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DnB: Birth of Neurofunk and Liquid Drum & Bass

In the previous piece, we looked back at the evolution of Drum & Bass from its roots which stretched from The Winstons to Carl Cox to the early Jungle era and finally the birth of Drum & Bass in 1993. What will now follow will be arguably THE most reinvigorating time Drum & Bass went through as a genre and as an underground community. From the 4-part series, this piece will feature the transition from Jungle to Drum & Bass where we will take a journey through the birth of Neurofunk and Liquid Drum & Bass.

PROMINENCE OF JUNGLE

Since its inception in the UK rave scene, and unlike Hardcore, Jungle kept growing in its stature with every passing year. With the ultimate pioneers like Fabio and Grooverider and labels like Moving Shadow, V Recordings, Suburban Base, and Good-Looking Records, the genre saw a prodigious emergence of Jungle with labels and artists trying their hands on different sonic effects; and the popularity grew to a point where London city saw a huge spike in pirate radio stations that were pushing the Jungle sound. These pirate stations were everywhere!!

“I remember driving around South London at the time you could pick up 14 or 15 pirate Drum & Bass stations. They were a big part of creating the hype and buzz and feeling of belonging as well.” said Exit Records head honcho, dBridge in an interview with Red Bull while talking about influence of pirate radio stations in the rise of the Jungle sound.

These pirate radio stations along with their music were also influential in providing information about illegal raves happening in the city or the country. While Jungle was spiraling quickly into the mainstream world where clubs would be packed with people flowing in numbers to enjoy the music, the purists started missing deeper and darker sounds, they had a penchant for. This is where Pirate radios and illegal raves were influential in giving information to the heads about the ‘midweeklies’ which would give them a chance to rave to the forms of music they liked and these mid-weeks turned out to be the cornerstone in the rise of the underground.

Having reached radio and other mainstream channels, Jungle was a significant part of British music but the moment that flipped the scene’s popularity on its head was Goldie’s 1995 album ‘Timeless’ on the most influential label in Drum & Bass music, Metalheadz. After two decades and as the name suggests, it still remains to be Timeless. The work behind the musical ideas, rhythms and arrangements on the album was something nobody in Britain has witnessed before.

“Bad-boy polyrhythms with gorgeous diva vocals, rich piano playing, and upbeat jazzy chords that dissolve into ambient clouds…brings jungle to a new level of cross-fertilization…” was one of the compliments the album received from an ocean of praises.

But there came a point where Jungle as a scene was caught in a limbo and unable to decide whether it wanted mainstream recognition or to remain underground, and this moment arguably signaled the transition of a more polished and sophisticated sound which paved a way for the rise of Drum & Bass.

BIRTH OF NEUROFUNK

Artists moved away from the Dancehall, Electro, and Hip Hop fused sounds of Jungle into a sinister and complex percussion-based sound that was coupled with dark and distorted basslines. While the name seems to a soft, ambient genre; it is far away from it. Neurofunk or ‘Techstep’ back in the day was all about creating the ultimate sonic impact. The Neurofunk sound was more clinical and less melodic with tiny blips of ambience, but still dark and aggressive.

Neurofunk is a genre plucked out from the dystopian lands of Drum & Bass music and as the name suggests, the genre was structured around Funk driven or dark builds and breakdowns before climaxing into techno-infused drops. After months and months of explorations, Neurofunk marked its watershed moment when Ed-Rush and Optical happened to it.

Following the release of their debut single Funktion in 1997, the duo released ‘Wormhole’ an album regarded as the best Drum & Bass album of all time. The album was a culmination of the sci-fi fantasy world with hyper-clean production colliding with dark and distorted basslines. Ed Rush and Optical came with an entirely different knowledge of what sonic impact could mean and changed the game. Everybody wanted to make Drum & Bass like them and what followed was labels like Prototype Records, Renegade Hardware adopting these sounds and they released music which feels fresh in big 2021.

Tunes like ‘Planet Dust’ by Bad Company, ‘Phantom Force’ by Digital & Spirit, and ‘Roni Size – Brown Paper Bag’ defined the early Neurofunk era.

The Neurofunk era also marked a time when Drum & Bass took inspirations from its own forms rather than other genres. But the genre’s dark and distorted tones gave rise to an increasing polarity between club goers who didn’t enjoy Neurofunk in clubs. This disparity among producers and listeners alike gave way to UK Garage or 2-step, which took over clubs and radios with a blink of an eye. After years or mainstream fame and underground success, Drum & Bass had found itself in an unfamiliar position. The genre was losing popularity and the staunch alienation from producers and listeners was evident.

“And then garage came along: the death knell for Drum and Bass. It was the new drum and bass. It was the biggest kick in the teeth for us ever…Yeah! They had all the girls, it was where all the girls from the jungle scene had gone. Drum and bass was at its worst.” – Fabio

But like we said in our previous piece, Drum & Bass is a genre that’s built on its powerful and influential underground foundations and when the scene called for help, the underground delivered. UK Garage with its momentary popularity was bulldozed by Grime which eventually continued what UK Garage had left behind and flourished equally well. Drum & Bass producers meanwhile took this time to lock themselves in the studio for long periods and worked a way to revive the genre until Fabio’s little Jazz-fueled experiment in 1998.

LIQUID DRUM & BASS

Nostalgia is a sentiment affecting all strata of cultural creation and consumption today, and nostalgia is also how Drum and Bass found a way to reinvigorate itself. Going back to its Jazz and funk routes of the early Jungle Era, Drum & Bass as a genre had discovered a new friend, Liquid Drum & Bass.

The genre could win any and every award for the worst named in genre in music but the impact it had on Drum & Bass and eventually on electronic music is unparalleled. Fabio & Grooverider sit on top of the Drum & Bass food chain and it just had to be them who became the saviors of Drum & Bass.

It was Fabio’s small experiment of compiling Jazz with friendlier and more up-tempo sounds, along with R&B and House influences, which gave birth to a polished and delicate sound with layers of harmonies, melodies and ambiance, producing a sentimental atmosphere targeted for ease of listening and for clubs. After the rise of artists like London Elektricity and Step 13, the style quickly became recognized as a subgenre in its own right, and producers began focusing on atmospherics and melodies more than rowdy basslines by creating subtle rolling and enticing synth work.

The genre received a stronger impetus when the man behind the Liquid aesthetics released the seminal Liquid Funk Volume 1 album in 2000 through his Creative Source Label. The compilation, featuring Fabio himself along with artists like Fellowship, Hidden Agenda, and Peshay, was characterized by cinematics from ambient, funk, disco, house and trance music, and widespread use of vocals intersecting with Liquid Drum & Bass. Since its inception, Fabio started his weekly London Night Swerve which became a staple property for the genre. Naturally, artists like DJ Marky, XRS and Stamina started adapting newer styles and found their niche by releasing seminal anthems that exemplified the Liquid style. This was followed by Marcus Intalex launching his Soul:r imprint, and soon after Bryan Gee launched Liquid V while London Elektricity’s Hospital Records started gaining recognition which has now turned into a global powerhouse. Goldie made a noteworthy statement about Calibre in the recent Drum & Bass documentary by Drum & Bass arena

“There are only two kings of this music; two poles if you like. Dillinja and Calibre! At both ends of the spectrum (dark and liquid), everything in between is us”

And rightly so, because the Liquid sound was swept away by the Northern Irishman and he still continues to claim his reign on the Liquid sound. Some of the tracks that defined the early Liquid sound were ‘High Contrast – Return of Forever’, ‘DJ Marky & XRS – LK’ and ‘Shake Your Body’ by Shy FX.

SINCE 2000

Followed by Neurofunk and Liquid Drum & Bass, the early 2000s saw the rise of jump-up which has now turned out to be the fun and bouncy sound of Drum & Bass championed by the likes of DJ Hazard, DJ Clipz and Taxman.

This modern period also saw the growth of the ‘Dubwise’ DnB sound, which featured the now punchy and techier sounds of the genre having been pioneered by artists like Digital and Spirit.

Since then then the genre never looked back and kept growing in its stature; and with the dawn of the internet era, the genre traveled to other parts of Europe, North and South America.

Drawing curtains to our second offering from the 4-part series, hope to have given you a glimpse into the most important decade Drum & Bass had in its history, and as we look forward to our third piece about the genre defining era of 2005-2015, we will end it with a famous quote like the previous one, ‘Drum & Bass is still the bollocks’

 

 

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About Authors

Drum & Bass head with a tinge of hip shake for Disco. A DJ when I am not glued to my screen!

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