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.
Musicology of drum and bass
The breakbeat is what loosely speaking defines the music as drum and bass. Generally speaking, this rhythm stripped down to its raw bones is played using a kick drum sound and a snare, the tempo being at around 160 - 180 beats per minute with the beats on the 1st, 3rd, 6th, and 7th quaver (or eighth note) beats, alternating between the kick and the snare. Most breakbeats are directly sampled or are produced from drum fills found in old soul and funk records. Common examples are the "amen break", and the "funky drummer" breakbeats. However, since the mid-nineties, many producers use 2-step or other studio-made break beats that emulate the sampled funk breaks but are often starker and heavier sounding.
A crucial element of mixed drum and bass is the DJ. 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.
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. Drum and bass, however, progresses at a rapid pace, tunes sounding old and of dated style after only a few years.
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: neurofunk, tech step, liquid funk, jazz step.
Intelligent dance music (also known as "IDM" or "Drill and Bass"), 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.
Drum and bass started in the UK cities of London and Bristol around 1992 and mainly came out of the house/hardcore music scenes with predominant musical influences being dub music and hip-hop. The drum and bass genre has gone through numerous mutations and sub-genrefications, making it one of the most diverse styles to rise out of the rave scene of the 1990s. It is played all over the world and is considered by some to be at its most progressive and cutting edge in London.
Beginnings in the US
Early jungle music was referred to as breakbeat hardcore, which was an offshoot of uk rave music 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 MC Jonny Waines of the Leeds Massive, 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. 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, while other artists pushed a smoother, dubby style of tune, referred to as Rollers.
Through 1996, Hardstep and JumpUp sounds where 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 crossbreading 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's New Forms album winning the UK's Mercury Prize. 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 commonly referred to as techstep. Techstep took new sounds and technololgies 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, 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. Although techstep continued to dominate, other substyles have gained ground over the first several years of the decade, including the highly techno oriented style of Konflict (Kemal & Rob Data), the dub sounds of Digital, the hip-hop influences of Loxy and Ink, and the house-meets-drum-and-bass flavor of Marcus Intalex.
Drum and bass outside the UK
One country to have recently developed a drum and bass scene is Brazil, with DJ Marky and DJ Patife amongst many others. The rhythms are strikingly similar to Latin music and putting a Latin sample to breakbeats works well. This has been somewhat commercialised with Shy FX's tune: "Shake Ur Body", which jumped into the UK charts after nearly 2 years as a White Label. Contrary to popular belief, this track did not sample Sex in the City. Patife's remix of Fernanda Porto's "Sambassim" is a more authentic example of the Brazilian flavour of drum and bass, as is Marky and XRS' summer classic "LK".
There are now many websites across the world covering drum and bass scenes in their respective countries and drum and bass in 2004 is now a worldwide phenomenon, with clubs running in major cities all over the globe. Big artists from outside of the UK include Calibre from Ireland, D-Kay from Austria, Concord Dawn from New Zealand and Pendulum originally from Australia.
The United States has also taken to the sound but has yet to achieve mainstream popularity with the music remaining a mostly underground style. There are notable artists in the scene such as Dieselboy from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania who with AK1200 and other prominent drum and bass DJs tour the country annually on their Planet of the Drums Tour. Another notable figure in the American drum and bass scene is DJ Dara from New York City who opened Breakbeat Science, a drum and bass label and the United States' first record shop dedicated solely to drum and bass.
Accessing drum and bass in the UK
Pursuing drum and bass in London, involves spending a lot of money on records. A single tune, usually on a 12 inch piece of vinyl costs about 6 pounds (in 2003) from Black Market Records one of the principal outlets, D'Arblay St, London W1.
An interesting development of the last few years is online record shops specializing in drum and bass. Many allow the user to preview both sides of the record (albeit usually very low bandwidth). Chemical Records and Redeye Records are established vendors.
But for those without turntables, many tape packs are available which are recorded live at the many raves that take place up and down the country. These tape packs usually contain between 4 to 8 tapes, with one DJ's hour long set per tape.
Clubbing is also very expensive. As of 2003, drum and bass on radio in London can be heard on Rude FM, Kool Fm (94.5) and Rude Awakening (104.3) are pirate radio stations that have been going for many years. Drum and bass can also be heard on BBC Radio 1 (as of 2003, on Friday nights).
See also: List of jungle and drum n bass artists, Clownstep