Review: Various Artists – Hyperdub 10.3

The third of this year’s compilations marking the ten year anniversary of record label Hyperdub represents something of a gear shift. While the previous two releases have largely been dominated by beat-driven songs, Hyperdub 10.3 showcases a more ambient, and stranger, collection of music. For the large part, the album renders straight-forward classifications redundant; instead highlighting the futurist tinges that ebb at the boundary lines of the label’s roster. This is music that simultaneously demands close attention, whilst also urging caution to the overly attentive listener. It is the kind of sound that sucks one in, absorbing and transforming the emotional landscape into a state of heightened alterity.

Nowhere is this better signified than in the work of Dean Blunt, who features both as a solo artist and in collaboration with Hype Williams associate Inga Copeland on the compilation. Urban sets a detached and melancholic horn against pensive strings, creating a suspended and suspenseful moment that evokes TV soundtrack cues for programs such as Denis Potter’s The Singing Detective. Inga Copeland’s own solo effort I Am Your Ambient Wife breaks up into a wavering digital distortion moments into establishing a structure.

The effect is akin to falling asleep late night in front of a film, codeine-hazy, and catching woozy impressions of the soundtrack as you sleep.

These fragments sit comfortably alongside contributions from other more established Hyperdub artists. There is a real sense that the sound the label has become renowned for – bleak, urban, but fundamentally dance orientated – is mutating into something far stranger and enthralling. For instance, Kode9’s Pink Sham Pain Down the Drain may come as a shock to those more familiar with his previous outings, sounding closer to Oneohtrix Point Never in its use of warm sounds thrown into dissonant juxtaposition. It is a credit to the album’s sequencing that the track seems to veer into Laurel Halo’s Melt; its dense and dread-inducing strings giving waveringly over to a reedy synth. The effect is akin to falling asleep late night in front of a film, codeine-hazy, and catching woozy impressions of the soundtrack as you sleep.

There are brief moments that render themselves more familiar, albeit through a gauze of static and uncertainty. The incredible interplay of bass synth, drums and keys on Blue by King Midas Sound causes the listener to recall the exemplary beauty of their debut album, Waiting for You. In a related vein, City of God, by Walton, builds tension around a single bass throb, though even this is rendered without motion or transition. It is the sound system killer frozen at the moment of inception, the terror of a juncture that simply does not progress. If there’s been a better musical representation of the zombie status of late capitalism, this writer is struggling to contrive of one.

Perhaps the most significant inclusion on Hyperdub 10.3 is Jeremy Greenspan & Borys, who close the album with Gage. The track is amongst the longest on the album, a thrum of hovering wave forms that become gradually enveloped by an intense electronic drone. It is terrifying, complex and so fiercely modernist in outline that it will alienate more than a few listeners. At the same time, it embodies so much of what Hyperdub has come to represent in the last ten years: a pioneer sense against prevailing winds, a preparedness to take the risks that others would not contemplate.

Words: Andrew Spragg

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