Monday, November 29, 2004
Originally published on Drumz of the South

Without a doubt, 2004 should be remembered as a breakthrough year for Kode9. The dubstep scientist made waves around the underground this year by launching his Hyperdub label, contributing groundbreaking tunes to the Rephlex Grime 2 compilation, DJing most of the top parties pushing the sound, and holding a coveted primetime slot on Rinse FM. But behind the scenes he has been quietly working to spread the hyperdub virus for longer than almost anybody. We caught up with Kode 9 to find out what the hardest working man in South London has in store for the future.

DQ: I'm really blown away by what you did for the Grime 2 comp. Serious serious sounds. Production-wise, do you have any new production work forthcoming that people should know about? Any interesting collaborations lined up, or ones that you'd like to see happen in the future?

Kode9: My Grime 2 tracks were made as a response to the first Horsepower album ‘In Fine Style’, at the end of 2002, beginning of 2003, so in a way its like a timewarp that they got released so recently, and so they sound a bit different from stuff I’m working on just now. I'm in the middle of a vocal album with Daddi Gee on the mic... Should be finished with all the tracks early next year for a release at some unknown future date on some unknown label...

DQ: Besides DJing and producing a number of quality tunes, you've been one of the dubstep scene's greatest ambassadors through other channels like hyperdub.com, dubplate.net, Forward>>, magazine writing, etc., and seem to have a serious commitment to spreading the dubstep knowledge throughout London and beyond. Do you have any new projects in the works or involvement with any that we might not know about?

Kode9: Well, I've just started a blog which is kind of fun (when i feel like it), especially since the electronic music press is fucked. When I get round to it, after I've sorted out some technical issues, I'm gonna relaunch a stripped down dub version of the Hyperdub.com website... graphics free etc. Nothing to do with dubstep, but am also currently bogged down in the middle of writing a book about sonic warfare.

DQ: Can you talk a little more about sonic warfare as it relates to underground music or the pirate/soundsystem/hardcore continuum if that makes sense? Will it be of interest to the Forward massive?...

kode9: Well, there's battlin right across the culture of sound, from the use of drumming by Maroons (Jamaican guerrilas against British colonialism) as a communication network, into music culture, from sound system clashes (using bass as a weapon) to vocal clashes (what Wu Tang used to call 'liquid swords'), right through to military research into the use of infrasound (subsonic frequencies) and ultrasound (high frequencies), and the use by advertisers of sonic brands, what I call audio viruses, or earworms which get inside your head and are impossible to remove. The book looks at all these deployments of sonic force which we tend to take for granted as apolitical, and develops a theory of sonic warfare around these kinds of examples.

DQ: It seems that grime/dubstep music has changed so drastically in a matter of only a couple years that it is difficult to imagine what it will sound like even in a few months. Why do you think this music is able to evolve so fast and is it a good sign for the vitality of the scene?

Kode9: When Ammunition called their club night ‘Forward’ 3 or so years ago, well its quite ambitious isn't it! It's like a challenge to keep movin and changing. I've been djing this speed of music for about 6 years, and certain strains of the sound have got into a rut, or you get bored of them after a bit. The important thing is how new sounds keep throwing up new challenges... If you close down to that, then it's just boring. I'm not really into the idea some people have of there being a 'Forward sound' (even if there is) cos for me, that's a contradiction which limits what music can be played.

DQ: So what producers and/or tunes currently in circulation do you think are really pushing the sound forward in original ways? Any producers outside garage tempo that you're really feeling?

Kode9: Apart from the likes of the Digital Mystikz, Loefah, Skreams, Plasticman and Mark One, most of the stuff that has excited me in the last year or two is grime riddims made for MCs. The Digital Mystikz in particular have some amazing stuff in the dubplate pipeline, but on the grimier tip, I really like productions from the likes of Terror Danjah, Target, Wonder, Davinche & Wiley, and MCs like Riko and Trim. Outside of garage tempo, I've been listening to microrecordings of the ebola virus.

DQ: Rephlex releasing the Grime compilations has really been the most established recognition of dubstep and grime within the larger underground music industry (not to mention a serious nod of respect from label-owner Richard D. James). Do you think this is a sign of an increasing global recognition of South London's sound? Can this music spread beyond the UK?

Kode9: I've been playin this stuff abroad for about 4 years and people have always been receptive, one way or another. I think the fact that the sound has flipped so much since grime emerged a few years ago has added a whole new dimension and excitement... People outside the UK are relatively familiar with the breakier end of things which has been around for ages, since hardcore in fact, it's easy for them to dance to, they're used to straight breakbeat, so I don't do that... Sometimes I don't really care if people don't dance... I remember when I dropped Roll Deep's 'Salt Beef' in Australia last year, and people were like 'what the fuck'... That's the kind of reaction I like... Sure, I like people to dance, but sometimes it takes time for people to acclimatise... They may have heard stuff on the net or whatever, but you've got to get it straight out, loud, with proper bass on a big system to fully get it...

DQ: What is it about London soundsystem culture that makes it such a potent cauldron for future-minded music?

Kode9: If you put someone's head in a vice and tighten it, some interesting stuff is going to ooze out. I'm not from London originally so I notice this more. Being an alien, you see full on that this city is like a vast compression chamber, packing in all these diverse elements, ethnicities, influences, stresses, tensions, so everyone has to wriggle about so as not to suffocate. The power of Afro-caribbean sound system culture is not just about the sonic influence of dub, reggae, dancehall and soca, but a whole set of microcultural practices for not just avoiding suffocation, finding breathing space, but for finding some kind of way out. The futurism comes via the competitive pressure, which forces rapid change, recombination and mutation as a matter of survival. Of course, as we know, East London does that a specific way, and that has a specific sound... It's the same with South London, and that sound has its own particularity. I'd say pirate radio is pretty fundamental to the vitality of the music scene in London. It gives producers/djs/mcs a zone of autonomy from the bullshit of the music industry to just get on with stuff, create new sounds, find new audiences etc. So yeah, I've got loads of respect for the station that I play on, Rinse Fm, and the fact they give space to all the strains of the post-garage soundscape.

Check Kode9 Thursdays 7-9 pm on Rinse 100.3 FM. On the web: Hyperdub.com, Hyperdub the label, and Kode9.com.

Interview by Dave Q
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