Retrospective: Hyperdub

Few labels over the last decade can claim the innovation and consistency of quality that has materialised from the Hyperdub camp. Formed in 2004 by one of its foremost artists, Kode9 (Steve Goodman), the London-based imprint offered something new and exciting from the off, and has rapidly crafted an ethos as distinct and iconic as the space age font that adorns its logo. Originally conceived as a fanzine, Hyperdub’s recognition of the roots of what was to become known as dubstep (Goodman told The Guardian in 2010 that the label was a “mutation of British electronic music, infected by Jamaican soundsystem culture”), and its steadfast refusal to follow the style’s linear narrative, is what set the label apart from its contemporaries.

After testing the waters with a few of his own dub-heavy 10/12” collaborations alongside the likes of Daddi Gee and long-time musical partner Spaceape, Goodman’s first official full-length release on Hyperdub was to prove one of the most crucial of the last decade. That self-titled debut from a mysterious South London producer operating under the name Burial combined elements of 2-step garage, ambient house and dubstep all filtered through the walls and corridors of clubs into an ethereal mesh of rattling drums and disconnected voices. Described variously as ‘nightbus’, ‘post-dubstep’ and ‘Hypersoul by the label itself, the style immediately spawned imitators of varying quality, before its creator returned to reclaim his crown in 2007 with the definitive blueprint Untrue.

The success of Burial – within both the subcultures he represented and the wider liberal music press who recognised his snapshot vision of a particular corner of the zeitgeist – was symptomatic of the ability that Hyperdub residents have to develop and innovate. Post-millennial UK bass music now had a diverse cannon on which to reflect and plunder for influences, and Hyperdub was never far from the centre of the action.

Although often unfairly pinned as a dubstep label, artists as diverse as the electro-dub of King Midas Sound, Terror Danjah’s grime sensibilities, the stone-cold UK funky of Cooly G, and Darkstar’s combination of robotic feeling and detailed synth work on 2010’s North fit comfortably under the Hyperdub’s enviable umbrella. The arcade game tones of Ikonika or Zomby’s cold synths and rasping drum machines further served to stretch the label’s reach over UK bass music, and, despite the level of prolificacy the imprint has shown (particularly towards the end of the ‘00s), this hasn’t had the effect of saturating its market. You need only take a glance at the Hyponik reviews section to confirm that.

Many labels can be said to owe a debt to the Hyperdub legacy. Formed only a couple of years ago, New York‘s Tri Angle Records channels Hyperdub’s ghostlier corners with an almost exclusively unnerving palate of sounds – releases from Holy Other and Vessel’s recent Order of Noise displaying many of the tropes associated with Untrue and Goodman’s own cavernous productions. The Darren Cunningham-fronted Werk Discs has traded influences with the Hyperdub stable in its time too, with Cunningham, in his work as Actress, being an early advocate of the low-filtered, low-slung ambient house that was the de rigueur sound for many producers in the wake of his debut 2008 release, Hazyville.

Recently, it could be said that things have got even more experimental at Hyperdub HQ. Laurel Halo’s dense, uncompromising foray into the world of obtuse references and synth workouts on this year’s Quarantine is a fairly challenging listen at first, before its indirectness yields rewards during repeat plays. The perfectly unique world of Hype Williams, with its veiled pop culture references, muddied production and overly-stoned vocal collages, adds a dimension of the absurd to Hyperdub that doesn’t feel at all out of place, and the duo’s Black is Beautiful (released under the name Dean Blunt & Inga Copeland) threatens to be one of the year’s best albums in any genre.

But then this unfettered creativity is what’s always made Hyperdub so endearing. As King Midas man Kevin ‘The Bug’ Martin explained in a recent interview: “as Hyperdub’s progressed, for me it’s become a really interesting combination of head and body music. The albums seem to be getting more and more cerebral, and the 12s seem to be getting more and more physical. I think it’s a nice schism, you know?” It’s a highly accurate summation of a highly complex label capable of impressing with new ideas and exciting new artists at every turn. Coming into its ninth year, the Hyperdub train shows no sign of slowing, and here’s hoping that forthcoming releases scheduled from the likes of Morgan Zarate and Ossie follow the same path as that of their forebears, and continue build on the label’s impressive lineage.

A ‘Secret Hyperdub Headliner’ will feature at Hyponik: 10 this Friday (19th October) at Birthdays in Dalston. Head here for full details.

Tom Quickfall