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  • Writer's pictureAndy Chapman

The Longevity Of Drum and Bass and Why the Genre Transcends the Rave. 

The rave scene exploded into British culture in the late 1980s and early 90s. Illegal raves appeared up and down the country, forever changing the underground youth culture. The music, made with a DIY spirit, infectious rhythms and euphoric harmonies, lifted people out of their lives and sang about unity, love and togetherness. The scene was an injection of life into a country emerging from the long Thatcher years.

As the scene changed over time, the music changed with it. The rave sound split into other genres, most notably Happy Hardcore. With its euphoric piano melodies, hard-hitting bouncy beats and sing-along choruses, and Jungle, with its rabid fire breaks, deep rumbling bass lines and a dangerous edge more connected to inner-city urban culture, the rave scene was at its cultural peak. The Jungle sound, in my opinion, was perfectly expressed on the seminal break-out track Inner City Life in 1994 by Goldie.

Jungle would later evolve into Drum & Bass, but it was in its first incarnation of Jungle that it would first see break-out success in the mainstream music world. Chart-hitting tracks like Incredible by M-Beat and the Shy-FX classic Original Nuttah would pave the way for future success. Meanwhile, producers such as Photek, Goldie and Roni Size were experimenting with new sounds and styles, infusing what was now known as Drum & Bass with a depth that went beyond the dancefloor. In 1997 Roni Size would go on to win the lauded Mercury Music Prize with his genre-breaking New Forms album. This project introduced elements of Jazz and live performance that brought Drum & Bass to a different level of notoriety. Backed up by similar groundbreaking acts like 4-Hero with their Two Pages album and Adam-F and his brilliant Circles album, the genre that came from the underground illegal rave scene was scoring regular radio play and critical acclaim.

The scene would continue to grow in popularity and become one of the most dominant worldwide electronic music styles. But why did it leave its sibling rave genres behind? What was the key to success for Drum & Bass that other styles of the 90s rave scene could not repeat?

I believe it lies within the simplicity of the music itself. It can be defined firstly by its BPM, which sits around a relatively fast 174, with Jungle being a touch slower. Secondly, it uses a distinct drum pattern that can become more or less complex. The variances of this pattern are numerous, but all fit within the structure of the genre, giving Drum & Bass a distinct rhythm that is unique to itself. And that is pretty much it. Its BPM and drum pattern is the core of a genre within which producers are free to experiment with whatever sounds they please.

This freedom has given rise to various sub-genres, such as Jump up, Tech-step, Liquid, Hard-step, Half-time and Neurofunk, to name only a few. Drum & Bass music can become a pop hit, a filthy dance floor banger or even a chilled background groove. Its limits are only in the minds of the producers.

Compare this to the scene it grew from, Hardcore. While Hardcore music will always have its place, it is still only found within the rave setting. It cannot expand beyond its one-note style.

Hardcore is all about getting sweaty on a dance floor and putting a smile on your face, which it does brilliantly. Unfortunately, this does not allow it to evolve much further than that. However, Drum & Bass transcended the club and became a fully formed artistic style while still being that dance floor destroying genre that people love. Drum & Bass events are still numerous and very popular.

The scene's ability to change, evolve, and most of all, be an expression of the artist, has allowed it to last beyond being only rave music. It's a genre that is still as exciting and unpredictable as it was at the beginning, where it goes next is limitless.

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