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Drum and Bass - Life in the Fast Lane
An Overview of Drum and Bass  

(Click on any hyperlinks to listen.)

You may have already heard Drum and Bass and never even realized it. Aside from being utilized in numerous commercials and T.V. shows, elements of Drum and Bass have appeared in songs by such artists as David Bowie, Outkast, and Linkin Park. Drum and Bass, also known as DNB, drum n bass, and jungle, is a form of electronic dance music (often called electronica or mislabeled as simply "techno" music) that employs a break-beat instead of the 4/4 beat found in house and trance. The beats per minute, or BPM, are significantly faster ranging between 160-180 BPM. BPM is a unit of measure for the tempo of a song with 60 BPM equating to one beat every second. DNB often borrows samples from movies and television or even other styles of music and blends them together creating an entirely new perspective. The spectrum of the sound of DNB is immense varying from atmospheric to soulful to heavy and pounding. It is often compared to jazz in the sense that the listener can experience an assortment of diverse sounds all falling under the umbrella of one musical genre. DNB is usually found pressed onto a 12" piece of vinyl with the record containing one to four tracks. These records are mixed by DJs in clubs and can sometimes be accompanied by an M.C. who rhymes over the tracks much like a hip-hop artist. The DNB faithful often refer to themselves as junglists, much the same way as Grateful Dead fans deem themselves Dead Heads, and are very passionate about the music. DNB is a rapidly progressing style of music with sounds becoming old and outdated in a relatively short amount of time. Most DNB songs have a shelf life of a year or less before being considered stale.

Click to hear a Drum n Bass beat (requires Real Player)


The beginnings of DNB can be traced back to the 1980's Acid House music scene in the United Kingdom. The earliest form of DNB was an offshoot of Acid House called Breakbeat Hardcore. As Breakbeat Hardcore developed, a new sound featuring more bass heavy and up-tempo qualities emerged and started to develop a separate identity. It was the early 90's when this new sound began to permeate the London club scene pioneered by DJs Fabio and Grooverider. As DNB continued to grow and mutate, it continued to separate into new sub-genres. In 1995, LTJ Bukem established a sound that while preserving the up-tempo break-beat percussion focused on atmospheric qualities and warm, deep bass lines. This new form was dubbed Intelligent DNB. Other styles also sprang up. One approach taking on an urban quality with a stripped down, harder percussive style was designated Hardstep. Another with more hip-hop influenced traits was called Jump-Up. By 1996, Hardstep and Jump-Up dominated the club scene; while, Intelligent DNB remained more for the at-home listener. Another progression occurred in 1997 when two more sub-genres surfaced. A funky, double bass line sound was being championed by Roni Size at the same time as a new darker, more technical oriented style called Techstep blossomed. Its ominous or sci-fi related themes and cold, intricate percussion with dark, powerful bass lines distinguished Techstep from the other forms of DNB. By the conclusion of the 1990's, the marketable charm of artists such as Roni Size diminished and Techstep reigned in the club scene. However at the turn of the century, a revival transpired to bring back the original DNB sounds and many classic tracks were remixed and re-introduced to the DNB community. Over the years, the genre of DNB has continued to undergo numerous transformations thus making it one of the most diverse styles of music. DNB is played all over the world today but is still considered to be at its most progressive and cutting edge in the U.K. where it got its start.


The break-beat is one of the most defining aspects of DNB. This rhythm broken down to its basic components consists of using a kick drum sound and a snare with the beats being played on the 1, 3, 6, and 7 half beats, alternating between the kick and the snare. The majority of the break-beats used in DNB emanate from samples of old funk/soul songs. Easily the most sampled break-beat in both DNB and hip-hop is the "Funky Drummer" break. This break originates from the breakdown played by drummer Clyde Stubblefield in James Brown's song Funky Drummer. Perhaps the second most used break-beat comes from 60's funk group the Winston's drummer G.C. Coleman and the song Amen Brother. This break is called the "Amen" break and utilizes a strong snare sound combined with loud cymbal crashes. The "Apache" break comes from The Incredible Bongo Band's 70's hit Apache. This break is heavy with bongo percussion and is used as a change up during a DNB song. All these samples taken from classic songs are sped up around 170 BPM to fit in DNB tracks. Combining these classic break samples has created some DNB break-beats. Dom & Roland fashioned the "Tramen" or "Firefight" break by molding together the "Amen" break with a break from James Brown's Tighten Up. While DNB relies heavily on these classic samples, many producers create their own drum loops by using a mixture of live drummers and over-laid single shot drum samples.


Click to hear the "Funky Drummer" breakbeat
.wav file


While the majority of DNB is produced in home studios and then mixed live at clubs by DJs, there are several artists who choose to make their DNB by scratch. The most prestigious live artist in DNB right now is Chris Polglase, also known as The Jungle Drummer. He is widely acknowledged as one of the best drummers in the |U.K. and simply the best in DNB. Polglase started out by teaching himself to drum the hip-hop and DNB tunes that he grew up on. When playing DNB, Polglase is normally found drumming up around 180 BPM with his arms almost being a blur. In May of 2003, Polglase collaborated with producer Tony Coleman, also known as DJ London Elektricity, on his Billion Dollar Gravy LP record. Late one night during a recording session, they received a phone call to play live at BBC's Maida Vale Studios for Fabio and Grooverider and the London Elektricity live show was born. It was the first 100% live DNB show. When not playing with London Elektricity, Polglase has fashioned his own live show w/ DJ L Double called The DJ vs. The Drummer. Polglase drums along while L Double spins DNB creating a unique live experience. Along with those two shows, Polglase was invited to tour Europe with hip-hop star Timbaland in the summer of 2004. The success of London Elektricity prompted other live DNB acts to emerge. Scassa Monakee is a British band that plays live DNB. They employ a traditional line-up with vocals, guitar, synthesizers, and drums. For more info, you can check out their web page at http://www.smsq.co.uk. Cosm, from Salt Lake City, is another live DNB group featuring drummer Daniel Day performing live jungle break-beats which he terms "Organic Breaks" This term refers to the group's sound of the DNB dance style combined with Day's acoustic live drums. More information about Cosm can be found at their website: http://www.cosmbreaks.com.

It is hard to compress an entire musical genre into a few short paragraphs, but hopefully this article has provided a good overview of Drum and Bass. If you are interested in learning more about DNB, the best places to start are your local CD and record shops. Most big record shops have a section for Electronic Dance Music and DNB. If you are unsure of where to start, you should check out works by any of these popular DNB artists: Dara; Deiselboy; Aphrodite; Roni Size; Bad Company; LTJ Bukem; Marcus Intalex; Fabio and Grooverider; Goldie; Andy C; AK1200; DJ Rap; Dom & Roland, John B, DJ Craze, or Danny Tha Wildchild. There are many, many more DNB artists out there but this list should provide a good jumping off point. Keep in mind that DNB is a form of dance music and meant to be played at clubs for the most part. That being said, it is not a style of music that everyone will enjoy. Just approach it with an open mind and make your own decisions about it. The drum work found in the songs should be interesting to most drummers out there. So check out some of the links provided, pick up a Drum and Bass CD, and dive headfirst in. It will definitely be one of the most interesting explorations into music you may ever take.

Copyright 2005, Drum Bum

George Broyer is a freelance DJ from Atlanta, GA. Currently living in Virginia,
he specializes in electronic music which incorporates breakbeats, and drum 'n bass.
Visit his website at www.djrican.com or contact him at djrican@undergroundspin.com.

 

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