Without realising it, I grew up on Drum and Bass.
I played a lot of video games and watched a lot of kids TV cartoons. Thanks to the “X-Treme” marketing phenomenon of the late 90s, you could pretty much guarantee that the TV Spot advertising “Super X Power Force” (I wish there was a TV series called that) would contain some pumping drum and bass loops.
However, shockingly enough, Drum and Bass didn’t originate in Dreamcast-based Sonic the Hedgehog games and overzealous advertisements. But where did it originate? Let’s ask some questions…
Musically, Drum and Bass is all about pace. With most tracks recorded at 160bpm or more, the genre is definitely energetic. The pace is created from the iconic syncopated beats. Most commonly, referencing a 16 step sequencer, with the snare on the 5 and 13 and the kick drum on the 1 and 11.
Unlike a lot of electronic music, it’s not restricted to just that beat – some drum and bass is really complex stuff, with the loops being cut to form interesting rhythms.
But that’s only half the title – what about the bass? Well, it tends to be big and heavy, often heavily run through a filter with a low attack on the envelope.
Often, the bass can be the main melody for the song, though more recent popular drum and bass incorporates some sweet lead synths or vocals to make the catchy parts of the tracks, leaving the Drums and Bass to drive the song.
More traditionally though, the rest of the track is composed of samples, vocal or otherwise, to differentiate it from other tracks.
But as with most genres, it is not just about the music. What else is characteristic of Drum and Bass?
These days, Drum and Bass is a more widely appreciated genre, but back in the early days it had a thriving subculture, populated by “Junglists”, who looked a bit like this:
Okay, maybe ali-g was a bit of a parodical figure, but the basics were there – the ragga roots, the hilarious clothes, the obsession with cars with big speakers… trying to stick to the “Original rudeboi” roots as much as possible.
As with a lot of rave-esque scenes, drugs tend to be a big part of it as well – cannabis being the poison of choice for many. This led to names such as “Drum and Bass Heads” for fans of the genre – people who were generally found off their heads on drugs at DnB raves.
Once again, I can flex my English pride when I say that Drum and Bass blossomed in the mean streets of London – but that wasn’t the start of the story of DnB. I can’t talk about Drum and Bass without talking about Jungle, and I can’t talk about Jungle without talking about the “Amen” Break. Let’s set the scene:
It’s 1969. A Funk/Soul group “The Winstons” releases a single called “Color him father”. On the B-side of the vinyl is a track called “Amen, brother”. Part way through this track it breaks down to a drum solo by the drummer Gregory Coleman.
Fast forward to the late 80s. The hip hop community is fully into sampling, and finding this gem of a beat, they use it in hip hop tracks extensively. As the 90s came in and the british rave scene was at its peak – BLAMMO. That was the sound of every breakbeat producer in existence using the amen break in their song.
The use of this sped-up breakbeat (named the Amen break after the song “Amen, brother” from whence it came) in conjunction with powerful, speaker testing sub-bass resulted in the birth of the genre dubbed “Jungle”. Essentially, this was a forerunner to full on Drum and Bass.
These days the names are pretty much interchangeable, though I find jungle tends to be more sped up, cut breakbeats with ragga MC vocals, whereas Drum and Bass tends to be more heavily produced and consistant with the uhn-tshh….uhntshh generic beat I made an example of above.
It was around the mid 90s that Jungle turned into Drum and Bass (sometimes abbreviated to DnB or D&B) and the genre really started to make a name for itself thanks to some key pirate radio stations and its heavy useage in raves.
Now it has been well and truly accepted by commercial radio, with several BBC DJs spinning Drum and Bass vinyl (Or is it Drum and Bass mp3s these days? Depends how authentic they are I guess!).
I think one of the biggest success stories in Drum and Bass is that of Pendulum – arguably the biggest selling Drum and Bass act ever. They have really streamlined the genre into a mainstream-accessible format, with singing vocals, rocky guitars and mental production skillz (Yeah, I like Pendulum.) Which while to some is considered selling out, but to others (like me) is considered pushing the envelope.
On the surface, you would be excused for thinking of Drum and Bass as an irritating, repetitive noise you get while you’re at the gym. Using the same beat for pretty much every song sounds like a recipe for boredom. But it’s not.
The percussion drives everything so well – when the music around it is interesting, your attention isn’t on the repetitive beat, it’s on the energetic song. It’s like most genres – chances are if you hear a DnB song and you don’t like it, you’ve just found a crap DnB song. There are some ridiculously cool tracks out there. Like this one – one of my favourite Drum and Bass songs, “Blood Sugar” by Pendulum:
Drum and Bass was designed for raves – and that will always be the best place to experience the genre; it’s very much a live experience, much like other rave music. Maybe more so since the basslines are generally so low that most home speakers can’t accurately reproduce them.
I’d suggest some of these Drum and Bass CDs:
“Hold your Colour” by Pendulum
An essential album for people interested in well produced Drum and Bass. Pretty much every track could be a single. The best way to explain it is to show you – This title track “Hold your Colour” is an amazing one, a combination of chilled DnB with an absolutely intense chorus:
Incidentally, the Final Fantasy footage really suits it I think, all the stuff from FFX on Besaid island especially. Kudos to the maker of the AMV! But yeah – that CD can be grabbed here:
“Drum and Bass Arena” mixed by Andy C and Grooverider
Two of the biggest names in drum and bass came together to put this amazing collection of tunes together. There are some cool chillout tracks on there, but I’m more inclined to show you the dirtier side of drum and bass with this example track “Beast City” by G-Dub. It’s DISGUSTING. In a good way, of course.
“Drum ‘n’ Bass Essentials” mixed by DJ Hype
Well, these certainly are some drum and bass essentials, but it’s more an introduction to Drum and Bass rather than a mixtape for hardcore DnB heads. Nearly 60 tracks worth, a great way to expose yourself to the DnB scene in one fell swoop!
Anything important and influential to Drum and Bass I missed out? Share it in a comment below!