When dubstep emerged, all red-eyed and moody, from the darkest bowels of dance a few years ago, the thought that the genre might end up flirting with the deliberate naivety of chiptune and the smiley faced escapades of acid and hardcore would have seemed about as likely as a karaoke duet between Darth Vader and Rainbow Brite. Yet here we are in 2010, and for every dubstep artist remaining in the introspective gloom of the genre’s early trappings, there’s another with more 303 synthesizers, klaxons, and bomb-alerts falling out of their productions than a 1992 episode of Top of the Pops.
Recently, many of the artists associated with the influential Hyperdub label, such as Terror Danjah, and Zomby, have been playing around with the aforementioned palette of nuclear colours, and it is into this fray that Sara Abdel-Hamid (aka Ikonika) has stepped with Contact, Love, Want, Hate, an album that enticingly seems to tie together a lot that is new and colourful in recent dubstep.
The playful title of slender opening track -Ikonklast (Insert Coin)’ acknowledges an indebtedness to chiptune that is borne out throughout the rest of the album, with one-up noises, game over samples, and circular bleeps regularly puncturing the analogue surfaces of deeply textured tracks such as -Idiot’. The style brings Zomby’s genre busting eponymous EP to mind, but the productions are nowhere near as skeletal and fraught. You see, Abdel-Hamid can’t resist a good melody and the upper tiers of her productions bleed tunefulness. While the rough rhythms of single -Fish’ will surely pack the clubs, it’s the strange elasticised tune that she rolls over its surface that will delight headphones listeners. The same goes for many of the other tracks. No matter how deep the wobble or hard the break, there is something kaleidoscopic unfurling above.
This marriage of the uncompromising and the pretty raises the benign spectre of classic Warp Records acid and hardcore. The ghosts of Richard D. James and L.F.O animate Ikonika’s machine, and her use (or at least digital appropriation) of classic analogue equipment such as the Roland 303 only serves to reinforce this impression. As she knows, and as many others on the Hyperdub roster have found out too, the marriage between dubstep and these dance styles has proven fruitful and exciting. Hyperdub, a label that tends to focus on single releases has very few albums in its catalogue. With Contact, Love, Want, Hate, Ikonika has given them the full-length they deserve, and given the rest of us the dance album of the Summer.