Kode9 & The Spaceape‘s sublime second album Black Sun comes out April 19th on Hyperdub, the seminal electronic label behind Burial, Joker and Zomby that Kode9—born Steve Goodman—founded in 2004. In addition to recording, DJing and managing the label, Goodman, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy, is a published author, lecturer, and member of the sound art Audint research collective. Any one of these areas should merit its own interview. We caught up with Kode9 on the weirdness of the present world, reading Dubstep Forum and what it’s like being a high-functioning role model to nerds like us.
Maybe it’s the increasingly tumultuous world of international politics, but listening to Black Sun is making me think a lot about foreignness.
We deliberately tried to make Spaceape sound like I’ve tuned in to him on some kind of frequency from another place, like he’s transmitting from another location. That location is this fictional world we tried to create, a world after an unknown, unclassified radioactive event. The album takes place in the repercussions of this event and what it’s done to the atmosphere. The album is really about populations dealing with the ecological consequences of this radioactive event. Now, that’s not an attempt to reflect what’s going on in the world. It’s distant in the sense that it’s a fictional world, that we don’t know where it is and we don’t know when it is. The music evoked a world that we didn’t expect and now we’re just trying to work out what that world is.
Why is it important to not be too literal? Why does a post-apocalyptic world have to be a fictional world?
There’s a series of catastrophic events that have already happened, whichever way you want to think about, whether it be the Industrial Revolution or the Second World War, Vietnam or an ecological event. We’re just taking as a basic premise that we live in a post-apocalyptic world. That’s real, that’s not fiction. The direction that world is going in is subject to speculation, so when we create a fictional world we’re just participating in speculating about which way things are going, resonating things that are real but doing that in an open-ended way that leaves some room for the listener to fill in the gaps. That’s why it’s not preaching or dictating to the listener what is what and how you should feel in this post-apocalyptic world.
But some moments and events that Spaceape talks about seem very personal.
There are certain lyrical moments that are certainly autobiographical for Spaceape, but neither of us are particularly interested in our music being a personal expression or about what we’ve experienced, what we’ve undergone. That’s been covered. They come from things that are going on and they come from personal experiences, but we don’t want them to be reducible to, oh that’s what it’s about. In “Neon Red Sign” there’s a great line Spaceape’s got that there’s a prophet on every corner that’s underachieved, which is such a great way of thinking about the current state of religion in the world: underachieving gods. Underachieving kids at school, they’re not doing the work properly and they’re failing. That’s how we see the dominant religions in the world and it resonates strongly with the current state of affairs. [In Black Sun] populations are affected differently to these radioactive events. Some people look for salvation to retain their humanity under these atmospheric conditions in which people are undergoing bodily mutations, and there are some people we have more of an affinity to that are not fighting those mutations but are going with them, seeing where that’s going as opposed to resisting it and seeking some kind of monotheistic Babylon or utopia or afterlife to save them. That resonates a lot with what’s going on in the world religiously. Ultimately, we’re kind of doing this like its an invisible film. You don’t get to see the moving images, but it’s like we’re trying to create an invisible film for ourselves. We don’t know what we’re doing, essentially, so we’re just speculating and exploring and searching around for a rationale for what we made. We made the music very stop-start over a period of years without knowing what we’re aiming for. When we finished it we were like, shit, what the fuck do we do. Let’s work out what we did and what kind of world is unintentionally being evoked from the lyrics and music and trying to make it cohere in a world of its own, a little bubble. It’s probably because we’re both frustrated filmmakers who’ve never done films.
The album is a lot brighter than Memories of the Future. One side is very bleak and very dark, but there’s a second side that’s very hopeful.
We both listened back to that first album and don’t quite understand how we made it. It’s so catatonic and it sounds like sleepwalking. It’s somnambulistic. That’s partly to do with how I manipulated Spaceape’s voice, it’s depth. Rhythmically, it’s really downbeat. What’s common is that both have drones, whether it’s droning voice or droning synths. That’s not intentionally but seems to be a continuous thread in music I make, to find a frequency and just hold it. We definitely wanted it to have more color, and color is a big theme in this album. The radioactive event made everything into weird colors. The cover artwork the sun is refracted through the clouds in a weird turquoise, jade-green color I’ve never seen in real life. It’s not that there’s a radioactive event that destroyed the world and it’s all a dark wasteland, it’s more like everything has a weird glow and things are in the wrong place. It’s more surreal than it is wasteland. Partly because we’re self-conscious of being pigeonholed into being dark and bleak. We really didn’t feel like that’s what we’re doing in this album. People could say, “Oh, it’s just another of their paranoid dystopias,” but we don’t see it as that.
Do you want people to approach the album with darkness in mind?
If you listen to stuff in the dark, it’s easier for your imagination to conjure up these fictional worlds. If you out to flashing lights and lasers dictating you what something looks like, for me it restricts the sound. It almost superimposes a rigid frame on top of the music, whereas if it’s dark it makes the music a bit more interactive. In the inner artwork we evoke this fictional world. The main thing for me is I just enjoy this experience of performing in darkness. I feel the music differently. I feel the music much more intensely than if I can see the equipment. You could be flying a spaceship, you could be doing anything. It just hides the reality in front of you, just turns it into this abstract sequence of glowing lights. It’s a more fun environment to play in and it also makes people a little bit edgy and a little bit paranoid. It’s fun. I find the intimacy really seductive, the bonds you have with the people in the dark. Without sounding like a hippie, it’s about vibes. You can’t put your finger on it but you know what it is when you walk into a room. In a way that’s what my whole book is about, it’s about vibes, vibrations, bad vibrations and good vibrations, the way sound can just catalyze that.