Hyperdub is odd. It’s always been odd. But it has knitted itself so tightly into the fabric of London’s musical culture that when two of its artists play experimental sets in an 18th century church, it somehow feels perfectly natural.
I arrived at the St. John Church in Hackney to find a substantial crowd already present, framed in moonlight emanating from a majestic stained glass window. It was the perfect setting for Laurel Halo’s transcendental blend of pop, techno, and jazz. Halo appeared on stage with percussionist and sound artist Eli Keszler in tow, placing herself behind an electronics-lathered table while Keszler took to a small drum kit.
The set consisted mostly of songs from her superb 2017 release Dust – although the album cuts had been bent almost unrecognisably out of shape. Halo sculpted electronic landscapes with punchy programmed drums, bottomless bass-lines and sublime synths. Keszler provided an erratic yet conscientious jazz percussion, utilising thin sticks and brushes to produce gentle textures, clashing with Halo’s overwhelming noisy flourishes in all the right ways. On album cuts ‘From Sun to Solar’ and ‘Jelly’, voice manipulation software transformed Halo’s poetic speak-singing into shimmering undulations around the cavernous room.
“The stark contrast between Halo’s near-perfect performance and the following set from Lee Gamble was mildly upsetting”
Describing Halo’s current output is not so straightforward. Although the blissed-out reverb and dub techno basslines from previous releases are undoubtedly present, categorising what was played across the hour-long set is nigh on impossible. Laurel Halo has proved herself to be a truly unique talent in electronic music; she is her own genre.
The stark contrast between Halo’s near-perfect performance and the following set from Lee Gamble was mildly upsetting. The London-based producer’s Diversions 1994-1996 remains a fantastic love letter to the 90s Jungle scene, whereas his track choices at St. John were more “Now That’s What I Call UK Bass”. Gamble’s dark, Caribbean-inspired cuts, for which he’s loved, were refreshing in a time where dancehall and Reggaeton had been saturated with musicians with both eyes on that ‘One Dance’ cash. However, the ambient and DnB pieces he spewed (between puffs of his vape) on this evening were less impressive, and seemed to misjudge the venue’s vibe.
The consistent quality of Hyperdub releases is a result of the label’s boldness to explore unknown quarters of electronic music, without regard for the existence of an obvious audience. Though they may not hit the mark on every occasion, if they continue to put on events as audacious as this, their impressive reputation will only continue to thrive.