Kode9: DJ-KiCKS is akin to having box office seats at the premier showing of the mental inner workings of an A&R man on a mission. That mission is to restore danceability to dubstep.
Kode 9 (aka Steve Goodman) is the undisputed Godfather of dubstep and we should know better than to expect him to throw out a ‘best of’ mix of said genre for the vaunted DJ-KiCKS series. One thing the Hyperdub label honcho and A&R man doesn’t do is rest on his laurels after he strikes the jackpot with the next genre-defining act. His detractors say he is even a little too keen on abandoning his proteges to the choppy waters of the music industry as soon as they find success. Whatever the case may be, there is nothing as tawdry as an “I discovered Burial” sort of gloating on DJ-KiCKS: Kode9, something that would grossly undervalue Goodman’s influence and talent. If Kode9 wants to gloat, he’ll do it right by erasing all doubts of his lordship over all UK bass music and its gnarly offshoots.
And so he does with DJ-KiCKS: Kode9, an hour-long leviathan with tendrils that ensnare all that has been essential in the UK underground for the past decade; canvassing everything from UK funky and grime to dubstep, broken beat and R&B from Hyperdub and beyond. However, just as the mix isn’t a self-congratulatory paean to Goodman’s work in chiseling dubstep into a self-respecting genre, it isn’t merely a bravura display of his leverage on UK dance music. Rather, DJ-KiCKS: Kode9 is akin to having box office seats at the premier showing of the mental inner workings of an A&R man on a mission. We can hear that Goodman’s focus on dubstep is not so much askew as deferential to the genre’s UK garage roots, particularly its heightened percussiveness. In a recent interview with The Guardian website, Goodman lamented the pulverisation of dubstep’s garage-derived syncopated cadences by what he called the inane “talking fart machine” at the mid-range as championed by the likes of Caspa. Goodman’s handsome helpings of UK funky -- electro house that’s partial to afrobeats and Latin rhythms -- and broken beat on DJ-KiCKS is symptomatic of his yearning to restore danceability to dubstep.
Accordingly, the percussion section takes the driver’s seat from the get-go with the Linn drums and Balearic flourishes of Lone’s “Once In A While”, paving the way for the percussive footwork of Aardvaark’s “Revo”. Goodman’s own broken beat sketches -- the unreleased original “Blood Orange” and DJ-KiCKS exclusive “You Don’t Wash” -- then come knocking with their asymmetric snare snaps, making for a stimulating aperitif to the ensuing UK funky chapter. This is set in motion by arch Hyperdub signee Cooly G’s skeletal syncopated study “Phat Si”, followed by label mate Ikonika’s woozy “Heston” and Scratcha DVA’s suitably-named liquid “Jelly Roll”. Logically, the mix then revisits dubstep’s inbuilt soundsystem culture by assuming a dancehall complexion. This is initiated by Grievous Angel’s “Move Down Low” and Sticky’s rather catchy “Look Pon Me” (feat. Natalie Storm), and culminates in the heavy drum artillery of Mujava’s “Pleaze Mugwanti”.
It is always thrilling when a producer with a gilded reputation takes risks. The potentially unpopular installation of what Goodman calls a “dream sequence” in the mid-section -- which encompasses the sweet-and-sour “M.A.B.” of Morgan Zarate and Rozzi Daime’s “Dirty Illusions” -- certainly sideswipes expectations. But not only does this special flight of fancy highlight the plausible crossover of UK funky with hip hop and R&B -- it serves to amplify one’s anxiety in anticipation of Goodman’s second act like the calm before the storm. As befits an A&R man, this is a calculated risk played well. The second act is Goodman’s dubstep medley, and it is positioned to go down like an encore performance of a much-loved oldie.
If the listener was conditioned to appreciate rhythmic complexity in the first act, then it is this conditioning that makes her particularly attuned to the percussiveness of Goodman’s selection of dubstep classics and fresh cuts – as he no doubt intended. This kind of calculated exactness typical of a wonk (Goodman is a published author on how sound abuse and sonic frequencies can be used as weaponry) is evident throughout the mix. Yet the choreography is so expertly wrought as to appear instinctive enough to deflect all risk that the listener will be stuck in a morass of detail.
The dubstep medley begins insidiously with the spasmodic jitters of Terror Danjah’s “Stiff” and Digital Mystiz’ militant “Mountain Dread March”; followed by the bleeping video game crossfire of Hyperdub artist Zomby’s “Godzilla”. The white-knuckled ride then lightens up into a hedonistic rhythmic workout, with the nimble crowd-pleaser “Foot Crab” by Addison Groove, the old Kode9 favorite, Maddslinky’s “Cargo”, and Ramandanman’s “Work Them” further embalming Kode9’s relevance.
Whether Goodman eventually succeeds in wringing the talking fart machine out of dubstep remains to be seen. But from what can be heard on DJ-KiCKS: Kode9, dubstep is more fun and much less cringe-worthy without it.