Son Raw is a raw addict
Kode9 doesn’t want to talk about the past. Specifically, he could do without another interview about Hyperdub’s 10th anniversary, and the endless contextualizing that comes with it. That’s unsurprising for a producer, DJ and label owner that’s consistently looked towards the future for inspiration, but a chat over a bowl of pho following his appearance at Montreal’s Piknic Electronik reveals that the very concept of “the future” is less straight forward than it initially seems. –Son Raw
How’d you find your set at Piknic yesterday? The crowd was loving it and it was definitely one of the more unique environments I’d seen you play in. Going on after a group with a saxophone player can’t be normal for you.
To be honest with you, nothing is normal. There’s never one line up. If I do a Hyperdub party, I usually set the lineup and I’m comfortable with that because there is always a defined curve to the night, but apart from those shows there’s always a random element to it. I played a lot of stuff I hadn’t played before last night so I enjoyed that. I’m probably becoming more selfish as a DJ – “I love this tune and I don’t care what people think”.
The first thing that’s struck me about your recent sets is how the focus has progressively shifted more towards American sounds – be it Jersey club beats or Footwork in the Teklife vein, which you’ve integrated into the label. Your DJing has been connecting the dots between various ideas and scenes for a few years – something documented in your DJ Kicks and rinse mixes… but the American focus seemed particularly pronounced this time. What got you to this point?
Well, I’m not playing tons of Jersey Club stuff although I love a lot of it. But after Jam City’s album in particular, I think there is quite a few UK producers who have been influenced by that stuff and some of its pretty strong. Over the last few years I’ve often felt the most interesting stuff coming out of the UK has been energized by US club music, even in grime.
Yeah, you had a Moleskin tune in there that was a great example of that…
That “turnt on’ tune is great! I heard that because Ikonika and Scratcha were playing it at Hyperdub shows and I didn’t even realize I’d been sent it months ago and hadn’t listened properly, which happens a lot unfortunately because I’m always drowning in new music. There are a few good labels pushing those kind of sounds.
Is keeping up with outside music hard? To me, it feels like Hyperdub at this point, is very much its own self-contained ecosystem of artists – separate from whatever else goes on in the UK. And it’s definitely growing but is it sometimes tough to get out of… not the Hyperdub bubble but to look at what other people are doing when you have such a strong identity yourselves.
Sure, obviously when you try to stay loyal to a core set of producers you want them to keep evolving. You don’t want them to stay static. Occasionally you have to refresh the label and let in a new influence. There are certainly producers on the label who are always letting fresh energy into what they make and what they DJ and that’s important because they have to keep moving or else the label becomes stale. Everyone needs to keep moving.
In terms of the 10.1 compilation we saw that in the number of Teklife artists on there. I find it particularly interesting because you guys are the only ones who seem to be signing tracks by the original artists, aside from Planet Mu. That contrasts with a lot of other people in the UK who seemed to go “Well, let me put my spin on it mix it with Jungle” You went straight to the source.
Well I’m a footwork fan, and obviously prefer the stuff coming out of Chicago, because it’s usually better. Rashad opened a door and his Teklife family should be going through that door. I don’t see too many other labels releasing footwork aside from Planet Mu and a couple of smaller labels. These are really inventive producers so it’s a no brainer to me –if anyone should be building on what Rashad did it should be Spinn and the rest of the Teklife crew. I’m just trying to help out in that process.
By the same token, listening to the tracks you chose on Hypderdub 10.1 or Double Cup for that matter – there’s definitely your imprint there in terms of the sweet-and-sour chords, and the lingering dread. That feedback loop is interesting because to me, it’s unique to Hyperdub-released Footwork, even if it’s all Chicago producers.
When I choose tracks from these guys they usually have some of those traits that I find in any music that I like, or listen to, or sign. But I don’t tell them what to make – I just pick their tunes that work for me. Obviously I’m in the Uk, which is a very different context than that which the music originally came out of, so there is definitely more and more non-Chicago influences creeping into their sound.
As far as the Earl and Rashad stuff goes, that Bombaclaat tune – I don’t think it could have come out on any other label.
That felt like us doing a full ‘yardcore’ circle. It doesn’t matter what genre it was, it’s natural home was on Hyperdub!
It also loops up to what we were saying about Footwork producers being underrated and not being signed. I found the fact that you signed that Flowdan EP to be interesting because at the point where a lot of people were hyped off Instrumental Grime you kind of went ahead and said: “Well, here’s a vocalist from the original school who never quite got his due and who’s making amazing records…” That was a bit of a left turn for the label as well.
Kind of, but it was more of a return to the idea of a circle – going back to Skeng. Flowdan and his manager approached us and I said “yeah – let’s do it” but it took a little bit of time to sort out which tracks. I think they had a preconception about which kind of tracks I would like, that we’d sign more Dubstep oriented stuff. And of course I said no – I want Grime tracks! So there was a bit of back and forth to narrow it down to which ones would be right, but I couldn’t believe it when Flowdan told me that this was his first solo release. It just didn’t occur to me that he’d never done a solo release since he’s at the top of his game.
Plus it gave you the opportunity to play No Gyal Tune on the radio followed by 30 minutes of girl tunes!
[Laughs] Yeah I find the ‘no gyal tune’ attitude funny. I mean, I get it, but I can’t really take it seriously as a statement so I always poke fun…
Fair enough. To me in a weird way, coming from Funky and Garage, it reminds me a little of what happened to Jungle, where I quite liked Jungle and then it got to a point where I couldn’t listen anymore. In an opposite way maybe in that Drum & bass got really hard and this got really simple…
My main problem with UK House in all its varieties right now is that often it just doesn’t grab me rhythmically. There is some decent grime around. But I suppose I’ve just been looking elsewhere in the last few years as a DJ. When there is something I really really like, I’ll play it, but in the meantime. . .
Not to dwell on it, it’s one of those things where if it does a little bit of good it’s worth it. In North America people are discovering House through Disclosure and if it gets them to listen to something other than EDM…
That was my “silver lining” take on Brostep. I dislike the music with a passion but in the grand scheme of things – it’s probably progressive because it’s getting a lot of rock and metal fans into electronic music. People’s taste will change and I’d rather people were raving at big EDM festivals on molly than big stadium rock gigs.
Back to the label and the full-length side of things. What I find interesting is that some tropes pop up across releases in very different ways. Ikonika, Fhloston Paradigm and Fatima Al Qadiri made very different records on an aesthetic level, but there’s a shared interest in futurism there, something that stretches back to Memories of the Future.
I think the Fatima album is a very digital album (pristine, glossy, an album of surfaces – to take that as a criticism is to totally misunderstand what she has made) and the other two are quite analog. I’m not sure what the future means anymore. I definitely have an interest in futurism but it’s been a struggle to find great leaps forward in electronic music over the past few years. Which is why I’m releasing footwork on the label, which is still to me some of the most frantic, energized and challenging yet accessible electronic dance music around just now.
Is the concept of forward movement still a driving force for you, in terms of that interest in futurism?
My notion of futurism is, if you don’t believe history goes in a straight line, then futurism isn’t just about forgetting the past and doing something new. Early Techno had this idea of cleansing the music of any sense of its past – a year zero in music. That’s not really the futurism I’m referring to. For me, its always been about the relationship between roots and futurism where history isn’t a straight line that speeds off into the distance, it’s like a spiral that’s always taking in and sweeping up the past and the present and the future at the same time. That’s why you get Footwork that’s sampling 70s rare groove or 80s funk or 90s Techno or contemporary Hip-Hop. That’s not a retro thing – that’s taking old music and re-activating it in a new way. The thing that appeals to me the most about Footwork is what it’s doing rhythmically: it’s a welcome shock to someone who hasn’t grown up through the history of Juke.
That idea of a spiral is interesting. In Chinese history there’s the conception of “Dynasty rise, Dynasty falls” and the cyclical nature of time.
The problem with the cyclical nature of time in relation to futurism is that if it’s a cycle, nothing new can ever happen. You’re stuck with this pre-destination. That’s why it has to be a spiral and not a circle. I used to think history was a loop but then nothing new can ever happen and you’re stuck with the same thing over and over. For there to be something new and unprecedented you have to be between a circle and a straight line – that’s a spiral.
I’m not even sure how to follow that statement up to be honest.
“What’s your favorite food?”
A commonality I found between Fhloston Paradigm and Asiatisch albums is that they both have a futurist component and it’s outside of western culture. Be it Afro-futurism or the Shanzhai aesthetic in China, or even going back to Chicago Footwork. Those Chicago producers aren’t 4th world but considering all the problems in Chicago, the Black population is outside of western capitalism in many ways. Is the future outside of Western culture?
Well I don’t believe that the US black population is outside of capitalism for one second. Sure there is a massive underclass, but Black capitalism has never been so strong, especially in the entertainment industry. But yes. Whatever you want to call it: diasporic futurism or whatever… it’s quite clear that this is exactly what is going on. We’re in a period where western culture is in a very steep decline. Afro-Futurism, Sino-Futurism, Gulf-Futurism or any of these cultural tendencies are indications of possible futures after the west crashes, in a multi-polar world. For me, that’s where the most interesting music often comes from and it jams that racist, colonialist idea that the white man is in the future and the rest of the world is primitive and somehow in the past. The idea that technology is allied to white European man and that ‘primitive’ non-westerners (even within the west) have no affinity to technology is obviously bullshit. When you get these exceptions that completely undermine that racist colonialist narrative, it’s key. Be it in music or anything else.
Wrapping up, I just saw that you’ve got a limited edition project called Martial Hauntology coming up with Toby Hayes. Care to tell us a bit about it?
It’s a project we’ve been working on for maybe 4-5 years through sound installations. It came out of my research for my book and Toby’s research for his own projects. We’re trying to create something called an un-sound system. A silent sound system that isn’t merely quiet in volume: something that uses infrasound and ultra-sound – frequencies too high and too low to hear in a normal way. We did a few sound installations in Berlin and New York, exploring how we used subwoofers (now we are using wearable subpac devices) and directional ultra-sound speakers.
The Martial Hauntology project is a book and a narrated sound-design LP. The main theme is the American military’s use of sound systems to haunt the enemy. It covers three moments: the ghost army in the Second World War who were involved in sonic deception. The psy-ops campaign in Vietnam including “Wandering Soul” where they created tapes simulating the voices of dead Vietnamese soldiers and played them into the jungle at night. In Buddhist belief systems, if you die an untimely death, your soul is left homeless to wander. So these tapes were wandering souls telling their comrades to surrender. The third phase has to do with the war on terror and the use of directional loudspeaker technology to create a voice that sounds like it’s coming from inside your head. It’s the generalized schizophrenia implied by that confusion of internal and external voices that interests me.