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…

What’s it about?
When did it start?
How did it start to get popular?
Why is Drum and Bass so totally sweet?
Where can I get it?

What’s it all about?

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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

A junglist

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.

When did it start?

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.

How did it get popular?

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.

Why is Drum and Bass so frickin’ awesome?

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.

Where can I get it?

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:

Hold Your Colour

“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 and Bass Arena

“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!

DJ Hype Presents Drum ‘n’ Bass Essentials

Anything important and influential to Drum and Bass I missed out? Share it in a comment below!


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18 Responses to “What is Drum and Bass?”

  1. [...] the power of well produced drum and bass, the laid back approach previously almost exclusive to trip hop, and… uh… the power of [...]

  2. I think that Drum & Bass is a good type of music now we’re in 2009 and most artists have produced albums from the past decade including High Contrast Confidential album which has 2 CD’s of the best originals and remixes that High Contrast has produced this album. Drum & Bass will once again rule the world with Pendulum and Goldie making the best DnB live shows in the whole world. Other artists are good DnB artists such as London Elektricity, Danny Boyd, Atlantic Connection and Mulder doing the best hits of the Jungle music. I grew up in Essex and listened to Drum & Bass/Jungle music when I was 10 years old and im still listening to it today and forever. Drum & Bass is the only music that I will listen to it forever.

  3. I take it you’re a fan of the genre? :P

    Cheers for all the artist suggestions!

    I know what you mean about the live shows too; I caught Pendulum at Download Festival this year – it was the only band where everyone seemed to be dancing. Loved it.

  4. Oh my god this made me laugh.

    pendulum isn’t drum and bass…

    it stinks.

  5. oh and i have to add, those album recomendations stink too! ha.

    ok mate, as someone who was involved in the scene for many years but now can’t find a decent album for love nor money.. here are some real drum and bass album recomendations, please discover the roots.

    Goldie : Timeless
    Grooverider : The prototype years
    Adam F : Colours
    LTJ Bukem : Logical Progression
    Ed Rush and Optical : Wormhole
    Roni Size: New Forms
    Magnetic : Jonny L
    Cybotron: Dillinja


  6. Hey there original junglist!

    How silly of my opinion, I’ll be sure to change it :P

    If they’re not Drum and Bass artists, what genre are Pendulum? DnB-Pop? Either way I can hear the DnB rhythm at around 160bpm in the majority of their tracks.

    Thanks for recommending some tracks though, I’ll check ‘em out!

  7. Hey Dave, Interesting article and I agree that Hold Your Colour is possibly one of Pendulum’s greatest tracks to date. I was just wondering if you or any of the other junglists could recommend some specific chilled DNB tracks in the same vein?

    Cheers guys.

  8. totally agree with dave… the albums he listed are fantastic

  9. my bad – i meant to say the original junglist – that list is awesome… highly reccomend those albums

  10. yep Pendul isn’t proper DnB, it’s f*ckin’ clownstep

  11. ‘chilled DNB tracks in the same vein?’

    scuzzy, its all about netsky, calibre, ltj bukem and so on if your a liquid fan.. steer clear of pendulum, its alreet for a while but theres so much better out there.

  12. hey, i do agree with original junglist,

    pendulum i respect them and what they have done for the dnb scene but i personally dont like them because its to mainstream,
    they try and make thier songs to reach out to a bigger crowd but unliked me with my drum and bass i have 2 very select styles,

    jump up and old skool

    jump up, to mosts would probably drive you mental, but to the people like me who do like it, it gives a euphoric emotion when a big drop kicks in, (a drop is were the main bassline or kick plays)

    if you have heard of, dj hazard, original sin, dillinja, modified motion etc.. then you would know what im on about.

    its genrally repetative, with teary basslines, dark, grimey, gives an adreniline rush.

    although jungle, the respectble old day stuff is more on relaxing terms in my opinion, many drum beats, with a reggae feeling cant really describe it, but its fucking good!

    if you ever do end up going to a drum and bass rave, its got one of the best atmospheres i have ever experienced,

    some of the biggest are, innovation, custard factory, in the dam.

    remember its my opinion most of this but i am respectable to all views and any reply’s.

    and thanks to author of this article for a faily good description on drum and bass.

  13. Origonal Junglist had some solid recommendations,

    Adam F, J Majik (got to see both of them mix live, beautiful), Goldie, Grooverider, Roni Size, I have owned most of the albums on his list .

    Also, check out Bad Company, Dom & Ronald, and, I really liked some of Dieselboy’s mixes (I know, I’m from the states, he’s sentimental for since he mixed the second Dnb CD I ever owned).

    Pendulum has a mainstream feel that I’m not too fond off, I mean Roni Size has sucessfully incoporated different instruments into his tracks and he still managed to keep that unique Dnb edge that did not sound mainstream. Some of Diesleboy’s recent albums have presented some artists/styles that are more refined to a broader appeal with out sounding like pendulum…

    Also, Ltj Bukem’s albums present alot of artists that are valid as well, I’d recommend him as well…

  14. This article does its job. it is a good guide to introduce people to drum and bass.

    myself am into jump-up and old skool jungle. im more into the darker side of drum and bass. one thing no-one has touched on is the mcing. this for me is what seals the deal on this genre. you cant beat a nicky blackmarket set with shadowdeamon coalition rippin it on the mic.

    and to the poster about who suggested some raves.. ‘in the dam’ IS innovation. innovation is the first international drum and bass rave scene ever organised legally. been going 15 years strong. you have innovation in the dam – this is a weekend event in late november staged in amsterdam (hence the name in the dam). then you also have innovation in the sun, this is set in sunny Loret de marr (5 miles out from barcelona) persoanally this years innovation in the sun was the best rave ive been to to date. 7 nights of pure raving from 10 at night till 6 in the morning, set in late june-early july. the organisation innovation also organise raves in the uk often in london.

    hoping that innovation new years will be a banger in the new fire complex arena!

    hope to see all you hardcore fans up there chewin ur faces off loving it big style!


  15. The best visual description i can provide for Pendulums musical skill is my nuts swinging between my legs…….ugly as sin… ha ha ha

  16. First up, well done on the history mate, we’re nothing if we cant appreciate our history. Being Australian i cant knock Pendulum too much but having grown up on Goldie and Big Bud its hard to listen to an entire album of Pendulum and still put them anywhere near the greats – it all just sounds too basic…and lets face it most people are dumb, so if most people like your music, it follows that your music is dumb, simple and easily consumed. Thats not DRUM AND FUCKIN BASS. For me Drum and bass is from very tribal sounds and goes back to the time of hunter gatherers when music was basic but full of rythm and beat. We all come from an urban, city bound tribe so the sounds are more industrial but if you go for a walk in the Australian bush with some sick abstract DNB playin it will still match perfectly, you can even hear insects using a rythm that could easily be sampled in (my mate n i were pretty mashed up when we discovered that) So for me good drum and bass should hold true to rythm and beat from the drumms and the bass, not melodie which i think pendulum use too much. It should not be liked by most people, and if that starts the genre is in trouble,,,and above all things its rythm and beat should not be easily consumed – it should be like the rythm of a good boxer, easily identified, easily appreciated but fucking dangerous to your face!

    But apart from that your sites awesome and i will def direct my other mates who are only now realising the true, basic n deeply tribal sounds of our great genre to come and read what you have said….because its good!

  17. Quit raggin’ on the stuff you don’t like and start posting the stuff that gets ya movin’. Dave’s list is pretty good for a neophyte DnB-head, so quit hating and give us some more stuff to listen to people.

  18. Everyone complaining about stuff sounding to mainstream sounds like a bunch of close minded hipsters to me.

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