Brian Belle-Fortune looks at what’s been happening in the world of drum & bass since All Crews was published in 2004.
I’m strolling up Tottenham High Road. A Merc pulls alongside. Smoked black window scrolls down. Pendulum reverberates. Colin Steven from Knowledge Magazine beckons. “Alright B.” We chat and catch up. Then comes the question. “It’s a couple of years since All Crews came out. People wanna know what’s been happening since ‘04.” “Apart from me ‘n’ Kate getting married?” “Fancy writing an update? Here…” Throwing me the keys to the company car. “Take the ride. Hit the road. See what’s gwannin’.”
You’ll be shocked to know that Knowledge’s budget doesn’t run to a company Mercedes. So Colin just e-mailed me. But you get the metaphor. And I’m always up for travelling through Our music; meeting All Crews.
The road’s familiar. But the land is always changing. What’s new with the music, clubs, DJs, pirates, producers and on the streets? Who’s on the up? What’s going on back stage? Which tune will people always remember? And are there still global unknown soldiers ruffin’ it out for the love of Jungle Drum & Bass?
A TALE OF TWO NIGHTS
Fabric Friday night. Pendulum are inside. Outside the queue’s around the block. Big beefy bouncers greet us. “Yeah. Jho Oakley’s guest list.” Stairs are filled with tiers of ravers sitting, hugging, chatting. Beyond double doors, it’s rammo in the main room. Feet are stomping, hands reach up into cascading purple haze. Pendulum’s digital rasping guitars cause a frenzy outside that caged DJ box. No wristband. No entry. Up next is Annie Mac. They chant, ‘Tarantula’, moshing in room one. Hype’s rinsin’ room two. And bodies wallow horizontally in the chill-out space between the two. Room three’s across the bridge. The intimate club within a club’s heaving. Beneath the bridge, above the musical melee, mobile screens float through the throng. Lasers bounce off chrome. Fingertips tease apart scraps of Rizla. “Got any water?” Feels like Freshers week. Smells like teen spirit. It is Fabriclive.
Herbal Friday night. Shy FX the Digital Sound Boy is inside. Outside the queue’s manageable. Big beefy bouncers greet us. “Yeah. Jo’s guest list.” She appears at the door. “Alright B. You’re late.” It’s rammo in the main room. Vibes are supercharged. Industry headz appear and dissolve in the throng. Inside the DJ box – no wristband necessary, Roni Size packs away his laptop. Breakage spins tunes. Navi’s voice syncopates. Shy circulates. Tie-dye T-shirts hug multicultural bodies rebounding in heavy b-lines. Speakers bear down on the groove corner. Loki raps, “All crew muss big up.” And Bryan Gee pours champagne. Heads, shoulders, minds all grooving. Two bredahs one dreaded, one shaven move their limbs dancing Wu Tang stylee. Opposite the DJ box, Breakage’s afro covered head floats in the flat screen above all our heads. The air’s Herbal. And Bryan Gee pours champagne.
Pendulum blew up as All Crews was going to press. They’ve been riding high ever since. Crissy Criss: “There’s definitely a change in the music with people like Pendulum changing the sound. They do techy, commercial, rocky, jump-up; all combined into one track – pretty amazing. Producers are upping their game. G Dub have blossomed. Flight’s championed many, many producers whose turn it is to shine; notably Marcus Intalex, D Bridge, Amit, Logistics and the whole Cambridge posse.
Chatting with L Double: “Production is on fire. Producers are getting to understand the whole computer thing. When it all kicked off it was all musical equipment. But now it’s all soft sims and soft samplers. A lot more music manufacturers are getting on board making software versions. There’s a lot more access to equipment nowadays. New producers coming in are like, “Raas! This music’s difficult.” It’s not just that we’re fussy. But we’re getting so much well made music, that you got to come with something good to get in that record box.”
On the downside, there have been complaints about producers making beats using clichéd sounds that they think will sell. Origin’s DJ Massacre appreciates hearing tunes by producers who love music, rather than those who try cashing in on the latest catchy sounds. “Twisted Individual made that ‘waw, waw’ sound and everybody jumped on the bandwagon. I don’t know if it’s more about money nowadays. Flight agrees: “There was a phase where I was getting so many samey tunes of the liquid variety. It was almost like ‘liquid by numbers’, but the music’s got much more interesting over the last 12-18 months.”
Jho Oakely of the Echo Location agency agrees. “I don’t know how anyone can describe the music as ‘same-y’. There’s so much of it and it’s so different. You can get tunes that sound like Pendulum or Sub Focus but that’s just kids being inspired. In that process of making tunes they’re learning. Perhaps too much makes it onto vinyl. Some should stay as ideas or DJ tools.” True. Fresh produces a ton of tunes that he’s not releasing. He’s not satisfied they’re ready. One of the most original and biggest tunes around has been TC’s & Jakes’ ‘Deep’ with its quirky Ian Dury-esque vocals. Promoting ‘Deep’ Jho’s press release read: “If you don’t get it, play it again”. On Radio One Fabio & Rider did. Annie Mac and Zane Lowe caned it.
Bailey 1Xtra: “Never let it be said that we don’t rep for the freshest unsigned talent.”
The strength of new producers around the UK was demonstrated when Bailey arrived for his live 1Xtra slot without a single tune announcing, “This week’s show is going to be driven entirely by MP3s that you e-mail us.” This gutsy, never attempted before move was like watching someone walk a tightrope – without a net. Within minutes the studio’s inundated. Undercover Element’s ‘Frontline Pill’ and Anger Management & Chef’s ‘Devil’s Time’ was the kind of track with no end of interesting twists, turns and surprises. Listening to ‘Frontline’ and ‘Devils’ on headphones in the genteel surroundings of the British Library, it took much self-control not to brock out in the aisles. DJ Massacre introduced a new producers slot similar to 1Xtra’s. He rolled the tunes. The studio mobile went crazy. I texted, ‘Someone sign this guy immediately.’ Meanwhile, on Radio One Groove’s drowning in music from unsigned artists, imploring, “We’ve got to do something… something… with all these artists.” Thankfully L Double’s Cuttin’ Room slot has morphed into 1Xtra’s free DnB Download section. It’s become an arena for new artists to be heard and signed.
For ten years Hospital Records has continued nurturing a growing stream of international artists. And they’ve just launched the Med School imprint showcasing the deeper, techy, more experimental sounds coming from the likes of Brazilian genius SPY and Polish sorcerer CLS. Their former ‘newcomer’ High Contrast is topping the D&B chart with his remix of ‘Gold Digger’. Labels can’t afford to ignore the new blood.
The spectrum that is D&B has become strong in all its facets or has withered. Edits have been described as, “music designed to entertain the D&B Intelligentsia.” It’s a problem if tunes don’t sell in quantities or fill clubs. Flight mused, “Perhaps it’s been taken as far as it can go in terms of complexity before it stops being music. But there’s always some on the margins of the scene.” Clownstep with its tougher b-lines is criticised for its boring-one-drop-roll-out-no-interesting-surprises predictability. Not feelin” it.
At the other end of the spectrum… I tuned into Bailey’s show and “The Horror.” Felt it too much. Texted in, ‘OMG meat ‘n’ cleaver biznizz!’ Just like Dylan’s notorious bloody Knowledge photo-shoot. Watched The Shining to calm down.
Jungle’s back – rough ‘n’ ready with rootsy reggae samples, its popularity has grown. Praise to Benny Page and Shy FX. The sound’s evolved. B-line’s are tougher. The mix-downs are finessed. That also goes for those classic remixed and re-released tunes. Raise a lighter to Utah Jazz’s ‘It’s A Big Up Thing’ remix. We’ve welcomed productions featuring vocals, with a serious contribution from Jenna G’s album ‘For Lost Friends’. Black Market’s, Miss Pink asserts, “Vocals are good for business. They make tracks recognisable and able to cross over.”
There’s a new sound out there. It’s faster, bleepier and not so heavy on the b-line; like Pink Floyd’s track ‘On The Run”. It hasn’t been named yet but it will be.
As All Crews went to press, Tracey closed Ton Promotions. Caroline’s agency Unique also closed. ESP International has clocked up ten years. And a seismic shift in the artist management landscape was caused by the arrival of Echo Location. Jho Oakely’s familiar from Breakbeat Kaos and Dogs on Acid. Obi Asika had been promoting events in Leeds. Both spotted a gap in the market. “Obi heard DJs complaining. I heard complaints from where I was. So many were saying, “I get my information last minute. I don’t know where I’m going.” They could be going to Russia that month and not even know it.” We started with all systems in place. We’re on-line 365 days a year, 24/7. Artists can check their diaries, download itineraries and check flight details.” Signing Grooverider was a major coup. “When the godfather’s saying, “These guys are alright.” That’s Massive.”
Mampi Swift joined up. His diary filled and others – Pendulum, Bad Company, Blame, Chase & Status, GQ, Dieselboy, Lemon D, Dillinja, IC3, Friction, Hazard, Sub Focus, TC, Noisia followed. Jho also has a handle on the promotion side. “Promoting artists’ tunes or raising their profile’s by booking a magazine spread, getting them featured by Anne Mac or Zane Lowe – whatever it takes. No other agency was doing that. Obi dots the Is and crosses the Ts That’s what you need to survive.”
The standard of DJing has risen again or has it? You hardly hear anyone clang. L Double’s not surprised. “You’ve been mixing so long, you ain’t supposed to be clangin’. But there used to be a vibe where that was cool. Down AWOL, Randall would slide out his Quartz-locked-self and you’d be with him until he locked back in. And you’d big him up for bringing it back in. Certain DJs can be too anal asking, “Was it Quartz locked?” But I’m askin’, “Was there a good vibe in the club?” I think the quality is higher. People genuinely say to me, “D&B DJs mix really, really well.” Whether that translates into a good vibe is up for debate.”
1Xtra were inundated with mixes from DJs trying to win a slot to play at Innovation in Spain. “We had hundreds upon hundreds of CDs. I got my batch own to 25. They were all good of a technical standard but that 25 were not that different from each other. Whether that’s their access to tunes? I don’t know. But I pride myself on sounding different.”
More DJs like Hype, Friction, Andy C, Mampi Swift are mixing on three decks. That’s three tunes in the mix, triple dropping. That’s not having a third tune ready to roll as tune two fades out. Massacre commented, “After you’ve done an hour of three deck mixing, you wonder how you ever had a problem mixing two records.”
Out partying, you can fall into that groove where all the music is good but somehow washes over you. But every so often you hear a set that re-kindles that first love you felt for jungle. Three sets and two DJs stand out. Shy spinning at late summer’s Traffic was amazing. I sat listening to every dub-wise note. Had to stop people speaking to me and wrenching my head out the miasma of beats. Bailey played last set, on the final night of 1Xtra’s Xtra Bass tour. In the Bristol venue dubbed ‘Mash-dem-court’ he went deep. So deep.
After the set we ran to see if the BBC’s tapes were rolling. “Sorry.” “Gutted.” Then Bailey’s at his birthday party at Herbal. Everyone turned up, even the Inta Natty crew. Bailey’s on the decks. GQ’s on the mic. “New or Old Skool?” “Old Skoooool.” Let There Be Mayhem. Screams, lighters, foot stomping, sweat streaked, wall banging mayhem. Goldie’s jumping up and down in the box shouting, “Bailey’s my boy.” Sets end GQ’s goin’, “That was the best fuckin’ set of the whole goddam year.” Which nobody can deny…
THE CD THING
Bailey admitted that his record box was no longer full of dubplates. They’ve been replaced by CDs. DJ booths are fitted with Pioneer decks as standard. You can manipulate their turntables as you would a Technics deck. Not everyone likes them. Colorado’s Miss DJ Jackalope has been DJing and touring for ten years. “The scene is changing. Tunes are all on CD now anyway. But DJing is losing the sexy tactile edge that it’s had its whole life. The upside is that music’s more accessible to anyone. Drum & bass will continue to live and thrive.” But CDs were blamed for making music sound brittle; which wasn’t to many people’s liking. So some producers are replacing CDs with phatter sounding MP3s.
ONE STEP BACK, TWO STEPS FORWARD
Vinyl won’t to go quietly. Vestax produced the VRX 2000 ‘Vinyl creation station.’ It’s a snip at £8,500 – with a half days training thrown in.
But the heavyweights are Lemon D and Dillinja who’ve bought and brought to life a precious VMS 70 George Neumann dubplate cutting lathe. They’re mastering under the company name Ear 2 The Ground. Flight commented, “It’s wicked having Dillinja’s touch on the final cut.”
POINT OF SALE
Jho Oakley: “I absolutely love record shops. I think they’re the coolest places on the planet.”
The growth of music piracy is global. A reporter on the BBC World Service describes how it affects even a small African country like Malawi, whose artists’ music makes a large contribution to its economy. “If they don’t get paid, they can’t make music.”
Crissy Criss feels piracy’s double-edged sword. “People are losing money. MP3s get lost on someone’s computer; finds its way onto the Internet and people download it. When people got my track I was like, “Na. What ya doin’?” But obviously it means they’re downloading it ‘cause they like your music.”
Boogie Times in Romford has closed. Black Market, sorry BM Soho, are still up, fighting, but struggling through difficult times.
The ground floor House department is feeling the pinch, as their scene is dominated by the CD culture. Copyright problems forced Black Market to change its name to BM Soho, though one can be forgiven for still calling them Black Market. Black Market was and is the Mecca. Take care when buying tunes from the website that you go to www.bm-soho.com otherwise your cash might not go to the people you most want it to.
Though there seems to be problems with vinyl sales, Jho disagrees. “I always speak to distributors when I’m doing press for our tunes. And they’re all saying that vinyl sales haven’t gone away. If anything there’s more labels. If you add up all those labels, how different is that overall figure going to be?” He’s not depressed about high street shops’ future. “I absolutely love record shops. I think they’re the coolest places on the planate. On iTunes you don’t get that experience of talking about something you love. The guys [and girls] behind the counters are as obsessive as you are.” But shops have been closing. “It’s a real shame it’s happening but you have to adapt.”
Red Eye and Chemical Records still rule the online roost. Though Juno is also a strong player in the game, with my old Ruud Awakening spar Nikki Dimensions handling business. Online shopping allows you to browse forever without obligation. But a user friendly, constantly up-dated site is essential. Jho praises Tom at Red Eye and Mark at Chemical for their stewardship. “They got it spot on and they’re selling shit loads of vinyl.” Tunes are also flying around AIM and MSM; not to mention the continued growth of peer-to-peer software. Crissy’s wired: “I’m on AIM 24/7. It’s a good way of getting unsigned music. AIM’s really good ‘cause the whole of the Drum & Bass scene’s on there.”
SITES REMAIN HIGH
Whilst the arrival of MySpace and YouTube affords the world and his wife an Internet presence, Dogs On Acid, Drum & Bass Arena and 1Xtra remain an invaluable part of our scene. We’ve had to wave goodbye to The Daddy’s much-loved Big Shout site after it was repeatedly hacked and trashed. Big Shout has evolved into two mini-sites with The BIG Agency becoming the new artists agency. The popularity of all these sites is confirmation that, although our music isn’t in the charts, there are still tens of thousands around the world who love it. Everyone’s falling over themselves to offer downloads, fuelling today’s download frenzy. It’s all about freeness. But this punter would pay a site where you can download that fresh tune you heard last night. And I’d definitely pay to end that trail ‘round the shops hearing, “Sorry mate. Ain’t out yet.”
“Nowadays it’s easier to name the places where UK artists don’t play,” commented Jho. “Taiwan, Dubai, South Africa, Eastern Europe all host British artists. Russia… Russia is ridiculous; absolutely ridiculous.” Friction’s played in China. “Before the gig, the Chinese promoter flew to London and met the boys as a gesture showing how committed they were to drum & bass.”
An e-mail from a Seattle D&B head. “Seattle has a lot to offer. The scene’s been running strong for ten years. It’s always been a four – six night week dose in the city. We’re a frequent destination for top international stars. Local crews like 360bpm and other camps push the music forward constantly. Wanna know about US D&B? You should really know about Seattle.”
L Double remarks, “The States is really mad. There are a lot of people wanting to get into the game. We did 1Xtra in Dallas, New York, Atlanta and LA. LA is big. There are artists all over that whole West coast. You’ve got your boys up in San Fran. Guys in Vancouver; a cat called Gridok in LA, Hive, Echo, Gamet, Devo.” And the clubs… “That Vanguard Club… I was talkin’ to Frost and he was like, [cigar soaked voice] “LA. Vanguard. Runnin.” The sound system B. You’ve never heard anything like it. …eight stacks of Vanguard’s sound system… Some serious, serious business.”
The scene’s still underground in America. Perhaps it’ll take a live act to break through before more people get it. One such group is NYC’s pH10. Their stories typify that of honourable junglists. The dynamic duo Recone Helmut and SyBo T were invited to play a party in the wilds of Colorado. When the road ran out, they lugged their gear for an hour through the wilderness; before setting up and playing a live to a party of hundreds, kicking up clouds of red dust, deep in Colorado’s valleys.
DJs have mentioned The Flex Club in Vienna and its particularly phat sound system. Over in East Berlin, it’s hats off to the Icon. Owners Lars and Pamela renovated this basement club themselves. Fabio: “I’ve got a lotta love for those guys.” Over the years no end of DJs have played there including: Calibre, Bailey, A Guy Called Gerald, I’ve had a few turns myself. Germany continues supporting Jungle Drum & Bass to the max, with Mannheim crowned the nation’s D&B capital. It’s more than worth the price of a flight to rave there.
Germany is Storm’s home from home. She confessed, “After Kemi died, the UK didn’t show me much love. Germany did.”
One thing that has changed in the past two years is Radio One’s commitment to Jungle Drum & Bass. Fabio & Grooverider’s show has been moved forward to midnight. Crissy Criss has been brought on board the ‘In New DJs We Trust’ strand. Annie Mac, Zane Lowe and Mary Anne Hobbs have been caning D&B like never before, introducing new cohorts of people to our music. Even the don Pete Tong plays D&B as part of the ‘In New Music We Trust’ initiative.’
Energy percolates through 1Xtra as L Double and producer Dave King leave the studio. Robbo Ranks bounces in with, “Desert Island disc respext’s what they’s gettin’ tonight.” I chat to Lee outside on a New York style fire escape. Approaching October, it’s still T-shirt weather.
Massive props continue to go out to 1Xtra. Aside from their D&B shows, D&B has enjoyed more day-time air play than ever before. The highlight of the year was 1Xtra Bass’ nationwide wide tour. Never before has so much been owed by so many to so few. OK. Churchill said that about the wartime RAF. But you get the picture. The tour was massive.1Xtra’s DJs and crew including producer Dave King and sidekick Uche travelled the nation’s roads, broadcasting from all corners. I caught the last night at Bristol’s Ashton Court. Ruff. Sometimes you spot little things that allude to something important. I spied senior exec Ray Paul running around the gaff, working hard to the tour’s last gruelling minute. That’s commitment from the top.
Many stalwarts are still doing their thing. Kool and Origin FM broadcasting 24/7; with Rude on from drive time till morning rush hour, plus all weekend. Rude remains a haven who like the music but hate MCs. Along the dial Kool FM broadcasts rawness; even though there’s a lot of new faces on the station, Kool retains that edge, as does Jungle Fever. They’re still putting on parties in London, Brighton, Germany. Kool FM remains a brand name. And unless you’ve been to at least one Jungle Fever, you ain’t a true junglist. One new innovation on the station is 5ive 0’s and Uncle Dug’s hugely popular discussion program, Packed Lunch. Under their Motto: “No chat. More talk,” they cover a range of important life issues with listeners calling or texting in. Switch off BBC News. Switch on Packed Lunch.
Ruud Awakening seems to have left the airways. I ran into one former stable-mate MC Blacka. He’s now on Kool. “And Ruud Awakening?” “I dunno what happened to dem man.” I knew they were in trouble when a finance company called asking if I’d give a good reference for the station manager Syras. I was like, “You wot?! She still owes me money.”
Many legal radio stations are falling over themselves to give away digital radios. Some new cars are fitted with DAB radio as standard. But I’m waiting for a time when your car stereo can access the Internet as Internet stations continue to proliferate.
In spite of the authorities pronouncing that they’re switching off the FM band apparently, that’s impossible. The FM is frequency, like oxygen, is not owned by anyone. It can’t be switched off. Outlets can only stop selling receivers. But who doesn’t own an FM radio? When legal stations go digital, pirates will be able to enjoy the huge expanse vacated on the FM band.
CALL OF THE LIVE
Inside the BBC’s legendary Maida Vale studios, Craggz and Parallel Forces perform an exclusive set for Flight’s show. Rhythmic fingers pluck double bass, rhythm and lead guitar strings. CPF’s Northern Soul boys are on keyboards. Stamina speaks in prose. Deeziem’s voice swirls through ‘Love Insane’. And behind acoustic shielding, the Jungle Drummer, face rigid with concentration, unleashes the drums. Live’s soulfully where it’s at. Check 1Xtra’s site for the video.
Ed Rush, Optical & Matrix are also hitting a stage near you. Epoc with Nick on drums and vocals and Maria on keyboards and vocals have been kicking the bass on their extensive UK tour. Maria: “The tour has been going great. People are really loving the live element and it’s great that musicians like us can be playing and getting work in the same venues / nights as DJs always have done.”
The troubles – fights surfaced briefly but vanished. Crissy Criss also noticed, “There has been a change ‘cause the music’s changed with a change in the people coming out. There’s other people who went off to garage are coming back. With all the reggae/jungle sound coming back, no one’s screw-faced in the corner. It’s a good look.”
L Double: “The vibe is good. But I think people are up for a change. From the e-mails I’ve been getting, they’re saying there’s a lot of sameness. Promoters should experiment a bit more and give the punters or listeners more credit.” Memorable was Drum Club & Offbeat’s Summer boat party steaming up the Thames, with L Double, Craggz, Parallel Forces and Nookie on the decks. System and Fokus were on the mic, but Lady Free stole the night. Nookie played ‘one more tune’ just so we could hear her rinse out one more time.
Many of the same brand name promotions are still attracting people out of their houses to dance into the small hours. Aside from bass camp Grace, Fabio’s Swerve has celebrated its fifth birthday. London’s longest runner is Movement. Traffic remains a favourite but it’s hats off to Hospitality who consistently fill Heaven several times a year.
On the downside is the alleged feud between London’s premier league clubs Fabric and Ministry of Sound. It’s been said that artists had to choose between playing at one club or the other. Incredible. Trying to get to the bottom of things, I asked Jho, “Know anything about that bizness between Ministry and Fabric?” “Yeah. I know everything about it. But I’m not saying a word.” Whatever is or was going on, it needs to stop. This town is big enough for both of you. But our scene isn’t big enough for this kind of musical segregation.
Celebrating positivity, a massive Big Up to Shy FX & T Power for paying for the Digital Sound Boy nights down at Herbal. The crowd screamed its gratitude. Thanking Shy in the VIP lounge, he smiles softly saying, “Well you’ve got to do these things for the scene.”
Unlicensed raves are still alive and well, though the police are taking more of an interest. On the wider scene, it’s a poor festival that doesn’t feature a Drum & Bass tent. It has been said that D&B saved the festivals. Whatever’s the truth, festivals play their part in spreading Jungle worldwide. In summer ’06 I checked Germany’s Fusion Festival held on a disused airfield, once home to Soviet’s jet fighters. Now silhouettes bounced inside hangers empty of death stars, full of killa hertz.
Producers are engineering out harmful frequencies. You can go out to many places without your ears ringing afterwards. Though earplugs are still advisable, you can still feel the bass. Big up the promoter who staged the Deaf Jam rave for ‘audibly challenged’ punters.
At one time I’d note which ads or trailers used D&B. Nowadays whether it’s cars, shampoo, mortgages, BBC, Sky TV, video games, Hollywood; they’ve all used of D&B to sell their wares. Well actually, Hollywood could do better. You’ll see some mad sci-fi fight scene and the only thing moving slowly is the music. Hollywood – take the red pill.
There are so many reasons to be positive about the development of Jungle Drum & Bass in the past two years since All Crews hit the streets. We’ve raised our profile whilst remaining authentically underground. The downside… There’s just not that much money around. But people who didn’t know about Jungle Drum & Bass before, know about it now. Events like the MOBOs which include a category for ‘Best Ringtone’ but none for D&B, says more about them, than it does about us. In a moment of self-criticism, we as a scene could work on a more open image; so says a research study conducted by photographer Boris Austin. But that’s a whole other story.
There’s so much more out there Colin but there’s a danger of just writing long lists of names. But between Herbal and Fabric via the rest of the world; that’s some healthy Jungle Drum & Bass spectrum.
“Back to write some more?” “I dunno. Kate ‘n’ I are expectin’ a Christmas baby. But you know what I say about Jungle? ‘You can check out any time you like but you can never leave’.”