Beats Past, Beats Future: A Drum 'n' Bass Primer

THE AMERICAN PRESS has generally (and predictably) touted the least club-oriented elements of drum 'n' bass, lauding the living-room-friendly (Spring Heel Jack), the experimental (Squarepusher), and the occasional jungle-pop crossover (Everything But the Girl's Walking Wounded). All good stuff, but at the scene's real heart pounds a beat intended to move a crowd. Below are some of jungle's greatest dance-floor moments you may have missed. Rewind, selector...

 

History of Our World Part 1: Breakbeat & Jungle Ultramix by DJ DB (Profile, 1994), History Part 2: The Rough and the Smooth (Smile, 1996) and DJ DB Presents Shades of Technology (F-111/Higher Education, 1999)

Programmed and mixed by London-born, New York-based DJ DB, these fascinating collections chart the music's evolution from breakbeat house to raggafied, sped-up hip hop, to the industrial-edged mutations currently running t'ings. Individually, they stand as three of the decade's finest albums. Start here.

 

Speed Limit 140 BPM Plus 3: The Joint (Moonshine, 1993)

A year in the life of two of the genre's greatest labels, Movin' Shadow and Suburban Base, a period when both were tossing out great records like seeds from a cotton gin. Includes three of jungle's all-time-high watermarks: Omni Trio's spellbinding "Mystic Stepper," Foul Play's delirious "Open Your Mind," and Krome and Time's jubilant "The Slammer."

 

LTJ Bukem: "Music"/"Atlantis (I Need You)" (Good Looking, 1993)

Bukem's oceanic softcore sure did smooth the way for a wave of ill tidings from weak-pulsed trend-surfers, but this killer 12-inch strikes a perfect balance between rolling-thunder breaks and beatific calm.

 

Here Come the Drums: Hip-Hop Drum 'n' Bass (Caipirinha, 1997)

Loud, careening, and exuberant, this top-flight compendium traces jungle's rap DNA through 13 classics, including Doc Scott's murderous "Here Come the Drumz," Roni Size's melodic touchstone "Music Box," and two of Aphrodite and Mickey Finn's finest collaborative efforts, "Bad Ass" and a remix of the Jungle Brothers' "Brain."

 

Law of the Jungle (Moonshine, 1994)

This manic collection of ragga-inflected jump-up is heavy on thick rude-bwoy patois and swarming basslines. Includes U.K. Apache/Shy FX's exciting "Original Nuttah."

 

Metalheadz Presents Platinum Breakz (FFRR, 1996)

Goldie is too full of himself by half, which is why he's best when there's a dance floor around to keep him honest. He's also better at showing off his A&R skills than his orchestral aspirations, which is why this roll call of the Metalheadz roster still cuts.

 

Techsteppin' (Emotif, 1996)

So you're not particularly interested in how to tweak a snare sound till it reveals its wavelength in nanometers? This compilation of Ed Rush, Nico, and Trace's early work still demonstrates that there was indeed a time when techstep's dark grind was nervy rather than enervating.

 

V Classic Volume 1 (Ultra 1997) and Roni Size/Reprazent: "Brown Paper Bag" (Talkin' Loud/Mercury, 1997)

The former collates 10 of Size and company's best 12-inches from their pre-New Forms days on V Records, including the prescient (and self-explanatory) "It's Jazzy" and "It's a Jazz Thing." The latter is a slamming single surpassing the solid album it calls home, backed with an equally good Photek remix.

 

Adam F, "Brand New Funk" (V 1998) and Shy FX, "Bambaataa" (Ebony 1998)

Just when the genre appeared lifeless, two longtime producers drop a pair of bombs. The superfly blaxploitation feel of "Brand New Funk" and the snarling, unstoppable syncopation of "Bambaataa" still receive massive play--a notable feat in a scene where tracks can become outdated before they're even released.

 
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