June 10, 2014

hyp_imageSon Raw is celebrating his 30th anniversary.

There was no better place than Fabric to celebrate Hyperdub’s 10th anniversary. It was a little rude – half the people in attendance were seemingly there to pull or get off their heads, a little intense – the bass in room 2 threatened to disembowel more than a few people when Mala took the stage for the night’s most physical set, and a little weird – what other super club would have a UKFunky room, a MoMA approved Sino-Grime artist AND a Michigan Techno live act playing at the same time?

Around the time when Dubstep started to refer to robotic frog noises instead of the Hardcore-continuum’s latest step, Hyperdub stopped paying much attention to the ebbs of flows of dance music, assembling an internal musical universe wide enough to accommodate acts as different as Laurel Halo, Terror Danjah, DVA, Jessy Lanza and Funkystepz. While this means they occasionally miss some interesting developments that their contemporaries are quick to pounce on – see Tectonic and Keysound’s adoption of a dark 130BPM flex – it also shields them from the perils of trend hopping and has allowed the label to forge an identity that’s as strong as it is flexible. There’s no Hyperdub act that doesn’t fit because almost by definition, Hyperdub acts are outsiders. Furthermore, practically every record the label has put out in the 5 years since its last state of the union compilation would be an absolute outlier anywhere else. The best way to experience their output is to approach every record with an open mind, the worst is to try to read the tea leaves in a vain search for the label’s next move.

Party wise, the roster’s depth made for a number of difficult choices: Roll Deep veteran Flowdan spitting bars over Kode9 would have been a highlight anywhere on Earth… except that DMZ deity (and Hyperdub act who got away if there ever was one) Mala was re-arranging soundwaves on an atomic level at the same damn time. Terror Danjah probably deserved more of my attention, but his set was a tough sell given DJs Spinn and Taso were playing an outstanding Rashad tribute set in the main room, undoubtedly the night’s emotional peak. Throw in Morgan Zarate’s electronic Hip-Hop set that would put every EDM trap producer to shame and Champion’s syncopated Funky workout, and the best plan of action was to follow your feet instead of the schedule.

The label’s first two Hyperdub 10 compilations mirror the party’s similarly wide scope. 10.1’s dance floor focus crystallizes around Footwork rather than any current UK mutations, a bold move for a UK label but a fitting one. Like House and Techno 20 years ago, the American music scene seems content to remain blissfully unaware of Footwork even as it champions nihilism and silliness, leaving the task of highlighting the edgier stuff to England. Devoid of narrative or easy hooks for radio, the music Teklife and their contemporaries create is too physical and dirty for a chin stroking crowd who cringes at imaginary misogyny but too abstract and avant-guard for those fetishizing parodies of black masculinity. Hyperdub zero-in on a disorienting, synth-drenched pocket of the sound, one that’s as immediate as it is deep.

The forthcoming 10.2 takes a complete other tact, emphasizing the label’s surprisingly thorough history of sensuous vocal cuts and reminding listeners of just how vapid the whole Tumblr&B thing really was, in comparison. While perhaps surprising for those who perceive the label as an outlet for all things electronic, it’s a logical end-point for an organization that began as a webzine defining “Hypersoul.” With an easy-going funk and clever guest spots from ideological cousins Dam Funk and Ghostface Killah, it’s a record that requires minimal participation in dance music singles culture to appreciate, enticing casual fans and confounding any DJ expecting standard tools of the trade. That’s a strong position to be in, and a sign that Hyperdub now stands shoulder to shoulder with labels like Ninja Tune, Warp and XL, imprints that have reinvented themselves beyond their singles-based past. Here’s to 10 more.

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