Kode9 interview

Hyperdub's head honcho says he isn't about to go all Bono on us

Kode9 interview

He's a producer, DJ, author, university lecturer, and boss of one of the most respected labels in electronic music. Steve Goodman, in case you hadn't guessed, is also one hell of a multi-tasker. When we emailed some questions to the man better known as Kode9, we didn't expect to get any answers back until some time next week – so it came as a surprise to find his responses waiting in our inbox the following morning, ready to go.

Goodman will be heading here next week to play at SonarSound Tokyo 2011, a spin-off of venerable Barcelona music fest Sonar. Originally announced back in November, the two-day event has since been turned into a charity gig to help raise money for victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. On a similar tip, Goodman recently donated one of his signature tracks, '9 Samurai', to the Nihon Kizuna charity compilation. At the time of writing, the album has raised nearly $20,000 for the Japanese Red Cross Society.

Charitable activities aside, he's got some releases of his own to think about over the coming months. Black Sun, the first album in five years from Kode9 and poet-MC The Spaceape, comes out on Goodman's Hyperdub label on April 18. The record features vocals by Chinese reggae singer Cha Cha, along with a collaboration with kindred spirit Steve 'Flying Lotus' Ellison. On March 28, meanwhile, Hyperdub is releasing a 12" of long-awaited new material from the label's most famous signing, Burial…

First things first: thanks for contributing to the Nihon Kizuna album. How did that all come about?
A friend and ex-student of mine, Laurent Fintoni, was involved in organizing it. He used to live in Japan. Anyway, he arrived back in Tokyo on the day of the earthquake. He was very quick to email me and all the other artists to ask if we would contribute a track to the compilation and I was very happy to contribute to this cause, having been immersed in the crazy news reporting of events in Japan since the earthquake.

Was there any reason for picking '9 Samurai,' besides the, er, samurai reference?
Well, it was the track of mine that was most influenced by Japanese culture, so I felt Japan owns this track anyway. I was happy to just 'give it back', so to speak.

Do you think that musicians have a duty to take action in situations like this? (Loaded question. Sorry.)
I wouldn't call it a duty. I'm not one of these bandstanding, moralising musicians (like Bono) who is going to try and ram a political cause down your throat. But musicians do have a very privileged access to people, and I was just happy to try and help out in any way I could, for a country that I've had great experiences in, been deeply affected by, and care about.

A lot of tours have been getting cancelled at the moment. Did you have any second thoughts about coming here yourself, given the current situation?
Not really. Obviously I've been following the news, but ultimately, I felt if it's safe enough for 30 million inhabitants of Tokyo to get on with their day-to-day lives, then that's good enough for me.

The power shortages in Tokyo at the moment have led some venues to experiment with ways of reducing electricity usage. Is this something you've ever had to deal with in the past?
The first time I played in Beijing, the first bass drop of my first record took down the whole electricity in the building. This happened 3 times during the set, and the only way to stop it happening was to keep the sound level really, really low. As you can imagine, it wasn't the best gig in the world.

Black Sun sounds a wee bit intimidating when you've spent the past few weeks worrying about nuclear meltdown. Is it an apocalyptic record?
It's a post-apocalyptic record based in our own personal experiences, but then transposed into science fiction. The science fiction story of the album, which we constructed into a kind of mini-manga/graphic novel that's featured in the artwork, was finished at the end of last year. It has strange and unsettling resonances with actual events in Japan. The story takes place after an unclassified radioactive event which transforms the atmosphere. The story, which plays out in the tracks, follows the way in which different groups respond to this event: those that flee, physically, spiritually or emotionally, and those that have the courage to stay and confront the situation. Hopefully people can find something hopeful in what we did. It's not a particularly dark record, unlike our last album.

The album was in the works for a long time. How would you describe its gestation period?
Very stop-start, due to health problems that Spaceape encountered and distractions that we experienced. We started it around 3 years ago, but it only came together in the second half of 2010. Then I went to China in September 2010 and recorded Cha Cha doing backing vocals, and that really helped add a new dimension to the record that tied it together.

We know that there's a lot of mutual admiration between you and Steve Ellison. When it finally came time to do a track together, did it all fall together quickly?
Very, very slowly. We started 'Kryon' together in my studio in London around 2007, I think. It went through many mutations, and I've been playing it as a kind of euphoric climax of my live sets with Spaceape since then. Most of the versions we did had beats, but I found there was something quite unique about the beatless version we ended up using.

We read that you've been teaching film sound recently. Are there any films that you'd recommend watching just for the soundtrack?
Obviously I'm a big fan of the soundtrack to Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, but generally I'm deeply influenced, as are a lot of musicians, by the sound designs of Walter Murch (Apocalypse Now, THX 1138, etc.). I also think the sound design of Guillermo Del Toro's Pan's Labyrinth is amazing.

Guess we don't have to ask when we'll be hearing a new Burial release. How did you manage to keep that one under wraps until so soon before it came out?
We managed to turn it around really quickly, with really only Burial, myself, our mastering engineer and distributor knowing about it until very, very late. It gives me faith that it's possible to short-circuit the normal hype mechanism of doing promo and press, and just release music and [let] people immediately respond. There is something so direct about it. Obviously it's something made possible by the viral nature of social networks.

What else do you have lined up for the coming months?
Well, our album Black Sun is out in April. On the label, we have forthcoming albums from Morgan Zarate, Cooly G, Scratcha DVA and a remix project around King Midas Sound. We also have forthcoming singles by new signings D.O.K., Ossie, Hype Williams and probably more.

Last up, is there anything you'd like to say to people here in Japan? Think of it as your Bono moment.
I'm not a big fan of Bono-type soap-box musicians, so I'm not going to make any pompous pronouncements. But I humbly hope I can provide people with an experience that resonates with them emotionally and helps in some tiny way for them to get through this difficult period.

Kode9 plays on the second day of SonarSound Tokyo 2011, April 3, at Studio Coast, Shin-Kiba. Sign up to the Hyperdub mailing list at www.hyperdub.net.

By James Hadfield
Please note: All information is correct at the time of writing but is subject to change without notice.


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