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JJ's Bizarre Blog #4 - Count the Striking Beat


Hello everyone, JJ’s Bizarre Blog is coming back with another instalment. This time round I felt like doing another genre-focused entry and recently I’ve been reminded of a specific style that seems to be a little bit forgotten – Drum and Bass. So, let’s revitalise it and talk about it again!


So, first things first, what is Drum and Bass? Don’t almost all songs include drums and bass in one form or another, what’s different here? Well, the term is a bit odd but the genre itself is a subgenre of electronic music categorised by fast-paced aggressive beats, lots of thumping bass lines (there are your two components to the name), lots of wild synth lines, samples and a noticeable influence from reggae, dub and African folk music. DnB (also known as D’n’B or D&B) is almost always upbeat and fast, there’s no such things as slow DnB, the beat is very uplifting and has a sort of pumping quality to it, feels like it was designed for running. In the most non-music theory way possible, I like to say that almost all DnB uses a beat that goes “Boots-Cats-Boots-Boots-Cats” or “Boots-Cats-Boo-Cats”. Say that really fast and you have yourself a proper beat. The songs almost always feature powerful programmed bass that is often warped on DJ equipment or in software, giving it a kind of wobbly quality. DnB was one of the inspirations for dubstep, a genre I’m almost certain you’ve heard of, so if you know the kind of up-and-down flow of the basslines of dubstep drops, you can expect much of the same here, albeit much less aggressive. Some more melodic variants of DnB will feature upbeat and catchy synth lines to guide the song with melodies similar to what you might hear in trance or EDM. The harsher varieties will instead prefer distorted, glitchy sounds similar to what you would hear in hardcore or electro-industrial music.




For a brief history lesson, Drum and Bass developed during the mid 90s and was born mostly from the then growing UK rave scene. Born from genres like breakbeat hardcore and hardcore jungle, it emerged as a faster and more energetic option with heavy beats, lots of effects and a chaotic and pumping sound, custom brewed for nightclubs and outdoor raves. Jungle in particular is regarded as a direct precursor to DnB, using much the same type of syncopated drum loops, synth lines and grooves, but with less speed and aggression. Jungle also took great inspiration from reggae, dub and African folk music, something which can be heard a lot in earlier DnB songs too.









One fascinating aspect of both jungle and DnB is how it could be said that they were born out of a single sample called the Amen Break – let me explain. Way back in the 80s, a sample of a 1969 song called “Amen Brother” by American soul group the Winstons began to gain popularity. While the original band was moderately successful, they still remained pretty obscure. However something about this sample was very special and it made rounds among disc-jokeys and producers all over the world and was quite the hit with the growing hip-hop scene. Long story short, this has become the most used musical sample of all time! David Bowie, Amy Winehouse, The Prodigy, Oasis and the TV shows Futurama and the Powerpuff Girls, just to name a few – these are a very small sliver of the examples of the sample being used. Famously, the main beat to N.W.A.’s iconic song “Straight Outta Compton” is literally just the Amen Break but slowed down.




This sample is everywhere and the story behind it is deeply fascinating, so I encourage you to research it further. Now, where does Drum and Bass come in? Well, it and its precursor jungle really loved the Amen Break, so much so it became the foundation for the entire sound of these subgenres. From the beginning all the way to today, its used all over the place. The iconic beat and especially that unmistakable snare sound have become an integral part of the style and to this day, more people will probably recognise this beat as “the Drum and Bass beat” rather than the Amen Break.


Here in the phenomenal soundtrack of the iconic 1999 first-person shooter Unreal Tournament, you can hear a fantastic example of a DnB song with the break taking center stage. Also the UT soundtrack is made entirely with trackers, an old fashioned way of composing music on computers. Seriously, the game and its soundtrack are groundbreaking and hold up marvellously, check them out!




And so, Drum and Bass was born and began to gain some traction in and outside of the UK. Now, arguably the biggest band in the genre is Pendulum but we’ll talk about them later. Their own existence is said, according to the band themselves, began when the members met at a nightclub and heard a DnB song play that blew them away and inspired them to pursue a similar sound. What song did they hear? Messiah by British project Konflict. Listen to it and you’ll see why. Starting with a very quiet, dark and brooding intro, forming a very dense and eerie atmosphere, the song suddenly explodes in your face with its bombastic drum beat, glichty bass wobbles and distorted samples that almost sound like screaming. The song remains a dynamic whirlwind of eclectic energy until the very end when it returns to the quiet ambience of the intro, the calm before a new storm.




As the early 2000s started rolling in, DnB gained some popularity and kept popping up here and there in radio charts or in pop culture. DJ Fresh's "Hot Right Now" even became a No.1 hit! If a movie had a running/parkour scene, some DnB was always the perfect choice. Rave and clubbing culture was quite popular at the time and the thunderous beats of this genre could be heard all over the world. 












DnB songs have graced many video games of the time too, including Need for Speed, Fifa and Fifa Street, Gran Turismo, Wipeout and more.












As mentioned earlier, Australian outfit Pendulum are pretty much the most popular band in the genre and they have achieved great mainstream success. Their earlier output is a very typical representation of the quintessential Drum and Bass sound.






Their later work sought to make a more commercially viable version, making the songs more melodic and less choppy, adding Rob Spire's fantastic vocals and making the songs sound more like rock played with electronic instruments.






They also dabbled with other tangentially related styles like EDM, trance, house and dubstep too. Some of the members also later fully embraced the dubstep sound with their other project Knife Party.






As the 2010s came and went, Drum and Bass lost most of its mainstream popularity, but that doesn't mean the style has been completely forgotten. Many artists are still keeping the torch lit and underground clubs and night rave parties still hold DnB in high regard. It is being overshadowed somewhat by more popular styles like synthwave, electro-hardcore and contemporary EDM.






And now, its our turn to keep it alive. Musical legacy exists to be preserved and enjoyed. So lets enter the jungle and explore Drum and Bass! Go out there and find what this unique style has to offer and may my humble playlist be your starting point. Happy listening!