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5: Five Years of Hyperdub

[Hyperdub; 2009]

By ; November 25, 2009 

Purchase at: Insound (Vinyl) | Amazon (MP3 & CD) | iTunes | MOG

Hyperdub is a name that implies, well, hyperactivity. Something memorable, restless, something that stands out from its surroundings. Hyperdub is all of these things, though if you’re only familiar with the London label’s recent output, go back five years and you might be surprised at what you find. Starting out with massive slabs of foreboding, glacial computer-funk that sounded both post-apocalyptic and inarguably of-the-moment, until recently there was no colour in label founder Kode9’s dank music. Coupled with the evocative but similarly monochromatic music of associate and notable signee Burial, and you’ve got some industrial-level grayness. But Hyperdub — celebrating its fifth anniversary with this very record — shed its pretentious exclusivity and started releasing tracks from other artists, incorporating all sorts of colours and styles into its music. The label went from a respected and unique hub for reliably dark, claustrophobic dubstep to a renowned institution for some of the most forward-thinking music released this side of Warp Records.

Dubstep has been splintering and evolving incredibly rapidly in the past 18 months or so. Where it was once an unfriendly and highly fetishized genre, it’s now a vague umbrella term for a number of genres that incorporate influences from all over the musical spectrum, united in the name of the almighty bass. The peculiarly British genre has never been able to infiltrate North America (outside of the indie-world-approval of Burial and some sparse appearances in hip hop), but you’d never know it from the music contained on the disc; these British producers have started appropriating sounds from American radio, and quite openly and blatantly at that. There’s even a track from an American producer, the admittedly out-of-place “Disco Balls” from Warp artist Flying Lotus.

5: Five Years of Hyperdub is a compilation consisting of a disc of brand new exclusive tracks from all the typical Hyperdub acts (along with a few surprising guests, and also released as a series of individual 12 inches), and a second “greatest hits” disc featuring the best of pre-2009 Hyperdub. The retrospective disc is expectedly excellent and I won’t talk about it here; if you’re interested, you’ve likely heard all the tracks, and if you aren’t, you’re in for quite a treat. But the disc of all-new material is perhaps even more impressive – it makes the retrospective feel insular and regressive in comparison. Most surprising is that the real stars here are not exactly the predictable ones. Burial provides a new track that, while enjoyable, pretty much just sounds like Burial and blends in unassumingly. Darkstar, whose early releases (especially his “Need You” on Hyperdub) sounded like passable Burial knock-offs, effortlessly blows away everything else on the disc with his beautiful, wistful “Aidy’s Girl Is A Computer.” Driven by a loping bassline with overtly pretty mallets, it’s a simple but stunning journey that explores many emotional avenues usually ignored in the genre. It sounds a bit like Kid A-era Radiohead, only with much more warmth and empathy.

Kode9 reunites with The Spaceape (who keeps his presence quite subtle) for “Time Patrol,” a massive track with huge-sounding synths that contrasts quite a bit with his more skeletal recent tracks, and King Midas Sound opens the compilation with the smoky, spaced-out paranoia of “Meltdown.” It’s a track that sounds perpetually off in the distance, with disconnected bass drops and faint sirens uncomfortably propping up the song’s barebones percussion and breathy, whispered vocals. Martyn turns in “Mega Drive Generation,” another one of his dubstep-via-techno excursions that sounds so natural yet remains to be equalled by any other artist, and Ikonika makes an all-too-welcome return with the solid, funky “Sahara Michael.” LD, one of the more recent hyperdub acolytes, appears with the busy and frantic “Shake It,” which has him continuing the constantly-improving winning streak he started with his Kode9 collaboration “Bad,” also featured here on the retrospective disc. The ever-unpredictable Zomby is another one of the biggest triumphs here, delivering an uncharacteristically long track that’s also uncharacteristically good; Zomby is a producer whose restless muse often leads to tossed-off (or simply annoying) trifles.

The compilation isn’t perfect, but even when it comes close to faltering it’s still awfully impressive. The middle stretch of the album suffers a bit, both because it has to follow the magnificent Darkstar track and because it feels quite out of place. The aforementioned Flying Lotus track is grouped together with the similarly abstract hip hop beats of Samiyam and Black Chow, all of which feel nothing like typical Hyperdub releases nor are they really very interesting, despite the forceful Japanese vocals of the latter. L.V.’s “Turn Away” feels regressive and simply not remarkable enough to share space with these other tracks, and Cooly G’s “Weekend Fly” is too arch to really be enjoyable, which is disappointing after the stiff-but-danceable beats of her earlier release for the label. Quarta 330 turns in an overly long and uninteresting chiptune dirge, and Joker and Ginz’s collaborative effort to close the album feels formulaic, if not basically enjoyable.

So really, what we have here is an unusually strong label compilation. It’s a bit disappointing that it isn’t entirely perfect, especially considering the label, but it’s also surprising because compilations like these can so often go wrong. And even when 5: Five Years of Hyperdub does make a misstep, it’s barely noticeable, or simply forgivable; there is nothing “bad” here. Combine the first disc, containing some of the most impressive, futuristic and original music released this year, with the second disc of certifiable hits – the most impressive, futuristic and original music released this decade – and you have a monster of an album that looms over everything else released this year and, ultimately, over every other label in close competition. Hyperdub may not have the exclusivity factor for its artists anymore, especially considering the Burial collaboration with Four Tet earlier this year, but it still does have one thing exclusive to itself: the unequivocal quality of everything it releases. It’s hard not to get excited when thinking about what the next five years of Hyperdub have in store for us mere mortals.


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