Drum and bass is one of the most diverse sub genres of electronic music, with its own sub genres forging connections with just about any other type of music from techno to jazz. This diversity comes from a rich background and complex evolutionary process. In this article we follow drum and bass's early development, from its embryonic background in the 1970s through to the end of its first decade as an established form of music.This article was originally published on dnbscene.com in 2001, so any references to 'now' or 'today' are referring to 2001 rather than 2010. It was written by Reactor Grits of the former underground d&b supergroup Kontact Kru.Prehistory
Drum and bass evolved out of a number of different musical cultures, and is still doing so today. Since it is impossible to fully understand the history of drum and bass without understanding the history of those different musical cultures, I will begin this article by laying these out briefly.Reggae
In Jamaica, in the early 60s, rastafaris
started to make music with elements taken from Caribbean music and soul, which first became Ska
. Later the tempo was lowered and the reggae style was born. Into this music the artists implanted their religion, world problems, love, and much more. Later another style grew out of reggae called ragga
, which was more electronic and contained more scat vocals
. Especially during the early days of drum and bass, ragga and reggae were very important influences, and drum&bass's deep-founded roots in the black culture still show through today.Hip hop
Fifteen years later, in the mid-70s, a guy in New York City called Kool Herc
took some disco, funk and soul songs and mixed them together with two turntables and a mixer. Another guy climbed onto the stage with a mic and invited the people to dance instead of fighting at the urban parties where violence was commonplace. They called him MC, which stands for Master of Ceremonies. This music with slow drum beats, MC poetry, and lots of disco, soul and funk elements became known as hip hop.
Hip hop, or rap music, became a lifestyle and changed the way of life in the dangerous ghettos of big US cities. People used words instead of guns to 'fight' their battles, and even now hip hop is still one of the most important styles of music in the world today. But while in modern hip hop the MC forms the most important element, in drum and bass the MC's role is still similar to the early hip hop of '75: a motivator to make people dance.Breakbeat
Five years later, in the early 80s, hip hop was still mostly recognized only in the big cities of the USA, in the projects. Instead of fighting, people fought things out in rhymes, and dancing to hip hop became a culture in itself. Some guys found out that they could do a sort of battle in their dance, based on the breakdowns and short cuts in the music. This became known as breakdancing or breaking, and pushed the beats that made up these breakdowns into the forefront. Thus the breakbeat was born, the third and most important element for the progress of drum and bass.
I was in the cradle at that time. During this period house music was also invented, a style of music that evolved from disco and centred around The Warehouse club
in Chicago. House in itself wasn't very important to the evolution of drum and bass, but it led to another style that was: rave music.Rave
In the late 80's, producers of house music in Chicago were experimenting with a bass synth, the famous Roland TB-303
. This was supposed to sound like a bass guitar, but was really crap at it, so your average producer wouldn't touch it with a bargepole. However, this machine, along with the TR-808 and 909
drum machines, also by Roland, formed the backbone of acid house, named because of the acidic sound, and the fact that it was also very appealing to clubbers who took acid.
Acid house parties spread over to the UK, to clubs like 'Shoom
' where some of today's famous house music DJ's were spinning. The parties started off small, and the details and locations were only spread by word of mouth. The fact that only select people found out about these parties made it very appealing, and everyone wanted a piece of the action. Large illegal raves starting popping up, and while the American producers were moving in a more techno style direction (tracks like "Energy Flash" by Joey Beltram
), the UK crew were turning the trippy acid sound into hardcore rave. The music in the UK featured a lot of breakbeats that had been ripped from US hip hop records, as well as raging hoovers
, low basses, uplifting pianos, and a generally hard, yet happy vibe that stimulated the huge amounts of ecstasy being munched at these events.The rave massacre
Around 1992, artists like The Prodigy
, Mickey Finn & Aphrodite (Urban Shakedown)
, and SL2 (Slipmatt & Lime)
were on Top of the Pops
. The authorities in England became aware of all the illegal rave parties, saw people take drugs and go mad over the climax of rough simple beats. Was that the future? It was, but the authorities weren't interested in that. At the time The Prodigy went commercial all over the world, the English authorities clamped down on all the big illegal parties
, and rave was doomed to become a commercial shit item for the rest of all time, pushing the real rave scene right back into the underground again.
Some time before this, however, in the black projects of London, people started to sample ragga and mix it with elements of rave, breakbeats, and hip hop. The breakbeats were really fast, the basses were deep but slow, and the other element was various ragga samples. Jungle was founded, the last step to drum and bass.