A musical style called acid house developed in the UK in the late 1980s and early 1990s, along with a "scene" which consisted of related social activities in nightclubs and other venues. Acid house music combined regular beats alongside broken, syncopated beats, strong basslines and a faster tempo than the regular house music. By 1991, musical tracks made up of only "broken" beats began to be known as "jungle" and became a separate musical genre (circa 1991-1992) popular at raves and on pirate radio in urban Britain.
These tracks often combined ragga vocal tracks with broken beats and basslines. By 1994 jungle began to gain mainstream popularity and fans of the music (known as junglists) became a recognisable part of British youth subculture. The sound took on a very urban, raggamuffin sound, incorporating dancehall "ragga" style mc chants, dub basslines, but also increasingly complex, high tempo rapid fire breakbeat percussion. At this time jungle began to be associated with criminals and criminal activity and perhaps as a reaction or perhaps independently of this, producers began to draw away from the ragga style and create what they labelled drum and bass. There is no clear point at which jungle became drum and bass, though most jungle producers continue nowadays to produce what they call drum and bass.
As the music style became more polished and sophisticated, it began to shift from pirate to commercial radio and gain widespread acceptance (circa 1995-1997). It also began to split into recognisable subgenres such as jump-up. As a lighter sound of drum and bass began to win over the musical mainstream, many producers continued to work on the other end of the spectrum, resulting in a series of releases which highlighted a dark, technical sound which drew more influence from techno music and the soundscapes of science fiction and anime films, this sub-genre became know as techstep (circa 1997-1998).
While evolving musically, drum and bass found itself suddenly upstarted by the UK garage sound, which drew a key part of its inspiration from drum and bass. This genre quickly eclipsed drum and bass in popularity and nearing the turn of the millennium, statements were made to the effect that "drum and bass is dead". Drum and bass however survived this event and the turn of the millennium has seen a revival in its popularity and continuing development, i.e. the appearance of the liquid funk subgenre which draws its inspiration from house and disco alongside a new wave of artists, joining the "jungle" pioneers. It remains a fairly unknown musical style but makes frequent unrecognised appearance in the mainstream as well as being highly influential on other musical styles and some of its artists, notably Goldie, are widely known. It remains most popular in its birthplace in the UK but has spread worldwide over the short period of its existence.
There are many views of what constitutes "real" drum and bass as it has many scenes and styles within it, from the highly electronic, industrial sounds of techstep through to the use of conventional, acoustic instrumentation that characterise the more jazz-influenced end of the spectrum. It has been compared with jazz where the listener can get very different sounding music all coming under the same music genre, because like jazz, it is more of an approach, or a tradition, than a style. The sounds of drum and bass are extremely varied - and to a person unfamiliar to them, there may seem to be little connection between the subgenres. One common, though by no means universal, element is a prominent snare drum falling on the 2nd & 4th beats, with a less regular kick pattern around it.
Drum and bass could at one time be defined as a strictly electronic musical genre with the only 'live' element being the DJ's selection and mixing of records during a set. 'Live' drum and bass using electric, electronic and acoustic instruments played by musicians on stage has appeared and is a growing aspect of the genre.
For the already mentioned reasons, the musicology of drum and bass is difficult to precisely define; however, the following key characteristics may be observed:
The genre places great importance on the "bass line", a deep sub-bass musical pattern which is felt physically as much as it is heard. There has also been considerable exploration of different timbres in the bass line region, particularly within techstep. Bass lines exist in many forms, but most notably they originate from sampled sources or synthesizers. Bass lines performed with a bass instrument, whether it is electric, acoustic or a double bass, are rare. An example of drum and bass played live with an electric bass can be found in the work of Squarepusher. Sampled basslines are often taken from double bass recordings or from publicly available loops. Synthesized bass lines are however just as common.
In drum and bass productions, the bass lines are subjected to many and varied sound effects, including standard techniques such as dynamic compression, flanger, chorus, over-drive, equalization, etc. and drum and bass specific techniques such as the "Reese Bass", a distinctive synthesized bass sound comprising layered 'clashing' sawtooth waves. Kevin Saunderson's 1988 classic "Just Another Chance" is widely recognised as the earliest example of the use of this technique.
Of equal importance is the "808" kick drum, an artificially pitch-downed or elongated bass drum sound sampled from Roland's classic TR-808 drum machine, and a sound which has been subject to an enormous amount of experimentation over the years.
These bass techniques are fully appreciated in a club or rave environments where high quality woofers and powerful amplifiers are required to fully reproduce the eponymous basslines at high volume levels. This has led to the creation of very large and intensely loud touring soundsystems by producers wishing to show off their tracks, such as dubs from Soundman and dubs from Dillinja's Valve Sound System. This does not mean, however, that the music cannot be appreciated at home or accurately reproduced on personal equipment.
The complex syncopation of the drum tracks' breakbeat, is another facet of production on which producers spend a very large amount of time. A drum phrase lasting seconds may often take a day or more to prepare, depending on the dedication of the producer. The Amen break is generally acknowledged to have been the most-used (and often considered the most powerful) break in drum and bass.
It would not be too much of an exaggeration to say that drum and bass (at least in its early days) was a style built around a single broken beat element which was a single sample, the Amen, but other samples have had a significant impact, including the Apache break, the Funky Drummer, and others. The Funky Drummer has perhaps superseded the Amen in modern productions.
A commonly used break is the Tramen, a combined beat that is perhaps the ultimate statement on the fusion of musical styles in drum and bass as it combines the Amen, a James Brown funk breakbeat ("Tighten Up" or "Samurai" break) and an Alex Reece drum and bass breakbeat.
The very fast (objectively) drum beat forms a canvas on which a producer can create tracks to appeal to almost any taste and often will form only a background to the other elements of the music. However, without a fast & broken beat, a drum and bass track would not be a drum and bass track but could be classified as a gabber, techno, breaks or house music track.
A track combining the same elements (broken beat, bass, production techniques) as a drum and bass track, but with a slower beat (say 140 BPM), would not be drum and bass but a drum and bass-influenced breakbeat track.
The speed of drum and bass is not however only characterised by that of the broken beat. Drum and bass has a bassline, which will typically play at half the speed of the drums, bringing its speed down to that of, for instance, a laid back hip-hop track. A listener or dancer can concentrate on this element rather than the faster drums.
Since the speed of music is subjective, an aggressively produced track with a complicated beat and synthesizer sounds may 'sound faster' than one with a sampled double bass bassline, guitar riffs and simpler beat, however the second track may be in strict BPM terms faster. Radio friendly tracks like Shy FX's "Shake Ur Body" often have higher BPMs than ominous techstep productions which might eject the uninitiated very quickly from a dancefloor.
The faster a track is in BPM terms, the less complex its drum patterns can be because at higher step the elements cease to be heard separately, turning them into a wall of sound. A faster drum and bass track will therefore generally have a less complex drum pattern than a slower one.
Live performances of drum and bass music on electric and acoustic instruments will often entail a drop in relative BPM (though not necessarily), unsurprising in light of the complexity of drum patterns and the high exertion required of a drummer.
For the most part, drum and bass is a form of dance music, mostly designed to be heard in clubs. It exhibits a full frequency response and physicality which often cannot be fully appreciated on home listening equipment. As befits its name, the bass element of the music is particularly pronounced, with the comparatively sparse arrangements of drum and bass tracks allowing room for basslines that are deeper than most other forms of dance music. Consequently, drum and bass parties are often advertised as featuring uncommonly loud and bass-heavy sound systems.
There are however many albums specifically designed for personal listening. The mix CD is a particularly popular form of release, with a big name DJ/producer mixing live, or on a computer, a variety of tracks for personal listening. Additionally, there are many albums containing unmixed tracks, suited for home or car listening.
Many mixing points begin or end with the "drop". The drop is the point in a track where a switch of rhythm or bassline occurs and usually follows a recognizable build section and "breakdown". Sometimes the drop is used to switch between tracks, layering components of different tracks, though as the two records may be simply ambient breakdowns at this point, though some DJs prefer to combine breakbeats, a more difficult exercise. Some drops are so popular that the DJ will "rewind" or "reload" by spinning the record back and restarting it at the build. "The drop" is often a key point from the point of view of the dancefloor, since the drumbreaks often fade out to leave an ambient intro playing. When the beats re-commence they are often more complex and accompanied by a heavier bassline, encouraging the crowd to dance. The name of a genre of drum and bass, "jump up" initially referred to the urge for those seated to dance at this point.
DJ support (that is playing a track) in a club atmosphere or on radio is critical in track success, even if the track producer is well known. To this end, DJs will receive dubplates a long time before a general release of a track, sometimes many months before, in order to spark interest in it as well as benefit the DJ (exclusive and early access to tracks is a hallmark of DJ success, i.e. the case of Andy C). Sometimes a DJ will receive versions of tracks that are not planned for general release, these are so-called VIP mixes.
The role of MCs in the music cannot be underestimated but they do not generally receive the same level of recognition as producer/DJs. There are relatively few well-known drum and bass MCs, Dynamite MC, MC Fats, MC Conrad, Skibadee, Shabba D, Eksman, Bassman, MC Fun and Stevie Hyper D (deceased) as examples.
"You and me - me and you! We haffi brock a smile and don bother screw dis one dedicated to all massive and crew, we haffi get lively inna di venue! mi bawl ... Where's the noise? I want you jump up and swing an sway, and move your body with no delay. Hyper on the microphone, I've nuff to say, nuff to say, nuff to say." - Congo Natty "Stevie Hyper D Tribute" (Congo Natty) 2005
The following are to a lesser and great degree, arguable subgenres, they would generally be described as separate genres by their proponents:
As with all attempts to classify and categorize music, the above should not be treated as definitive. Many producers release albums and tracks which touch into many of the above styles and there are significant arguments as to the classification of tracks as well as the basic defining characteristics of subgenres. The list of arguable subgenres in particular should not be treated as definitive.
The modern distinctive ragga jungle style (arguably subgenre or even separate genre) is a direct throwback to the 1994-1995 style of drum and bass production. However, many modern drum and bass mainstream productions contain ragga, dancehall and regga elements, they are just not as dominant as previously.
Clownstep is a derisory term for varieties of drum and bass not appreciated by certain listeners (in particular the jump-up variety) and is prevalent on the internet, whilst not being a subgenre as such. Most producers would feel insulted by the labeling of their music as "clownstep".
Proponents of a distinction between jungle and drum and bass argue that:
Opponents of a distinction would argue that there are many modern drum & bass productions with separated basslines, complex breakbeats and ragga vocals.
Probably the widest held viewpoint is that the terms are simply synonymous and interchangeable: drum and bass is jungle, and jungle is drum and bass.
"At the end of the day I am an ambassador for Drum and Bass the world over and have been playing for 16 years under the name Hype... To most of you out there Drum and Bass will be an important part of your lives, but for me Drum and Bass/Jungle is my life and always has been... We all have a part to play and believe me when I say I am no fucking bandwagon jumper, just a hard working Hackney man doing this thing called Drum and Bass/Jungle." DJ Hype
Drum and bass music, born in samplers, has been and is heavily influenced by other music genres, though this influence has perhaps been lessened in the shift from jungle to drum and bass and the intelligent drum and bass and techstep revolution. It still remains a fusion music style.
Miles Davis has been named as one the most important influences, and blues artists like Leadbelly, Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Muddy Waters & B.B King have also been cited by producers as inspirations.
As a musical style built around a funk or syncopated rock & roll beat, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Temptations, Jackson 5, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin, Otis Redding, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, the Supremes, the Commodores, George Clinton, Ray Charles, Jerry Lee Lewis, Herbie Hancock,James Brown and even Michael Jackson, are funky influences on the music.
A very obvious and strong influence on jungle and drum and bass is the original dub and reggae sound out of Jamaica, with pioneers like King Tubby, Peter Tosh, Sly & Robbie, Bill Laswell, Lee Perry, Mad Professor, Roots Radics, Bob Marley and Buju Banton heavily influencing the music. This influence has lessened with time but is still evident with many tracks containing ragga vocals.
Early hip-hop is an extremely important influence on drum and bass, with the genres sharing the same broken beat. Drum and bass shares many musical characteristics with hip-hop, though it is nowadays mostly stripped of lyrics. Grandmaster Flash, Afrika Bambaata, De La Soul, 2 Live Crew, Jungle Brothers, Kool Keith, Run DMC, Public Enemy, Schooly D, N.W.A, Wu-Tang Clan, Dr Dre, Mos Def, Beastie Boys and the Pharcyde are very often directly sampled, regardless of their general influence.
Even modern avant-garde composers such as Henryk Gorecki have influenced drum and bass.
Many tracks belonging to other genres are 'remixed' into drum and bass versions. The quality of these remixes varies from the simple and primitive adding of broken beats to a vocal track or to complete reworkings that may exceed the original in quality and effort put into them. Original artists will often ask for drum and bass remixes of their tracks to be made in order to spark further interest in their tracks (e.g. Aphrodite's remix of Jungle Brothers' "Jungle Brother").
On the other hand, some tracks are illegally remixed and released on white label (technically bootleg), often to acclaim. For example, DJ Zinc's remix of The Fugees' "Ready or Not", also known as "Fugee Or Not", was eventually released with the Fugees' permission after talk of legal action, though ironically the Fugees' version infringed Enya's copyright to an earlier song. White labels along with dubplates play an important part in drum and bass musical culture.
The first is the US breakbeat scene which emerged in the 1980s, the most famous artist being NYC's Frankie Bones whose infamous 'Bones Breaks' series from the late '80s onwards helped push the house-tempoed breakbeat sound (especially in the UK) and can be said to be a direct precursor to the UK breakbeat/hardcore scene.
The second is Kevin Saunderson, who released a series of bass-heavy, minimal techno cuts as Reese/The Reese Project in the late '80s which were hugely influential in drum and bass terms. One of his more infamous basslines was indeed sampled on Renegade's Terrorist and countless others since, being known simply as the 'Reese' bassline. He followed these up with equally influential (and bassline-heavy) tracks in the UK hardcore style as Tronik House in 1991/1992. Another Detroit artist who was important for the scene is Carl Craig. The sampled-up jazz break on Carl Craig's Bug in the Bassbin was also influential on the newly emerging sound, DJs at the Rage club used to play it pitched up (increased speed) as far as their Technics record decks would go.
The third precursor worth mentioning here is the Miami, USA Booty Bass/Miami Bass scene, first popularised by 2 Live Crew in the mid to late '80s. There are clear sonic parallels with drum and bass here in the use of uptempo synths and drum machines in producing bass-heavy party music.
Both the New York breakbeat and the Miami Trout scenes were strongly influenced by the 'freestyle' sound of New York, Chicago and Miami in the 1980s which incorporated electro, disco and Latin flavours, and which was in turn a key influence on the UK's acid house/hardcore/rave scene.
Drum and bass also samples other media, including film and television:
Speed garage and 2step in the UK were born at the height of the popularity of jungle, copying the bass-lines, fast tempo (though much slowed down), ragga vocals (with frequent MC accompaniment) and production techniques. They may be referred to as descendants of drum and bass and at one time drove drum and bass into relative obscurity. Grime and dubstep, their descendants, have driven these genres underground whilst drum and bass has survived and evolved. Dubstep combines sounds of 2step with the deep basslines and the reggae vibe of early jungle.
Born at the end of the millennium, breakcore shares many of the elements of drum and bass and to the uninitiated, tracks from the extreme end of drum and bass, may sound identical to breakcore thanks to speed, complexity, impact and maximum sonic density combined with musical experimentation. Raggacore resembles a faster version of the ragga influenced jungle music of the 1990s, similar to breakcore but with more friendly dancehall beats (dancehall itself being a very important influence on drum and bass). Darkcore a direct influence on drum and bass, is itself heavily influenced by drum and bass, especially darkstep. There is considerable crossover from the extreme edges of drum and bass, breakcore, darkcore and raggacore with fluid boundaries.
Despite never gaining the mainstream popularity of speed garage and 2step, drum and bass' impact in musical terms has been very significant and the genre has influenced many other genres like jazz, metal, hiphop, big beat, house music, trip hop, ambient music, techno, hardcore and pop, with artists such as Bill Laswell, Slipknot, Incubus, Refused, The Roots, Tabla Beat Science, Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney, MIDIval Punditz, Jedi Mind Tricks, Timbaland, Missy Elliott, Pharell, Fat Boy Slim, Lamb, Underworld, The Streets, The Freestylers, Nine Inch Nails and David Bowie (the last two both using elements of Goldie's "Timeless") and others quoting drum and bass and using drum and bass techniques and elements. This is only the tip of the iceberg in terms of impact and influence. The USA has adopted the sound with a genre called Ghettotech which have synth and basslines similar to drum & bass.
"I'll keep you in safety, forever protect you. I'll hide you away from, the world you rejected. I'll hide you, I’ll hide you." - Kosheen "Hide U" (Moksha) 1999
"Shotter, hitter, serial killer! Go a your funeral and all drink out your liquor, when you are bury, we a stand next to vicar. Fling on some dirt and make you bury lickle quicker, shouldn't test the youth dem in the Tommy Hilfiger." - Pendulum & Fresh & Tenor Fly "Tarantula" (Breakbeat Kaos) 2005
Certain drum and bass releases have found mainstream popularity in their own right, almost always material prominently featuring vocals.
Perhaps the earliest example was Goldie's Timeless album of 1995, along with Reprazent's Mercury Music Prize-winning New Forms in 1997, 4hero's Mercury nominated Two Pages in 1998, and Pendulum's Hold Your Colour in 2005 (the biggest selling Drum And Bass album of all time). Tracks such as Shy FX and T-Power's "Shake UR Body" gained a UK Top 40 Chart placing in 2005.
More recently, video game tracks, particularly Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto series have contained drum and bass tracks, the MSX/MSX 98 radio station by DJ Timecode in Grand Theft Auto III and Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.
The genre has some popularity in soundtracks, for instance Hive's "Ultrasonic Sound" was used in the Matrix's soundtrack and the EZ Rollers' song "Walk This Land" appeared in the film "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels".
Drum and bass often makes an appearance as background music, especially in Top Gear and television commercials thanks to its aggressive and energetic beats. Cartoon Network's Toonami programming block also employs it for television spots and show intros. However, due to the relative obscurity of the genre, most listeners would not recognise the music as drum and bass.
Drum and bass is dominated by a few large drum and bass-specific record labels (run by veteran drum and bass producers and DJs, eg. Dillinja's Valve label) but there exist many tiny record labels often run from bedrooms. Drum and bass labels are generally run for pleasure and profit by its artists.
The major international music labels such as Sony Music, Universal and such are generally not interested in drum and bass artists due to their relatively low sales figures, although they have in the past made exceptions for higher profile names (for example, Grooverider's "Mysteries of Funk" album was released through a Sony subsidiary).
Drum and bass is mostly sold in 12-inch vinyl single format. With the emergence of drum and bass into mainstream music markets, more and more albums, compilations and DJ mixes are being sold on CDs. Still, purchasing drum and bass music can involve searching for new releases in specialized record shops or using one of the many online vinyl, CD and MP3 retailers.
Drum and bass can also be purchased in the form of "tape packs", which are a collection of recordings recorded at a selected rave or party. Each tape contains the set by one DJ at that particular rave/party including the MCs.
Most tape packs contain 8 tapes with sets from different DJs. More recently tape packs have become available on CD as tape cassettes are being phased out and recordable CD media is more available, although the CD packs still retain their traditional name of "tape packs". Most of these packs contain 6 CDs.
In North America, XM Satellite, 89.5 CIUT (Toronto), Album 88.5 (Atlanta) and C89.5fm (Seattle) have shows showcasing drum and bass. Seattle also has a long standing electronica show known as Expansions on 90.3 FM KEXP. The rotating DJ's include Kid Hops, whose shows are made up mostly of drum and bass. In Columbus, Ohio WCBE 90.5 has a two hour electronic only showcase, "All Mixed Up," Saturday nights at 10pm. At the same time WUFM 88.7 plays its "Electronic Playground." While the former rarely plays drum and bass the latter plays the genre with some frequency.
In the Philippines, 103.5 Max FM has "The Bass Hour" every Saturday at midnight that caters to nothing but bass music.
"The early development of drum’n’bass had occurred in a seeming journalistic vacuum due to its perceived affiliation with the critically-dismissed sounds of rave. Once it had achieved the traditional markers of success, its emergence was rewritten into the pages of musical history." - Steven Quinn, Rumble In the Jungle, the Invisible History of Drum 'n' Bass