Kode9 Talks 15 Years of Hyperdub and Wu Tang Clan Influences

By Bryan Grogan, November 28, 2019

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Hyperdub have been at the forefront of some of the most fascinating, interesting and forward-thinking movements in electronic music since founding 15 years ago. Driven by the indefatigable Kode9, the label has been behind legendary releases by the likes of Burial, Laurel Halo, Lee Gamble, DJ Rashad, Jessy Lanza, Ikonika... the list goes on and on. 

The DJ, producer, label boss and academician has been coming to play in China for more than ten years, connecting with folks like Gaz Williams (the brain behind Shelter, ALL and SVBKVLT), Chen Tianzhuo and Lu Yang, the founders of Oil in Shenzhen and many more. 

He’s set to return to Shanghai next week for a number of events in celebration of Hyperdub’s 15th anniversary. He’ll be joined by multimedia wizard Lawrence Lek for an audio-visual performance, as well as Nazar, Silvia Kastel and Shannen SP for an evening at ALL. We took the opportunity to talk with Kode9 about his first sets in China, his interest in the country’s culture and his latest obsessions. 

What are you looking forward to about returning to Shanghai?
Everything. Seeing friends, eating amazing food, playing at ALL, doing an installation at CAC (Chronus Art Center), meeting the 3rd Ear Cat as a physical object. Everything.

Can you talk about your first time playing in China?
I think it was at a big club called Bon Bon around 2006. Jazzy Jeff was in the main room. I remember that I couldn’t hear the booth monitors in the room I was playing so it was all a bit stressful.

What was your impression of the scene (10+ years ago) and the musicians and promoters who were propping up the underground at that time?
To be honest, it was only when I played the Shelter a year or so later when I got a sense of the scene, particularly through Gaz (Williams, founder of ALL, previously of Shelter). We used to joke that it would be much cooler if there were less expats and more Chinese kids.

When you come back to China now, how do you feel things have changed?
Well, when I’ve been at ALL, there is now in fact more Chinese kids and less expats lol.

Is there anything that stands out as being integrally different from those first shows?
Well the vibe of ALL is very different from the Shelter – I feel slightly less insane when I leave ALL than I used to leaving the Shelter.

Image via @kode9/Instagram

You have quite a few connections with China. Whether that is through your Sinogrime mix, collaborations between Hyperdub and SVBKVLT, the connection between Hyperdub and venues like Shelter and ALL, your Ø event with Shannen SP which explores, among other things, Chinese cosmologies and critiques the present-day dilemmas of China and the people of its diaspora. When did your fascination with China begin?
Actually my fascination began in the ’90s – musically it came from samples from martial arts films in the Wu Tang Clan and video games. Also in the mid ’90s, I was studying criminology and organised crime networks and started reading about the Opium War and the Triads. From there I became more interested in the I Ching and it developed from there. At our monthly Ø night in London which is half club, half art installation, we’ve shown Lawrence Lek’s Sinofuturism video essay and also work by artists Lu Yang and Chen Tianzhuo. As curators, we are interested in non-Western approaches to futurism, and this comes across strongly in the work of these three artists.

“At the end we witness the liberation of the drones from their human masters”

You provide an interesting viewpoint. Being someone who is connected to scenes in Shanghai, but who lives quite far away, can you talk about the perception of underground scenes in China among your peers in London?
Well, the scene has received a bit of attention in the fashion and music press over the last couple of years (which as usual are a couple of years late), so its a bit weird seeing that it has suddenly become trendy when I’m very aware it’s been interesting for a quite a long time.

Hyperdub turns 15, what stands out to you personally during the 15 years of the label’s life?
Some of the highlights have been releasing the two Burial albums, touring Japan with Dj Rashad, Laurel Halo and Ikonika, and taking over all three rooms of London nightclub Fabric for our 10th anniversary. The low points have been the deaths of the Spaceape and DJ Rashad.

What can we expect from you for this tour?
I’m playing a live A/V set, the Nøtel with Lawrence Lek and also DJing. The Nøtel is a fully automated luxury hotel devoid of human life that Lawrence built in video game software – he flies around the Nøtel as a drone while I perform – there is a room corresponding to each track. At the end we witness the liberation of the drones from their human masters.

You’re well known for going deep with ideas and concepts within your music. What is currently inspiring you, whether in terms of sounds, ideas or anything else?
I’m currently interested in the Scottish space program.

[Cover image courtesy of promoter]

Kode9 and Hyperdub will be teaming up with a number of Shanghai institutions for events across the city from Dec 3-6 in celebration of the label’s 15th anniversary. See more about those events below: 

Lawrence Lek: Aidol: Dec 3, 7pm; free entry. NYU Shanghai. See event listing.
The 3rd Ear Cat Product Launch + Talk with Kode9: Dec 4, 7pm; free entry. 3ge3 Project. See event listing.
The 3rd Ear Cat meets The Notel: Dec 5, 5pm; free entry with welcome drinks. Chronus Art Center. See event listing.
Hyperdub 15 @ ALL: Dec 6, 10pm; RMB120 presale, RMB150 door. ALL Club. See event listing. Tickets

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