Kode9 & The Spaceape Kode9 & The SpaceapeBlack Sun
It’s funny how the release of some records come together perfectly with the historic conjuncture of the moment. It’s what’s happening to “Black Sun”, the second album by Kode9 & The Spaceape, who have come up with a futurist mythology for their new record –a bit like Drexciya used to do– where radioactivity is a key element. On the other hand, Kode9 has always been interested in the relationship between sound and the military use thereof, something that has always been reflected in his music: here, for example, you can hear it in the sirens of “Bullet Against Bone”. But even so, the coincidence of the record being released at such a historic moment as this one is astonishing up to the point that “Black Sun” sounds like a comment on the present state of things in the world, as if we didn’t already know about the duo’s apocalyptic vision.
But the album doesn’t only work as a comment on the world: it’s also as a comment on the state of things with regards to British electronic music today. Hyperdub, Kode9’s label, has been looking for the most avant-garde sounds to succeed dubstep; from Zomby’s cubist wonky to the genius mutant funky of Funkystepz via the purple melodies of Joker, the label, like this record, is always looking for sounds that make sure bass music will still be the sound of the future.
Of all the elements with which the couple has built their second album, maybe the most representative and interesting one is that of the synthesiser. There’s all kinds of them on the record; analogue and digital, presented as drones or as inklings of melodies, rusty and lustrous, with a variety of timbres that show Kode9’s concern with exploring the expressive possibilities of those instruments. There are moments when the synths sound like Chicago house –an influence on the better part of the record, albeit half hidden and making sure the album’s more extrovert than its predecessor–, and sometimes you can hear the influence of Joker and understand why Hype Williams have been signed to Hyperdub. In that sense, tracks like “Otherman” stand out, with those synths that present a rugged texture, scorched, somewhere between Wendy Carlos and the aforementioned artists.
The synths replace, therefore, the basslines as the main element of Kode9 & The Spaceape’s aesthetic, expanding their colour palette to brighter zones, without however losing the gloomy tone that characterises most of their music. Also contributing to this turn to new territories is the fact that The Spaceape is accompanied by Cha Cha, an Asian vocalist who works as a splendid female counterpoint to his dark and apocalyptic voice, lightening up the atmosphere considerably. In that sense, what the duo has done on this album is reminiscent of what Kevin Martin has been doing over the past few years with The Bug and King Midas Sound; the music benefits from the variety of voices from different genres and origins, reflecting the multi-ethnic society of London, which is, after all, where bass music in all its appearances comes from.
Apart from the melodies and voices, we’d have to mention the rhythm. The rhythmic patterns have funky house as a starting point, a sound Kode9 has been keeping an eye on in the past few years, as his DJ sets and mixtapes have shown, apart from the brilliant Hyperdub singles like the one by Funkystepz, earlier this year. And I say funky as starting point because, much like Funkystepz, he offers a mutant vision of the genre, equally recognizable and strange, taking a rhythmic pattern –a sonic virus, as Kode9 calls it– and mutates it in order to return it to its natural environment, the dancefloor.
Kode9 & The Spaceape have taken their time, but it’s obvious they have worked hard to come to a concept that justifies a second album, starting from the “Black Sun” single as a point of inflection. British electronic music was in need of a record like this, complex and ambitious, futuristic and exciting, with a succession of solid tunes.
Kode9 & Spaceape — Am I