Friday, October 06, 2006

Dummy Blog Album of the Week: 'Memories of the Future' by Kode 9 & the Spaceape

Kode 9 is dubstep's philosopher laureate. His aphorisms range from the revelatory:
'Most of the people that produce and DJ dubstep were into jungle and it’s almost like we know jungle so well now that we don’t need to hear the fast breakbeats; it’s in our bodies already. What was exciting about jungle has almost been internalized into our systems, so we don’t need so many elements any more to get the same vibe.'
to the incomprehensible:
'As opposed to a bass fundamentalism, I’m interested in vibration as micro-rhythm or micro-relation, so I use this as a way of accessing the rhythmic continuum which cuts across the urban frequency spectrum, constructing a cultural tectonics. I am interested in a vibrational rhythmanalysis of the control city.'
But we must indulge intellectuals, even when – especially when – they seem in danger of disappearing up their own rhythmic continuum: we live in a time where a lyric like 'I bet that you look good on the dancefloor/ Dancing to electro-pop like a robot from 1984' apparently makes Alex Turner from the Arctic Monkeys some sort of latter-day Petrarch. Twenty-first century music could do with some brains. Perhaps on Kode 9's next LP we will hear him quietly pontificating about Deleuze on one stereo channel, like on Gang of Four's 'Anthrax', but on Memories of the Future he lets the Spaceape do the talking.

So which future is this? To me, it's straight out of the Orwell novel to which Alex Turner was presumably not trying to allude in the above couplet. Kode 9 gives us a kind of totalitarian dub, with Spaceape as a dictator reading out his weekly address on state radio. 'We have to take serious measures' warns Spaceape on the first track, and he's not joking. There's a Soviet severity to these beats – the sound design doesn't have futuristic sheen of, say, Skream's, which isn't to say that Kode 9 is a bad producer, just that his aesthetic is not quite what we're used to. Lots of these tracks are made of not much more than an accordion synth, a bass hum, and a brittle snare. They're cheap and bare and vast at the same time, just like the brutalist concrete tower which would house the Ministry of Justice in the dystopia over which Spaceape rules. When I hear the sluggish horns on 'Nine Samurai', I think of tanks parading through the streets as a show of strength. There's a two-step shuffle on 'Curious', but it takes all the sex out of garage (perhaps by means of mandatory hormone injections) and puts it to work on the factory floor.

On Memories of the Future, Spaceape is a psychiatrist, a prophet, a confessor, a lunatic, and a soldier as well as a despot. I have no idea whether he's the next Linton Kwesi Johnson, or whatever else people have been saying, but he couldn't be a better match for Kode 9's dark cityscapes. His lyrics creep into your head like the 'alien virus' he keeps telling us about. And of course there's that voice, that sounds like it's slowed down even when it's not.

When Kode 9 uses a pure sine for his basslines instead of the surging square wave wobble preferred by most dubstep producers, I wonder whether it's a deliberate reaction to the fact that most music these days is heard out of iPod headphones or laptop speakers – 50% of this album is simply invisible to technology like that. Listen to it on a proper rig, or don't listen to it at all. (Incidentally, I once put post-apocalyptic Prince cover 'Sine of the Dub' on a mix CD as a birthday present. Of course, the birthday girl stuck the CD on, and when it got to that track, I saw the bass reduce the party from tipsy burble to nauseous catatonia in two minutes. Maybe Kode 9 could put that in a footnote in his forthcoming text on the history of sonic warfare.)

Powerful as Memories of the Future is, it never quite has the emotional heft of Burial's LP, which also came out on Kode 9's Hyperdub label. Where Burial gave us yearning, Kode 9 gives us dread; where Burial gave us London, Kode 9 gives us a faraway place; where Burial gave us something personal, Kode 9 gives us, somehow, something political. It's strange, in a way, to talk about 'relating' to instrumental music, but I could relate to Burial in a way that I can't to Memories. Like all the best science fiction, however, Memories is of course really meant to be about the present day – so maybe I just need to be less literal, let the associations flow. Here we find ourselves, as Spaceape says, 'Locked in, and twisted out of all recognition.'


Released 16/10 on Hyperdub

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