My grip on Black is Beautiful, the new album by Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland on Hyperdub, is tenuous to say the very least. I know I have heard it all the way through a number of times, but the bigger picture evades me. I’ll turn on my stereo and forget what the hell I’m listening to, because no two songs are even remotely alike; I flip it on while washing dishes and I find myself in another room twenty minutes later having abandoned the listen, but its odd moments still echo distinctly in my skull. The first song, the only one with a name, starts with a damaged and looped sample of what sounds like a hard exhale of something laced with salvia, and then it’s down the rabbit hole.
What ensues is magic: there are tantric chants, samples of bizarre interviews about sexual politics, drum machines hammering out hypnotic rhythms and cheap keyboards noodling visceral melodies. These two elusive multi-format artists, typically known as Hype Williams (perhaps in an effort to be confused with the famous music video director), are responsible for some of the most magnetic moments in recent music that I can think of; a haunting cover of a Donnie and Joe Emerson tune, the tender and soulful “Narcissist,” many particular occasions on Beautiful when Copeland proves her extreme vocal finesse and some of the most compelling experiments in the long, trailblazing history of the label that they now call home.
Even less straightforward than the group’s sound is their public persona, wrapped in contradictions and bizarre stories. What we know about Dean Blunt and Inga Copeland is that they are almost certainly not using their real names, and when it comes to their history, approach and process, their relationship to the truth at press time is flirtatious at best. The group’s live shows are known for their bone-rattling bass, bizarre casts of supporting characters and liberal use of dry ice, Blunt and Copeland hunched over their mixers, obscured by veils and mist. If they are trying to distract from the element of their existence that they deem least important – that is, the wizards behind the curtain – they are inadvertently riding one hell of a wave of Hype backfire, but somehow I don’t think this can be that simple.
My gut tells me this music is radical and knows it, while flat out rejecting the age-old and long-defended conviction that there has to be some cohesive or specific “point” to any piece of music, art, performance. This non-assertion is supported case in point by the fact that Hype Williams continue to raise steadily in popularity despite only making less and less sense as time goes on. In an earlier music video, shots of rotating money are cut into by an unknown person’s manic, helpless cry: “Because your art is deceitful!!” In a strangely enlightening interview with the Guardian, Blunt’s words speak volumes: “You live, and what you live comes out in what you do. I’m not smart enough to have a philosophy. Everything means something to me in that moment, beyond that I don’t care or know. Nothing means anything anymore, so people should stop trying to make sense of things.” It is certain that no one will be “making sense” of Hype Williams any time soon, not if they have their way; it may take us years to catch up to where they are now, and they’re only moving forward. In the meantime, their music is easy to ignore and hard to forget.