Black Sun: Kode9 and Evil Music

We met up near Bellevue and had dinner in a Swabian restaurant. The owners must have ripped the place out of a south-western village, aviated it over with some sort of mega-helicopter, and put it back down in West Berlin it was that eerily authentic. Even the waitress was Schwäbisch. The food was brilliant but sadly, the place was empty on a Saturday night.

Later, we walked east for a while to see Kode9 perform at the Haus der Kulturen der Welt (HKW). Kode9 is a Scottish dubstep artist, producer and DJ as well as the founder of the independent record label Hyperdub based in London. Kode9 aka Steve Goodman also has a Warwick University Ph.D in philosophy. On the Internet, he looks very tired, like someone who’s a rough sleeper or who doesn’t sleep much at all because of too much work/art/music.

Curators Detlev Dietrichsen and Holger Schulze had invited Kode9 to perform as part of HKW’s „Evil Music” exhibition, which was on from 24-27 October. The exhibition featured films, concerts, installations, talks and game shows looking at the fascination of evil in art. Their flyer read: “The devil has all the best tunes (…) What music sounds evil from the point of view of which morality or lifestyle?“ I wasn’t quite sure how Kode9 was to fit into this “Evil Music” thing. And although the HKW is a rather exciting and inspiring building, I also had my doubts about the venue being suitable for Kode9’s dubstep action.

But they did have a great sound system installed after all and Kode9 sure gave us the kicks. A friendly crowd gathered in HKW’s subterranean café and together we experienced quite an amazing night being hammered by Goodman with a collage of various electro music styles. What we heard (and felt) was a very physical, bass-driven and intellectual survey sending out dubstep, jungle, minimal, house, disco, latin, (and you name it) sonic waves, almost showing off Goodman’s obviously profound knowledge of electronic music history and sonic theory. Kode9 split his set into a multitude of different genre sections, building each part up with great care and then, just when everyone had starting dancing blissfully to the established rhythm, he tore it all apart again and started something completely different from scratch. It wasn’t easy to dance to his eclectic and rapidly moving signifier sound and good fun to watch everyone trying. Some of the dancing folks didn’t give a damn and just stubbornly kept on moving their behinds and shoulders in their own awkwardly idiosyncratic  – because suddenly out of context – ways. Kode9 was somehow deconstructing club experience live. He didn’t let us enjoy positive rhythm/trance bliss. His refusal to give us constant rhythm/love/sugar was almost disturbing, if not slightly “evil”. Was this negative approach an effort to deconstruct  the normative, positive club experience?

Hyperdub’s best-known artist is London underground electro pioneer Burial. For a long time no one knew who Burial was. Some suspected Kode9 and artists lile Four Tet to be the masterminds behind Burial’s dark and futuristic music. In 2008, it became known that the artist was a certain William Bevan. Even today, not much more is known about his identity.

If Kode9 is hyperdub’s intellectual brain, Burial is the label’s soul. Whereas Kode9’s music is rather intellectual/conceptual, Burial’s is more physical/intuitive. The physical urban melancholia of London at night is omnipresent in Burial’s two albums and various EPs. Imagine catching a night bus at four o’ clock in the morning traveling the dark and anonymous streets London hours before dawn. Pale street lights passing. This is the perfect setting for listening to Burial’s ambient, soulful lostness. His music is negative; there is almost nothing positive about it. Paradoxically however, the universal sense of loss in his music is soothing and good in a way. It’s sounds true.

Kode9/Burial/hyperdub’s art is mostly somber and at times even depressive. With their music, they stand against a positively charged  mainstream industry from whose narcissistic brave new world the notion of “negative” has been completely erased. It is intelligent music with a future. And it is painting a dark picture.

We left the HKW two hours later our heads spinning with tiredness after Kode9’s massive set. It was weird to walk past the vast Federal Chancellery building on our way towards S-Bahns and night busses. The sulking leviathan was looming prominently in the dark, seemingly brooding on the news of its Merkelphone-spying American friends who were sending their own sonic waves everywhere in a desperate, paranoiac effort to save their crumbling empire.

Haus der Kulturen der Welt