Album Review: Kode9 – DJ-KiCKS

[!K7; 2010]

Sometimes a release comes along at just the right time that seems to sum up everything even remotely related to it in some perfect, nearly transcendent way. 2010 already feels full of these moments, with Scuba’s Triangulation and Actress’ Splazsh nicely summing up the ongoing interaction of UK bass musics with disparate scenes and long-abandoned limbs of the hardcore continuum for albums that feel strangely universal, even in their unfriendliness. Kode9 (known to friends as Steve Goodman), dubstep pioneer and head of the unparalleled Hyperdub label, releases his second mix CD and first in four years for the eccentric DJ-KiCKS series, and it’s an entry that rises to the top of the ‘importance’ pile with ridiculous, almost-gloating ease.

Kode9’s mix is, well, brilliant. Modeled around his recent sets, it features an array of dubstep, UK funky, garage, grime, and everything in between; he begins the mix with Lone’s gorgeous tropical wonky funk on “Once In A While” and segues it into the inverse monochrome of his own tracks and a surprising appearance from Aardvarck’s spacey Linn drums, doubling up the unreleased original “Blood Orange” with the surprisingly exuberant “You Don’t Wash.” From then on we’re treated to the horror-house of Cooly G’s “Phat Si” and the mix plunges into a darkly funky stretch with Ill Blu, Ikonika, Scratcha, and the latest from Numbers, for a blistering ten-track stretch of snappy drums, liquid synths, and dive-bombing bass.

The pace of the mixing is astonishingly coolheaded. Never feeling fussed or scientific but far from a sloppy sprint through tracks, it’s an exacting set that avoids feeling exacting. With a tracklist that’s overwhelming on paper, the near-schizophrenic changes in mood are reduced to pleasing left turns in Goodman’s steady hands. Even when the mix suddenly halts after the poppy vocal of Morgan Zarate’s “M.A.B.,” once Zomby’s icy trills start to trickle into the picture, everything falls into place. From then on the mix enters the ‘dubstep’ phase, with Kode9’s grip of the genre still as loose and wide as it ever was. With him we traverse classics past and future, as grimy flavours like Terror Danjah’s classic “Stiff” and forthcoming Hyperdub release “Bruzin V.I.P.” diffuse into more percussive pieces like Digital Mystikz’ foreboding “Mountain Dread March” and Kode9’s own “Bad.” Special mention has to be made for Ramadanman’s jukey “Work Them,” the latest release on Loefah’s Swamp81 label, which stops the mix in its tracks with its breakneck percussion and perpetually tumbling breakdown. There’s of course a few minutes of “Footcrab,” which has been so rinsed in 2010 there’s scant bits of moisture left, but no 2010 mix would be complete without the other juke-baiting track.

For something that was supposed to be a simple emulation of his own recent DJ sets (which tend to run about three times the length of this CD), Kode9’s DJ-KiCKS feels sarcastically monumental (just look at the colourful, exaggerated artwork), knowing its own towering importance but refusing to say the word. Goodman mentioned to Martin Clark in a recent interview that he changed the mix around after the initial try because it felt too “tense,” and apparently this is where all the brighter, vocal tracks in the middle come from. Given that he made his name on bass-driven dread, this might be a bit surprising to hear, but the breezy midsection is part of what makes this mix so impossible to resist. Simply put, this is UK-centered dance music at its finest, regardless of genre; sure, you won’t find much in the way of techno here, but you’re not going to find much traditional ‘dubstep’ either. Kode9, as he usually does, shows us the future on his DJ-KiCKS; here’s hoping in 2014 Kode9 will guide us at the next fork in the road.