Pop: It’s a jungle out there
Friday, 4 June 1999
From dancefloors to TV ads, drum’n’bass has been the soundtrack to the Nineties. Now it’s being written off as dead and buried. But is that just because the critics can’t keep pace?
EARLIER THIS year, Q magazine dismissed drum’n’bass as a “genre that never caught on”. A few weeks later, The Observer declared the untimely death of the sound, while Radio 1 jock Steve Lamacq continued the trend with a show dedicated to the question “Is drum’n’bass dead?”. In the space of only 18 months, the genre which has practically soundtracked the advertising world in recent years has gone from the peak of winning that Mercury Award – in the form of Roni Size – to the trough of a media backlash.
The reasons for the declarations are twofold (as well as a certain “we told you so” zeal): the critical damnation, and subsequent poor sales, of both Goldie’s second album, Saturnz Return, and Grooverider’s long- awaited debut Mysteries of the Funk, and the fact that drum’n’bass has failed to achieve mass-market appeal through the majors. Not even Roni Size’s New Forms reached sales that could in anyway compare to those of Oasis, Blur or The Prodigy.
To subsequently start making arrangements for drum’n’bass’s funeral, however, is rather like declaring rock’n’roll to be in a state of rigor mortis because Elvis hasn’t had a hit for a few years. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realise that genres don’t die, they simply evolve.
Drum’n’bass is in a period of evolution, yet it still boasts a growth rate that few dance related styles (and even fewer rock genres) can hope to emulate. It may not be the flavour of the month in Brixton, but throughout the rest of the world its popularity just keeps growing. Leading independent imprints such as V Recordings, Creative Source and True Playaz can guarantee sales of 10-15,000 copies of every single that they release in this country alone.
These are figures that many a major label would sell their grandmother for – if such behaviour didn’t make the record inadmissible for the charts – so that their latest indie and pop hopefuls could hit the big time. Worldwide export sales further outstrip this figure. Drum’n’bass nights now occur in big clubs in just about every city of the world. In the once resistant New York, the genre is successfully vying with house for the attentions of the city’s clubbers, while in LA the queues that surround the infamous Viper Rooms are for their hugely popular drum’n’bass night. London’s Movement club now has a regular event in no less a city than Rio de Janeiro (drum’n’bass is Britain’s largest selling dance music export to the Latin territories – but don’t expect to see the scene’s frontline hot footing it for a flesh-pressing party at No 10), while the DJs enjoy celebrity status throughout Japan, Australasia and most of Europe.
The influence of drum’n’bass can also be heard in the mainstream through r’n’b and hip hop artists such as Timbaland (currently taking over the Puff Daddy slot as the No 1-selling producer in the US today), and Busta Rhymes. Perhaps what is even more poignant is the fact that house legend Todd Terry has produced an album which wears its drum’n’bass styling clearly in its arrangements.
“The problem with drum’n’bass,” explains Terry, “is that some people are too scared to take it mainstream. They just want to keep it underground. But to say it’s dead is ridiculous. Everywhere I go, I hear drum’n’bass. It’s the UK sound and you guys should be proud of it.”
This uniquely British creation is suffering from a backlash against the jingoistic atmosphere that surrounded Brit Pop coupled with an unhealthy dose of media cynicism.
“The UK probably won’t accept how big drum’n’bass is until an artist from another country comes along and gives it back to you,” concludes Terry. “Then the same people who have dismissed it will hold it up again and say `I told you so, drum’n’bass is the bomb’.”
With Missy Elliot about to follow Busta Rhymes and Janet Jackson into the carts with a drum’n’bass tinged sound, and Terry’s jungle-meets-Miami- Bass album causing a massive pre-release stir, it seems that Terry, the man who is alleged to have invented house music, may be closer to the truth than he realises.
Todd Terry’s `Resolutions’ is out 28 June. The single `Let it Ride’ is out 14 June. Both are through Innocent/ Virgin. Martin James is the author of `State of Bass – Jungle: The Story So Far’ (Boxtree/ Macmillan)
The First Ten Years
1991-1993 Jungle emerges from the ashes of breakbeat house, hardcore and darkcore in clubs such as Rage and AWOL.
1994 Jungle goes Top 20 with the ragga-jungle fusion of “Incredible” by General Levy and “Original Nuttah” by UK Apache and Shy FX.
1995 The alternative term drum’n’bass – which actually predates jungle – takes over along with the smoother forms of the genre as epitomised by the DJing of LTJ Bukem. The artist albums emerge with A Guy Called Gerald’s Black Secret Technology and 4Hero’s Parallel Universe.
1996 Mainstream success for debut albums from Goldie (Timeless) and Alex Reece (So Far), and the emergence of jazz-step.
1997 Radio 1 launches a drum’n’bass show, David Bowie follows Everything but the Girl into junglism, Goldie is barely out of the press all year, Roni Size’s Reprazent receive their Mercury Award and the underground has fallen for the sub-heavy-metal anger of Techstep. Many DJs are championing Speed Garage instead.
1998 The funk returns to drum’n’bass thanks to Peshay’s Miles From Home and Adam F’s Brand New Funk.
1999 Drum’n’bass is a worldwide phenomenon at its creative best since the halcyon days of 1994.