Drum and bass (drum n bass, DnB) is an electronic music style. Originally an offshoot of the United Kingdom breakbeat hardcore and rave scene, it came into existence when people mixed reggae basslines with sped-up hip hop breakbeats and influences from techno. Pioneers such as Fabio, Grooverider, Andy C, Roni Size, DJ SS , Brockie , Mickey Finn, Kenny Ken , Goldie and other DJs quickly became the stars of drum and bass, then still called jungle.
Beginnings in the UK
Early jungle (music) was an offshoot of techno music (colloquially known as 'hardcore' played by Spiral Tribe) that focused on the breakbeat. As a more and more bass-heavy and uptempo sound developed, jungle began to develop its own separate identity. After being further developed by a number of pioneering producers, the sound took on a very urban, raggamuffin sound, incorporating dancehall "ragga" style mc chants, dub basslines, but also increasingly complex, high tempo rapid fire breakbeat percussion. By 1995, a counter movement to the ragga style was emerging, dubbed "intelligent" jungle, and was embodied by LTJ Bukem and his Good Looking label. Intelligent jungle maintained the uptempo breakbeat percussion, but focused on more atmospheric sounds and warm, deep basslines over rough vocals or samples.
Jungle to drum and bass
At the same time, the ragga jungle sound mutated into a more stripped down hard percussive style, Hardstep, and its more hiphop and funk influenced sister style Jump-Up (exemplified by artists like Mickey Finn and Aphrodite with their Urban Takeover label, and the Ganja Kru 's True Playaz label), while other artists pushed a smoother, dubby style of tune, referred to as rollers.
Through 1996, Hardstep and JumpUp sounds were popular in the clubs, while Intelligent jungle was pushing a sound more accessible to the home listener. Stylistically things kept getting more and more diverse, as well as crossbreeding with other styles of jungle. In 1997, a funky, double-bass oriented sound came to the forefront, and gained some mainstream success with Roni Size Reprazent's New Forms album winning the UK's Mercury Prize.
The birth of techstep
On the other end of the spectrum, a new dark, technical sound in drum and bass was gaining popularity, championed by the labels Emotif and No U-Turn , and artists like Trace, Ed Rush and Optical , and Dom and Roland, and commonly referred to as techstep. Techstep took new sounds and technologies and applied them to jungle. It is characterized by sinister or science-fiction atmospherics and themes, cold and complex percussion, and dark basslines.
As the 1990s drew to a close, techstep came to dominate the drum and bass genre, with artists like Konflict and Bad Company UK amongst the most visible. Techstep was becoming more minimal, and increasingly dark in tone, and the funky, commercial appeal represented by Roni Size back in 1997 was waning. By 2000, there was an increasing movement to "bring the fun back into drum and bass". There was a new revival of rave-oriented sounds, as well as remixes of classic jungle tunes that brought things full circle back to the origins.
Since 2000, the scene has become very diverse, to the point where it is difficult to point to any one form as dominant.
In 2000, Fabio began championing a form he called Liquid Funk , with a compilation release of the same name on his Creative Source label. This was characterised by influences from disco and house, and widespread use of vocals. Although slow to catch on at first, the style grew massively in popularity around 2003-2004, and by 2005 it was established as one of the biggest-selling subgenres in drumnbass, with labels like Hospital Records and and artists including High Contrast, Calibre, , Marcus Intalex and Logistics among its main proponents.
The decade also saw the revival of Jump-Up. Referred to as "Nu Jump Up", or perjoratively as Clownstep, this kept the sense of fun and the simplistic, bouncing basslines from the first generation of Jump Up, but with tougher, harder production values. Prominent Nu Jump Up artists include Twisted Individual , Generation Dub , and DJ Hazard .
Sales figures for 2004 suggest that liquid funk and Nu Jump Up combined probably account for a significant majority of the drum and bass market.
The period also saw the rise of Dubwise in popularity. Although the dub-influenced sound was not new, having long been championed by artists like Digital and Spirit , 2003-2004 saw a significant increase in its popularity and visibility, with new artists like Amit at the forefront.
Similarly, whilst there has long been a niche dedicated almost entirely to detailed drum programming and manipulation, championed by the likes of Paradox , the first half of this decade saw a revival and expansion in the subgenre known variously as Drumfunk , "Edits", or "Choppage". Major labels include Inperspective and the new wave of artists in this style include Fanu , Breakage , and Fracture and Nepture .
The new millenium also saw a fresh wave of live drum and bass bands. The likes of Reprazent and Red Snapper had performed live drum and bass during the 1990s, but the re-creation of London Elektricity as a live band focussed renewed interest on the idea, with acts like The Bays and Ultra-Violet pursuing this avenue.
The global scene in 2005
The other major development largely occurring since the turn of the millenium is goegraphical: from firmly UK-orientated beginnings, drum and bass has firmly established itself worldwide. There are strong scenes in other English-speaking countries including the USA (home to Dieselboy, Hive ), Australia (Pendulum), New Zealand (Concord Dawn) and South Africa (Counterstrike ). It is popular across Europe, especially in Benelux (home to Black Sun Empire, Rawthang ), Germany (Typecell , Simon V , Panacea ), Scandinavia (Teebee, Polar , Future Prophecies ), Hungary (Tactile) and into Russia (Paul B, Prode ). It is also popular in South America, with DJ Marky and XRS hailing from Brazil.
Musicology of drum and bass
There are many views of what constitutes "real" drum and bass as it has many scenes and styles within it, from heavy pounding bass lines to the relaxed vibes of liquid funk. It has been compared with jazz where the listener can get very different sounding music all coming under the same music genre, because like drum and bass, it is more of an approach, or a tradition, than a style. As such, therefore, it is difficult to precisely define; however, the following key features may be observed.
The breakbeat is what loosely speaking defines the music as drum and bass. A breakbeat, musically speaking, is characterised by an element of syncopation, in contrast to the straight 4-beat found in techno, trance and house.
Many breakbeats are directly sampled or are produced from drum fills found in old soul and funk records. However, since the mid-nineties, many producers use 2-step or other break beats programmed from individual drum samples that emulate the sampled funk breaks, but are often starker and heavier sounding. It is also common to create drum tracks using a combination of both techniques.
Particularly common breakbeats used within drum and bass include:
Drum and bass is usually between 160-180 BPM, in contrast to other forms of Breakbeat such as Nu skool breaks which maintain a slower pace at around 130-140 BPM. A general upward trend in tempo has been observed during the evolution of drum and bass. The earliest Old School rave and breakbeat-descended jungle was around 155-165 BPM, whilst 21st Century material rarely falls below 170BPM, and often hits 180BPM.
Supreme importance of drum and bassline elements
The name "drum and bass" should not lead to the assumption that tracks are constructed solely from these elements. Nevertheless, they are far and away the most critical features, and usually dominate the mix of a track. The genre places great importance on deep sub-bass which is felt physically as much as it is heard. There has also been considerable exploration of different timbres in the bassline region, particularly within techstep.
For the most part, drum and bass is a form of dance music, designed to be heard in clubs. It exhibits a full frequency response and physicality which often simply cannot be fully appreciated on home listening equipment.
Drum and bass is therefore typically heard via a DJ. Because most tracks are designed to be mixed by a DJ, their structure typically reflects this, with intro and outro sections designed for a DJ to use while beat-matching, rather than being designed to be heard in entirety by the listener. The DJ typically mixes between records so as not to lose the continuous beat. This is often referred to as the "mix and blend" style of DJing. In addition, the DJ may employ hip-hop style "scraching," "double-drops" (where two tracks are synchronized such that both tracks drop at the same time), and "rewinds."
Most mixing points begin or end with the "drop ". The drop is the point in a track where a switch of rhythm or bassline occurs and usually follows a recognisable build section and "breakdown". Frequently the drop is used to switch between tracks, layering components of different tunes. Some drops are so popular that the DJ will "rewind" or "reload" by spinning the record back and restarting it at the build. This is a technique which can easily be overused as it breaks the continuity of a set.
DJs are typically accompanied by one or more MCs, drawing on the genre's roots in Hip hop and Reggae/Ragga.
Relationship to other electronic music styles
Recently, smaller scenes within the drum and bass community have developed and the scene as a whole has become much more fractured into specific sub-genres. Some major sub-genres of drum and bass include:
- Drumfunk (or "Choppage", "Edits")
- Intelligent DnB (or "Atmospheric DnB")
- Jazz step (or Jazz'n'Bass )
- Jump Up
- Liquid Funk
Techstep (or neurofunk)
Drill and bass, a sub-genre of Intelligent dance music (also known as "IDM"), popularized by Aphex Twin, features many of the same types of rhythms used in drum and bass and is generally focused on complexity in programming and instrumentation. Amongst its main proponents include Squarepusher, Amon Tobin, Animals on Wheels , Venetian Snares, Hrvatski and many others.
Appearances in the mainstream
Certain drum and releases have found mainstream popularity in their own right, almost always material prominently featuring vocals. Perhaps the earliest example was Goldie's Timeless album of 1995, along with Reprazent's New Forms in 1997. More recently, tracks such as Shy FX and T-Power 's Shake Your Body gained a UK Top 40 Chart placing.
On the other hand, pop music has also occasionally co-opted elements of drum and bass, albeit in watered-down fashion. Examples include Puretone and Girls Aloud. Drum and bass also often appears in advertising and TV.
Key record labels
The following are some of the major labels within drumnbass:
Accessing drum and bass
Pursuing drum and bass involves searching specialized record shops or searching the net. An interesting development of the last few years is online record shops specializing in drum and bass which sell MP3s and other digital formats including Chemical Records and Beatport. The best known drum and bass publication is Knowledge Magazine.
See also: List of jungle and drum n bass artists & List of jungle and drum n bass record labels