Release Date: Jul 29, 2013
Record label: Hyperdub
Genre(s): Electronic, House, Techno, Club/Dance, Electro-Techno
There is a tendency to view UK bass music and its ever burgeoning set of mysterious sub genres as a restless, constantly shifting movement pushing at the boundaries of sonic creativity. More recently, however, a number of the releases emerging from this scene (particularly those on the Hyperdub label) have arrived bathed in the hazy glow of nostalgia, emphasising that this music has its own chain of heritage and history in much the same way as any other genre. Perhaps more refracting than reflecting memories of classic house and R&B, Sara Abdel-Hamid’s second full length album as Ikonika comes as something of a surprise.
When Ikonika’s debut ‘Contact, Want, Love, Have’ emerged in 2010, it did so at the fringes of dubstep and UK funky with a cheap and cheerful chipcore twist. It was spontaneous and sporadically brilliant, but even Sara Abdel-Hamid herself admitted it was an imprecise science that was often the result of her bashing at a keyboard until a nice sound came out. Despite this, people warmed to her upfront, playful diversions.
These days Ikonika emphasises that fun is central to her work, but there was an edgy mania to her first album, 2010's Contact, Love, Want, Have. Recorded in a suburban semi on the outskirts of London, those garish 8-bit synths and babbling beats sounded by turns gloriously effervescent and shot through with a certain frustration, anger even.It's still not quite a permanent vacation in Ikonika's world these days: Aerotropolis is nicely punctuated by "Completion V.3" and "Cryo," two moments of sombre contemplation. But overall, the vibe of Aerotropolis is one of contagious optimism.
After Contact, Love, Want, Have, Ikonika's sound became fuller and more colorful. Her scope of inspirations widened. Consecutive tracks on 2012's I Make Lists EP, for instance, incorporated acid house and early Latin freestyle without sounding the least bit slavish. Aerotropolis, her second album, adds even more references to the mix and leaves her fine debut in the dust.
Three years is a long time in electronic music. Back in 2009-2010, dubstep was emerging, sweating, shaking and uncomfortable from just under a decade safely ensconced in its underground basement, into the harsh light of mainstream consciousness. But what might have been missed by the naked ear of the average listener was that 2009-10 represented a turning point for the genre, or more accurately; a refracting point.
Whether listeners should hold artists to a standard of constant innovation is a knotty problem-- If a musician wants to express their urge to break free from their previous constraints by going back to their roots and influences, there's more than enough precedent to make that move something less than shocking. But if their early work was driven by a distinct disinterest in rules and predictability, especially in the middle of a wider movement's healthy bouts of iconoclasm, is it worth getting disappointed when that classic-homage sound rises up to take its place-- especially when the end result is fairly enjoyable on the surface? That's a paradox that pops up in frustrating ways on Ikonika's new album Aerotropolis, a stated tribute to the old-school freestyle house and synthpop jams that soundtracked Sara Abdel-Hamid's 80s youth. And while the short answer to what would happen if Ikonika was old enough to make music at the time is "a pretty good record," that puzzling Mobius strip of inspiration and expression leans so heavily on the idea of pop as a historical waypoint that something feels a bit detached.
Starting around 2008, Sara Abdel-Hamid's Ikonika project came up in the wave of Hyperdub post-dubstep artists, utilizing elements of skweee and post-millennium garage-soul, with 8-bit leads and 2-step riddims. As one would expect, sophomore album Aerotropolis is clearly more refined than her 2010 debut, Contact, Love, Want, Have. The tempo has slowed a bit, and the overall feel is more influenced by '80s funk and freestyle house; Aerotropolis is less of a videogame score and more of a dystopic future fight/gang movie soundtrack.
If albums are ciphered windows into a musician’s psyche, what can the transition from Contact, Love, Want, Have to Aerotropolis tell us about Ikonika (a. k. a.
As recent Hyperdub signing Jessy Lanza opens ‘Beach Mode (Keep It Simple)’ with her wistful delivery of “If you really want it, don’t make it emotional / If you really want it, baby keep it simple”, it feels as if Ikonika is laying out the blueprint for her second LP with now characteristic directness and sincerity. Polished without being too clean, understated without being too polite, Aerotropolis follows on from 2010’s Contact, Love, Want, Have with a confident forward march, and reinforces a growing belief within the UK underground that Ikonika is one of its most assured and consistent talents. Aerotropolis refers to a city built around an airport, and the album’s overall tone conveys the concept’s sense of the vastness of space and surface well.
Ikonika’s Contact, Love, Want, Have (2010) was an important entry in Hyperdub’s canon, proving that bass-heavy, videogame-influenced dubstep wasn’t the preserve of the boys. Sara Abdel-Hamid has since gone from strength to strength, smoothing out her choppy, syncopated beats on her own label Hum + Buzz and now returning to Hyperdub for this sophomore LP. Sleeker but no less cartoony than her debut, it mixes freestyle house into her signature sound and comes off richer than anything she’s done before.
It’s likely that Ikonika’s sophomore album, Aerotropolis, will ruffle a few feathers not because it’s groundbreaking, but because of the backward gazing aesthetic present throughout its 51 minutes. Three years after the release of Contact, Love, Want, Have Sara Abdel-Hamid is back with a refined take on the sounds of her youth. Her debut album came out around the time that Kode9’s Hyperdub label began to transition from an imprint based around dubstep and its many strains to a flat out indie label with loose genre criteria.