Monday, July 20, 2009

Top 10 of the decade - fifth entry

Kode 9 – Sign of the Dub (later just ‘Sine’ - Hyperdub 01 – 2004)
(series growing here)

The millenium bought more relentless intensification of the kapitalist spectacle. We were entering a technofuture we’d in some ways always wanted but were realising it came with negative implications, that it all seemed like flat-out indulgence. We were holes another pixel could not fill. In turn, rave had just bought more splitting of genres and development of niches and hedonic modes, while WhoreCull’s outlook was one of bleak, negative flux; in our inability to find no worthy flight anything so conventional as a consistent editorial line would have been a pathetic bolt-on. We were as guilty as the well marketed appeasers but maybe we were at least razing the ground. It was definitely time for theory and sincerity and valid commentary to take over. Who from the culture was brave enough to make a modern morality tale? The guy who’d bought us the rave theory website, that’s who.

Emerging in late 2004 ostensibly as a cover of Prince’s Sign of the Times, there was nothing like this cold snap of music to remind us all of the flipside of speculative materialism. I found it in HMV Oxford Street floating free of section having maybe heard of it through the burgeoning music blog scene on one hand and the fading dance music press on the other (scroll to bottom for early reviews). A 10” double-sided release in the usual image-free cover; just label logo and other basic information. Beat-less except for the occasional echoed cymbal. A reggae note, reverbed to fuck, is the main motif coming in hard but drifting away backed up by nothing else to clinch on to. A bass pulses as on a jittery life support machine, just as likely to stop as to keep going. Synths very occasionally shudder, an emblem of the subject body’s readjustment to straitening times, then out they go, wisp-like. That’s the instrumentation, put it all together with a narrative from the Daddi Ape and it’s a potent urban gothic brew.

While Goodman’s subsequent (and still sounding excellent) Memories of the Future album was, at least from its title and presentation, a musical gambit, updating and substantiating the hollowed out and neglected electronic rave template (a product of the demands of functional hedonism, music being made to match the shallow expectations we had generated) when too many producers preferred hauntological, nostalgic or just plain stuckist modes, this acted differently to the album’s other tracks due to the jettisoning of rhythm (if not momentum). Musically, everyone knew that the ‘dark’ and ‘sick’ instrumental style had no emotional leverage anymore (and this was at a fecund time within ‘dubstep’ – as it was not known at the time - before ‘dubstep’ went cartoon clownstep) and was merely Pavlovian in delivery and intent. Grime with its low-fi clatter and vocal onslaught carried the weight but somehow blunted the message.

To make something with real force a producer had to do more with his palate than either. Equally, while in the ever-diverse Wire world there would be many non-rave producers capable of utilising similar sounds the net result would usually be music-as-installation, nice/moody/challenging but devoid of context. Kode9 put milieu in his production but let it breathe.

Sine is an expressive warning about now. Some people say, a man never truly happy, unless the next man truly dies: Sine of the Times – gonna mess with your mind. Blow out a church having gone messianic, and from spliff to rocks in months. Today’s tropes are no good for us, many of us won’t emerge unscathed and this is a warning shot explaining why and highlighting culture’s casualties. The way we’re going this track will always be relevant and vital.
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