Sped-up breakbeats and slowed-down bass lines -- it was an accident waiting to happen.
Those two things, which make up the sonic and rhythmic vocabulary of the ever-shifting style best known as drum and bass (or D&B), continue, amusingly, to stymie the uninitiated. That’s despite the fact that the jackknifing two-step (or, as Tricia Romano once wrote in the Village Voice, the “oh-Mickey-you’re-so-fine beat”) has had some kind of pop presence for years, even if just in the background of clothing boutiques. That’s in America, of course. In the UK, D&B is has been a kind of pop music for decades, as well as a DJ-driven clubs-mostly phenomenon.
Drum and bass wasn’t this style’s first name, though. First it was hardcore, then jungle. That last moniker was in use when the music was at its stunning best, from 1993 to 1995 or so, alongside the flowering of the digital audio editing technology that made the music possible -- being able to chop a hip-hop break into a dozen pieces and then reassemble them in danceable time, for example. The beats were flying all over, but you could – in some cases, must -- still move to them.
Jace Clayton, who in addition to his authoritative decks-shredding as DJ/rupture is one of the sharpest thinkers about music around (he recently published the essay collection Uproot), once said that the differences between the music when it was called jungle and when it was called drum & bass were manifest -- one described an ecosystem, the other a couple of instruments. So pardon me if I revert here to “jungle,” because it’s still my favorite.
The mid-nineties was such a fertile time for the music that I don’t run into many retrospective DJ sets of the stuff that I don’t like at least a little. My sentimental favorite remains London-to-NYC DJ DB (Burkeman)’s officially released 1994 mix CD History of Our World Part 1, a showcase for just how action-packed dance music history can truly be. (I say “retrospective” on purpose: There’s not enough space here to talk about all the DJ sets of up-to-the-minute stuff.) So when the friend who most reliably feeds me mixes and knows I’m a mark for this stuff (she is too) told me about Mumdance B2B DJ Storm on Rinse FM, March 14, 2017, it was a no-brainer.
Mumdance (Jack Adams) became a DJ in the mid-2000s, part of a wave of new spinners who emerged in dubstep’s wake. (No, not Skrillex -- dubstep had a few years of development before Americans got hold of it. This very long piece should help.) Earlier this year he began hosting a show on London’s Rinse FM, a longstanding pirate station that went Web-legit a few years ago, with the remit of bringing on a slew of wide-ranging guests.
DJ Storm (Jayne Conneely) came to prominence as half of Kemistry & Storm, with DJ Kemistry (Valerie Olukemi); they played from the early nineties until Kemistry’s April 1999 death in an car accident. The duo were regulars at the Metalheadz night at London’s Blue Note (here’s Todd Burns’ rollicking oral history), which meant they had early access to tracks from nearly all their peers, and undoubtedly there are more than a handful of those obscurities on this program.
What sparks this set is the quality and depth of those unknown-to-me tracks. (And not just me: Mixes DB, my main tracklist source, IDs only about half the records.) And rather than lining up the classics to detonate one by one, the DJs keep things zigzagging. Mumdance announces at the top that the set’s going to go all over the place, as it does, but it never feels willful or askew. It’s two hours long but doesn’t lag. Feel free to pause it whenever you need to. It’ll teach you things.
Each week, Michaelangelo Matos will spotlight a different DJ set—often but not always new, sometimes tied to a local show but not necessarily—and discuss its place in the overall sphere of dance music and pop.