Album Review: Ikonika – ‘Contact, Love, Want, Have’ (Hyperdub)

One small dubstep for man, one giant leap for experimental UK club music

UK club music has a long history of experimentalism – not just evident in the brain-melting leftfieldism of great labels like Warp, but within the very lifeblood that flows through the electronic music of the everyman. The breakbeats of hardcore, the alien synth riffs of grime, the visceral sub-bass of dubstep; each movement growing out of past ideas evolving in response to the almost pathological need to collapse boundaries like staircases at illegal parties.

‘Contact, Love, Want, Have’ is the point where things start to get weird. A glimpse of the post-dubstep landscape which defies categorisation, a map of where dubstep went next with no placenames. There are signposts, of course, ‘Sahara Michael’’s nodding half-step is as closely associated to its parent genre as Red Stripe and bad dancing, but now the trademark spaciousness is filled with bulging G-Funk synths and off-kilter keys.

Sifting through the genres of her youth, from the spongy timbres of West Coast hip-hop to computer game soundtracks, Ikonika, aka young west Londoner Sara Abdel-Hamid, collates sounds like pigments, giving bass music a multicoloured makeover. Gone is the emphasis on bass and drum – those primitive triggers that get limbs twitching – instead the melody takes primacy.

The results, particularly noticeable on ‘Look (Final Boss Stage)’ with its richly harmonic minor key fluctuations, pack a greater emotional punch than any. Like the instrumental grime of Joker, this emotional directness comes from a misspent youth mashing buttons.

The debt to the soundtracks of early ’90s Sega Mega Drive games couldn’t be more obvious if it came with a Sonic The Hedgehog cheat code. It’s there in ‘Idiot’’s chirruping chorus of Casio bleeps, or the chiming motif of ‘Video Delays’. Hell, ‘Yoshimitsu’’s blissful, lapping-at-the-horizon synth pads either sound like an old school breakdown or Ecco The Dolphin incidental music depending on your age. That strange ability to inject humanity into 8-bit whoops and bleeps is at the heart of Ikonika’s sound, tweaking at your heart with every pitchbend.

But there’s more to this record than nostalgia for 20-somethings. Stylistically diverse, it takes in UK Funky’s soca obsession with ‘Look’, the metallic tang of ’80s electro with ‘They Are All Losing The War’ and the minimalist garage snap of ‘Fish’. Ultimately, though, it’s Ikonika’s knack of tinkering with structure that provides the necessary depth of field to make the primary colours stand out.

Fancy counting the times ‘Psoriasis’’ rhythm dismantles then reassembles itself, playing catch up to its rubberised melody line Neither do we. You see, you don’t just want to dance to these tracks, you want to listen to them, immerse yourself in them.

While people grope about in the dark trying to pin down the multifarious developments going on in post-dubstep-whatever-it’s called, Ikonika’s debut feels like a photograph of an athlete mid-stride, a moment infused with such emotion and movement that the destination is irrelevant. It’s all about the now; it’s hard to think of a more exciting place to be.

Louise Brailey

What do you think of the album? Let us know by posting a comment below.

Click here to get your copy of Ikonika’s ‘Contact, Love, Want, Have’ from the Rough Trade shop