Drum & Bass is a genre that spans across three decades of rich musical history. Since its inception in the early 90s, the genre has kept shapeshifting its styles into different eras of music and it has now consolidated itself as a genre that is influencing electronic music in big ways. For a genre so rich in its history, it’s only fair that we narrate its evolution in the way it deserves to be; and through our ‘Evolution of Drum & Bass’ series, we aim to take you on a ride right from where it all began to its place in electronic music in modern-day electronic music.
To kick things off, we will take you back to the time where the genre was laying its foundations through the early Breakbeat Hardcore and Jungle Era.
Whenever we are talking about the evolution of Drum & Bass, there is one common reference that you will most certainly stumble upon, that it was oddly referred to as the b*astard child of Dance Music. From its emergence in the English rave scene in the early 90’s, Drum & Bass has evolved and stood as one of the most energetic and influential genres in electronic music.
The odd reference was due the underground scene of the genre never getting the respect it deserved, largely because of genres like Grime, UK Garage, and Dubstep coming and sweeping Drum & Bass off its feet with menacing impact; but these genres came with an incredible pace and vanished in double quick time, while Drum & Bass with its solid underground infrastructure consistently kept adapting and ushering into new eras of music with a refined energy. Fast forward 2021, it is a genre that has influenced the club culture and electronic music across the globe by sticking to its ethos and most importantly, its tempo.
But for a genre so influential, where did it all start? While tangibly it all started in the early 90’s, the intangible development of the birth of Drum & Bass started in the 70s. For a long time, Dum & Bass borrowed its influences from a number of genres and the biggest influence came from the birth of the most-used sample in Drum & Bass and now in modern-day music, the Amen Break. The birth of Amen Break came after the release of ‘Amen, Brother’ by American funk and soul music group, The Winstons which featured the Amen Break drum solo, and eventually, this drum solo changed the future of Jungle/Drum & Bass and electronic music in general.
The Amen Break was drummed on ‘Amen, Brother’ by the late Gregory .C. Coleman which was the B-side of The Winstons’ 1970 single ‘Colour Him Father’.
While the A-side won a Grammy award in the same year, the B-side that contained the Amen Break went unnoticed for more than a decade until American Hip-Hop artists started making heavy use of the sample in their productions. The influence of the Amen Break slowly started shipping over to the UK where the rave scene was in full flow and that’s when Breakbeat Hardcore came into being.
The earliest use of the Amen Break in the UK was made by Carl Cox with his seminal single ‘Let The Bass Kick’.
Long Piano rolls, bouncy basslines, breakbeats, and a lush blanket of vocals defined the Hardcore sound in the late 80s and early 90s. The Breakbeat Hardcore scene did see a steady revival in mid 2000s, but in the early 1990s, the genre slowly started fragmenting into several sub-genres like Dark-core and Happy Hardcore which paved a way for darker moods and melodies to make doorway in the UK Rave scene.
Influences from the breakbeat hardcore styles were chopped up and glued together to create an accelerated, rolling, syncopated rhythm; and with the Hardcore scene giving way to their euphoric style of music for darker and industrial samples with faster and heavily edited drum programming in turn gave birth to Jungle. Lennie De-Ice’s ragga-tinged release ‘”We Are I.E.” in 1991 was the earliest prototype of Jungle music and it also laid the foundations for the genre for years to come.
Since the release of ‘”We Are I.E.”, sounds kept blurring and artists started finding their own niche in Jungle. Some artists preferred softer, ambient, and textured melodies while some preferred darker and heavier sounds which could create maximum sonic impact. Jungle music also became a way of expression for London’s streetwise and marginalized youth. They saw Jungle as “England’s answer to hip-hop”, by merging the Jamaican reggae scene with then 4-to-the-floor basslines and erasing racial boundaries by advocating unification of people from different walk of life through its multiculturalism.
Jungle started picking up pace in London clubs and the rise in its popularity saw across the club culture in the UK, influenced further reinvigoration of sounds, and a fresh batch of labels started emerging from Central, Eastern and North side of London. These labels were Ibiza Records, 3rd Party Records, Kemet Records, Reinforced Records, Moving Shadow, V Recordings, Suburban Base, and Good Looking Records. Artists like Foul Play, Omni Trio and 4hero from Tom & Jerry began embracing the sounds and kept pushing boundaries by experimenting with faster tempos, deep and moody basslines, and more complex songwriting. These labels started releasing music which was championed by the likes of DJ Ron, DJ Hype, Mickey Finn, DJ Dextrous, and Kenny Ken in clubs across England.
Within no time, Jungle exploded and reached mainstream popularity by taking over nearly all possible soundwaves in the UK. Tracks like “Incredible” by M-Beat featuring General Levy and “Original Nuttah” by UK Apache and Shy FX hit the UK Top 40 charts.
The popularity rose so much that BBC Radio 1 gave Jungle a platform with the One In The Jungle weekly show.
While the genre was booming in the mainstream charts, the underground side, which had formed the foundations of the sound, kept experimenting with darker, grittier, and more menacing soundscapes and started testing these out in their DJ sets. The morphing continued and producers moved away from the ambient and textured soundscapes to a crispier and refined sound.
Finally, the heavy basslines, high-syncopated beats, samples, and sonics along with the use of the Amen Break gave birth to Drum & Bass and the first track that was explicitly labelled as Drum & Bass was ‘The Beginning’ by The Invisible Man in 1993.
The track had everything; embedded reloads, lush vocal samples, tight drum programming, and haunting soundscapes.
Since then, Drum & Bass has rapidly expanded in its range of styles to encompass the raga-tinged bad bwoy of jungle, the intergalactic-attack darkcore of Ed Rush, Optical and Fierce, and the more ghostly jazz-influnced strains championed by Omni Trio and LTJ Bukem. Drum & Bass has now acquired a place in dance music that can barely be matched by any other genre in terms of its creative space and extravagance. It’s a genre that has now flourished on both ends of the underground and commercial spectrum of dance music, and it has done so without compromising on its ethos; and as Fabio says “It’s quite grimy, it’s quite freestyle, it has its phases, but I like that.”
And since we are talking about the genre’s evolution, the journey has just begun. Goldie, Metalheadz, RAM Records, V Recordings, Fabio & Grooverider, Liquid Drum & Bass, Neurofunk, Calibre, Dillinja; there’s lots more to come. So, keep it locked until we bring you the next chapter of the evolution of Drum & Bass.