looking beyond her hometown at the moment and finding greater inspiration elsewhere: "I’m much more attracted to productions from the U.S. at the moment."
It’s also noticeable in the label sound. The new records come almost exclusively from overseas artists. Canadian Jessy Lanza produces super-cooled synthetic R&B. New York-born producer Laurel Halo, who now lives in Berlin, has meanwhile taken up the abstraction of techno after the abstraction of pop songs. And Kuwaiti artist Fatima Al-Quadiri, the latest addition, lives in New York, where she has recorded an electronic concept album about "imaginary China."
Most important address for Footwork
No U.S. pop sound, however, has had as much influence on Hyperdub’s aesthetic in recent years as Footwork, a fast-paced house subgenre from Chicago. "Hyperdub is now the main label for Footwork," explains Scratcha DVA. Footwork is an adrenaline rush programmed on sequencers, where drum machines and dancers fuse into a human-machine at a breathtaking 160 bpm. "I love Footwork, it’s club music that’s straight, made just for the dancefloor and the dancers," says an enthusiastic Ikonika.
Again, it was by chance that Footwork tracks found their way onto Hyperdub. "I was just a fan at first," Steve Goodman recounts. At a party, he was approached by producer Mike Paradinas, who had just introduced Footwork to Europe with the "Bangs & Works" compilation on his own Planet Mu label. "Mike said people would think he was crazy for releasing Footwork music. Surely I should do the same! No sooner said than done."
Hyperdub has been releasing tracks by Chicago producer DJ Rashad since 2013. Rashad, who died April 26, presumed dead of a blood clot, ranks with Miles Davis, Frankie Knuckles and J Dilla for Goodman. "It’s someone who will live on through his music," Goodman describes his fellow DJ. "Rashad transformed old soul samples into intricate footwork pieces, giving them depth."
Chicago’s unofficial ambassador
Rashad was an ambassador for Footwork, able to bring that sound to a large audience. Even after his death, Hyperdub is releasing previously unreleased tracks of his – with proceeds going to Rashad’s family and son. It’s a gesture of friendship that has grown because Rashad and Goodman shared a vision of music. "Footwork is the only music right now that I feel Future Shock about," Goodman says.
And Hyperdub still creates that "Future Shock" with its music. Even if it’s no longer as clear where exactly the future will be, as can be seen in a four-part compilation series the label is now releasing to celebrate its tenth anniversary. The first coupling is a showcase of all the current Hyperdub artists, presenting their dance music style hybrids. Grime MC Flowdan raps over a trap beat, and Goodman himself contributed a footwork track about "imaginary China." Then, on the second compilation, due out in July, the label puts the songwriting skills of its artists front and center
"My job is to bring together the different streams on the label," Goodman says. "In the process, there’s a lot of weird, unintended overlap."
Hyperdub thus manages, almost in passing, to create a fabric that works not only aesthetically, but socially as well. "I feel like Steve understands where I’m going as a producer and DJ," says Ikonika, who refers to Goodman, slightly mockingly, as "Uncle." "Hyperdub is a label that stands for artistic freedom," Scratcha sums up DVA. "As a label, it expects me to do my thing. That’s exactly what I expect from Hyperdub as a label."