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DNB Evolution: Modern-Day Drum & Bass

In the last edition of our DNB evolution series, we delved into the time when Drum & Bass battled through the popularity of Dubstep, Grime, and UK Garage before finally announcing its presence on the global stage. The final edition of the Drum & Bass evolution will feature a journey into the avant-garde world of the scene, that is pushing the boundaries of all its sub-genres.

The genre had developed a palate for a futuristic slant, and it was more receptive to new styles than any other existing electronic music genre. By 2016, Drum & Bass was at its peak and it wasn’t just about 4-to-the-floor Industrial Drum & Bass anymore.

Labels such as Critical Music, Shogun Audio, and Division Recordings were at the forefront of the wonky riddims and basslines. The genre was flourishing on the underground and mainstream ends of Dance music, but dBridge’s Exit Records led the charge for the greatest innovative breakthrough in modern-day Drum & Bass music.

WHO IS RICHIE BRAINS?

Was the question when club-goers in the UK started seeing an eerie poster with ‘Who is Richie Brains?’ stuck in clubs that were associated with Drum & Bass or Bass music. The flyers, stickers, posters eventually found their way to spook people in places like Antwerp and Tokyo.

When dBridge planned the reveal night, nobody imagined that they would witness one of the most audacious Drum & Bass supergroups ever. Being a part of Bad Company UK in his early days, dBridge knew the art of running a supergroup, and with ‘Who Is Richie Brains?’ he brought Alix Perez, Chimpo, Fixate, Fracture, Om Unit, Sam Binga and Stray under a single project. Four legends along with three of the genre’s most progressive producers; Richie Brains was destined to be legendary.

Richie Brains meant that dBridge assembled footwork, hip-hop, jungle, and grime along with Drum & Bass. It wasn’t until the project’s unveiling that dBridge revealed that the producers had been working on it for months. They were joined by Killa P, MC Fox, Trigga, and Rider Shafique on the album. The result as you would expect was monumental.

The 14-track album had shades of everything under the umbrella of bass music but the main take-away of ‘Who Is Richie Brains?’ was that traditional drum & bass was used minimally. Every track was meticulously curated by the artists whose individual catalogue had a common thread which wasn’t really Drum and Bass.

There may never be another Richie Brains album and even though the compilation isn’t recalled as often as it should be, it changed the face of Drum & Bass music for years to come.

DEMISE OF A PIONEER

By 2017, Drum & Bass was part of an esteemed company. While drum & bass DJs packed clubs to the brim in the UK and other parts of Europe, they were gradually making their way to the top of headlining lists of festivals in North America and other parts of Asia. In the midst of the Drum & Bass community’s ever-expanding reach, 28 May 2017 saw DNB come to a complete standstill.

Drum & Bass lost one of its most gifted producers and respected figures to ever grace the genre. One of the genre’s greatest pioneers, Marcus Intalex, passed away on 28 May 2017 and with his passing Drum & Bass lost an artist who had inspired a generation of Junglists and drum & bass enthusiasts.

Marcus Intalex was a legend, and that’s an understatement.  Drum & Bass wouldn’t be where it is today if it wasn’t for his soulful influence. Marcus commanded respect from every corner of the industry. From being revered as an uncompromising pioneer of forward-thinking Drum & Bass while seamlessly switching to producing quality House and Techno under his Trevino alias; Marcus left us a legacy that can never be matched in the future.

His monstrous back catalogue spanned from ‘What Ya Gonna Do’ under his Da Intalex moniker in 1994 to timeless hits such as Wastelands, Virgo, Celestial Navigation, Temperance and his famous Fourfit series in 2016…the list is endless.

Goldie always said that Marcus Intalex is to Drum & Bass what J Dilla is to Hip Hop and that is because Marcus wasn’t just about doing what he liked; he did it while inspiring and taking the artists he believed in to his Soul:r  label by sticking to his vision and never letting the quality control dip below excellent.

Words cannot describe how influential and game-changing Marcus’ label, Soul:R was. Marcus and ST Files had been planning on starting a label since the late ‘90s but bided their time until they found the sound and the look and feel of the label they wanted. Calibre, Marky, Sonic & Silver and D Kay were among Soul:r’s early signings, who went on to become the genre’s crème de la crème  Not only did the label’s music stand out as distinctly original, it was visually different too, with the label’s artwork being a break away from to the prevalent drum and bass sci-fi aesthetics.

Along with running a successful label, Marcus Intalex was called the Mozart of Drum & bass DJing. The best example is the Fabriclive 35 compilation by Marcus Intalex, which is widely regarded as one the best compilations from the Fabriclive series and arguably the best Drum & Bass compilation to date. Drum & bass had its dark days when the masses weren’t feeling the genre but Marcus was a veteran who survived a lot and as always, he kept it classy as he always did.

“Marcus’s contribution to the Fabriclive mix series genuinely re-opened peoples’ ears to a genre they had perhaps left behind and I know it was a real thrill for him to have techno luminaries singing its praises. It’s up there with the best of them. It’s a masterwork and we wanted everyone to be able to take a moment to appreciate it”, said Shaun Roberts, after Fabriclive re-uploaded the mix as their tribute to the master.

He was a big part of the genre’s first connection to the heavy bass, fast-pitched and highly syncopated beats that our hearts and blood move to. His beats were some of the cleanest among his peers in the 90s and his demise is a loss on so many levels; community, family, heart, soul and rhythm.

Marcus dedicated his life to Drum & Bass and his passing left a void that can never be filled, but his music and his influence will never, ever be forgotten.

INFLUX OF NEW LABELS

Drum & Bass was spoilt with record labels that were structurally built for business but run solely because of their passion to make the genre bigger and sustainable. In the early late 2000s, artists had firmly established their name in the scene and they were consistently releasing forward-thinking music through the labels that they were associated with.

However, as artists grew in their creative abilities, they felt the need to have more space to write music and expand their catalogue to cover multiple styles of production. This led to the creation of a wave of record labels with Spectrasoul’s Ish Chat Music, Alix Perez’s 1985 Music, Ulterior Motive’s Guidance label, and Lenzman’s North Quarter being the biggest breakthroughs of them all.

Ish Chat’s wonky riddims, North Quarter’s Hip-hop Infused Drum & Bass, 1985 Music’s multi-genre approach, and Guidance’s deep and rhythmic numbers; in the last five years, we witnessed a wave of experimental music that captured the attention of other genres like Dubstep, Footwork, and Future Bass, whose artists were keen to make Drum & Bass.

Shortly after the first movement of incubators, labels like Sofa Sound Bristol, Overview Music, Goldfat Records, Flexout Audio started building their niche which represents the gritty, rolling, forward-thinking and raw yet refined sounds of Drum & Bass. Taking inspiration from the first wave, more labels have emerged every year that focus on building a strong foundation of futuristic Drum & Bass that is matched with top-end production quality.

New labels also mean that the genre has time-warped itself into its early days when the tradition of label culture with unfazed work ethic and strong sound identities was the fulcrum of progressive and innovative Drum & Bass music. With the dawn of the new decade, the scene is looking forward to being at the forefront of morphing and mutating into the unconventional world of DNB thanks to the influence of the emerging labels.

GLOBAL FAME, COMPLEX RHYTHMS AND THE SIGNIFICANCE OF DJING

After spending more than a decade from the mid-2000s to 2015 in reinvigorating itself, Drum & Bass had finally learned to expand itself on the global stage. From 2015, Festivals like Ultra Miami, EDC, Tomorrowland started booking acts like Andy C, Netsky, and Camo & Krooked who were filling up stages, something the genre had not seen in festivals outside of their realm.

The genre’s meteoric rise had its greatest effect on artists who were thriving within the scene and ultimately became global superstars. Veterans like High Contrast, Pendulum, Chase & Status, Nero had turned a corner and started selling shows across the globe while new-timers like Delta Heavy, and Wilkinson started dropping EPs and Albums that dominated UK and US Dance music charts but one act that surpassed all expectations was Hybrid Minds. Matt Lowe and Josh White, aka Hybrid Minds, are one of the biggest names in electronic music and arguably the most important acts in Drum & Bass in the last 5 years.

A testament to the quality of their work is their constant fine-tuning of Liquid Drum & Bass, which has seen them release some of the biggest Drum & Bass tunes in recent years. The duo has also been successful in putting itself on the global map and sold-out shows throughout Europe and North America.

In addition to numerous charting singles and EPs, they also have three soulful albums that represent their style of of Liquid Drum & Bass that consists of hard drums paired with delicate vocals and enchanting melodies.

Their biggest moment as A Drum & Bass act came in 2020 when they announced their ‘Outline’ shows at Brixton’s and London’s Iconic O2 Academy and Printworks. Unfortunately, the shows had to be rescheduled due to the outset of the Pandemic. The Printworks show is yet to confirm a date while the Brixton show is set to take place in October 2021.

Along with the superstars who championed the enterprising sounds of Drum & Bass on the mainstream spectrum, there was another side of the genre that was polishing the dark, raw and gritty sounds of DNB. Loud bass noises and effects, syncopated rhythms rearranged with funk elements have defined the underground side of Drum & Bass.

Labels like Overview Music, Rua Sound, Flexout and Context Audio, Eatbrain Records, and heaps more have been influential in the development of the ‘Dubwise’ sound. Tracks like the Grey Code remix of Amoss’ Speed Shades, and On-Site by T95 & DRS have defined the dark and technical sounds of Drum & Bass. The current state of the Drum and Bass scene is excellent and along with the musical mainstream, the genre has maintained just the perfect pivot. Musical, raw and dark; just the way we like it!

DJing has always been an integral part of Drum & Bass, but in the last few years, DJs have taken their skills behind the decks to a whole new level. It started with long melodic DJ sets to Loxy’s dark and thumping showcases to the genre’s contemporary complex rhythms, which also means the DJ has can hardly go wrong. While the element of providing an experience will always remain key, DJs like Andy C, A.M.C, Kasra, DJ Marky, and Break have redefined DNB DJing by bringing their own element of intrigue and surprise in their DJ sets.

Andy C is known for his ferocious double drops that have become a staple for DJ sets in the last 10 years while A.M.C, a monster as a DJ has captured the eyes of the world with his quick mixing which cuts through the light and dark worlds of Drum & Bass. Break on the other hand has changed how underground Drum & Bass DJing should sound like. Less emphasis on the drop and focusing on bringing the punch and grit from the tunes he plays is how likes to go about his DJ sets.

These artists have also been of huge inspiration to people who were immaculate selectors but decent producers. While the norm remains to have a production element to getting booked as a DJ but recently, that narrative has changed. DJs have been given the platform to shine which in turn has given birth to numerous virtual DJ communities. It is also a testament to the ethos of bringing everyone into the scene, something its been following since the genre’s inception.

With this, we draw the Drum & Bass evolution series to a close. We hope you enjoyed the ride like we did while travelling through the time when it all began to a genre that continues to inspire electronic music.  Like we always say but this time a little differently, ‘Drum & Bass will always be the bollocks’.

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Written By

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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