Kode9 + The Spaceape Memories of the Future

[Hyperdub; 2006]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: dubstep, electronic dub
Others: Burial, Skream, Loefah

Chaucer's Cook's Tale grinds to a halt in 58 lines, concluding before dignifying its characters and setting with a proper exposition. The frictional force at work is the characters' narcissism, which prevents them from engaging one another as anything other than economic implements. The catalyst for this reification is urban life. The city, it seems, amplifies our self-serving desires through its organizing principle -- commerce -- and in doing so ultimately stops us in our tracks.

As useless as overarching generalizations usually are, it's helpful here to point out that such negative characterizations of cities resound through centuries of art. Urban greed figures into 18th Century British picaresques and 19th Century American Realist fiction; paralysis pervades Joyce's Dublin; light rarely pierces the ghettos portrayed in hip-hop songs. So when these two British city-dwellers -- dubstep producer Kode9 and menacing vocalist The Spaceape -- dredge up all manner of metropolitan ills, they're working explicitly within a conventional framework. Which makes Memories of the Future, like Burial's self-titled full-length, an important release in dubstep's development. With thematic interests that strive so obviously to stretch beyond the insular world of their local scene, these men make a concerted bid for a broad audience, one that won't necessarily meet their music on-site.

As someone who sits on the outlying perimeter of said broad audience, I'm most interested in Memories of the Future as an album about the city, which it seems very much to be, and in the broadest of senses. Spaceape's indictment of Jamaican postcolonialism -- "No victory, no defeat/ Just a burning chalice of deceit" -- begs to be unhinged from its specific context and applied to any number of power struggles. His allegorical images of human conquest -- "All is fear and evil between servant and master," "Some people say a man never truly happy unless the next man truly dies" -- also make universal claims.

It's fitting, then, that the music is highly assimilative. Many tracks -- most notably "Victims" and "Sine" -- sound simply like dub reggae played with sequencers and drum machines, palpitating bass, traces of melodica, and massively delayed keyboards firmly intact. These songs also hearken to electronic music's formative years, recalling a time when composers tested out new technology by using it to replicate the stuff played with old technology (think Switched on Bach). This retro-futuristic undercurrent accounts somewhat for the album's title, and it makes sense of the icy, post-human precision in "Glass," whose austere blips nod to '90s IDM. And let's not forget the multiple points of reference -- pretty much everything Diplo digs, really -- that Spaceape's patois rapping brings to mind. As easy as it would be to construct a U.K.-centric genealogy for this music, the case that Memories of the Future captures a bit of any and every city -- historical or modern -- is a convincing one.

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