Somewhat surprisingly, Nothing is Hyperdub boss Steve Goodman’s solo debut as Kode9, but that’s only because his first two releases were joint efforts in tandem with vocalist and poet the Spaceape, who sadly passed away last year. Almost inevitably, his absence and loss seems to inform every aspect of Nothing</I, from its rather downbeat title, to the stark and austere textures of the tracks themselves via track names like ‘Notel’, ‘Void’ and ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’.

With releases by the likes of Burial and Kode9 & The Spaceape’s Memories Of The Future, Hyperdub were seen around 2007 as the home of dubstep, but Goodman was always ahead of the game in spotting the need to evolve, which bore fruit with more recent works by Ikonika, Fatima Al-Qadiri, Laurel Halo and Fhloston Paradigm that took dubstep into new territories or charted fresh waters altogether, from sinogrime to modern iterations of house and techno. Proof that such sturdy discernment comes from on high is apparent from the get-go on Nothing, which sounds as futuristic and pioneering as Memories Of The Future‘s title claimed. After a surge of wall-shaking sub bass introduces the album, ‘Notel’ flips expectations on their head, eschewing rhythm almost entirely in favour of seesawing ambient notes and vibrating bass drones. The atmosphere is as crystalline and austere as the weird object on the album’s cover, and even when Goodman does introduce beats with the third track, ‘Void’, this sense of icy detachment remains present, like a ghost he can’t shake for all the grooves in the world.

‘Void’ is a stunning picture of underground electronic dance music in 2015, with fidgeting grime beats and a glacial synth background. It’s tailored for the dancefloor, but only just, with shifting time signatures and occasions when the percussion drops out altogether. In only three minutes, Goodman displays an astonishing range of details and hidden textures, taking sounds that are on the surface minimalist and building an altogether more elaborate whole from them. ‘Holo’, a single if ever there was, is a racing minimal techno masterpiece, complete with repetitive sampled female vocals and warm synthesisers, like something The Field would do, but even here the beats are uneasy and dry snare rasps, with very stripped-down bass, and a weird fade into a much slower melody as the track draws to a close.

The Spaceape’s absence permeates much of Nothing, no more so than on the brief ‘Third Ear Transmission’, somewhat ironically because it actually features the poet in what was clearly a track intended for a third joint album. Interestingly, it even points to much of the direction Kode9 takes on the rest of the album, segueing nicely into the doom-laden ‘Zero Work’, one of the sparsest offerings and featuring industrial electronic textures and doom-laden surges of bass. ‘Vacuum Packed’ is introduced by a jazzy piano loop and warmer synth chords that build into a footwork-like house excursion, but is also dominated by an atmosphere of subtle disquiet. If Nothing is supposed to be a signpost on the road to the future, Goodman clearly thinks we’re in for some dystopian times, evidenced elsewhere on the clinical sinogrime workout ‘Wu Wei’, the aggressively minimalist ‘Respirator’ with its abrasive storm of snare snaps or the shimmering, melancholic ‘Mirage’. Goodman rounds this epic journey off with the bleak atmospherics of ‘Nothing Lasts Forever’, which fade into a haze of pouring rain. I don’t think any electronic or dance album has dealt so thoroughly with ideas of loss and transience.

Nothing is a stark record, and I imagine not one that will be ringing out of club PAs on a regular basis. Instead, it joins the impressively swelling ranks of dance/techno/electro/house albums that reflect the inner workings of the individuals creating them, from Laurel Halo’s Chance Of Rain to Jlin’s Dark Energy via Islands by LV & Josh Idehen or the output of RP Boo on Planet Mu. Electronic music, even of the dancefloor variety, has become an ideal vessel for artists to express deeper concerns and thoughts in hinted and elliptical ways, and Kode9 reminds us with Nothing that, as someone who’s seen it all, and lost people along the way, he has few peers.

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