IN THE EARLY Nineties, when it was just getting its stylistic feet on the ground, jungle was strictly a London thing. Few if any DJs or producers of note hailed from anywhere else--especially not America, where neither acid-house euphoria nor Jamaican dancehall attitude, two key elements of the music's DNA, ever rooted themselves as deeply as they had in England.
But a handful of Americans were listening--in particular, a Pittsburgh college student named Damian Higgins. And a decade on, the genre more popularly referred to as drum 'n' bass has gone global, its American roots sowed in healthy part thanks to Higgins, a.k.a. DJ Dieselboy, who has become the best-known drum 'n' bass proselytizer in the country. Even more impressive, he has also won serious respect abroad, having been named co-winner in the "Best Drum and Bass DJ" category with LTJ Bukem at 1998's Global Mix DJ Awards.
Higgins remains a tireless worker, headlining large events every weekend and lending his mixing skills to a half-dozen CDs so far. These range in style from 1997's raw, hip hop-infused Drum and Bass Selection USA and the funky, squelching bass lines of 1999's A Soldier's Story to the rampaging techstep of last spring's System Upgrade (all released by L.A. indie Moonshine). Last October saw the release of The 6ixth Session on Palm Pictures.
"A lot of times, a [rave] promoter will bring me in and say, 'We've never had drum 'n' bass in the main room,'" says Higgins from his current home in Philadelphia. "Some cities are really rooted in house music, and it's taken them a long time to allow drum 'n' bass to get a foothold in the scene. So it's really cool to experiment, to be the first guy out there in that city trying to push it onto people."
Pushing the music onto his fellow Pittsburghers during jungle's--and rave's--embryonic stages in the U.S. proved surprisingly easy. "From early on, Pittsburgh was always really open to it," he says. "I was DJing a little when that stuff started coming out in '91, just doing little parties with CDs."
Though everything from soulful house to hard, bombastic techno made its way into his early sets, Higgins soon found himself drawn most heavily toward the wave of white-label 12-inches he was buying from fellow Pittsburgh DJ Controlled Weirdness' sister, who ran a record shop in England. "I remember going to parties and having no idea what they were playing," he says. "I still don't know what some of those records were. They were just amazing."
The raw feel of the old-school breakbeat hardcore that fired Higgins's DJ passion continues to thread its way into his sets, as The 6ixth Session demonstrates. The mix contains the industrial squish that has been a drum 'n' bass mainstay since the emergence of techstep, but it's also tempered by a rolling, rhythmic velocity that feels something like golden-age jungle with an updated vibe. Higgins attributes this combination to "an old-school revival that's been going on for about a year" within the drum 'n' bass community. "Producers are doing things that haven't been released yet that sound like old '92-'95 tracks, only sped up to around 170 beats per minute."
While The 6ixth Sense does sometimes wallow in dystopian futurismo (e.g., Technical Itch's "Pusher," which evokes bubbles in a vat of molten steel, or the scissoring snares and high-hats that run through Loxy + Dylan's "Eclipse"), it's the disc's final song that points a way forward. J. Majik's "Solarize" moves the mix out of the dark and into a realm that's as close to the psychedelic swirl of Goa trance as it is to drum 'n' bass. And Higgins promises more to come. "With all the old-school vibe coming up, the next CD should be a lot more varied," he says. "I don't like to repeat the same thing if I can help it."