Drum and Bass (A Music as a System Companion)

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This article is intended as a companion piece to W.’s most recent Music as a System article, and should be read as a supplementary exploration of concepts introduced therein.

In the previous Music as a System article, our esteemed ex-prez-in-res W. brought to your attention a small sample of music called “The Amen Break.” His discussion dealt primarily on its profound influence within heavy metal music, but this 6-second audio clip is more often known for spawning an entire subgenre of electronic music, which in turn has produced dubstep, a genre of music that has become incredibly popular.

If you’re interested in reading a history of the development of D&B, it can be found here, and I recommend doing so. However, my intentions in this article are not to give a history lesson, but rather to shed some light on the multi-faceted genre of music that is Drum & Bass.

D&B (initially known as “Jungle”) first emerged in the underground UK rave culture in the early 1990’s, heavily dependent on the layering of samples and the skill of disk jockeys. Before the digital age had taken over and the manipulation of low frequency oscillators became a staple of the D&B genre, live mixing and sampling reigned supreme, and few producers were as influential in this format as the Jungle pioneer Goldie, with his “time-stretching” techniques:

The genre quickly gained popularity in the underground, and a plethora of producers rose to prominence, generating a great number of D&B records (that, if you’re anywhere near a decent record store, you can probably still find). The Amen Break remained a staple, but different producers meant different styles and influence, and new subgenres began to take shape. One of the best fusions of genre came from the Bristol-born Roni Size on his album New Forms, which commandeered hip-hop and jazz artists and samples:

As the subgenres progressed, certain producers latched onto the smoother, more pop oriented relaxing vibes of the jazz-influenced D&B, and used it as a springboard to create a new subgenre, one that became quite popular (the label Hospital Records releases this style exclusively). Known as Liquid Drum & Bass, it featured a chill atmosphere on top of what had originally been a “frantic” beat, creating an enjoyable new form of music:

Some producers saw the marketability of electronic dance music and pop music fusing together, and began to create a new form of D&B, one designed to appeal to a broad spectrum of people and bring D&B out of the underground to the mainstream. Many different D&B groups latched onto this watered-down sound — Dirtyphonics, Chase & Status, Camo & Krooked, Sub Focus, Tantrum Desire (to name only a very few) — but the (arguably) biggest band ever to come out of this extremely popular version of D&B is the Australian/British rock fusion group, Pendulum, taking the D&B world by storm with each successive album, summiting on their third (and possibly final) album, Immersion.

On the other side of the D&B arm were the producers who shunned the jazz and eventual pop influence for more cacophonic, noise-influenced samples. This manifested itself in a form of D&B called Techstep, which relied on eerie samples, more aggressive breaks and chops in the beat, and heavier bass sounds:

As technology improved, so did the artists’ ability to manipulate sounds, especially low frequencies, to create an aggressive and oppressive atmosphere, known as Darkstep:

The hard chopping of the beat became a prominent feature in certain Techstep/Darkstep derivatives, such as Breakcore:

From both Darkstep and Techstep arose a particularly brutal, noise-influenced subgenre that became known as Skullstep due to its peculiar use of harsh noise and over the top aggression:

As technology improved, so did producers’ ability to create new and interesting sounds. Stemming off of the Techstep tree was a new style, refining the production of earlier D&B without losing the intricacy of the rhythm–rather, this new Neurofunk (as it came to be known) intensified the complexity of the simple amen break, with apparent disregard for conventional tonality. In this subgenre no artists have matched the prowess of Noisia:

Clearly Drum & Bass is a widely varied genre of music, ranging from the simple to the pop to the extreme. To delve into all the different styles and incredible artists would take far too much time and effort;  I merely wanted to give those interested a glimpse into the myriad worlds of D&B. Metalheads in particular could appreciate the heavier and more obtuse subgenres of D&B, as we tend to appreciate that which is dark, aggressive, and not conventionally listenable.

However, the influence of The Amen Break, though unparalleled, was not the point of W.’s original article. In my next installment of this companion piece, I will attempt (possibly very poorly) a philosophical discourse on The Amen Break, electronic music, triggers, and transhumanism, which will hopefully link together all these concepts.

Stay tuned for part 2. . .

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