Kode9 is Steven Goodman. Goodman is a Scot, holds a PhD in philosophy, and owns the dubstep label Hyperdub. The star of this label is, of course, Burial, and the first record the label released, in 2004, was Burial's EP South London Boroughs. Kode9's entrance into the record business is an affirmation of the urban, both its living (rail transportation, pirate radio signals) and its dead (ghostly calls from graveyards behind crumbling cathedrals). On April 4, 2006, Kode9 presented a mix of his label's first major release, Burial's self-titled first album, on the BBC One radio program Breezeblock, which is hosted by the queen of the dubstep movement, Mary Anne Hobbs.
That numinous moment (consisting of a 21-minute mix) marked for many the birth of a new sound, a new beat, and a new direction in music. In the way that the Communist Manifesto announced that a specter haunted 19th-century Europe ("the specter of communism"), Kode9's Breezeblock mix announced a specter haunting 21st-century London (the specter of Burial). After the clearing of a crackling cloud of alien transmissions, buzzing telecommunication equipment, and digital dub drones, there emerged the metallic momentum of an underground beat, which, after a few minutes, was faded out and replaced with a call for peace by holographic angels. Then came the wisdom of a jaded hit man ("we got to stick to the old-school ways"), the longings of a heartbroken Rasta ("my love, my love, my love"), and the spectacle of giants rising from the depths of the Thames and marching across the city. The groundbreaking mix presented a postindustrial version of William Blake's preindustrial 18th-century poem "London" ("Near where the charter'd Thames does flow/And mark in every face I meet/Marks of weakness, marks of woe").
In 2006, Kode9 properly introduced Spaceape, a dub poet, on his first CD, Memories of the Future. If Tricky in the 1990s was the Bob Marley for a generation that no longer believed in the promises made by the black-power and liberation movements of the 1960s and 1970s, Spaceape is the Linton Kwesi Johnson for an age that is still angry about racism and exploitation of the poor but can no longer express these feelings clearly. Despite Johnson's thick Jamaican accent, he was understandable: He directly denounced police brutality, mourned the death of his hardworking father ("you fight a good fight, but the game was fixed"), and scandalized Rastafarians by declaring this was "the age of science and technology." Spaceape not only has a thick Jamaican accent, he also grumbles and mumbles every word into sinister obscurity. On "Ghost Town," he manages to make the Specials' easily understood song of the same name too difficult to grasp.
Kode9 also participated in the soundtrack for the only important science-fiction movie of the decade, Children of Men—his "totalitarian dub," as the Dummy blog calls it, reinforced the film's mood of total, unremitting dread (the people of this future are daily approaching the extinction of mankind). But the darkness of Kode9's music and mixes, his hauntology, as critics such as Simon Reynolds call it, is not about death as such or the end of the world but about living in a world that has died. This is the meaning of his and Spaceape's warped/dubbed/surreal/minimal version of Prince's "Sign o' the Times." When Prince recorded the tune in the mid-1980s, he lived in a world that was still alive. Spaceape, on the other hand, lives in world that is no longer creative, productive, or vital. This type of life—life after death—makes ghosts of the living. Those who breathe, whose hearts beat and bones burn with the desire to survive, they are the phantoms in what Slavoj Zizek calls "the [devastated] desert of the real."
Finally, Kode9 has so far contributed one track, "Nine Samurai," to what the future will recognize as a part of dubstep's canon alongside tracks by artists like Skream, Benga, Digital Mystikz, and Loefah. The combination of its tragically heroic horns, aggressive congas, and digitally distorted bass fragments offers something of an anthem for the melancholy spirit of dubstep. Kode9's music lacks those moments of sweetness that always bring a little light to Burial's "dark side," but his musical program remains one of the most distinct and intelligent in the current world of electronic music.