Beatport’s Definitive History of Drum & Bass

Beatport’s Definitive History of Drum & Bass

As part of Beatportal’s series on the history of electronic dance music, Joe Rihn explores the past, present and future of the global drum & bass scene in Beatport’s Definitive History of Drum & Bass.

Characterized by its speed, intensity and unmistakable rhythms, drum & bass stands out from other forms of dance music. When the genre began to take shape in the early ’90s, it was called jungle, and even in its infancy, it marked a radical departure from the four-to-the-floor beats of house and techno. Forging its own unique aesthetic by pushing music production technology to its absolute limits, for many, the genre’s futuristic sound would symbolized the digital frontier on the other side of the year 2000. However, drum & bass also bears a deep connection to the past, with roots in the early rave scene, Jamaican sound system culture, and other communities and histories specific to its birthplace and spiritual home in London, England. 

In addition to bringing ultra-fast tempos into electronic dance music, drum & bass is responsible for advancing the manipulation of breakbeats. While the practice of sampling snippets of isolated percussion from soul, jazz and rock records was pioneered in the early days of New York hip hop, British jungle producers brought new levels of complexity, resulting in what theorist Kodwo Eshun, called “hyperrhythm, posthuman rhythm that’s impossible to play.” In particular, these artists gravitated toward the short drum solo on “Amen, Brother,” a 1969 B-side by a Washington D.C. soul outfit called The Winstons. So essential that it’s almost impossible to conceive of jungle or drum & bass without it, the Amen Break is the percussive backbone of countless tracks and the source of many of the genre’s idiosyncrasies.

Roughly three decades after it began to take shape, drum & bass is fully established as a cornerstone of electronic music, with its own ecosystem of artists, labels and clubs along with a community of diehard fans. Like any form of folk art, the story of drum & bass is often hazy and fragmented, accessible only through the underground publications that attempted to document it, and the occasionally contradictory memories of those who were there. But there is another source that speaks for itself — the music. From the early days of UK hardcore to the present era, these are the tracks that made drum & bass.

LTJ Bukem & Conrad – Photo by Eddie Otchere, taken from his book Who Say Reload

The Late ’80s

In 1988, a fuse was lit, and the cultural explosion that followed was about to send shockwaves through underground music and culture that would ripple for decades to come. 

A new kind of dance music, forged in the American Midwest by young Black artists with do-it-yourself ingenuity, had made its way to England, and the country was mad for it. Hailing from Chicago and Detroit respectively, the intertwined genres of house and techno used consumer synthesizers, samplers and drum machines to channel the DJ culture of New York disco and hip hop into a new paradigm for club music. Before long, young people in England weren’t just dancing to this new music; they were raving to it.

While the swanky clubs of London pushed soul and rare groove, nights like Shoom and Future offered an alternative vision, punctuated by a wild electronic soundtrack, baggy clothing and a new drug called ecstasy that young DJs Paul Oakenfold and Danny Rampling first encountered on a fateful trip to Ibiza. Meanwhile, similar shifts were happening up north, as Manchester’s Haçienda shuffled the new American sounds of techno and house with the dancefloor indie of Factory Records to spark the movement known as Madchester. Before long, A Guy Called Gerald and other Manchester artists were producing their own homegrown house music.

As audiences grew alongside ecstasy-fueled idealism, the scene expanded outside the confines of the clubs, morphing into huge outdoor gatherings where towering rigs of speakers blasted the English countryside on a 24-hour clock. Dubbed “acid house” in the press, the police and the mainstream media were eager to play up the tropes of hedonism and drug use associated with the scene and its music. But despite the backlash, raving took root — and along with it, a domestic dance music industry that paved the way for the UK’s own distinct sounds.

The Ragga Twins

Fabio & Grooverider

The Early ’90s

As the acid house explosion gave way to a booming festival business in the early ’90s, the music transformed as well. With Black British artists leading the charge, tempos got faster and pitched-up breaks began to supplement four-to-the-floor dance beats, channeling smiley-faced euphoria. Not only did 1991’s “I Want You (Forever)” mark the first release by legendary DJ Carl Cox, its combination of straight-ahead house beats and an Amen break looping in tandem exemplified the UK hardcore sound. Other anthems of the day, like Sonz Of A Loop Da Loop Era’s “Far Out” and Liquid’s “Sweet Harmony” pioneered the often imitated formula of breakbeat rhythms and radiant piano riffs.

In addition to hardcore rave’s rhythmic innovations, its experiements in sound design helped lay the groundwork for the future of British dance music. On “Some Justice,” Urban Shakedown mixed dissonant synths and sci-fi sound effects into an intensifying headrush, while the landmark single Bombscare” by 2 Bad Mice sampled the sound of an explosion alongside its memorable main theme. And on their early releases with the label Shut Up and Dance, The Ragga Twins brought MCing onto rave records with nods to both Caribbean culture and New York rap. With 1990’s “Illegal Gunshot,” the pair draw a line from UK rave to the hard-hitting sounds of Public Enemy, while the flipside, “Spliffhead,” predicts the sound of jungle by combining atmospheric pads with uptempo breaks and toasting MCs. 

As the soundtrack to masses of dancing young people having the time of their lives, hardcore favored candy-coated melodies that put hands in the air. However, less sunny sounds were also brewing in the early ’90s that signaled a split from the rave scene and kick-started its evolution into jungle and drum & bass. In 1988, London DJs Fabio & Grooverider founded a night called Rage with a mission to play the most cutting edge sounds in dance music. They spun a selection house, techno and hardcore at first, but soon the two DJs developed a special taste for breakbeat-driven tracks and a penchant for using the turntable’s pitch control to play them as fast as possible. Inspired by the energy Fabio and Grooverider were generating at Rage, producers returned to their studios hoping to recreate the club’s potent formula. By the end of Rage’s five-year run, jungle was a fully formed genre and Fabio and Grooveride were two of its star DJs.  

Goldie – Photo from i-D Mag

Within a few years, Goldie would be the most recognizable figure in drum & bass, presiding over the mighty Metalheadz label. But in the early ’90s, before the man with the golden grin was the face of British breakbeat, Clifford Joseph Price and his Rufige Kru outfit produced a track called “Terminator.” Released in 1992 on Reinforced Records, “Terminator” had a lot in common with the tough hardcore the West London label’s heads, Dego and Marc Mac, were crafting with their group 4 Hero. However, “Terminator” was darker, and on top of the pummeling drums, diced meticulously into short blasts of audio, it had a sinister atmosphere — almost a setting — brought to life by bits of audio from the 1984 film of the same name.

The next year, a similarly brooding rush of breakbeats hit the streets. The track was Valley of the Shadows” by Origin Unknown. The duo, comprised of Ant Miles and future superstar drum & bass DJ Andy C, built most of the track with sounds from a free sample CD that came with an issue of Future Music magazine, but it was the way they deployed the samples that set their track apart. First, the it was fast, much faster than any hardcore rave tune. It also had a cinematic eeriness punctuated by samples of cryptic dialogue. At the same time, the rhythm had a stop-start feel that made it extremely danceable. Released as a B-side on Andy C’s own RAM Records, “Valley of the Shadows” is now regarded as one of the first examples of jungle as a genre distinct from hardcore.

Exactly who coined the term “jungle” is contested, but Rebel MC, author of the proto-jungle anthem “The Wickedest Sound,” was certainly one of the first, having reportedly sampled the word “junglist” from a Jamaican sound system tape. Another early adopter was Paul Ibiza, who combined hardcore and sound system culture through his label Ibiza Records and releases like Potential Bad Boy’s “Fly Like a Butterfly.” While some tunes invoked ominous atmospheres and others emphasized Jamaican influences, “Spiritual Aura,” produced by DJ Rap and Aston Harvey as Engineers Without Fears, added euphoric synths to the rough sounds of jungle. Likewise, the Foul Play remix of Omni Trio’s “Renegade Snares” juxtaposed the uplifting pianos of rave with jungle’s against breakneck beats. 

Photo by Eddie Otchere, taken from his book Who Say Reload

The Mid ’90s

With its links to Caribbean culture more pronounced and the authorities cracking down on countryside raves, the jungle scene took root in urban London, where it attracted far more Black participants than the rave scene, which skewed white and suburban. By the time Notting Hill Carnival rolled around in August of 1994, jungle was blasting from speakers across the city.

That year marked the high point of the ragga jungle style, which brought reggae samples, dub effects and toasted vocals to the fore. With his track “Burial” under the Leviticus alias, legendary drum & bass DJ Jumping Jack Frost showcased the style in its full glory, while the Gangsta Kid EPs from Shy FX and Gunsmoke took the sound in a raw, minimal direction. Dego and Marc Mac from Reinforced also crafted classic ragga tunes like “Maxi(Mun) Style” and “Till The Morning” through their side project, Tom and Jerry. Another 1994 track, Terrorist,” by Ray Keith as Renegade took the dub effects of ragga jungle and pointed them toward the future, foreshadowing the innovations on the horizon with layers of punishing breakbeats and a sustained bass sound sampled from Just Want Another Chance, a 1988 Detroit techno track produced by Kevin Saunderson under his Reese alias. Known as the “Reese bass,” the sample would come to rule the lowend on scores of jungle and drum & bass tracks, second only to the Roland 808 kick drum as the sub of choice.

As the jungle sound underwent rapid changes, fans kept abreast by attending club nights like  Telepathy, Roast and AWOL (A Way of Life), where they could hear top DJs like Randall, Mickey Finn, Darren Jay, Kenny Ken, Dr. S. Gachet, DJ Ron and Brockie. While it was common for DJs to demonstrate the influence of Jamaican sound systems by “reloading” fan favorites for multiple spins, MCs such as GQ, Moose and 5ive’0 were also central to the experience, ad-libbing over the latest dubplates to hype up the crowd. Outside of the clubs, there was another way listeners could keep up with the scene: pirate radio. Broadcasting from secret studios in public housing highrises, illegal stations such as Kool FM infiltrated airwaves across the capital, providing another important outlet for DJs and MCs to reach their audiences.

Parties and pirate radio helped spread the sound of jungle, but the scene’s rising profile attracted attention from the authorities as well as the interest of the mainstream media. In turn, new tensions arose within the junglist community over how the scene should be represented and who would be its spokesperson. In their coverage of the new musical movement, mainstream press outlets zeroed in on the ragga sounds, and in the latter half of that year, two ragga jungle anthems cracked the charts. One was “Original Nuttah,” a collaboration between Shy FX and vocalist UK Apache. The other was M-Beat’s “Incredible,” which featured UK reggae artist General Levy on vocals. According to Brian Belle-Fortune’s book “All Crews: Journeys Through Jungle / Drum & Bass Culture,” Levy was quick to proclaim himself the king of jungle, a move that angered architects of the genre who perceived him jumping on a bandwagon to cash in on their creation. As a result, a handful of jungle’s central figures made a concerted effort to block Levy from the scene and assert more control over how the media portrayed jungle.

Ragga’s rapid ascent soon put the scene at a crossroads that intertwined closely with issues of race. As jungle music commanded more attention, journalists, producers and record labels introduced new descriptors to identify and market its various subsects. According to Belle-Fortune, “From ’95 through ’96 everyone in the scene seemed to be arguing over, muddled by, or purposely not caring about what to call British Breakbeat.” One term that began to circulate was “intelligent jungle,” derived from a Reinforced compilation of ambient-leaning work entitled “Jungle Book: Intelligent Minds of Jungle.” Another was “drum & bass.” Although Black artists were responsible for the foundations of ragga, intelligent and everything in between — and the entire genre was built upon the hip hop tradition of sampling Black music — some noticed the split between jungle and drum & bass happening along racial lines.

“Some DJs, producers and punters dissociated themselves from the name Jungle and adopted the Drum & Bass tag, which was free of any negative connotations,” explains Belle-Fortune, before describing how certain promoters who associated jungle’s largely Black audience with lawlessness rebranded to drum & bass. There were also business factors. To reach white audiences, marketers promoted laid back tunes like LTJ Bukem’s “Horizon” and other releases on Bukem’s Good Looking Records as an exciting new style.

But the narrative they were selling wasn’t really true. As author Martin James puts it, “An easy timeline of jungle/drum & bass would read something like this: hardcore gave way to darkcore, which inspired the creation of jungle, which drum & bass then formed as a reaction to. And to a certain extent this is true, except these developments were happening at the same time and they fed into each other continually.” In reality, Bukem had been making cerebral rollers for years, including 1993’s “Music,” while also DJing many of the UK’s biggest raves with MC Conrad on the mic. 4Hero as well had already explored the realm of ethereal jungle with Parallel Universe, a full-length LP that dropped the summer of ’94.

Although 1995 saw the scene wrestle with some of its deepest divisions, the era was also marked by several groundbreaking achievements. For some listeners, it constituted the “golden era,” when British breakbeat’s past as jungle and its future as drum & bass overlapped to merge sound system culture seamlessly with the Afrofuturist sensibilities of Detroit techno and the feverish intensity of hardcore. While certain tracks, such as Just Jungle’s “Double Crisp” and Peshay’s “Piano Tune,” had prefigured the pinnacle of mid-’90s jungle, legions of bedroom producers soon took sound design and sample manipulation to new heights. As jungle entered its next phase, developments in London clubland helped fuel the progression and present the cutting-edge sound to a wider audience. 

LTJ Bukem and Fabio joined forces for a night called Speed, which was focused on the jazz-influenced sounds of the scene’s mellower side. Held at Mars Bar just off of bustling Charing Cross Road, Speed attracted its share of celebrities, but also alienated hardcore junglists with its air of sophistication. To the east, in the grittier surroundings of pre-gentrified Hoxton, Goldie and the Metalheadz crew began their own club night, taking up Sundays at a small venue called the Blue Note. Welcoming a harder-edged sound, Metalheadz Sunday Sessions became a hub for forward-thinking artists and fans who came to hear DJs like Grooverider and Kemistry & Storm spin. 

Better known by their DJ names, Valerie Olukemi A Olusanya (Kemistry) and Jayne Conneely (Storm) were central to Metalheadz, helping build the label into one of the most important institutions in the lineage of drum & bass. In fact, the two DJs were responsible for first introducing Goldie to the rave scene. Both women were instrumental in founding Metalheadz in 1994, and as cofounder Goldie’s solo career took off, they expanded their roles, seeing the label through the commercial heights of the mid-to-late-’90s.

Kemistry & Storm

Metalheadz was already established as an influential underground imprint, but the release of Goldie’s debut album in 1995 was a pivotal moment that put the label on a path to widespread recognition. With critics and fans alike anticipating a definitive album for the British breakbeat scene, Goldie enlisted the help of Rob Playford, head of the Moving Shadow label and also a member of 2 Bad Mice. While Goldie dictated his musical visions, Playford served as studio engineer, using his knowledge of gear and production techniques to bring the ideas to life. The end result was Timeless, an effort that presented drum & bass on an epic scale. Its lead single was “Inner City Life,” an excerpt from the album’s 20-minute opener that earned critical praise for its dense arrangements and soaring vocals from Diane Charlemagne.

In addition to his artistic prowess, Goldie’s savvy business sense was essential to the album’s massive impact. Released on a subsidiary of London Records, Timeless marked a milestone by bringing the underground attitude of jungle and drum & bass to a major label. Additionally, Goldie secured a deal for a Metalheadz compilation, and in 1996 came Platinum Breakz. The multi-disc collection came stacked with brand new material and carefully selected reissues from veteran producers such as Doc Scott, who had been a mentor to Goldie since the hardcore years, as well as new names like Photek and Source Direct, who brought moody, cerebral elements to drum & bass. The tracklist also featured an Apache break workout from Wax Doctor, atmospheric Amens from J. Majik, two pressurized lowend bombshells courtesy of Dillinja, and the radical future funk of Lemon D and Hidden Agenda. In addition to its roster of top talent, Platinum Breakz traded the home studio for big budget sound. 

While jungle was undeniably a “London somet’ing,” there were other outposts for the sound. Bristol was well known for its trip-hop scene and the homegrown talents of Portishead, Tricky and Massive Attack; and influential junglists such as Flynn & Flora, Roni Size and DJ Krust also hailed from the city. And in Manchester, A Guy Called Gerald had come a long way since helping to ignite the UK acid house explosion with “Voodoo Ray.” In 1995, he released Black Secret Technology, a sprawling LP that represented jungle and drum & bass at their most futuristic.

Makoto

Patife

Although the industry remained anchored in the UK, other regions established satellite scenes bolstered by international tours from Metalheadz and other prominent crews. In Japan, Soichi Terada‘s “Sumo Jungle” saw the producer shift from silky house to a singular style of laid back jungle, a talent he later put to use crafting soundtracks for the Sony PlayStation. Soon after, the serene soundscapes of “Wave” and exceptionally slick rollers like “Butterfly” helped establish another Japanese producer named Makoto as one of the key artists on LTJ Bukem’s Good Looking Records.

In North America, scenes sprang up from coast to coast, but jungle hit especially hard in Toronto, where in the early ’90s, two British Caribbean DJs were instrumental in introducing the sound to Canadian listeners. With a show called Radio London, Malik X provided the Canadian airwaves with a convincing emulation of London pirate radio, complete with the latest UK releases, and also brought the burgeoning sounds breakbeat hardcore to live events with his DJ partner, Dr. No. Before long, local events like Marcus Visionary’s Delirium were following jungle’s evolutionary arc, giving rise to the most formidable drum & bass scene outside the UK.

But even as drum & bass began to amass a global following, the vast majority of productions and pressings continued to come from the UK, leaving international DJs largely dependent on imports. One important exception was Jordana LeSesne, an East Coast artist who spent the mid to late ’90s releasing tracks like “We Are Not Alone,” as well as EPs, albums and mixtapes of original material under the name 1.8.7. As a trans woman in a scene with very little visibility for femme or LGBTQ individuals, her efforts were often overlooked until recently, when initiatives to recognize the contributions of marginalized communities in dance music helped bring attention to her work.

Meanwhile in São Paulo, Brazil, DJs Marky, XRS and Patife were forming their own take on British breakbeat, eventually establishing a dialogue with the UK’s major players by way of Bryan Gee’s V Recordings. By the early 2000s, Marky and XRS were well known for their uplifting underground smashes, including “LK,” which featured the British MC Stamina.

MC Dynamite & Roni Size

The Late ’90s

As Metalheadz and its major-label forays brought drum & bass to the masses, they also catapulted Goldie to celebrity status as the scene’s charismatic spokesman. At the same time, the easier listening end of the genre was becoming the era’s hip new sound and BBC Radio was finally representing British breakbeat with a show called One in the Jungle. Even the acclaimed indie-pop duo Everything But The Girl had a drum & bass hit with “Walking Wounded.”  

By the late ’90s, you could hear drum & bass in film soundtracks, video games and commercials, as any brand trying to channel the tech-happy optimism of the approaching millennium seemed to want a piece. “Without realizing it, the drum & bass junglists had created a household sound that worked its way into the public’s subconscious alongside the brand names advertised,” explains Martin James.

Further driving drum & bass into the mainstream, 1997’s Mercury Prize went to Roni Size and his live drum & bass group Reprazent for their album, New Forms. Even more remarkable, New Forms beat out Radiohead, The Prodigy and the Spice Girls for the British music industry’s most prestigious award.

As the public fell for the genre’s jazzy side, underground styles were moving in the opposite direction, with the “jump-up” sound inspiring producers to dial back the breakbeat science in favor of gut-punching loops. With its oversized bassline and echoes of East Coast rap, DJ Zinc’s “Pranksters” exemplified the style as early as 1996. Soon after, Aphrodite’s “Stalker” and “Desert Storm” from Ellis Dee’s Realtime project cemented in place the subgenre’s trademark drops and wobbling subs.

While jump-up became famous for its party-starting energy, other artists moved onto a sound called techstep, described by Simon Reynolds as “a dirge-like death-funk characterized by harsh industrial timbres and bludgeoning butcher’s block beats.” Compared to the placid futurism of “intelligent” drum & bass, the sound design of techstep evoked a more pessimistic vision of the approaching millennium. Outfitting their tracks with dense layers of industrial sound effects, pioneering production duo Ed Rush & Optical brought a cinematic side to the new style. After releasing a number of singles on techstep label No U Turn and appearing alongside Fierce, Nico and DJ Trace on the label’s Torque compilation, Ed Rush joined forces with Optical to fire off a string of influential records, including a 1998 tune for V Records called “Funktion.” That same year, the duo founded Virus Recordings, which they used as a vehicle to deliver the corrosive sounds of “Lifespan,” “Zardoz” and their 10-track album Wormhole

This era also saw a new label called Renegade Hardware evolve out of the classic jungle imprint Trouble On Vinyl. With tunes like “Angry Business” from Justin Richardson’s new Genotype alias, as well as Dom & Roland’s “Trauma” and Future Forces’ “Dead by Dawn (The Final Chapter),” Renegade Hardware helped cultivate a dystopian dark side within drum & bass, where producers turned from samplers to synthesizers in the search for increasingly abrasive textures. The burgeoning techstep sound soon attracted other figures, with Grooverider releasing “China Cup” by the four-piece production unit Bad Company on his Prototype label.

But as Y2K drew closer, the scene encountered a new crossroads. On one hand was drum & bass. On the other was UK garage. Inspired by the silky swinging sounds of New York and New Jersey garage house, UK DJs began to develop a sped up version that traded four-to-the-floor patterns for an exaggerated two-step. According to Martin James, “The rise of two-step garage came as no surprise to either jungle or drum & bass crews. US garage rooms had long been an element of the jungle rave, and many respected producers could be found enjoying the slow jams.” However, some saw the new style as a threat to D&B’s status as the UK’s most cutting-edge underground sound. As Fabio recalled in a 2005 interview, “Everyone was like, ‘Drum & bass has died.’ That was the headline for 18 months, and then garage came along — the death knell for drum & bass. That was the biggest kick in the teeth for us, ever.” 

At the same time, other innovative scenes were spinning off from the blueprint of drum & bass, including a new style of dance music called broken beat. Led by Dego and Marc Mac, broken beat reframed the jazzier elements of drum & bass against a slower, lopsided shuffle. It also attracted singers and players with serious chops, giving rise to a 21st-century style of jazz fusion closely connected to today’s UK jazz vanguard.

With its intrepid sampling and occasionally disorienting rapidfire beats, drum & bass also proved a fertile source of inspiration for a number of experimental musicians associated with labels like Rephlex and often grouped under the term “intelligent dance music,” or IDM. In addition to “Come to Daddy,” Aphex Twin’s 1997 horror-rock hybrid, artists including Luke Vibert, Squarepusher and µ-Ziq all incorporated twisted breaks into their work. Down the line, producers like Venetian Snares would inject the dissonance and intensity of noise music to spark a supercharged subgenre called breakcore.

Despite new and competing styles, drum & bass continued to break ground in its own right, solidifying the fanbase that would see it through the next decade. In 1999, a new club called fabric opened its doors in central London, offering the drum & bass community a home that still reactivates on Friday nights to this day. Furthermore, the club’s FABRICLIVE mix series provided one of the most prestigious platforms for drum & bass DJs.

That same year, Kemistry & Storm dropped an era-defining mix for another celebrated mix series, !K7’s DJ-Kicks. Delivering a tight selection of mechanical techstep and jazzed-up future funk, the pair captured the creative vitality of drum & bass at one of its highest points. But sadly, tragedy was around the corner, and just a few months after the release of her landmark mix, Kemistry’s life was cut short by a freak accident on the way home from a gig. Although Storm did her best to carry on Kemistry’s spirit and taste through her solo sets, the untimely loss of one of the scene’s most influential architects was a devastating blow to the drum & bass community. 

Andy C

The 2000s

Although some of its audience and artists moved onto other genres, drum & bass had established a strong following that remained dedicated even when their scene wasn’t in the limelight. During the next decade, veterans like Andy C and Shy FX continued to exert their influence as headliner DJs and tastemaking label owners. But there were new names and new developments too, leading to a period of maturation that saw drum & bass expand its global influence, refine its sound, and cement itself as a pillar of dance music alongside house and techno.

While the ’90s junglists pushed production technology to the brink, they were still operating with one foot in the analog world, using Akai S950s and other rackmount samplers to process their sounds while sequencing them on vertically scrolling software applications called trackers. One of the most widely used trackers was OctaMED, which ran on the Commodore Amiga PC and allowed producers to manipulate multiple parameters over eight channels of audio, opening the door to the frenetic style of drum editing employed by producers such as Bizzy B on “Bad Boy Sound” and other hallmarks of jungle’s roughneck intensity. By the early 2000s, however, beat slicing software like ReCycle had become much more powerful, and digital audio workstations (DAWs) like Acid Pro and Fruity Loops were providing purely digital workspaces that catered especially to electronic musicians. 

While drum & bass stayed true to many of its conventions, continuing to include live MCs and dub-influenced DJ moves like the rewind, there were also changes in taste that separated the scene’s second wave from what came before. In the late ’90s, many producers were building their tracks around two-step rhythms, and by the 2000s, the vast majority of artists had traded hyperactive edits of the Amen Break for rolling beats inspired by Alex Reece’s 1996 smash “Pulp Fiction.” As the percussive chaos gave way to a more hypnotic groove, the music also got faster, with tempos of 170 beats per minute and above becoming the norm. In comparison to the radical experimentation of the ’90s, the music took on a more cohesive sound. But to those invested in the scene, the styles and subgenres were as varied as ever.

Guiding the industrial aesthetics of techstep into a new iteration as neurofunk, Ed Rush & Optical’s tracks continued to set trends. On 2002’s “Pacman (RAM Trilogy Remix),” the duo helped define the emerging neurofunk sound by replacing the pressurized subbass of jungle with snarling midrange that evoked the aggression of heavy metal and industrial rock. As they continued to hone their dystopian soundtracks with material like 2009’s “City 17,” Ed Rush & Optical helped neurofunk become one of the strongest subgenres in drum & bass, paving the way for successful Dutch acts Noisia and Black Sun Empire. The early 2000s also saw the beginnings of Pendulum, the popular Australian act that earned acclaim by combining drum & bass with rock instrumentation.

As neurofunk became increasingly abrasive, LTJ Bukem was busy tracing a throughline from the “intelligent” jungle he’d helped develop in the ’90s to an updated sound that made use of the now ubiquitous two-step. As prolific as ever, Good Looking Records launched into the new millennium with a surge of singles that included PFM’s “Summer Boy,” Seba’s “Soul 2000” and Nookie’s “Levitation,” along with compilations and mix CDs to showcase the polished symphonic work coming from its stable of artists.

Meanwhile Speed, the club founded by Fabio and LTJ Bukem back in ’95, morphed into a new night called Swerve, where Fabio and residents such as DJ Flight championed a new style called “liquid funk.” Already associated with the ethereal sounds of Big Bud’s “Temptation” and Intense’s “Breathless,” Fabio’s Creative Source label became a home for liquid, helping propel the subgenre to prominence. On a 2000 mix CD entitled Liquid Funk, Fabio sketched out a blueprint for the liquid sound with loose jazzy textures and swift beats.

As Fabio layed the groundwork, liquid began to attract a cast of new talent. Although Manchester’s Marcus Intalex (1971 – 2017) had been producing since 1994, his early 2000s output — both solo and alongside S.T. Files with their duo M.I.S.T. — proved much more influential. Mixing driving basslines and infectious hooks into his own unmistakable style on tunes like “Temperance” and “Lover,” Intalex also operated the powerhouse label Soul:r.

It was also during those early days of liquid when an Irish producer named Dominick Martin came onto the scene as Calibre. After Landing his songs “Mystic” and “Feelin” on a 2000 12-inch for Creative Source, Calibre helped take sample-based drum & bass into the new millennium with agile two-step rhythms and laidback nostalgia sourced from funk, soul and reggae records. While on the path to founding Signature Records and becoming one of the most esteemed names in the genre, Calibre signed with Soul:r for solo tracks such as “Interphaze” as well collaborative efforts including “Spiritual Thing,” which he produced alongside Intalex and S.T. Files under the name Mist:i:cal

As Soul:r’s catalog grew, the label took on a signature style that shone clearly across its roster, and in 2003, Intalex dropped Soul:ution Volume 1, a mix showcasing the Soul:r sound with classic cuts including “3am” from High Contrast and M.I.S.T., “It’s on the Way” by D. Kay” and Calibre’s “It’s….” Soul:r also became an important outlet for Brazilian artists XRS and DJ Marky, who contributed a song called “Real Good” as well as two collaborations with M.I.S.T. called “Sunshine (Touch Me)” and “Back to Love.” 

Tony Colman and Chris Goss had originally founded Hospital Records in 1996 to support their London Elektricity project, an ambitious fusion of live jazz and drum & bass exemplified by 2002’s Pull the Plug LP. But as liquid funk began to swell, Hospital came into its own as a platform for breezy drum & bass with a pronounced pop sensibility. Building a following with 2000s hits including High Contrast’s “Racing Green,” Danny Byrd’s “Changes” and Nu:Tone’s “Millie’s Theme,” the label soon became one of the best-known institutions in drum & bass. In 2006, Hospital further cemented its status as a tastemaker with the release of two tracks on its Med School sublabel by Carlos Barbosa de Lima Junior, a Brazilian producer who called himself S.P.Y. The dark and dubby tracks named “Black Flag” and “Double Dragon” were among S.P.Y.’s earliest, but within a few years he would be one of the biggest names in drum & bass.

The mid-2000s also marked the debut of another future headliner, Alix Perez. With several singles already under his belt, the Belgian artist began rising through the scene with 2007’s “Down the Line,” a track that took the bouncing beat of liquid to an introspective place, shrouded in a haze of minor chord stabs and soft-lit vocals. Commix, although already an established artist, evoked a similar aesthetic on “Be True,” a Metalheadz smash from the same year. Together, the two successful songs helped popularize a moodier strain of drum & bass that would continue through the next decade.

Alix Perez

Marcus Intalex

dBridge

While the divergent styles of neuro and liquid formed the two most visible pillars of post millennium drum & bass, there were other artists and labels operating in the middle of that dichotomy, if not entirely outside of it. Jason Greenhalgh and Paul Smith, who had already been active as Total Science for a number of years, updated their sound with elements from across the spectrum of electronic music, creating a kind of turbo-powered techno funk exemplified by 2000’s “Make Me Feel” and many more releases on their label, Computer Integrated Audio (C.I.A.). Likewise, Darren White was already a seasoned producer, both as dBridge and a member of Bad Company. But with tracks such as “True Romance,” dBridge emerged in the early 2000s as the architect of a signature sound that could be aggressive and uplifting at the same time.

Newer names also pushed boundaries, including Charlie Bierman, producing as Break. Although Bierman’s distinguished career was still in its early stages when he and David Pearson, known as Hydro, released “Breathless” in 2004, the psychedelic composition showed the sonic richness that was possible within drum & bass. Meanwhile, party-starting anthems such as DJ Hazard’s “Mr. Happy” demonstrated that there was still an appetite for jump-up, one of the scene’s longest-running subgenres. 

In general, the 2000s saw drum & bass stripped down into ultra-efficient grooves. However, certain artists and labels continued to push the boundaries of breakbeat manipulation. On early releases as Serum such as “Computerised,” released on Ray Keith’s Dread Recordings in 2006, Mark Gaunt revived the raw and rugged snare rolls of mid-’90s jungle. Other tracks like “From Above,” produced by Equinox for Bassbin Recordings and Breakage’s “4Me,” which came out on Critical Music, demonstrated the new possibilities enabled by chopping breaks with digital precision. Among the labels that embraced busy percussion in the ’00s, Critical grew into a particularly important outlet. Under the care of DJ and producer Kasra Mowlavi, who founded the label in 2002, Critical has released hundreds of records and remains active today.

When it comes to 21st century breakbeat science, though, few names ring as loud as Dev Pandya or his aliases, Alaska and Paradox. After entering the scene in the late ’90s with junglist odysseys such as “The Vortex,” Pandya spent the next decade creating increasingly detailed work. With tracks like 2002’s claustrophobic “I Get a Kickback,” he eventually helped to define a new subgenre known as drumfunk, which aspired to take the head-spinning rhythmic complexity of artists like Photek and Source Direct even further. As drumfunk attracted a small but talented cadre of producers, a label called Scientific Wax became one of its premier outlets. Scientific Wax remains active today, continuing to release records by label head Equinox and a roster of regulars that includes B-Key, Dub-One and Nebula.

Sub Focus & Wilkinson 

The 2010s — The Present

By the beginning of the 2010s, the world of electronic music had undergone seismic shifts. Dubstep had grown from a contingent of South London low end fanatics to a cornerstone of stateside EDM with a shiny Americanized sound. Meanwhile the late DJ Rashad and his Teklife crew were expanding their influence beyond the limits of Chicago and turning underground scenes across the globe onto a new uptempo dance sound that absorbed the spiritual influence of jungle and channeled it in radical new directions. Underpinning both movements was a near total embrace of digital production, from digital audio workstations like Ableton, Logic and FL Studio to powerful software synths like Massive. A new generation native to the digital era was also coming of age.

Drum & bass’s commercial wave may have crashed, but thanks to a dedicated underground following, the scene pressed on. After rising to notoriety in the previous decade, S.P.Y. returned to Hospital Records for a 2012 LP called What the Future Holds. Alix Perez also achieved a new level of artistic maturity with 2013’s Chroma Chords, a full-length release for Shogun Audio that drew inspiration from other areas of electronic music. Soon after, Perez formed his own label, 1985 Music, and began putting out deep rippling cuts form new-school producers, such as Monty’s “Hypnotize.”

Dutch artists Noisia and Black Sun Empire also incorporated influences from outside drum & bass to make albums that cemented their status as two of the genre’s most popular acts. With Noisia’s Split the Atom — and its lead single “Machine Gun” — the trio crossed neurofunk with maximalist EDM and electro house, while “The 405” from Black Sun Empire’s Lights and Wires traded the trance influence of earlier material like “Arrakis” for the rhythms and textures of dubstep. Other producers earned notoriety with big and abrasive sounds. Mefjus for example, took his signature brand of neurofunk to Critical Recordings for releases like “Signalz and the acclaimed album Emulation. Sub Focus and Dimension on the other hand, found major label success by fusing drum & bass with chart-topping pop for their 2018 song “Desire.” A couple of years later, soaring vocal tunes including “Friends” by Mollie Collins and Emily Makis and “Back in Time” by Kanine and A Little More would help carry anthemic vocal drum & bass into the 2020s.

While some segments of the scene focused on bright and bold synth tones, others pockets took cues from the speaker-rattling low end of the UK’s early dubstep scene. With his tune “Wonder Where,” as well as SpectraSoul’s “Melodies” and other contemporaneous tracks released on his label, Exit Records, dBridge invoked the haunting textures of Burial. The result was a bridge between the downcast D&B of late ’00s tracks like Alix Perez’s “Melanie” and a new style of drum & bass informed by the murky garage mutations of the South London scene. In 2011, Manchester artist Dub Phizix epitomized dubstep-influenced D&B with “Out There,” a tune that seamlessly merged the crisp rim shots and lurching beats of early dubstep tracks like El-B and Juice Man’s “Buck & Bury” with the quicker tempos of drum & bass. That same year, Rockwell’s Aria EP took the crossover concept even further by featuring a collaboration with dubstep heavyweight Untold

The creative cross-pollination of the early 2010s produced other styles as well, including halftime. While it also incorporates the influence of dubstep, halftime adds additional elements from footwork and trap, rearranging the rhythmic accents of drum & bass to achieve a hip hop feel. Soon after stepping onto the scene with 2013’s “Freezy,” a potent mixture of frenzied breaks and languid grooves, Sam Binga captured the halftime sound over a series of collaborations with Om Unit as well as a 2015 LP called Wasted Days. MC and producer Chimpo, in addition to working with Binga on several records, brought his earlier experience in dubstep and grime to drum & bass, mapping out new intersections between the UK scenes with songs like “Hard Food,” produced with Fracture for Metalheadz.

As EDM took the US by storm in the mid 2010s, dance music was poised to rule the world. But eventually, the bubble burst, giving stray ravers a glimpse of the underground and eventually fueling the rise of lofi house alongside YouTube’s star-making algorithms. Then, in 2016, the harsh realities of Brexit, the U.S. presidential election, the Pulse nightclub shooting and the Ghostship fire rattled the dance music community. In the aftermath, audiences seemed to drift away from sunny house and disco edits in search of harder and faster styles. As tracks like “Boost the Whip” by US producer Person Of Interest ushered hardcore breaks back into house music, it became in vogue for techno and house DJs to close down their Boiler Room sets with one or two vintage jungle tunes. Meanwhile, in other corners of the internet, a full-on jungle revival had already taken shape.

While jungle’s first wave and the industry that supported it were concentrated heavily in the UK and especially in London, today’s jungle revival is closer to a global network of artists and fans who follow the scene via YouTube channels and Facebook groups. At the same time, London club nights like Distant Planet and Rupture, a long-running drum & bass night founded by Mantra and Double O, have played an important role in carving out space for artists to explore new conceptions of jungle — especially ones influenced by the short-lived golden era that lasted from ’93 to ’95 — and cultivate an intergenerational following that spans from Gen X to Gen Z.

As the allure of jungle draws fresh audiences and artists alike, there are also new efforts to address the scene’s historical shortcomings in providing opportunities for all of its diverse participants. With their organization EQ50, Mantra, DJ Flight, Sweetpea, MC Chickaboo, Alley Cat and Jenna G are advocating for more equitable gender representation in the scene, and working to open doors for underrepresented groups with workshops, mentoring and other initiatives. In 2020, Chris Inperspective of Inperspective Records launched the Black Junglist Alliance after struggling during his involvement with Hospital Records to convince the label to include more Black artists. Since then, the organization has worked to build and maintain racial diversity while uplifting the foundations of jungle and drum & bass as forms of Black music developed by Black artists.

For producers like Kid Lib, who heads the celebrated Green Bay Wax label and makes retro tunes like “On My Mind,” contemporary jungle stays close to its roots, with a focus on using authentic gear and production techniques from the ’90s and pressing new music on vinyl. But for others, jungle can come just as authentically out of a laptop, and can even incorporate samples and influences that didn’t exist in the genre’s original heyday.

Tim Reaper is one artist who takes advantage of digital technology, relying almost exclusively on software to make some of the scene’s most sought-after tracks. In addition to helping define the sound of modern jungle with his Future Retro label and tracks like 2017’s “Give Me More,” the young Londoner’s DJ mixes are turning a new generation onto the sound. Reaper was also tapped to remix a total of four tracks from Special Request’s Zero Fucks album, further cementing the 2019 release as a hallmark of modern jungle.

While some are getting into jungle for the first time, others made their way to the modern scene by way of drum & bass. As Dead Man’s Chest, Alex Eveson produces hard-hitting jungle tunes like “High Noon in Cotham” while running his own label, Western Lore. But before his attention turned to jungle, he was operating as Eveson, producing ethereal drum & bass cuts like “Tempest” and “Grey Dawn,” a 2014 collaboration with Halogenix. Coco Bryce, another major player in the modern jungle scene, came up in the Netherlands, DJing gabber and hardcore throughout the ’90s before shifting into downtempo. But Bryce is probably best known for his more recent work — tunes such as “Come 2 U,” “Gunna” and “Ma Bae Be Love” that blend blistering jungle beats with catchy hooks.

Tim Reaper

Sherelle

The original jungle and drum & bass scenes may have had social splits along the lines of style and nomenclature, but you wouldn’t know it with today’s jungle revival, where elements of ragga, atmospheric jungle and hardcore mix freely in the latest DJ sets and releases. When it comes to the DJs playing jungle today, the free association of styles goes beyond the boundaries of drum & bass, and it’s producing exciting results. Alongside her crew, the 6 Figure Gang, London DJ Sherelle spins the sounds of footwork, jungle, halftime and more into a seamless blend of uptempo club styles that stretches from the ’90s to today. And in the U.S., Juke Bounce Werk is bringing footwork into conversation with its junglist influences. Founded by Jae Drago and DJ Noir — a stateside drum & bass fixture herself — Juke Bounce Werk began as an outpost for Chicago footwork in Los Angeles and grew into an international collective of DJs and producers. Through DJ sets and cutting-edge compilations, Juke Bounce Werk brings jungle side by side with footwork and other contemporary club styles, showcasing shared musical DNA with a genre-fluid ethos.

Jungle may have injected a surge of colorful energy into the scene, but there are still those in drum & bass who prefer their beats minimal and dark. While Total Science and War’s “What Now?” and Breakage’s “Liff Up” showed the D&B veterans adopting muscular dubwise sounds, Ill Truth’s “Signing Out,” a 2019 track for DLR’s Sofa Sound Bristol label, saw the younger duo sculpting a lean style of their. Other artists on the same page include Bou, who brought skanking rhythms and oversize effects to Serum’s Souped Up Records with 2018’s “Mankind” and Simula, whose 2020 track “Run This Place” experimented with ultra-sparse arrangements. A young Dutch producer called Waeys has also been exploring the murky bottom of the frequency spectrum, with recent tunes like “Mapper” and “Reach Out,” landing on Overview Music and the Rotterdam label DIVIDID. Offering a similarly stripped down yet somewhat more melodic sound are Klinical, whose 2020 EP Violet also came out on Overview, and Charli Brix, who teamed up with Visages, Phaction, QZB and Data 3 to create the smokey ambience of Kintsugi, her 2019 EP for Flexout Audio.

Interest in jungle and drum & bass seems to be growing at the moment, but these sounds have long been indispensable parts of electronic dance music that have maintained their own distinct identities, dedicated communities and unique conceptions of club culture. Yet, even with their storied histories of influence and innovation, their enduring places on stages and in clubs around the world and their brushes with mainstream notoriety, jungle and drum & bass have remained decidedly underground. As pop culture shifts and accelerates around it, drum & bass continues to forge its own path according to its own culture and the efforts of the artists, labels and fans who keep it alive 

Read Beatport’s Definitive History of Techno here.

Read Beatport’s Definitive History of House here.

Check out Beatport’s Definitive History of Drum & Bass playlist below.


Joe Rihn is a freelance journalist living in Los Angeles. Find him on Twitter.



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