VA: Hyperdub 10.4

Issuing four double-CD sets to commemorate ten years of existence could be construed as an act of arrogance or hubris, but there's no denying the impact Hyperdub has exerted on the experimental music scene during its decade-long run. At the very least, such largesse attests to the huge amount of music its roster artists have produced. But there are downsides when a label's output becomes so plentiful. Typically the overall quality level drops, even if only slightly, when an ever-growing number of artists and releases enters the picture, and a corresponding muddling of vision also occurs. There is, after all, something to be said for quality control and restraint, and perhaps it would have been better had Hyperdub released a single two- or three-CD set featuring material of the highest possible quality to celebrate its anniversary rather than overdo it with eight CDs in total.

Like the first three compilations, the final one—a generous143 minutes in total—in the series pairs a CD of new tracks with a CD of previously issued material, in this case tracks from the label's last five years. Each of the sets has been conceived with a particular concept in mind, with the first three encompassing bass music, footwork, R&B, and ambient, and the fourth focusing on clubby house, garage, and techno.

Burial's status as the label's prized asset is intimated by the fact that cuts by the reclusive artist open both CDs. Smothered in crackle and animated with a 2-step swing, his previously unreleased “Lambeth” is immediately identifiable as Burial, though it adds little new to the equation that hasn't been heard before, while the haunting soul of “Street Halo” argues powerfully on his behalf. The artist closest to matching Burial's profile as a label star is Cooly G, even if her sound is less audacious by comparison. That said, her four tracks (two on each disc) definitely elevate the collection, whether it be the stutter-funk house jam “Him Da Biz” or the strings-stabbing exotica of “Narst.”

The funky mechano-bounce of Funkystepz' “Fuller VIP” proves infectious, but other tracks are weakened in various ways. While Fhloston Paradigm's “The Phoenix T” does a credible riff on Plastikman-styled acid-house, it's overlong at nine minutes, and as impressive as Bambounou's drum machine treatment of Jessy Lanza's “Fuck Diamond” might be, it's a shame to find her singing almost entirely stripped out in the process. One's patience also is tested by tracks that seem like little more than riff-based groove exercises (Ossie + Phrh's “Ugly Observation,” Walton's “Laser War”) that presumably would have been omitted had a leaner compilation format been decided upon. Midway through such tracks, the mind wanders and the attention drifts, and one longs in vain for something truly groundbreaking to happen.

Among disc two's strong moments are Kode9 & The Spaceape's “Love Is The Drug” (not a cover of the Roxy Music classic) and Walton's hard-grooving body-mover “Need to Feel,” though the two cuts by Laurel Halo (“Noyfb,” “Chance Of Rain”) that show up near the compilation's end leave this listener wondering what all the fuss is about. To be fair, if I sound underwhelmed by Hyperdub 10.4, it's probably as much a reflection of a change in personal listening taste as a comment on the release itself. The material Hyperdub is releasing now strikes me as a whole lot less gripping than what it was putting out six years ago when the label was chosen as as one of textura's ten favourite labels, or even five years ago when it celebrated its first half-decade of life with the compilation 5.

December 2014