Is culture accelerating? When Joker and Ginz first started making a splash sometime last year with their Timbaland-inflected "purple" strain of British electronica, a friend commented that it would be the future of dubstep. At the time, it seemed like a reasonable conceit: dubstep artists might be freed up by the possibilities suggested in their epic, squelchy sorta-hip hop. Listening to Kode9ís sprawling contribution to the now-legendary DJ-Kicks series, though, it seems more as though purple was one of many possible futures, all of which are playing out in tandem. With 23 artists spread across 31 tracks, the future of dubstep according of Kode9 sounds less like a progression toward any particular dominant paradigm and more like a clusterfuck of ideas, connected by only the most tenuous traits: swinging, snare-happy drums (though not always), sticky basslines with lots of room (though not always), and a general post-rave aesthetic (though, again, not always).
As is so often the case, the ties that bind have of course more to do with feel than with structure, and the strength of Kode 9ís mix comes from his ability to subtly modulate mood while working with a hefty arsenal of disparate tracks. Opening with Loneís NYC house-inspired "Once in a While," he spends a few tracks outlining dubstepís recent fascination with that classic club music. Spending precious little time on any song in particular, he nonetheless sets a tone that shuttles easily back and forth between anthemic party jams and classic British rainy-day dread.
From there, Kode9 takes us through sections of raucous dancehall, smooth R&B, tweaked rave and soulful melodrama, all filtered through dubstepís increasingly inclusive lens. Highlights: Ikonikaís "Heston" has a beautiful melody, a rarity here; Mujava sounds unusually organic, his production a cut above precisely because of its weird, ragged quality; ditto for the Digital Mystikz, who come off as elder statesmen, delivering a master class in spacious, throbbing aggression. Compared to them, DVAís "Natty" sounds downright pasty and limp.
Most of all, itís the way that Kode9 glides across the spectrum of modern dubstep, now a little housier, now a little darker, always working out ideas a few tracks at a time, that makes DJ-Kicks worth your time. These chapters give the hour-plus mix a compelling sense of purpose and make it into something of a primer. Occasionally, he loses the thread, with a couple of sections that come off like so much stalling, lots of moody indicators but not much purpose. Overall, though, I felt schooled by the end, like I had just finished dubstepís 2010 Cliffnotes.
When I saw him DJ last year, Kode9 was a paragon of the schlumpy English dude: a bit of a gut, track suit and a shaved head, bobbing behind the decks, looking intently at the records (or his computer, I wasnít close enough to see) and never at the audience. Itís funny imagining that kind of guy being psyched on something as flamboyant as Loneís tribute to New York house (some of the queeniest house around) but listening to this mix, it makes sense. By and large, the tracks sound made entirely inside the computer, and thus as likely in oneís bedroom, weed smoke hanging heavy, as in any studio. I got the sense, as the tracks went by, that dubstepís most vital characteristic was the way its creators could, and do so easily, appropriate whatever genres they like. I donít think culture is accelerating ó genres are always more fields of wildflowers than linear progressions ó but if it is, this is surely one clear manifestation: a viral, freeform, homemade dance music that digests ideas so fast that the future becomes the past before all the armchair critics can even finish laying out their predictions.