Electronic producer and DJ Kode9 at Los Globos in Los Angeles' Echo… (Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles…)
In a city known for its aural good vibrations, it can be sometimes pleasurable, indeed necessary, to visit a terrain where frequencies are darker. At the dance club Los Globos in the Echo Park area of Los Angeles on Sunday night, producer, record label owner and sound theorist Steve Goodman, best known to fans of electronic bass music as Kode9, proved a worthy guide, taking his flock on a hike into some of the deepest realms of the low country.
Goodman, whose label Hyperdub helped push the electronic dance music subgenre dubstep into the public eye, starting in 2004 with essential releases by, among others, Burial, King Midas Sound and Joker, focuses his curiosity on frequencies. Specifically, as he wrote in his 2010 book, “Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect, and the Ecology of Fear,” he has long been concerned with “environments, or ecologies, in which sound contributes to an immersive atmosphere or ambience of fear and dread -- where sound helps produce a bad vibe.”
In other words, vibrations that would make Brian Wilson’s head explode.
At Los Globos in a rare L.A. appearance as part of the weekly Smog Sunday Night Sessions, the London-based, Glasgow-born Goodman wasn’t interested in punishment, though, even if his low-frequency bass tones rumbled through internal organs where sound seldom travels. On the contrary, standing before DJ gear to craft a 90-minute on-the-fly set that highlighted his skill at wandering through all intervals of the frequency range, the producer offered a tutorial on British dubstep, its antecedents and many subgenres, and mixed in hip-hop a cappellas from across time to create fresh, vital and often overwhelming sonics. Absorbing these waves were a few hundred bodies, most in their late teens and 20s, who danced with easy, laid-back fluidity.
They did so in a room overpowered with decibels; refrigerator-sized subwoofers were aimed at the dance floor from each corner, and overhead speakers telegraphed sibilant high-hats and thick midrange to create a sound that seemed to live and breathe, inhaling and exhaling with Kode9’s humming, minimal rhythms -- then sprinting as he mixed in faster tracks. It was enough sound to make afros wobble and skinny-legged knees bounce.
Unlike labelmate Burial, whose darkness is more languid and ominous, Goodman has shown an increasing desire to ramp things up, as evidenced by his rolling new track “Xingfu Lu,” a snippet of which he performed, his first new music since his collaboration with London rapper the Spaceape, “Black Sun,” in 2011. As with much of his work, the prime antecedent on “Xingfu” is drum & bass, the British-born percussive sound born in the early ’90s that by the end of the decade had become so watered down that it was soundtracking car commercials and NFL highlight reels.
After drum & bass hit a peak, it returned underground and in the early ’00s started exploring the space within the rhythms to create twisted new variations centered on Jamaican dub-styled bass lines. From drum & bass to drill & bass to U.K. funky to 2-step to grime and dubstep, the DJ on Sunday connected it all -- it could be argued that he connected it all in “Xingfu” -- adding into the mix the thumping Chicago subgenres footwork and juke music.
Kode9’s affinity for juke revealed itself with Chicago producers Rashad & Spinn’s remix of Kanye West and company’s “Mercy.” It pierced with tight digital snare snaps, slowed to a half-speed skid and chopped up lyrics to the “Mercy” chorus as if it were a ransom note. He also mixed in fellow British mystery man Zomby, whose wonky, synthetic variation sounded time-traveled from the Atari game Asteroids.
What else did he work in? Only Goodman knows. The DJ is deliberately secretive about his set lists, but to parse tracks is beside the point and akin to examining one thread in a tapestry and writing of its effect on the overall design. But by its conclusion at just before 1 a.m., what he’d made was powerful and precisely crafted, and obviously created by a human who understands soundwaves and the ways in which they do a body good.
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