VA: 5

Lest there be anyone still foolishly clinging to the idea of Hyperdub as a ‘dubstep' label, 5 lays to rest once and for all that egregious misrepresentation. The double-disc collection—the first half unreleased tracks and the second highlights from the label's first five years—is clearly one of the year's major releases, at the very least for compiling into a single set (all praise to Steve Goodman aka Kode9 for doing so) such an incredible wealth of forward-thinking music. All the expected names are present—Hyperdub roster artists Burial, Kode9, The Bug, Spaceape, Ikonika, Zomby, Rustie, Joker, Darkstar, Samiyam, King Midas Sound, and others—along with a smattering of guest shots from Mala, Martyn, and Flying Lotus. Much of the material transcends a single genre, though elements of jungle, grime, reggae, dancehall, hip-hop, electro, house, techno, and, yes, dubstep all surface at one time or another.

Future-roots to the core, King Midas Sound's “Meltdown” opens the release with a seductive slice of heavily opiated bass science, after which Shanghai-based singer Chacha joins Kode9 and the Spaceape for the broken beat magic of “Time Patrol,” a brain-addling Ouroboros that justifies the acquisition all by its lonesome. Following that, Darkstar's “Aidys Girl's a Computer” locates the melancholy song at the heart of the machine, Samiyam tackles topsy-turvy synth-funk in “Roller Skates,” Martyn gravitates in dubstep's direction with the heavy wobble and scratch of “Mega Drive Generation,” and Mala (of Digital Mystikz) drops a brooding, low-end dynamo in “Level Nine.” There's also the bass-and-synths-heavy slink'n'shuffle of Flying Lotus's “Disco Balls,” the tight swagger of Zomby's “Tarantula,” the 8-bit bleep-hop of Quarta 330's “Bleeps from Outer Space,” and the raw slip'n'slide of Cooly G's “Weekend Fly.” LV's “Turn Away” offers an exemplar of Hyperdub's electro-roots reggae style, while LD's “Shake It” and Joker & Ginz's “Stash” serve up hot-wired techno and wobbly electro-dub respectively.

As incredible as 5's new material is, disc one can overwhelm, making familiar tunes on the second (e.g., Kode9's 2006 foreboding epic “9 Samurai”) all the more satisfying to revisit. They're hardly less brain-addling, however, as shown by the stutterfunk wooziness of Samiyam's “Return” and Ikonika's “Please.” Burial brings his indelible scissors snap to the dancefloor-friendly “South London Boroughs”; time hasn't dulled the impact of his jaw-dropper “Distant Lights” either, which still feels sui generis despite its familiarity. We travel back to 2005 for a funereal rendering of The Specials' “Ghost Town” with Kode9 and a gravelly Spaceape as hosts, while Darkstar coats “Need You” with a sleek electro-maze sheen that can't hide the palpable sadness residing at the song's center. Rustie throws Zomby's “Spliff Dub” a fluttering curveball while The Bug and Warrior Queen join forces for the gyroscopic swizzle of “Money Honey.” Near set's end, 2000F & J Kamata reinvigorate the proceedings with the talk-box electro-soul of “You Don't Know What Love Is,” and Joker does the same with the kaleidoscopic swirl of “Digidesign.”

Originating out of Brixton, South London in 2001, Hyperdub made a quantum leap into public consciousness three years later with its inaugural release, “Sine of the Dub,” a viral ten-inch take on Prince's seminal “Sign of the Times,” and things accelerated rapidly from there. Just how far the label has traveled since then is gloriously documented on this essential collection.

November 2009