Keith K. Hopewell - Chaoid Systems L.P.
Hopewell’s latest LP Chaoid Systems extends the ideas explored in his ‘Broken Systems In C Major’ sound installation. It is the first he’s recorded under his real name Keith K. Hopewell (previous work bore the nom-de-guerre Part2, both as a producer/artist and as part of the group New Flesh). Though here he allows us the comfort of rhythm, a palette of textures and tantalizing infrequent plunges into jazzy harmony, it is an invigoratingly sparse, dark and synthetic affair.
If fans of Philip K. Dick (another dystopian futurist with a ‘K’) have puzzled over the implications of androids dreaming of electric sheep, Hopewell gives us what sounds like a minimalist opera for the electric fleas on their backs as they’re abducted into digital serfdom.
At its most abstract (e.g. ‘Broken Systems’) it’s glitchy, constrained, swishing, droning and dominated by atonal hums that build to an unbearable weight, rendering into sharp edged fields of bass. There’s ample to disorient. Frequencies and spatial dimensions are abruptly opened or shut off. Because of this, unsurprisingly, it is difficult at times.
But when Hopewell offers us respite, to make another analogy with the world of sci-fi, it’s like Huxley’s soma. Typically such moments come in the shape of beautiful warm edged registers that will be familiar to anyone who’s pursued the harmonic line that links, for instance, Roy Ayers’ ‘Chicago’, Maggotron’s ‘Pillow Talkin’ Baby’, DJ Ron’s ‘African Lover’, People Underground’s ‘My Love’ and 4Hero’s ‘Sink Or Swim’. It’s the perennial sound of silver linings and sunshine through the clouds.
There are surprisingly tender moments. Amidst the small electronic elephants that gallop through the future dreamscape of ‘Fractal’ we find glimpses of boogie past. There are ghosts of what could easily be the Funk Masters’ brass section and hints of Evelyn King’s guitar synth circa ‘I’m in Love’. Such lovely ethereality, though almost always gives way sooner or later to a darker future. In ‘Fractal’’s case it dissolves into ‘Factory’ – an ominous monologue from Rammellzee, who was both a pioneer of the kind of dystopian sonic Afro-Futurism we find here and, until his death in 2010, a mentor of sorts to Hopewell.
When ‘Fractal’ bleeds into ‘Chaoid’ we find ourselves caught inside an arcade game, buffeted by fizzing explosions and aggressively humming force fields. It puts an eerie spin on the physicality of Hopewell’s sound chamber and a dark pall on what in 1984 David Toop approvingly described as the “juvenility” of electro.
And this perhaps is what Chaoid Systems most represents. It is the adolescent dream of electro reimagined according to a more desolate vision of the future by a man now in his early forties – one who, crucially, never forgot that ‘Planet Rock’ was street avant-gardism before it was an ‘electro classic’. Nowhere is this clearer than on ‘Myth’ where ‘Planet Rock’’s key rhythmic trope – the distinctive syncopations of Kraftwerk’s ‘Numbers’ – is ground into a bleak and furiously oscillating acid fever.