For a label who commands almost unparalleled respect among devotees of a genre of music to which percussion is of such intrinsic importance, releasing a 23-track compilation that is very nearly bereft of beats could be seen as a brave move. Yet for 10.3, the third in a series of collections compiled to celebrate their tenth anniversary, Hyperdub have done just that. And, true to the label’s impeccable form, it works perfectly.
Perhaps it isn’t such a brave move, really. One of the things for which this label is most lauded is its knack of signing artists whose talents stretch further than the production of a decent beat (although they’re usually pretty good at that too). To use an obvious example, the most famous, most cultishly worshipped artist on the Hyperdub roster is Burial, and the two Burial tracks the label have chosen for inclusion on 10.3 are two of his most nuanced and elegant. The thick, humid atmospherics of “In McDonalds” open the compilation, draped in vinyl crackle, and “Night Bus” is an entrancingly chilly evocation of a rain-soaked trek across town after another disappointing evening.
Obviously though, there is far more to Hyperdub than Burial. The excellent, and excellently ordered, choice of tunes on 10.3 shows off not only a wide range of Hyperdub talent, but also the breadth of genres that are housed under the label’s umbrella. Cooly G’s “Mind” is a brief, beautiful RnB sketch that lets some light into the compilation’s often gloomy landscape. On “Urban”, Dean Blunt combines yearning, Miles Davis-esque trumpets with tense strings and echoing samples to lush, exotic effect. The two Laurel Halo tracks on the record, “Melt” and “Wow”, are customarily inventive and engaging, both showcasing striking uses of novel sampling techniques.
Every single track on 10.3 feels necessary, a vital part of a superb, cohesive whole as well as effective in its own right. Somewhat surprisingly for an electronic record of this length that mostly consists of ambience and texture, the compilation never feels as if it is meandering. It sustains a certain momentum throughout, partly thanks to the way that all the tracks sit together so naturally. It really is an exceptional set, one that shows off the very best of an exceptional record label.