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The Rise of Drum and Bass

What Cultural Factors Have Contributed To The Rise Of Drum & Bass In The Mainstream?

Since the mid 1990’s Drum & Bass has been around, first mostly underground and more recently in the public mainstream. But where did it come from? Why only recently have the electronic music audiences accepted it, and what factors have contributed it to spawning out from the backstreet basements and disused warehouses into the popular clubs and your CD collection?
 

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Elements

The most common and possibly vital element of drum and bass would be its drum pattern. The Typical drum and bass beat is know as the amen break which came about in 1969. It was first played by a funk and soul band called the Winston's on a record called "colour him father". It was the b-side "amen brother" which contained this 6 second break. Nothing came out of the track until the sampler was invented and producers started to take samples of certain parts of pre-recorded vinyl and incorporate them into their own composition. The use of sampling was very popular in the early hip-hop scene from which the amen break was first sampled and used by many artists. A good example of this would be NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton” and Mantronix’s “King Of The Beats”. This spawned a new era of electronic music which incorporated the amen break as the basis of theses genre's. This era started in the late 1980's rave scene with "happy hardcore". Happy hardcore took the amen break and added light happy synths and a bouncy 4/4 kick drum over the main break which became a huge feature of the UK rave scene.
 

The “Break Beat”

Another notable genre encompassing the break would be Breakbeat which as well as the amen break contains elements from other genre's such as hip-hop, rock and funk. Breakbeat came around in 1969 with a Jamaican artist known as “Kool Herc” aka Clive Campbell who went to America and started a DJing career on the streets of the Bronx. After playing an assortment of reggae and funk he soon noticed that the kids weren’t into the tracks that were being played but it was the instrumental breaks in the tracks, which got them going crazy. These breaks, as short as eight bars were energetic and like a drug made them crave for more. Herc Picked up on this and developed a style where he would buy two copies of the same track which had this funky break and cut back and forth between them to create a continuous break to satisfy the bloc party goers and soon christened this style as the Breakbeat.

Why Is It Called Jungle?

Around the same time as happy hardcore, jungle was also formed, which many people mistake for drum and bass but it has its notable differences. Jungle is the genre from which drum and bass evolved from due to its sampling and manipulation of the amen break. There is no concrete evidence to show where the term “jungle” came from but the most probable explanation is that it came from the use of the word in ragga and dub where MC’s would often toast along to a track using the words jungle, junglist and jungle music meaning the sounds of the jungle. Others debate that the term junglist came from people living in the suburban “ghetto” also known as “the concrete jungle” and them being “junglist”. At on time people thought of the term as a racial slur due to it’s influences from ragga and reggae which was typically a “black genre”.

The Contrast

Jungle music uses the amen break at a sped up tempo (usually around 160- 175 BPM) and is more syncopated than Drum and Bass, the drum patterns are very sketchy and unpredictable whereas in modern Drum and Bass there is a set pattern which is repeated and only really changes at the end of a phrase or during a drop. I believe this is due to the composition of Drum and Bass which encompasses more musical qualities such as melody and basslines and these have drawn the producers concentration from the drum pattern but in early jungle the focus was more on the drum pattern and the lyricist and didn’t usually include the other elements we now see in Drum and Bass with the exception of basic basslines.

Press Coverage/ Culture/ Drug Use

Through research I have traced back the culture, which moved into the urban music area and spawned the jungle scene. It started back in 1988 with the rise of acid house and a subculture, which caused moral panic in the press. With the rise of acid house came a rise in the use of the drug ecstasy, which creates feeling of warmth and love for others around you. On the ‘Talk To Frank’ website it refers to use in the rave scene; “This is often called the original designer drug because of its synonymous relationship with rave culture in the early 90s”. Clubbers took ecstasy to stay awake and dance for hours.” Once the press found out about the use of ecstasy within the rave scene, newspapers started to write articles on the rave scene and make people frown upon it due to the emergence of drug use and on the 19th of October 1988 the sun wrote an article with the headline ‘Evil Of Ecstasy!’ and soon other tabloids printed similar stories, often with pictures of the masses of sweaty teenagers at a rave event dancing like maniacs. One of The Suns headlines titled “Spaced Out” included one of these pictures along with a caption saying ‘Night of ecstasy... thrill seeking youngsters in a dance frenzy at the secret party attended by more than 11,000.’ This prompted a recall on all “Smiley Face” t-shirts, which were associated to the drug, and clubs such as “Trip Club” changed their name so not to be associated with the drug. The negativity towards acid house and it’s sub-culture had been drastically increased in 1989 when a 16 year old girl collapsed and died from taking ecstasy in the Hacienda Club in Manchester. Ecstasy was now a major threat to the well being of thousands of young people and in extension, so was acid house. Since then acid house started to decline in popularity due to the decrease in events being held for fears of more teenagers overdosing and damaging the reputation of clubs. But the scene wasn’t completely dead, in fact it moved back to being an underground genre as it was before the press reported on it and when it made a comeback in 1991 it was known as “The Rave Scene”.

“The Rave Scene” Culture

The rave scene was hugely popular among the youths of Britain but a Burdon on the authorities who strived to remove illegal raves from taking place and went to extreme lengths to prevent ravers attending these events. It started back in the dying days of acid house, which brought on a rise of illegal raves taking place in disused warehouses and basements (which I guess is where the term underground formed). My understanding is that these illegal events came about due to the decline of acid house and the press’s negativity towards the scene so some faithful fans of the genre strived to keep it alive by holding illegal raves for it’s followers and other genre’s formed and gained popularity by being played at these events. With the presence of ecstasy fuelling the rave scene, it generated a hedonistic culture that rebelled against authority and anyone who stood in their way of dancing till they dropped. At this time after the decline of acid house, the advertising of these events was a militant operation, hiding the location and dates of illegal raves from the police while telling the ravers what they needed to know via pirate radio and specially set up hotlines. Only key information was advertised and the details where communicated by word of mouth as convoys of ravers would gather at petrol stations where informers would wait to let them know where to go. The creator of the jungle label Moving Shadow- Rob Playford was a big supporter of the rave scene, became a part of the Ibiza party organization. The Ibiza team were able to track a location and move in to set up the means to hold a rave in a matter of hours. He quotes “It was mad, we’d be straight in there and then it was like bosh, bosh, bang, the whole thing was ready to roll”.

The Police

As the illegal events got more popular the police devised smarter tactics to prevent ravers getting to these events. In a book called ‘State of Bass’ it goes into detail on the rave scene and the police efforts to put an end to it. It reads- Chief Superintendent Ken Tappenden set up a unit to monitor the moves of ravers and compile a database of names called the ‘Pay Party Unit’. The head office for this operation was based in Gravesend, which was an ideal location to monitor the ravers movements on the M25, which had become the most important road link for the party revellers.

Rob Playford tells of the last time he organized an illegal rave

‘It was supposed to be the third in a series of ten Ibizas. Basically we’d all gone in there really early and beat the police. That was the main thing: to get there before the police because once it was going they couldn’t really do much. But then a lot of people got stopped from coming in; cars were being turned back, the drivers and passengers questioned. There was a big task force of police out there but they didn’t understand just how much these parties meant to the kids. They’d do anything to get there. We were looking out from the top of this window and all we could see was the police hitting kids who were running across the field. You’d get kids running towards the warehouse and suddenly there was a fist in the face from a copper. Dogs were being set on them and searchlights were being scanned across the fields like it was a war or prison or something. It obviously wasn’t a good sight to see. At exactly 5 a.m. all the windows of the place got smashed in and then rolling through these windows were, like, stormtroopers. It was such a frightening sight. They were so over the top, no one made any trouble but they pushed us all into a really tight corner and searched us all. After this we just thought “this has got beyond a joke now’.

There is much debate about which genre’s jungle evolved from and it is near impossible to name the parent genre’s as jungle has taken influence from many genre’s such as Hip Hop, Jazz, House, Ragga etc…

Pioneering Artists

As jungle is a mutation of many genres it has pioneering artists who did not directly get involved with the genre but inspired the jungle artists.

Miles Davis, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and B.B King have all been pioneers of blues and have been named as great influences on the blues orientated permutation of jungle. An obvious influence on jungle would be reggae with pioneers such as King Tubby, Sly & Robbie, Lee Perry and Bob Marley to name but a few who all inspired the lyrical style used in early jungle track but became rarer as jungle developed.

Artist such as Aphrodite, Danny Breaks, DJ Hype, DJ SS, Grooverider, Goldie, LTJ Bukem, Omni Trio, Ray Keith, Rebel Mc and Roni Size have all had a direct impact on the Jungle/ Drum & Bass scene. Goldie is often thought as the biggest artist to broadcast D&B and bring it to the attention of a wider audience, mostly due to his large discography, which spans through the different stages of D&B and includes certain quality’s from other genres. “Listening to 'Timeless' is like taking an adventure. If the limits of music are the limits of society, then 'Timeless' is going to create new worlds. It's a record that travels from darkness to light across electronic oceans, across street soul, ambience and jazz”- The War Is Over. “It's just that Grooverider, Fabio, Randall, Doc Scott, they've all been there before me”- Goldie. “I have a job to do and my job is to make Breakbeat more acceptable,”- Goldie.

Another Pioneering artist would be Roni Size who has played a big part in the scene and is very experimental when creating D&B and says that reggae music was one of his earliest influences when creating tracks.

The influence of jazz on your music is obvious. What elements of jazz that particularly excite you?

“I think it’s the freedom of expression if that makes sense? Those guys just seemed to be so free to express themselves in what they did and they weren’t actually worrying about how things should sound, they just did what they did and thought, ‘this sounds great, this is from the heart and this is what I want to produce’. That same ethos is what I’ve based my whole career on. I think all those guys just did stuff that made them feel good about who they are and their expression in music. That will never die for me.”- LTJ Bukem

Equipment Used In Producing ‘D&B’

The Typical tools that were used to create a D&B track were a synthesizer, a drum machine, a sequencer, a sampler, a keyboard, a sampler and also a computer to piece all the parts together.

The synthesizer played a big role in D&B and infact all electronic genre’s with it’s ability to generate sound waves and manipulate them to allow the user more control over the sounds they want to produce.

The keyboard is an obvious choice for electronic music and works along side the synthesizer and sampler. The user could assign a sound on the keyboard and play with it, mutating its structure and creating a vast range of futuristic sounds.

The Sampler was a very popular tool for recording snippets of sound and recycling them into a new composition. It was the sampler which allowed hip-hop artists to cut up the amen break and use it to influence many other genres.

The sequencer allowed the artist to program sounds such as drums onto a set of steps (8, 16, 32 etc..) and play them back in time.
The drum machine was an extremely cost-effective digital drummer. They contain internal clocks to keep the drum pattern in time and saved the user a lot of hassle cutting and time stretching. It gave you a large bank of drum kits and a basic sequencer to keep it all tidy.

Nowadays with all the computer technology available, an amateur producer could create a pretty decent track just from using software on his laptop.

Drum And Bass Today

I think it’s safe to say that D&B is now a mainstream genre, which has a wide audience among the youth culture which I believe is due to it being frowned upon by the upper classes and the youth need some way to vent their rebellion against ‘The Man’. The youth of today can connect with drum and bass and it’s sub genres.

Artists such as pendulum have made Drum & Bass more open to people and having roots in rock music they have managed to collect a group of followers from the Rock and Indie scene who listen to a lot of commercial D&B. Also Chase and Status have broken into the mainstream due to their collaboration with the hip-hop artist Plan B.

Many of the hardcore fans of D&B dislike commercial artists like High Contrast and Pendulum because they believe they have sold-out and are just producing ‘manufactured music’ to benefit their wallet rather than for the love of music, but I see it another way. I think these artists have worked hard and didn’t expect to reach mainstream status but have done so and produce ‘watered down’ D&B which is a sort of welcoming style to get more people involved in the scene and make it more open to people. I think without the mainstream artists D&B would still be an underground genre, which the media would strive to make a bad impression of.

Drum & Bass has influenced a new era of urban genre’s, created by today’s youth to call their own. Genres such as grime and dubstep have taken parts of D&B and mixed them into their music to create a new sound with a similar feel.

by Kieran Baldwin 2010

 

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