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No Time Like the Present

Two dance labels--Sheffield's Warp and London's Hyperdub--look back at their own histories.

Hypertribe artist Martyn (top) and Warp artist Squarepusher (above) highlight their labels' respective newretrospectives.

By Michaelangelo Matos | Posted 9/30/2009

When a record label hits a divisible-by-five anniversary, it celebrates--especially in dance music, which takes all the parties it can get. And as you'd expect, most of the compilations that ensue tend to be fairly self-indulgent.

That certainly describes the new box set from Warp marking its second decade. Warp20 is an object before it's a listening experience: 192-page illustrated catalog, two CDs of remakes of label classics by current artists, and 11 rare and previously unreleased tracks on three vinyl 10-inches. (Deadlines blocked me from hearing the hour-long catalog megamix by Osymyso or perusing the lock-groove vinyl.)

Warp20 also follows a trio of 10-year-anniversary double-CDs, Warp 10, almost none of which is repeated here. For that reason Warp20 marks a real milestone: Not only has it moved beyond its early rep as the bleep-and-bass rave label that brought armchair techno, or IDM, into being, its fans tend to like the new stuff as well as the old. The box's nominal first disc is the simplest: the label's 10 most beloved tracks, chosen by its fans online, and all but two, it's worth noting, post-dating 1999, the year of the 10-year package.

Despite the variances in style and era--it's a long way from LFO's classic bleep anthem "LFO (Leeds Warehouse Mix)" to Battles' little-critters-on-the-loose latter-day prog stomp "Atlas," from the abstract assault of Autechre's "Gantz Graf" to the aural balm of Boards of Canada's "Roygbiv"--and the programming by committee, the disc hangs together nicely. The dominant mode is slinky, fizzy, and flirting with pop without quite giving itself over: Aphex Twin's "Windowlicker," Squarepusher's "My Red Hot Car," Luke Vibert's "I Love Acid," Jimmy Edgar's "I Wanna Be Your STD." And in this company, it becomes apparent just how much like an Aphex song played live "Atlas" really is.

The disc chosen by Warp co-founder Steve Beckett digs deeper and wider, and he makes sonic connections between, say, Mike Ink's 1996 acid-techno anthem "Paroles" and Aphex Twin's drum 'n' bassy "Bucephalus Bouncing Ball," whose primary sample source is in its title. The remakes are, as is almost always the case with these things, basically stunt casting. Luke Vibert can lovingly homage "LFO" till the cows come home, and the effect will always be, "Aw, that's cute, guys." Ditto the against-type pairings, such as Born Ruffians' indie-band medley of two Aphex Twin songs, though there are surprises, such as Maximo Park rendering Vincent Gallo listenable by covering his "When" with a pulse, or Plaid redoing Plone's "On My Bus" as gorgeous, subdued gamelan. The real surprise is the "Unheard" 10-inches, which features a handful of tracks that would be welcome bonus material on beloved albums, such as Boards of Canada's ravishing "Seven Forty Seven" and Plaid's simple, colorful "Dett."

Warp put IDM on the map, and Hyperdub did the same with dubstep. Just as Warp signed its signature style's most respected practitioner, Aphex Twin, Hyperdub's first 12-inch was by Burial, the field's undisputed star. (Even if he stayed anonymous until last year, when a British tabloid began nosing around and the producer, born Will Bevan, outed himself just to put a halt on it.) And just as Warp followed the wave from rave to at-home fare, Hyperdub has been leading dubstep's moves toward a freer kind of beatscape, putting out post-dubstep 12-inches by Zomby, Ikonika, and Cooly G, and on Oct. 20, its celebrates itself with the double-CD 5: 5 Years of Hyperdub.

Even in a post-CD era it says something that Hyperdub is confident enough to make the first disc the previously unreleased one and the second the greatest-hits. It was right to: Just about everyone on the all-new disc brings his and her A-game, including ringers Martyn (the hypnotic "Megadrive Generation"), Mala (the tense, spacey "Level Nine"), and Flying Lotus, whose "Disco Balls" sounds like a hat-tip to Zomby, whose contribution, "Tarantula," underscores their familiarity. Darkstar's "Aidy's Girl Is a Computer" is such a sad-robot near-pop song it's damn near emo. Cooly G's "Weekend Fly" works the same percussive melancholy as her brilliant July single, "Love Dub," and Joker and Ginz's "Stash" continues the vein of their summer anthem, "Purple City."

The second disc earns the term "best of." Burial's previously vinyl-only "South London Buroughs" is one of his most immediate and best tracks. Darkstar's "Need You" deftly evokes prime Warp bleep-and-bass without leaving dubstep's door. Zomby's "Spliff Dub (Rustie Remix)" still sounds like the great futurist anthem of the late decade, and 2000F and JKamata's "You Don't Know What Love Is" redraws the music as sleek, psychedelic G-funk. Let's hope Hyperdub won't fall into the specially-commissioned-remix slough when it hits double digits. And here's hoping, even more, that hit double digits it does, and sticks around a while beyond that.

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