Contact, Want, Love, Have
By George Bass | 5 April 2010
The evolution of computer games from cartridge to CD sparked at least two revelations: 1) No more having to blow dust from the microchips every time the load screen wigged out on you, and 2) curious kids could now put their games in their Discman and repeat play each pre-recorded sound file. It took two years for the game disc pressers to catch on to this and save the world from the very real threat of Duke Nukem mixtape parties—and surely there couldn’t be a more male pastime than that, except perhaps lockpicking or maiming spiders? It turns out there was at least one secret tomboy in this movement that never was, and when her contemporaries went on to run Rockstar Games/become serial killers, etc., Sara Abdel-Hamid began quietly infiltrating dubstep, stamping her name on an all too masculine scene. Built from years of shop-funded temping and a transfer from the renowned Planet Mu, Contact, Want, Love, Have features two revelations of its own: 1) bass plates have no preference of hormone, and 2) a childhood informed by run-and-gun games doesn’t sap one of energy later in life.
More of a compilation than an original essay, Ikonika’s debut full-length for Hyperdub is, in a word, colourful. And if people talk about “the spectrum of dubstep” like it’s something that gets produced on easels, then Abel-Hamid has done a fantastic Pollock with this one, blasting the canvas with indelible dots. Blocky beats, bass bins, and analogue yapping tumble from all fourteen tracks, fusing poetically almost by accident. Even the obligatory intro skit doesn’t waste any time in blending fake accordion, snake charmer warbles, and ruthless, head-trampling bass (this is apparently an album of clashes, after all). Those shrieking synths and 32-bit chips are like being mugged in the Soviet Union, and as dissidents twist screwdrivers in giant Tetris tapes you’re bounced straight into the headrush of “Idiot.”
But one monster single an album does not make, so we’re lucky that CWLH is about eight monster singles back to back, a few familiarities inserted discretely to keep order on the floor. The much-talked about “R.e.s.o.l” is one of the album’s more unruly numbers: gasping cymbals, bass like a malfunctioning linseed boiler, and bars of grayscale data with some kind of tape-delayed lion’s roar tolling through the landscape of the track. In isolation each component sounds like interrogation, but under Abel-Hamid’s cheerful layering they fuss like butlers to accommodate your curiosity. I can only imagine her legendary DJ sets involve a whip in one hand, a small chair in the other, and streams of leaping dwarves.
These dwarves get down and dirty on “Psoriasis,” whose strutting mix of test-your-strengths and shoot-‘em-ups brews up some lean dancefloor fuel. When projected, the lockdown alone must feature more blood and skullduggery than Road Rash, but behind the thrashed buttons lies Ikonika’s love for urban silkiness, which propels the bulk of CWLH. Her constant, almost reckless imagining of it via pads and slot machines is what makes the record so interesting. In interviews, she’s spoken of both her older sisters’ garage CDs and her own love of the Mega Man era; Contact, Want, Love, Have is the sound of her turning both into a language. It’s like someone gave Ikonika some meat-and-potatoes firepower and said, “Recreate your past out of that lot,” only to step back and watch her do so with first-crush, first-tablet glee.
You could muse for hours on the pure 80s synth attacks dribbled over a the mix like syrup in the ammo bin at a rifle range, or the beautiful collages scooped out of rabid faxes, or even the 256-colour warrior who patrols the finale’s exploding space stations, but whatever one’s bias with modern dubstep, there’s no denying the feeling of trust in Ikonika’s sound. Her debut is one of the liveliest records I’ve heard so far this year—think Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) written for Logic—and if you like aggressive dub with all the slabs but minus the carsick factor, I urge you to check it out. Also: if you like toys, or if you like moving around, I urge you to check it out.