A-Z of drum 'n' bass
26th Jan 2010 | 13:40
Not only is this man head of the mighty Ram Records empire (home to scene-leading artists such as Sub Focus and Chase & Status), but the still only 33-year-old Andrew Clarke is also widely regarded as one of the world’s very best DJs, drum ‘n’ bass or otherwise.
After founding Ram at the age of just 16 back in 1992 with the Sour Mash EP (produced at home with a Roland D-50 synth and reel-to-reel tape recorder), the teenage kid from Hornchurch in Essex soon became one of the emerging Jungle/DnB scene’s biggest draws after he released the completely classic Valley Of The Shadows in 1993.
By the late 1990s, as part of the Ram trilogy with Shimon and Ant Miles, Andy C was among the hottest producers in DnB and considered one of the genre’s top DJs. In the decade since, he’s consistently been voted Number One in all manner of polls and awards.
A complete master of his craft, if you want an idea of what drum ‘n’ bass is about, in all of its forms, witnessing a set by this guy is a must.
A is also for:
Amen Break: When they recorded their track Amen Brother in 1969, little did American band The Winstons know that a 5.2-second section of its drum track would become one of the most used drum breaks of all time and a backbone of jungle and DnB.
As one of the two fundamental building blocks of this form of music, DnB producers have long been at the forefront of innovation and experimentation with synths and samplers to create completely new twists on those frequencies that live at the lower end of the spectral analyser.
From the booming 808 subs of jungle and the mid-‘90s rubber basslines of Aphrodite and Shy FX, to the churning molten bass of late-‘90s Ram and the warm layered subs of early millennial liquid, to the detuned low-frequency oscillation of Artificial Intelligence and then the abrasive, synthetic bass of modern jump-up… over the years drum ‘n’ bass has explored it all.
Despite its many different sonic characteristics, it’s the presence of those frequencies below 90Hz - the all-important sub bass - that you’re after for the kind of music that rattles roofs and shakes drinks off of tables.
B is also for:
One of the most exciting movements in electronic music today, Club Autonomic is the result of the creative collision of the talents of dBridge (once of Bad Company) and Instra:mental.
Every month since January 2009, a fresh Layer of the Club Autonomic podcast has been available to download, with the number of subscribers now swelling into the tens of thousands. Drawing a rich seam of influence from experimental electronica, techno and synth-led soundtracks, this is minimal, glitchy, soul-ridden sonic artistry that just happens to be drum ‘n’ bass.
Naturally, the music of dBridge and Instra:mental takes centre stage, alongside that of signings to their respective Exit and NonPlus+ labels such as ASC and Consequence, and other artists from DnB’s deeper factions such as Calibre and Spectrasoul as well as dubstep’s Skream.
Log on to the Club Autonomic website and join the revolution.
A true scientist of sub-sonics, Dillinja was one of the most important and influential producers in the evolution of drum ‘n’ bass.
From a childhood spent listening to legendary reggae sound-systems in his native Brixton, Dillinja was instilled with an obsession for low frequencies that led to him creating some of the finest example of drum ‘n’ bass ever made (such as Angels Fell and Friday (as Capone)). With Lemon D, he’s also the co-owner of the Valve sound-system and record label.
Having famously re-mortgaged his house to pay for its construction, the Valve was the world’s first purpose-built DnB sound-system and forced the rest of the scene to up its game in terms of the quality of the systems at raves.
D is also for:
Undoubtedly the most important venue in the history of drum ‘n’ bass, London’s The End was a true sanctuary for the scene from the moment it opened in 1996 to its much-lamented closure in January 2009.
Home to nearly every quality DnB event in the capital, it wasn’t just Ram Records and Renegade Hardware who called The End home, but Shogun Audio and DJ Marky and Friends too, as well as many more.
With a universally lauded in-house sound system and a DJ booth located in the thick of the dancefloor, The End really was a unique venue. What the Hacienda was to acid house and rave, The End was to drum ‘n’ bass.
E is also for:
Ed Rush & Optical: Owners of Virus, Tech-step masters and creators of classics such as Watermelon, Bacteria and Pacman, the legions of fanboys who worship them definitely have a point.
On the packed timeline of Bristol’s musical history, Full Cycle’s presence dominates the years from its Music Box debut in 1993 to its eventual closure in 2008.
As the outlet for the productions of friends Roni Size, Krust, Die and Suv (who achieved critical acclaim and Mercury Prize success with their Reprazent project), Full Cycle was home to classics such as Krust’s Soul In Motion, Die’s Clear Skyz and Roni Size’s Snapshot.
In 2003, the label was rejuvenated by the signing of a new Bristolian producer named Clipz. He became one of the most loved and loathed producers on the scene with insanely catchy, bleeping tracks such as Cocoa and Slippery Slopes, and while some mockingly called his music ‘Nokia-step’, there’s no denying that it spawned a whole new direction for drum ‘n’ bass.
F is also for:
Fabio: One of DnB’s founding fathers, Fabio shares BBC Radio 1’s DnB show with fellow visionary Grooverider and is known for pushing the more musical, deeper shades of the DnB spectrum.
There aren’t many people who can lay claim to the variety of life experiences and achievements of this man. In fact, no one else can. A respected graffiti artist and a classical orchestra conductor, a Bond villain and a Big Brother contestant, Goldie also happens to be responsible for the finest drum ‘n’ bass album ever produced, 1994’s Timeless, and is the owner of the grand-daddy of all DnB labels, Metalheadz.
After a decade and a half in drum ‘n’ bass, Goldie’s integrity is still as solid as ever; just check his latest collaboration with Commix, Envious / Justified for proof.
G is also for:
Grooverider: Known as ‘the godfather’, Grooverider is a rave, jungle and DnB legend who can be found DJing around the world and co-hosting BBC Radio 1’s DnB show with Fabio.
The slickest operation in drum ‘n’ bass, Hospital has spawned over 100 releases and launched the careers of some of modern DnB’s biggest names during its 13 years in business.
Headed by Tony Coleman, otherwise known as London Elektricity, Hospital focuses on dancefloor DnB with an overtly musical, uplifting edge.
High Contrast, Logistics, Danny Byrd, Commix and Nu:Tone all debuted on the label, and Hospitality, the label’s hugely successful clubnight, now has residencies across the UK that are guaranteed to sell-out every time.
H is also for:
Hype: An incredibly skilled DJ who, in his own words, has been on the scene “since when there was only one deck to play on”. The head of Ganja and Playaz is one of the most powerful men in drum ‘n’ bass.
After the cold, stepping minimalism of Lost Hours / Late Nights on Kasra’s Critical imprint really made the DnB world sit up and take notice, Icicle has settled at DJ Friction’s Shogun Audio label and quickly become one of the most exciting new talents in drum ‘n’ bass.
As part of a cohort of producers from Eindhoven in The Netherlands, Icicle is at the forefront of DnB as it hurtles into a new decade.
I is also for:
Interface: New signing to Clipz’s Audio Zoo label, and a part of the Central Spillz collective, this young guy from Bristol is gonna be huge.
It was around the mid-1990s that the jungle scene morphed into drum ‘n’ bass, as 2-step drum machine beats took over from edited breaks and producers began to explore synthesis and sampling to place the bass at the centre of their tunes.
Labels such as Suburban Base, S.O.U.R. and Labello Blanco led the way for early-‘90s jungle, releasing music that embraced new technology to twist reggae, techno, house and hip-hop influences into a sound the like of which had never been heard before.
Although arguments still rage as to whether DnB and jungle are indeed separate stylistic churches, one thing’s for sure: without jungle there would be no DnB.
J is also for:
Jump-up: Does exactly what it says on the tin - this sub-genre of DnB makes you wanna jump up and dance. Typified by 2-step drum patterns, huge basslines and, more recently, screeching, whistling mid-range layered subs, it’s the marmite of DnB, but also the biggest selling and most popular variant of it.
In a typical DnB track the kick will hit on the first and third beat of the bar. Often pitched up, layered and compressed in today’s drum ‘n’ bass, kick drums interact with the bass to form the tribal groove that lies at the very heart of all DnB.
More interestingly is the way in which over the years DnB has employed the kick sample from a Roland TR-808 as a bass tone, utilising its booming low-end characteristics in a way that was never intended.
K is also for:
Knowledge Magazine: Alongside ATM Magazine, Knowledge was one of DnB’s longest-running and most respected dedicated magazines. After rebranding itself as K Mag a few years back, it’s now finding new life as an internet-only publication.
Originally coined by Fabio for his 2001 Creative Source compilation, Liquid funk, the term became a catch-all name for the kind of DnB produced by artists such as Calibre, Marky & XRS and High Contrast on labels such as Hospital, Intercom, Soul;R and, of course, Creative Source.
Typified by the heavy use of instrument and vocal samples from funk, soul, disco and house sitting atop a backbone of strong layered beats and warm, solid bass, Liquid hit its peak around 2003, but is still championed by artists such as Eveson in his souled-out productions.
L is also for:
LTJ Bukem: A drum ‘n’ bass DJ and producer whose fame and music reaches beyond the boundaries of just drum ‘n’ bass, Bukem was responsible for incredible tracks such as Horizons and Atlantis and the Logical Progression and Earth projects. His Good Looking empire has recently sprung back to life with a raft of new signings.
Still considered by many to be one of the greatest drum ‘n’ bass track ever produced, Messiah is nothing short of a masterpiece. From the wailing ethnic vocals of its suspense-filled intro to the cataclysmic eventual impact of its pummelling drop, Kemal & Rob Data combined to unleash a landmark moment in the evolution of DnB that went on to influence entire generations of producers.
Recently, Messiah has found a new audience in one of its many remix incarnations as the soundtrack to that YouTube video, the hilarious Messiah Remix Goes Off. Check it now and try not to fall off your chair laughing.
M is also for:
Moving Shadow: A label that evolved alongside DnB from hardcore, the now-closed Moving Shadow is one of the most fondly remembered imprints in rave music history and played a pivotal role in the evolution of DnB in the late ‘90s, offering a creative home for the likes of Omni Trio and EZ Rollers.
Creators of Kontakt, one of the most universally used soft samplers by DnB producers, NI is also responsible for the now ubiquitous sounds of soft synths Massive, Absynth, FM8 and Reaktor, as well as the Traktor DJing software.
Offering the kind of power and creative opportunities unimaginable just a decade ago, NI’s suite of software gives amateur and professional DnB producers alike an awesome sonic artillery with which to push the boundaries of the genre further than ever before.
Despite being the artist behind the magnificent piano-led Renegade Snares and Thru The Vibe, Rob Haigh has remained an enigmatic figure in DnB, shunning the DJ circuit and allowing his music to speak for him through his six career albums.
O is also for:
One Nation: With nearly two decades of parties under its belt, One Nation is still one of the biggest DnB rave there is.
When 31 Records boss Doc Scott snapped up a track by the name of Vault that had just arrived in his AIM inbox from an unknown Ozzie production outfit called Pendulum, he never could have predicted the gargantuan impact that three rockers from Perth would have on drum ‘n’ bass.
More scene-shredding 12s followed and by the time they released their debut LP Hold Your Colour for Fresh and Adam F’s BBK label, Pendulum had become one of the very biggest and most loved names in DnB.
Fast forward seven years, and that adoration has turned sour, with many DnB fans avowed enemies of the three guys from Australia who dared to do something different after they’d reached the top of the DnB tree. Now signed to Warner, Pendulum are a full live act, playing their own brand of DnB-influenced electronic rock as demonstrated on their second LP In Silico to tens of thousands of screaming teens at festivals around the world.
For an idea of just how deep the hatred for these guys runs within puritanical DnB circles, just check the legendary thread on Dogsonacid.com.
P is also for:
Pulp Fiction by Alex Reece: A landmark track in the arrival of the 2-step era, this is one of the most soulful DnB tracks ever produced and still sounds as fresh as ever, despite being nearly 15 years old.
An old Methodist church, the Q Club has to be seen to be believed. A labyrinth of corridors and huge rooms surround a gigantic main arena with vertigo-inducing tiered seating rising high above it.
Over the years the Q has been home to everything from One Nation to Slammin Vinyl and earned a permanent place in dance music history.
Q is also for:
Q Project: One half of Total Science, the bespectacled Q Project is still going strong 15 years after he created the completely classic Champion Sound.
Acknowledged to have been first used in US house producer Kevin Saunderson’s 1988 classic Just Want Another Chance, this sound found its way into DnB in 1994’s Terrorist by Renegade (Ray Keith). The Reese bass soon became a firm favourite of DnB producers, and has now featured in thousands of tracks.
The Tech-step pioneers of the late-90s on labels such as No U Turn and Virus perfected the use of the Reese, and over recent years the new wave of Neuro DnB producers have pushed the sound to its limits with innovative use of processing and effects chains. Check Teebee and Calyx’s The Shape Of Things To Come for an example of how far the Reese has come.
R is also for:
Renegade Hardware: London-based label and clubnight that inspires near-religious devotion among its many fans. Dark, techy and atmospheric, Hardware has been leading the way for over a decade.
After leaping to fame as a teenage kid back in 1993 with the seminal jungle anthems Gangsta Kid and then Original Nuttah, the following year for S.O.U.R, Andre Williams went on to become a leader of the mid-90s jump-up sound with the elasticated-bass of Wolf and his remixes of Raw Dogs and Chopper.
While many sneered at the overt good-time vibes of such tracks, Shy didn’t care, and proved his detractors wrong in 1997 when he released one of the greatest DnB tunes of all time: the tribal-grooved Bambaata.
Re-invention came once again in 2001 with the top ten charting vocal anthem Shake Your Body with T Power, and from here, Shy went on to set up one of the most respected imprints in modern DnB, Digital Soundboy.
The only question now is, what is Shy FX gonna do next?
S is also for:
Skibbadee: No A-Z of DnB would be complete without a mention of the masters of ceremonies who ride the rhythms with their lyrical chatter. And what better representative than Skibbadee? With a double-time flow that verges on sounding humanly impossible, despite the animal noises, Skibba is a drum ‘n’ bass legend.
Terrorist by Renegade
With its piano intro and subsequent drop into a Reese bass and amen break rinse-out, Renegade’s (Ray Keith) Terrorist hit upon an arrangement that set the structure for the music evolving from jungle and hardcore that would go on to become known as drum ‘n’ bass.
As such, this masterclass in keeping things simple is without doubt one of the most important pieces of dance music ever made.
T is also for:
Tech-step: A total departure from jungle and jump-up, the cold, dystopian vibes of tech-step (as epitomised by the No U Turn label) took hold of the scene in the late ‘90s with tracks such as Ed Rush, Optical & Fierce’s Alien Girl.
Despite attracting inevitable disdain from the ever-vocal purist factions of the DnB scene back in the mid-90s, there was plenty to love about Urban Takeover tracks such as Bad Ass, Don’t Believe The Hype and Rock The Funky Beats, as well as the Jungle Brother and I Got 5 On It remixes.
With their bouncy-castle basslines, hip-hop samples and 2-step beats, Urban Takeover tracks certainly weren’t for everyone, but what they were at the time was hugely innovative and completely fresh, representing a major leap from the sounds of jungle to the bass-centric approach of drum ‘n’ bass.
U is also for:
Ultra Obscene: Roni Size and Die’s Breakbeat Era project produced one of the most under-rated DnB albums of all time, of which this track was a notable highlight.
First released in 1997, the Virus was immediately adopted as the weapon of choice for tech-step luminaries such as Ed Rush & Optical (who named their label Virus in honour of the synth) and the No U Turn camp. These artists set about utilising the Virus’s awesome analogue-style oscillators and tactile controls to completely redefine the sound of drum ‘n’ bass.
Still hugely popular with DnB producers such as Alix Perez, the Virus’s latest incarnations are the Virus TI, Polar TI and Snow models, any of which sit permanently at the top of any DnB producer’s kit wish-list.
V is also for:
V Recordings: Bryan G’s legendary imprint that launched the careers of Roni Size, Die, and Krust back in its 1990s heyday, and is still going strong today.
The less said about this the better, because it’s always a contentious issue in DnB circles… but let’s be honest, who doesn’t love a bit of wobble?
Perhaps now more associated with dubstep than DnB, the quivering plate-of-jelly bass created by assigning an LFO to the filter cut-off has come to typify the sounds of new skool jump-up and resultantly led to the highly derogatory term ‘wobble’.
For a master-class in ‘wobble’ done properly, check Taxman’s 2004 classic Too Bad.
W is also for:
Warhead: DJ Krust’s 1996 classic stepping groove, simple but devastating.
When Andy C first began dropping X-Ray in his sets, the entire DnB world sat up and took notice. Incredibly engineered and guaranteed to set any dancefloor on fire, this track from young London-based producer Sub Focus signalled the arrival of one of the most technically skilled producers DnB has ever known.
With his eponymous album finally now released, the man who’s helped push DnB onto Radio One’s daytime playlists with his electro house-inspired productions has his place in DnB history assured.
X is also for:
Xample: One of Ram’s newest signings alongside fellow Bristolian Lomax, huge things await this frightening talent.
Your Sound by J-Magik
Another teenage jungle prodigy, J Magik was one of the leading names in the early ‘90s jungle scene. Your Sound is a sublime slice of amen science from 1995 for Goldie’s Metalheadz, and it’s widely considered to be one of the most perfect jungle tunes of all time.
Y is also for:
Yesterday’s Colours by High Contrast: Reaching back to the sounds of the mighty Reinforced record label, this retrospective pastiche from the Welsh producer is utter genius.
Once an integral part of the Ganja and True Playaz camp alongside Hype and Pascal, Zinc was the creative force behind heavily hip-hop influenced DnB anthems such as Super Sharp Shooter and Six Million Ways and enjoyed a long career at the very top of the drum ‘n’ bass DJ circuit.
But a talent such as Zinc’s can’t be tethered to long, and by the year 2000 the success of his groundbreaking 138 trek led to the launch of his own imprint Bingo Beats, focusing on the then emerging sounds of breakstep and dark garage.
Nowadays, Zinc is busy pushing forward in another new direction, championing the driving, bass-heavy 4/4 rhythms of the music he calls crack house and is winning legions of new fans in the process. And while it’s sad to know we’ll never witness another one of the man’s faultless DnB sets again, DnB’s loss is wider electronic music’s gain.
Z is also for:
Zero T: Irish producer whose recent tracks for Liquid V and Cheap Shots album for Total Science’s CIA drip with soul and emotion.