Kode 9 and Space Ape in Sheffield

Kode 9 destroyed Sheffield tonight.

He was playing on the Valve sound system opening up, with Julian C90 doing the early early set. And Julian was excellent, playing some dub and then a lot of very deep electro-y dubstep, bit angular and a bit brave but very enjoyable. The floor was very sparse, just clumps of people, but there was a bit of a mood of anticipation. People were listening. Then bang on 9.30 kode took over, opening up with Sine of the Dub, played in its entirety with Space Ape adding occasional deep inflections, before heading off into some lush instrumental dubstep deepness. I closed my eyes rocking out to it for a long time before opening them and finding that the floor had pretty much filled up. Space Ape was striding back and forth across the stage following some metronome within the beats while Kode gently inserted his groove deep into the crowd, and suddenly it all came together on Jah War, and with the first rewind of the night, the crowd just exploded. They’d managed to captivate a pretty big proportion of a crowd of new-school D’n’B heads. It was firing.

And then it got really good. Kode dropped a succession of devastating, fat, funky steppers that were an object lesson in magisterial bass inventiveness. Some were pure bass-and-drum throbbers, there was a couple with some excellent use of (I think) Wu Tang and Sizzla, and some were recognisable big tunes by other artists (that I’m a bit far gone to remember now!). It was just glorious. The music was alive. It was inspired. It hit some kind of peak with Mala’s Hunter, and then suddenly shifted up a gear with all sorts of crunchy, hooky subs and melodies. In fact there was quite a lot of housey-groove and acid riffage going on, which was both delightfully eighth-triplet hard-garage-y and seductively, oceanically tuneful in that nagging way that the best house has. Really infectious and even if this is not what people mean by the techno 4×4 sound of dubstep, I’m all for it – I’m even more interested in swinging house influences.

By half way through it was obvious that Kode 9 has an unbeatable arsenal of heavy , bouncy steppers. The most flavoursome of these was a quite shockingly fat Sleng Teng refix that simply convulsed the dancefloor. But you have to set that against the incredible atonal deepness of the heavily filtered version of Backwards Kode pumped out. Maximum-heaviosity dubstep dancehall devastation one moment, seamlessly segued into monumental emotive dub the next.
And Space Ape, while not as primally mental as when he played with Mala here last year, when he was able to get right onto the floor and raise hell, just got heavier and dreader and sharper and funkier throughout the set. Of course, he looked great, and danced even better. I’ll put some pix up later.

Kode closed with Left Leg Out – some 4×4, Hammond organ-led, deeply swinging dubstep brilliance that shows just how far down that house virus goes, and it was clearly a gauntlet laid down to the pure-breed d’n’b heads in the audience: can you touch your musical sensuality THIS deeply? And while it’s tempting to suggest, based on the music that followed, that the answer in most cases must have been kniown, the fact is that there were hundreds of people absolutely fucking having it to Kode and Space’s set, who were absolutely prepared to go wherever Kode 9 was taking them.

Because it was proper, full-on, emotive, grown up music. And it absolutely rocked.

A word about the legendary Valve sound system. It was very nice during Kode’s set – big, rich, beautifully clear and undistorted – like the best hi-fi you could imagine. Compared to the system in Mass, it was missing the “bottom octave” – there was a big chunk of low end missing compared to when DMZ is at its peak, and there was no comparison with Iration Steppas’ system for pure, world-encompassing, round / spherical bass. Nor of course with Shaka’s system, but that’s just something else again – it’s not a soundsystem, it’s a vehicle for spiritual transformation. In the hands of Mala and a few others, the system at Mass is capable of similar results. The Valve system sounds very nice but it is not capable of that kind of deep personal impact. With the system turned down (for “the warm up act”), it was really clean, very solid, but very obviously had some way to go before it could really overwhelm the senses. Unfortunately, when turned up for host clubnight Tuesday Club’s resident DJ MIkey J, or indeed for Adam F, actually had very little more to give. Yes it went louder, yes there was more low end, but by god you suffered for it. The volume was instantly accompanied by great gobfulls of painful mid-range distortion, the sort that really fucks your hearing, a nasty square wave on the whole of the low-end and a honking lower mid crunch in place of the sort of warm, deep rroundness you’re looking for from a big system.No wonder they were giving out (very welcome!) free ear plugs when you came in. By contrast, the Mass system would be much cleaner for a given volume level, and the really low end would be handled much more sensitively. Iration would have been something else again in terms of low end articulacy. But I really must hear it in the flesh to be sure – I have the session on Friday 27th April pencilled in as a possible first blood, though it’s likely something will come up to stop me…

In any event, I think Kode 9 and Space Ape had the best that the Valve sound system had to offer. Had they suffered being provided with the greatest loudness the system could provide, I suspect the result would have been unlistenable. Though not as much as the 180 bpm drum and bass (it wasn’t really “jungle”) that followed. I liked some of it and I really tried to get into it, but after two hours it was obvious that the modern incarnation of what was once the worlds most rhythmically inventive musical genre had finally succumbed to monocultural drudgery. I know this is both an all too familiar critique of modern drum and bass and yes, I really did enjoy one or two of the tracks (I was wryily amused by Mikey J selecting a Sleng Teng riposte to Kode 9) – but does EVERYTHING have to be at this dull 190 bpm funkless treadmill pace? And yes I SEE the connection with formulaic and functional hardcore, but it ain’t working for me. Does it all have to be that fast and that samey? No. During Adam F’s set I was just thinking “this is verging on heavy metal” when he dropped… a load of heavy metal, with funkless breakbeats under it.

It just wasn’t very nice at all, and the contrast with the multi-hued dubstep Kode was dropping couldn’t be greater. Dubstep really is the grown-up, music of the present (who knows what it the music of the future). I don’t know how long it will stay like this. Grab it while you can. For, right now, people like Kode 9 are playing records that are just about as much fun as you can get right now — so right on so many levels.

I queued up for an hour under the stars over the seven hills of Sheffield to see Kode 9 and Space Ape tonight on this, one of the last few days of my 39th year, and the sheer overwhelming musical delight of what they delivered made that sacrifice absolutely worth it, and it brought a large measure of the magic of DMZ up the M1 to Sheffield.
It was fab. I loved every minute of it.