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What is Hypersoul? (2001)


London Hyperdub HQ
Originally published in 2001

Hypersoul should be understood as a mutation within the soul tradition. Essentially, hypersoul is a continuation of soul: it stems from the same influences, presses the same buttons and utilises the same techniques as its illustrious ancestor. Nevertheless, in many respects hypersoul is a radical rejection of what soul has always been presumed to stand for.

Is hypersoul a new genre of dance music?

Not exactly, no. Soul is more like an accent than a genre, it’s an inflection, a way of sounding, that can be applied to almost any sort of music – you can get soulful techno, for instance.

Hypersoul, similarly, is an accent, an inflection. This accent is most pronounced in contemporary US r&b (eg swing-influenced acts such as Aaliyah and Destiny’s Child) and UK underground garage (especially the vocal end of garage, the so-called ladies’ tunes). But we shouldn’t rule out the possibility of examples of hypersoul that occur outside these two forums.

In what sense does hypersoul reject soul’s heritage?

Though hypersoul is popular among soul’s street audience, it has been treated with hostility by the guardians of the classic soul tradition. These suspicions are usually expressed in the form of moral disapproval: soul, according to the traditionalists, should represent some sort of natural human warmth, something that hypersoul singularly fails to do.

Hypersoul is marked on all levels by antagonism towards soul values. Soul’s religious and spiritual undercurrent is often pushed aside in favour of brazen aspirational materialism (aka the ‘playa’ culture). Many tracks flaunt an obsession with hi-tech consumer gadgetry, especially mobile phones. This aspirational materialism has inspired some critics to resurrect/revitalise Marxist concepts of “commodity fetishism” and “false consciousness”.

Moreover, hypersoul at times toys with some surprisingly white and unfunky musical influences. Simon Reynolds has noted certain recent Timbaland productions using (or at least cloning) classic Euro rave techno sounds. At the other end of the scale are the (typically cheesy) classical samples and operatic references found in much contemporary r&b – in particular, En Vogue’s remarkable “Masterpiece Theatre” LP.

Of course, all this artifice, materialism and simulation runs contrary to trad-soul’s in-house humanist ideology. In that sense, it’s unsurprising that soul traditionalists have been by-and-large hostile to hypersoul. There’s certainly a good case to be made that hypersoul is Not Real Soul, an imposter of some sort.

In what ways does hypersoul continue the soul tradition?

Though the soul cognoscenti may have rejected hypersoul, the soul massive has embraced it wholeheartedly. Demographically, soul has always been rooted in a biracial working class social soil. And insofar as there is a tradition of street soul, hypersoul is its latest manifestation.

Note that on street posters, flyers and everyday speech, the terms “r&b” and “garage” no longer denote the respectable and respected sounds of Staxx or Strictly Rhythm, but their hypersoul successors. Etymologists call this paleonomy – an old word taking on a new(ish) meaning.

Music of the people is also popular music, aka pop music. And hypersoul is unashamedly commercially successful, regularly getting into the charts and daytime radio. Established r&b megastars such as Whitney Houston have gone hypersoul in recent releases. The UK in recent months has seen a commercial feeding frenzy surrounding garage: you can buy garage mix CDs from supermarkets these days.

None of this is particularly surprising. Beneath its ideological veils, soul has always been popular dancefloor music, an unashamedly melodramatic soap opera of human relationships. Hypersoul continues this tradition, but twists it: exposing our so-called authentic human natures as artificial, mannered, simulated.

How does hypersoul typically represent male-female relationships?

Hypersoul tends to represent male-female relationships in significantly more reversible terms than traditional soul. Common themes include seduction (cf Aaliyah’s come-and-get-me “Try Again”), and cross-gender confrontation (eg TLC’s “No Scrubs”, Jamelia’s “Money”). These themes have always featured in soul, of course, but hypersoul foregrounds them and makes them explicit.

All of this is goes hand-in-hand with hypersoul’s focus on simulation and the code: power relations are represented as strategic games rather than humanist dramas.


Copyright © Hyperdub 2001 – Reprinted with permission.

Category: Hyperdub

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