One Nation

14.03.11 Words by: Charlie Jones

A few months ago, Hype Williams, a pair of musicians who met in Dalston and recently moved to Berlin, visited their friend in Tottenham, north London, and stayed up taking Mitsubishis for the weekend. Playing what was to hand and recording as they went along, ‘One Nation’ is the result – a raw, barely mixed set of tracks that cement Hype Williams’ status as one of the most exciting bands of the moment.

Obtuse to a fault, witty to a T, they’re made up of a floating set of members, though on this release, it’s been trimmed down to Dean Blunt, who grew up in the London Borough of Hackney, and Inga Copeland, a Russian national. Artists primarily, with music simply being the medium in which they work, they play whatever they have to hand and release what they want, when they want, how they want. Though they have links with Hounds of Hate and share some ground with the pop-history riffs of Nike7Up, the hauntological tension of Burial and the improv approach of Oneohtrix Point Never, they’re strikingly unattached as a band, operating entirely in their own space.

Despite only being a couple of years old, Hype Williams have released a fair amount of material so far – a CD-R, a tape, two 7”s, a 12”, a load of YouTube videos and two full, if super-limited, albums. Much of this material has had a slightly sardonic tone, from clever-clever answers in interviews to surreally hilarious Blackberry-shot videos to naming three songs Jesus To A Child. Their third album, ‘One Nation’, however, sheds any feeling of archness, drawing out the heart underneath the wisecracks to make a record of almost child-like sincerity and striking beauty.

Concerned with drugs, dreams, childhood and imagination, it’s a deeply, deeply romantic album, pulling the experience of inner-city life – vibrant, violent, multicultural, often high, always hyper – into the pastoral. The almost impossibly lovely third track William, Shotgun Sprayer sounds like a beat from vanished summer sound system, played over a simple, heat-corrupted synth line. Like much vaguely hauntological music, it doesn’t sound nostalgic, it sounds like the feeling of nostalgia itself, but rarely has this been achieved so well, so warmly. Dub’s syrupy texture and delicate melodies operate under the surface throughout – listen to Dragon Stout, and you can just about hear the delicate weight and soft tension of Tenor Saw’s voice. Break4Love, named after Raze’s 1988 house track, isolates the first notes of the breakdown of some lost rave anthem, taking that ecstatic high, and looping it on, slowing it down into infinity, a moment of bliss, strange, pure and sun-stroked, a memory difficult to place, but painfully vivid.

The packaging around the music sees them tinkering with signs and memory, too – track names are taken from old Wiley radio-rips (Your Girl Smells Chung When She Wears Dior) and Caribbean ale brands (Dragon Stout), the artwork is the CND logo, restructured with two jaguars and samples about the life of a peregrine falcon and musings on death drift merrily through the album. They’ve always actively resisted explaining what they do, believing that it’s the job of critics and curators, not creators, to find meaning, and as such, despite its conceptual purity, this is a supremely instinctive work.

While ‘One Nation’ is removed, as they were when they made it, from the level of conscious thought, this is, in its way, a very grand album. Significant things about childhood, place, death, nature, happiness, identity and nationality are all spoken about and wrestled with here. As Unfaithful’s soft kicks wrap around you, you realise that Hype Williams, for all their abstruse jokes and anti-music stance, have a majesty, a fluency and a wit that that places them far above their contemporaries and in the rich vein of radical English music, from Robert Wyatt to The Fall to The KLF.

I interviewed Dean Blunt a few months ago, and asked him how all Hype Williams songs sound like Hype Williams songs, despite the fact that are made by a floating series of people playing a floating set of instruments. It seemed like a bit of a silly question to him, saying that it was like asking him what made his voice his voice, or why his shit was his shit. “It all comes from me,” was what he said, and it’s a good way of thinking about the music of Hype Williams. It reminded me of a poem quoted in Peter Ackroyd’s essay on London graffiti, once written on the toilet wall of a pub in Covent Garden, which went, “There’s nothing foul that we commit / But what we write and what we shit.” It’s a beautiful pair of lines, and it fits this unforgettable album. Good albums speak to you, great ones about you, and this is a great album, detailing something key and new about being young and British today. Bleary-eyed but bold, radical yet steeped in history, at once international and parochial, ripping the piss and deeply in love. One nation, of all nations.

9/10

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