James Holden: DJ-KiCKS (!K7)
Kode9: DJ-KiCKS (!K7)
I didn’t know what to call Kode9’s work when I first heard it, but neither did the label that put it out. The Aphex Twin-helmed Rephlex Records understandably misidentified its Grime 2 compilation in 2004, a collection that featured four crude, wordless contributions from Steve Goodman (aka Kode9). A Scottish producer/DJ/writer who for a while had been living in London, Goodman was unknowingly pioneering perhaps the most amorphously evolving strain of modern electronic music.
Alongside deep grit from like-minded producers Digital Mystikz and Loefah, Kode9’s entries on Grime 2 found film dialogue and Eastern reed instruments rebounding off steamrolling bass lines that split the innards of my shitty headphones more and more with each rotation. Rephlex categorized Kode9’s work as grime, but it was much cleaner, with no vocalists in sight. While it was connected to both grime and U.K. garage, it also had roots in the remixing experiments that Jamaican sound engineers were performing in the late 1960s and 70s, and Grime 2 housed a new sound in its infancy. Kode9’s online magazine, Hyperdub, had a decent readership by 2004, and its name would soon be repurposed as a fitting brand for his own record label. When Kode9 issued Burial’s self-titled debut not long afterward, mentions of “dubstep” would soon prove difficult to avoid for anyone interested in independent music.
Around the time that Grime 2 was released, producer James Holden, also based in London, issued a magnificent progressive house twelve-inch called A Break in the Clouds. Holden’s solo work had already seen a tide of accolades in trance and house music circles, and he’d also garnered attention for his collaborations with vocalist Julie Thompson. However, this powerfully psychedelic release, with its surging effects and shrewdly chopped hi-hats, would land pretty far from the work he’d been doing previously. A Break in the Clouds would also christen Holden’s Border Community label, now home to such audacious techno and house artists as Nathan Fake and Fairmont.
Outside of the track he co-produced on Sasha’s Airdrawndagger, I didn’t hear James Holden’s work until a couple of years after A Break’s release, when two lovely edits of a Holden & Thompson track incidentally ended up on Sasha’s Fundacion NYC mix. The burrowing, sloshing bass and decimated vocal trails that characterize the “Last Version” of Holden & Thompson’s “Come to Me” make for some spellbinding moments on Fundacion, but that track hasn’t aged well alongside Holden’s subsequent, unclassifiable solo efforts, ubiquitous remixes, or the mix sets, such as the one he turned in to !K7 for the DJ-KiCKS series.
Just after reaching back into Caribou’s early catalog for a sputtering bit of glitch techno called “Lemon Yoghourt,” James Holden colored his DJ-KiCKS contribution with a track from the equally left-field Border Community producer Luke Abbott. Its temperate textures are propelled by gentle, cycling pulses and 808 clicks; ahead of Holden’s previously unreleased room-rattling remix of Mogwai, Abbott’s “Soft Attacks” is hardly an attack at all. Riding feverishly clattering hand drums, the re-tooling of Mogwai’s “The Sun Smells Too Loud” is missing the original’s live, robust bass line and DayGlo guitar riffs. The organ seems to be blaring out of blown Leslie speakers. Like the other “exclusive” in the set (Holden’s long-building, worming new “Triangle Folds”) the Mogwai remix convulses for a good while. A suitable segue follows in “Departure,” a collaboration between famed, recently deceased drummer Steve Reid and Kieran “Four Tet” Hebden. It caps off a segment of DJ-KiCKS that could’ve conceivably been the fruit of an October 2008 event in London’s Southwark borough, a celebration for the release of the latest Mogwai album where James Holden shared an after-party bill with Caribou and Four Tet.
Due this month, Kode9’s DJ-KiCKS offering doesn’t throw anyone for a loop by trying to recast indie rock. It’s a 31-track manifold showcase of dance music that merely nods at the artist’s past in dubstep. Kode9 almost steers it off the London Bridge with a dose of future soul at an unlikely midpoint, as Morgan Zarate and vocalist Sarah Ann Webb construct a slumping tease in blunt bass and slow, knocking beats. Zarate’s cut is miles from the hyper ragga hurricane of Grievous Angel’s “Move Down Low,” and considering it ends minutes before Kode9 slips in “Spiralz” from bass music fave Zomby, “M.A.B.” is even more extraterrestrial here, but that’s the point.
Zomby’s simultaneous hangups for video-game scores and jungle render everything in his catalog either mildly obnoxious or cathartic, but the two appearances in Kode9’s set, as well as the host’s own “You Don’t Wash (Dub)” fall into the latter camp. “You Don’t” is a DJ-KiCKS exclusive, with stuttering beats and woozy synths like the detuned horror-show washes that Kode9 employed for last year’s “Black Sun,” only the new one is a little less unsettling. Melodic and dense, it’s not the kind of trip that would fit into the producer’s recent book about sonic weaponry, but as a genre-shirking testimonial, representative of both his and James Holden’s resolve—in the studio and as selectors—it’s a stunner.
Dominic Umile lives, writes, and drinks in Greenpoint.