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Spaceape: music's poet prophet

Burial and Kode9-collaborating spoken word artist Spaceape's passing was announced last week. We pay tribute to one of London underground music's most singular voices

Hyperdub’s 10th anniversary has been a cause for celebration for artists and clubbers alike, with a string of formidable club nights and faultless compilations gracing dance music throughout this year. However, the year has also been marked with unfortunate departures as last night, following the loss of fellow Hyperdub associate DJ Rashad, came an announcement that The Spaceape aka Stephen Samuel Gordon had passed away after a long battle with cancer. 

For many, his words spoken on tracks by Burial, The Bug and Kode9 represented the voice of inner city London. Indeed he was almost the singular voice of Hyperdub; having appeared on the label’s first two releases, Kode9’s "Sign of The Dub" and "Spit", back in 2004. He would go on to being Kode9’s best known collaborator, working on a further five EPs and two full-length albums, including the genre-defining Memories Of The Future and its follow up, Black Sun

Ghostly, full of dread and with the ability to be switch between forlornness and aggression, his words, rooted in the language of dub permeated through dubstep and UK bass to act as both the spectre of the past and a dying future. No better is this heard in Burial’s track "The Spaceape", though the lyrics lifted from the previously released "Victim", with the sword-like slashing of distant strings under a malfunctioning drum pattern, and Gordon’s narrative of alien infections, abductions and audio-chemical injections reading like a cyberpunk short story based in south east London. 

The significance of Gordon and Steve Goodman’s (Kode9) collaboration extended beyond the aesthetic of bass music. Goodman, aside from producing music and creating Hyperdub, is a doctor in Philosophy who wrote the MIT Press book Sonic Warfare: Sound, Affect and the Ecology of Fear, and gained notoriety for his work at the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit, a research collective founded by Sadie Plant at Warwick University, which also included contemporary philosophers Mark Fisher and the controversial Nick Land. Much of the theories conceived by Goodman and the CCRU was fed back into Hyperdub and Kode9 in the early years, however much of these subtexts would never have been communicated without the performative element of Gordon’s poetry. In 2009, it was disclosed that Gordon had started what was to be a long fight with Neurolymphamatosis, a rare form of cancer. For many artists this would have stopped their careers, but, in 2012, Gordon addressed his illness head-on with his solo debut Xorcism. In keeping with previous creative work, this was not a straightforward affair. Rather than a candid affair with his struggles, Gordon fused his science fiction outlook into the EP.

Gordon’s battle with his illness continued behind closed doors, until the announcement of a new, and now sadly final, collaboration between him and Kode9 just a few weeks ago. The Killing Season EP, due out later this month is a fantastic final chapter of this decade long partnership, with The Spaceape sounding more honest than ever, and Kode’s ambient tendencies taking precedence over bass pressure. Whereas the previous releases by the two felt more defined in production and poetry duties, the worldliness of "The Devil Is A Liar" fused textures from Xorcism, signifying a blurring of roles. As a parting statement, tantalisingly pointing towards an ever-braver synthesis of psychic tension and musical topography, it embraces the poetic freedom of this truly otherworldly artist. That, of course, is the view from a fan who has lost a musical luminary. For his many friends and tight family, who have lost a man beyond compare, we wish our deepest sympathies.