When I was at school, it wasn’t often that I found myself feeling thankful to my teachers for setting me homework.
However one evening in 1992, I was in search of something – anything to do instead of the homework in front of me so I decided to flick through the radio stations to see what was on. Turning the dial and opting not to stick with Pat Sharp’s Capital Countdown I hit upon a station at 90.6 fm. This was a pirate station called Pulse. On it was a DJ going by the name of Hype who was playing what I later discovered to be drum and bass.
I had heard house music, knew about the summer of love, I’d seen the smiley faces, the white gloves and the PLUR associated with that scene and while the culture seemed fresh and exciting, I was still looking for a different sound to go with it all. Drum and bass with its broken beats, warped samples, fat bass, its grittier dirtier rrrrrrrrrolling sound was what I had been looking for.
The origins of drum and bass, while cloudier than the air at a jungle (more of that later) rave, to me came about when artists such as Shut Up and Dance started to produce tunes which combined hip hop beats with more electronic samples, exemplified in their tune “?10 to get in” which as a political comment against ripoff promoters was released in 1991.
Tunes such as Acen’s ‘Close Your Eyes’, Lennie de Ice’s ‘We are IE’ and ‘Android’ by some band called the Prodigy signalled a departure from the US/Balearic 4/4 house that had soundtracked a lot of the rave movement previously.
Some DJs, ahead of their time had already started to experiment with existing house records by cutting the beats from the tracks into one another and playing the tunes at different speeds in order to create their own breakbeats.
This was seen at a club called Rage. Run by DJs Fabio and Grooverider, it started in 1988 and continued until 1993. It is at this point that it is worth discussing the alternative word that was being used for drum and bass at the time, that word being “jungle”. The roots of the word are unclear, at the time “jungle”, with its reggae and ragga samples was seen as more of a black person’s music, some people therefore felt that jungle music was a racist term. Others felt that the music was the sound coming from the inner cities, the concrete jungle.
Whatever the origins of the word, its introduction was a sign that the rave sound itself was fragmenting, and jungle, with its own producers, DJs, events, signature tunes and crowd was developing its own separate scene.
If only electronic music with its 23 odd names for house music, pick and mix terms such as hard dance/hard techno/hard trance/technotrance/hardhouse etc were as easy to pigeonhole. But I digress..
..a young graffiti artist by the name of Goldie was a regular attendee of Rage and in 1992, he released a track which is seen as a landmark tune in the evolution of jungle/drum and bass. Entitled Terminator, its samples, increase in pitch but not bpms and cut up breakbeats(known as amens)was to herald the start of jungle’s peak years.
The years 1993-1995 saw the introduction of large promotions such as AWOL, Roast, Desire, Jungle Fever, hosting nights at massive venues such as Paradise, Roller Express, Sanctuary and the Lazerdrome. A guestlist’s worth of pirate radio stations could be found playing jungle; Rush, Chillin, Eruption, Don and Kool fm to name a few, with Kool still going strong today. It was at around this time that jungle peaked – DJs such as Jumping Jack Frost, Hype, Randall, Grooverider, Kenny Ken and Devious D were dropping tunes such as It’s the Way, Sound Control, Valley of the Shadows, Babylon, Helicopter, Rollidge and tearing up the packed out dancefloors. MCs featured heavily at jungle raves –providing a lyrical accompaniment to the music, cajoling the crowd and calling for rewinds when necessary. Opinion on MCs is mixed to say the least, some MCs can be like the idiot in the cinema who talks over the film that people are trying to listen to, this type can often be found in the habitat of pirate radio. However Stevie Hyper D(RIP) and Conrad are two contrasting examples of the all too rare breed of MC that does add to the musical experience.
Jungle had also by now crossed over into the mainstream. Goldie had released the album Timeless, Jamiroquai collaborated with M Beat for the track “Do U Know” and “Ultimate/classic/Terry Wogan picks the best of” type jungle compilations jostled for shelf space in HMV.
Meanwhile away from Top of the Pops, the jungle scene had got itself associated with a negative image of moody ravers, moody music and moody clubs. If happy hardcore was known for chipmunk vocals, uplifting piano breakdowns and fluoro clothes, jungle appeared to be the equivalent of its evil twin, with its gangsta samples, dark amen beats and violent reputation meaning these two brothers who had both split from the earlier rave/hardcore sound had suffered an irretrievable family breakdown.
How much of this “darkside” was true and how much of it was simply a reaction against a black culture taking a white dominated sound and creating its own identity is open to debate.
Around 1996, Adam F released a tune called “Circles”. This was a departure from the rolling aggressive sound of jungle and became a signature tune for yet another scion of drum and bass – labelled intelligent drum and bass. This genre wasn’t exclusively open to Mensa members, and this was reflected in its popularity. Pioneered by LTJ Bukem and his label Good Looking, it was jazzy, soulful, more melodic with less reliance on thundering basslines.
At this stage, with its trouble afflicted events, producers moving away from the scene and with UK garage on the rise, jungle’s popularity had begun to decline as rapidly as that of Noel Edmonds’s House Party.
UK garage was becoming the sound of choice for the pirates and XR3i drivers so with Britpop at the height of fashion, drum and bass was able to take stock, regroup and like an animal of the wild adapt to its new environment, refreshed and unhindered by the labels and trends that had weighed it down previously.
Symbolising its new direction was Roni Size – an artist from Bristol pushing the boundaries with his live act Reprazent. He used instruments and live singers to produce his album New Forms. This went on to win the 1997 Mercury Music Prize and in doing so attracted a new set of fans to the sound. Even David Bowie got in on the act with the release of his album Earthling, drum and bass influences drumming and bassing throughout.
Having gone through the initial excitement of being born, then lived through the growing pains of constant genre splintering and moved on from its rebellious moody phase, the new millennium coincided with drum and bass’ resurgence as others fell by the wayside – RIP speed garage, Britpop and grunge. Forward thinking labels such as Metalheadz, Valve, Ram, Good Looking, Breakbeat Kaos and Moving Shadow established themselves as sources of high quality, diverse underground music, ensuring the fast-paced evolution of drum and bass continues today.
The Latin tinged Shake UR body, innovative beats of Bodyrock, the vocal Hide U by Kosheen have all kept drum and bass in the wider public’s musical consciousness.
There has been the advent of liquid drum and bass, closer in sense to intelligent drum and bass than to jungle – currently showcased at Fabio’s weekly Swerve nights.
It is now a worldwide sound, and in turn has taken the world and brought it back to London, in particular Brasilian DJs Marky and Patife who are residents at one of London’s finest drum and bass nights – Movement.
There is Pendulum, an Australian act who released their album Hold Your Colour in 2005 – a truly unique variation on drum and bass with its bouncy upbeat firing fizzy all over the place break all the rules music introducing yet another string to the bow of drum and bass.
The music is a regular fixture at London’s big clubs – Fabric, the End, Koko are all roadblocks when a drum and bass night is scheduled
It can be fast, slow, aggressive, relaxing, hard, soulful, melody driven, bass driven music, sometimes all in the same tune. It is a futuristic sound, and given the current popularity of old skool nights can be said to be ahead of its time. Drum and bass – it has been a great pleasure to meet you.