Tag Archive: Drum ‘n’ Bass

I first heard of Nubiyan Twist when I went to see Joe Armon-Jones at The Crescent in York last November, as Joe introduced the band he got to bassist Luke Wynter he said he was in Nubiyan Twist from Leeds. My first thought was that’s a great name for a band and that there was another potentially great band coming out of Leeds. It turns out I was right this is another great band coming out of Leeds (though now based in London) and what’s more another great band that met and formed at Leeds College of Music. Leeds College of Music is a respected music education institution in the UK but if it keeps on producing the amount of quality bands it is currently it will become world famous and rank alongside the likes of Berklee in the USA.

But I got off the point for a while there It’s time to get back to talking about the music of Nubiyan Twist and their album “Jungle Run”. On the bands Facebook page under Band Interests it says “To encourage artistic and social unity between different cultures and musical styles.” This is definitely a mission statement the band achieves on this album, they combine the disparate styles of dance music (including House and Drum ‘n’ Bass), Dub, Latin, Afrobeat, Ethio-Jazz, Hip-Hop, Turntablism and Soul into a potent stew of sound. This is quite an achievement considering the band has ten members And also joined in this album by guests Nubiya Brandon (vocals), Tony Allen (drums) the inventor of the rhythms of Afrobeat and Mulatu Astatke (vibraphone) the inventor of Ethio-Jazz. I have to admit that I am very jealous of the fact that the band gets to work with two giants of African music. Another achievement is to not be subsumed by those legends on the track states they contribute to this is a band with a clear identity and incredible musical talent to boot. Bandleader Tom Excell also produced the record in the bands own studio in Oxfordshire in the UK and it’s an impressive feat to say the least to build to get all these competing instruments and talents to play nicely in a mix. This isn’t just an impressive album it’s a lot of fun to the irresistible beats make impossible for you not to dance and the catchy choruses will be in your head in no time.

I know I’m probably repeating myself here but it’s hard to overstate how incredible this album is not only as a musical achievement but something that truly represents what music can be in the 21st-century. This is an album of the Internet age don’t get me wrong there are albums made fused cells are music together before the Internet age but “Jungle Run” is something only truly achievable in a world where you can access any music at any time with the click of a button. This is a real Album of the Year contender and definitely check it out.

Let me know what you think of “Jungle Run” in the Comments.

This month’s Classics Critiqued comes from ones of the most unusual artists working in electronic music, Brazilian producer Amon Tobin who is to drum ‘n’ bass what Bach was to classical music of the 17th Century. Tobin is a true innovator who has been able to see past the limitations of his genre and created a style so unique that no-one has been able to imitate it.

Tobin’s career began while living and studying at university in Brighton, he saw a magazine advert for London-based label Ninebar who wanted artists to send them demos, Tobin’s demo was the cream of crop and he signed with the label in 1996. Initially Ninebar released a series of 12” singles featuring hip-hop and drum ‘n’ bass production released under the name Cujo, the material from these 12” was later released as the Cujo album “Adventures in Foam” which attracted the attention of Coldcut’s Ninja Tune label. Though he was initially suspicious of Ninja Tune’s advances Tobin signed with the label as he could see “..all the artists on Ninja were being given free rein to be the weird, not-really-fitting-in-anywhere-else person that they were. I was not fitting in anywhere, I was allowed to breathe and develop. I felt very, very privileged to be there.” In 1997 he released his début album for the label and his first under the name Amon Tobin “Bricolage” a hyperactive adrenaline shot of epic drum ‘n’ bass. At this point Tobin was still refining his style searching for the elements that would make him stand out from the crowd. Tobin didn’t mind as he recalls in Stevie Chick’s Ninja Tune book “I remember going down to Music House to get my dubplates cut, sitting there with all these drum ‘n’ bass people in big Puffa jackets, and just feeling completely out-of-place, because my dubplates Disney voices singing on them, or some weird sound that would make everyone turn round and look at me like I was a freak. I realised I was never going to be a part of that, which ended up being a great thing.”

With “Permutation” Tobin established his artistic formula not only  placing Tobin in his own space within drum ‘n’ bass but bringing him closer to the other artists on Ninja Tune while expanding the label’s reference points at the time. Stevie Chick puts the album in context, ‘“Permutation” located within drum ‘n’ bass a heart beating in jazz-time, and laced more meditative moments with bristling percussion… the likes of ‘People Like Frank’ firmly in Ninja Tune’s lineage of jazz-inflected hip-hop instrumentals, but also veers off in wild new directions, with bionic Gene Krupa snare-rolls sending supine, smoky bass-lines down inspired wormholes’.

Tobin’s music is so often considered (like a lot of drum ‘n’ bass music) on a purely technical level and, textural, in Tobin’s case. Little consideration is given to the emotional and melodic content of his music, which seems strange for music so rich in evocative sounds. In fact the man himself has said the following about this very subject, “I was just feeling my way, following my instincts…There’s no theory or formula I’m following. I respond to music on an emotional basis, and try to bypass anything too cerebral really, doing what feels good, and right”. Many emotions can be drawn from “Permutation”: dread, wonder, happiness, melancholy and wistfulness being just a few. In addition to this is Tobin’s ability to transport the listener to another place or time either through the music itself (e.g. the choral vocal sample on “Night Life” recalling childhood memories of the film “Willow”) or a well placed dialogue/vocal sample.

This ability to evoke strong emotional responses and use of film dialogue is key to understanding Tobin’s music. On “Permutation” there are references to David Lynch films throughout, opener ‘Like Regular Chickens’ features dialogue from the director’s début film “Eraserhead”, the title of  ‘People Like Frank’ is taken from a line in “Blue Velvet” and the song samples from two pieces from Angelo Badalamenti’s score to the film (‘Night Streets – Sandy and Jefferey’ and ‘Akron Meets the Blues’), while its thought that the ‘Fast Eddie’s title may refer to the character Mr. Eddie in “Lost Highway”. In addition to this the album is littered with samples from film soundtracks including “Taking Judy Home” by Luiz Bonfa and Eumir Deodato from the film ‘The Gentle Rain’ sampled on ‘Nova’ and ‘Kitty with the Bent Frame’ by Quincy Jones from the film ‘Dollars’ sampled on ‘Toys’. I also suspect other soundtrack samples are included on the album as Tobin has admitted to sampling Disney soundtracks and the choral sample on ‘Night Life’ sounds uncanny like one of the main themes from “Willow”. It’s the cinematic sweep, subtler and attention to detail present on “Permutation” that separates it and Tobin from his drum ‘n’ bass peers both then and 14 years later.

After “Permutation” Tobin could do little wrong following it up with two equally classic album “Supermodified” (2000) and “Out From the Out Where” (2002) and has received critical acclaim for the found sound explorations of “Foley’s Room” (2007) and “ISAM” (2011). In addition to these album his potential as soundtrack composer has been realised with projects including the soundtrack for video game “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell 3: Chaos Theory”, Hungarian horror film “Taxidermia” and Hollywood films including “The Italian Job” and “21” featuring commissioned material by Tobin among others.

Though there are few artists (except his current collaborator and fellow Ninja Tune signee Eskmo under the moniker Eskamon) who could be said to be influenced by Amon Tobin he raised the stakes for what could be achieved in sampler based electronic music with “Permutation” and changed the musical landscape forever.

Dubstep interview transcript


Those of you with good long term memory may remember that back in July I published a piece about Dubstep in an effort to try and understand it better, this piece came together primarily through an interview with three local (York-based) Dubstep producers Diakon, Demeter and Spreezy. Below as I promised at the time is the full interview transcript and some tunes by those interviewed for your enjoyment.

Liam Flanagan (interviewer):

I’ve never really worked what Dubstep’s all about and other than the odd tune I’ve never got into the genre as a whole. However, as a journalist I think I should be covering music I don’t like or understand, hence this interview and the piece that will come out of it.

Q1. What is it about Dubstep that attracts you to it?

Spreezy: The state of Drum ‘n’ Bass really I went to see Andy C on Saturday and he was playing really hard jump up tunes and I’m losing interest in that. Dubstep is a new genre and natural progression with it bass weight and heavy beats.

Diakon: I liked current jump up Drum ‘n’ Bass at first as it was exciting but went off it quickly as its very samey and aggressive. Dubstep is more versatile (big strong point) and can be mixed with other styles and still sound good. The slower tempo is attractive as Drum ‘n Bass can get too much, smoother sound and tempo, even the most aggressive stuff. Can’t relax to D ‘n’ B have to be up for it and concentrate on it. There still plenty of life in it.

  <span><a href=”http://soundcloud.com/diakondub/archeotech”>Archeotech</a&gt; by <a href=”http://soundcloud.com/diakondub”>Diakondub</a></span&gt;

Q1. (part two) What were the reasons you originally got into Dubstep?

Spreezy: I never heard it before and found it over bearing and evil at first, most Dubstep was dark at the time. Took a while to sink in, but its new and I like the bass weight, its interesting as it draws on a lot of different styles plus it’s never been done before .

Diakon: I heard one of first Skream tunes, it had a heavy, epic and video game influenced sound, the bleepy video game sounds drew me in and that something that I think evident in my own music. Dubstep was unlike anything else I’d ever heard.

Spreezy: It an underground genre even today, though more people know about as there has been more media coverage, so more people are aware of it. The scene has a really good vibe as people aren’t doing it for the money.

Liam: Something I’ve heard and that we’ve already discussed a is the idea that a lot of people got into Dubstep due to a dissatisfaction with Drum ‘n’ Bass and U.K. Garage. Is it maybe something they weren’t expressing that Dubstep does express and cover:

Diakon: Dubstep is very emotive especially the good stuff, Drum ‘n’ Bass just makes you want to dance. You can almost feel what the producer was feeling when he/she produced it. Being from a punk/indie background the emotion is important to me.

Spreezy: I think U.K. Garage was a big influence. Skream was a Garage producer years before creating Dubstep and was dissatisfied with the lack of attention Dark Garage had, probably why it died off. People were thankful for  having a more emotive feel back in the music.

Q2. A recent thread I’ve picked up on in Dubstep and its related genres is an emphasis on super slow and syrupy sounds. Do you think this a reaction against drum ‘n’ bass and its hyper kinetic sound?

Spreezy: Yeah, I think it is people need something different to go on with, all the genres that were going when Dubstep started had going ten years or more. Drum ‘n’ Bass is getting tired with age. The double time beats, you know 1 big step then a small step, gives it a skank, so can be nice to dance to even though its slow.

Diakon: Yeah, it probably is and another big factor is that a lot of producers are stoner’s contributes to it. A lot of people didn’t get into to Drum ‘n’ Bass because it in because it was intimidating and fast and they felt like they were having their heads caved in at 150mph. I think Dubstep was smoother and more appealing, drawing people in who weren’t necessarily into electronic music got into it through Dubstep.

Q3. With artists like Joy Orbison and Car ads featuring 2 step beats again, do you feel this is concession to failed overly commercialised genre or another string to Dubstep’s bow?

Spreezy: A lot of people have called Joy Orbison Dubstep but I don’t think he is. He’s been called Future Garage but whereas Garage could be squeaky what he does is more ethereal, so I think he’s exploring something that wasn’t explored at the time. Its great music though and I’d like to see more of it made.

Diakon: As you say it’s not Dubstep, its Future Garage, it does mix well with Dubstep and being lighter and airer gives people a break from the heavier syrupy stuff. It has been more influenced by Dubstep and the bass lines are more whoppy and heavier.

Liam: It’s like the commercial media finally acknowledging its existence. I find in the music media there’s almost an over saturation because it’s new, even though technically it germinated around ten years ago. It has constantly coverage in amateur and professional media.

  <span><a href=”http://soundcloud.com/spreezy/spreezy-unreal”>Spreezy – Unreal</a> by <a href=”http://soundcloud.com/spreezy”>Spreezy</a></span&gt;

Q4. With the constant evolution of the genre and it’s splitting into sub genres what do you think the future holds musically and/or commercially?

Spreezy: I’ve just discovered Akira Kiteshi who is off the scale, takes computer game sound to a new level, has a tune that start off Dubstep and then goes U.K. Garage half way through but with the same bass line. Loads of inventions can be made, especially on the dubby side, like ‘Anti War Dub’ by Digital Mystikz it’s not got a Dubstep beat but it’s definitely Dubstep but more on the Dub/Reggae tip.

Diakon: The sub genres are just petering out and being folded back into Dubstep. A lot of people tell their work is in a sub genre but it isn’t really. The future is bright but not sure exactly where it’s going.

Liam: What about the commercial future? For instance, people like Rusko remixing and producing pop acts. Is this maybe a point where it crosses over?

Spreezy: It’s possible but a lot of the big producer’s are keen to keep it as an underground genre. I heard on Rinse FM a couple of years ago that all the big producer’s had been asked to play on Radio 1 and they all said no, let Mary Anne Hobb’s do it. People are keen to not have it go mainstream but it has influenced mainstream genres.

Diakon: Before long major label’s will be trying to sign up Dubstep producer’s and mould them into a more commercial sound. You mentioned Rusko and it is polished and poppy. Skream and Benga are forming a kind of resistance movement within the genre and I don’t think anyone who truly appreciates it wants it to commercialise too much.

Q5. Is it possible that the reason Dubstep has failed to find ground commercial is due to the splintering it sub genres?

Spreezy: Well it’s not exactly the sort of thing you’re gonna hear on Jo Whiley and Radio 1 and Rusko is getting pushed a lot but it’d need a lot of cleaning up to be commercial. It’s an underground genre and a lot of people want it to stay that way. It started with 8 people in a pub in Hackney (the FFWD club nights that began Dubstep), they were the only making and listening to Dubstep at the time.

Diakon: It could be because it means a definitive Dubstep sound is hard to pin down but Rusko is getting pushed and his tunes are all sounding the same, though he’d probably deny it.

Q6. Though Dubstep initially centred on London, do you think that the Internet has helped create an unconnected but competitive group producers and does that contribute to the splintering effect?

Spreezy: Yeah, its spread all over the world now, Dutch producers like Martyn and 2652 are creating amazing ethereal sounds and they have hardcore there too. In America theres people like Matty G, American Dubstep is very different and it’s taken off and the Japanese love Skream and Goth Trad. The internet has really helped make it close knit especially Dubstep forums have helped link people together.

Diakon: Even something like Soundcloud is really helping bringing producer together, me in York working with ppl like Shatterfreak in Dublin, two guys in America Generic Meds and KSFK and a guy in  the Midlands called Siriken and we were all sending loops and files back and further and then through them I got introduced to more producers in their countries. I’ve heard Japanese producers, Russian’s, South American producers from Peru and Chile and it’s just as good as the scene in the U.K. and America. The internet is a big factor in helping it spread.

Does that mean the splintering increase because there’s so many individual perspective or is it a fallacy and their only doing tiny adjustments not really innovations?

Spreezy: Yeah, I think it does, I’d love to hear some South Amercan Dubstep. Loads of interesting things coming out of Japan, it’ll be interesting what comes out of India and palces like that.

Demeter: I think it’s in the nature of Dubstep that it’s influence’s are so wide, so rather than suggesting it causing splintering I think it’s just reinforcing what is originally was. As far as Skream in 2000 influences are cited as wide as classical music, rock, metal and I think its popular because whatever music someone is into they can find something in Dubstep. Another reason is that though Drum ‘n’ Bass is cool its only relevant to me when I go out to a club, I wouldn’t listen to jump up Drum ‘n’ Bass at home, as it wouldn’t be pleasant. There’s Dubstep stuff that’s appropriate for a range of situations, like the song on the Lloyd’s bank advert, there was Dubstep version of that and it worked because of a balance of abrasive and lighter more melodic elements.

  <span><a href=”http://soundcloud.com/demeter/hello”>hello&#8230; (free download)</a> by <a href=”http://soundcloud.com/demeter”>Demeter</a></span&gt;

Q7. Could it be that it’s mostly better suited to clubs and that home listening on a stereo/laptop just doesn’t reproduce the same experience? By that I mean the type of Dubstep that is more clubby with the wobbly bass sound.

Spreezy: You can listen to it anywhere, like Demeter just said I think the versatility of means you can play it anywhere as long as you have a big sub woofer.

Diakon: Good point you can’t listen to it without serious amounts of bass. But I can listen to it at home and might throw myself around to it or just sat down nodding along. It can be a different experience in a club as they usual have big sound system and some serious bass you can feel in your gut. It can be pleasure but different at home and good for playing computer games.

Q8. Is the movement away indicative of the difference between Grime which was restricted to a small area of London and Dubstep’s development? – related idea – Which made its movement away from London inevitable.

Spreezy: Well Grime is very British and the Amercan’s hate it ‘cause of that and Grime isn’t versatile whereas Dubstep’s multi styles helps to hold it together and give it strength and appeal.

Diakon: Yeah, I totally agree. The beat and bass style of Grime has grown into Dubstep now and lot of time you can’t tell if it’s Grime or Dubstep with a Grime MC.

Demeter: Just a random point really. When I first put my music on Soundcloud and its gives you stats of where people are listening to and where they are from. At first it was mostly U.K. people and the odd person like the Russian guy, who’d maybe search it out a bit more. But over the 2 years since I signed up, the majority of listeners are Americans, then Chile and Romania. Its Changing where people are looking for it and its maybe fresher to them.

Yeah, I think there’s generally a different relationship for people those countries as they aren’t exposed to electronic music as much or in such a mediated way. They don’t have the same higher archy system of the electronic music media and they wouldn’t assume that Aphex Twin is an innovator and that they might come across Spreezy first and think he’s an innovator. It’s a more personal than media prescribed relationship.

Spreezy: I’m becoming a little bit divided by Dubstep these days, I tend to go with the stuff that has more integrity, for instance a producer like Datsik makes really whop whop tunes, but can’t listen to a whole album of it. I prefer things with a bit more mid range.

Diakon: I think people expect us to go really subby bass so let’s go for some squeaky high pitched stuff, which works if there’s more bass weight underneath. I don’t find myself following that scene so much. Found some great stuff on Soundcloud, like Humble Dinosaur, he got some really good tunes, refreshing the old whoop whoop style.

Demeter: I think some of the splintering has happened because of change in the scene. As a female I might notice more but to begin it was a male dominated genre and the DJ’s and audience were mostly blokes. Nowadays it’s more of an equal split and something that became popular is the jump up Dubstep style and I think this is to do with more females in the audience. When I do sets and play jump up, it’s the girls that ask for more of that style. But it isn’t reflected by the producers like Ikonika and Vaccine for example have a more chilled vibe with abrasive moments. Overall it seems like a different compared with ten years ago, there’s more ex-rocker’s in the audience and play want more real instruments like guitars. A lot of male producer used to be Moshers, it’s like when Punks got into Hip-Hop.

Diakon: There is a live Dubstep band called Jazzsteppa, there really, really good. But to pick up on what Demeter said I used to be into a lot of metal like Korn and Deftones when I was 16 but after a while I moved away from it. Since starting to producer Dubstep I’ve started listening to it again and Dubstep has helped me appreciate it again. There’s a producer’s called Distance and Vex’d love using rock/metal riffs and influences.

Dubstep: Should we believe the hype?

This article’s purpose is to attempt to understand what it is about Dubstep that has attracted thousands of people worldwide to it and why it has been coveted by the mainstream music media. Having never been a fan of the genre I enlisted the help of three York (UK) based Dubstep producers, interviewing them for their perspectives on why this genre is so vital and to discuss some surrounding ideas.

I began the interview by asking Diakon, Demeter, who  contribute to a local pirate radio station Cranky Radio and DJ regularly at local night Paradigm, and Spreezy what attracted them to Dubstep and how they had originally got into it. Their answers chimed in with the theory that many fans of the genre (particularly those in York but I’m sure it’s common elsewhere in the UK too) had been nu-metal fans in their teens which lead them into Drum ‘n’ Bass (D’n’B) but years of exposure to these hardcore, heavy sounds had dulled its impact and D‘n’B had grown stagnant and repetitive.

The same line of questioning confirmed that Dubstep’s broader emotional palette was another attractive quality that separated it from its predecessors D‘n’B, Grime and U.K. Garage. Musically, the main features that engaged them were its variety, versatility, tempo, bass weight, its relative newness and smooth sound, in relation to D‘n’B. Tempo seems important in separating Dubstep from its predecessors and we continued discussing its slow and syrupy sound as well as agreeing on its importance to the genre’s identity. Diakon added that it may also have ‘something to do with a majority of producers being stoners’. He felt that D‘n’B and some other dance music genres were too fast and intimidating for people to find a way into electronic music but Dubstep offered an opening for the uninitiated.

We then moved onto the recent moves both by Dubstep producers such as Rusko and media outlets to commercialise the genre and change it to resemble something that is more familiar via music charts, television and advertising. All agreed that it is and always has been an underground genre but recognised that it is under pressure to capitulate to commercial temptations. However Spreezy stated that the leaders of the scene are resistant to this to the point of rejecting requests to appear on BBC Radio 1 and want the genre to remain an underground concern. Diakon approved this saying, ‘I don’t think anyone who truly appreciates it wants it to commercialise too much’ and he felt that it’s possible that Dubstep has failed to light up the mainstream world as there isn’t a definitive Dubstep sound and its constant splintering into sub-genres weakened its public identity.

Demeter believes that it is in Dubstep’s nature to splinter as it borrows from the influences of rock, metal, classical and more, which is what producers have cited from the start, and this has contributed to its interest and popularity as whatever music people are into they can find something to enjoy. This flexibility allows Dubstep to work in different contexts from the club to the home and is coupled with the remixing of a bank advert soundtrack and Dubstep/Future Garage tunes being included in car adverts.

One of the most interesting ideas was that of Dubstep being the first genre to evolve post-internet which was vital was for its development outside London. Dubstep is not a rootless scene yet, due to the internet, it is becoming increasingly outstretched. Location is no longer a limitation dictating what an artist sounds like. The internet has spread the genre from London to the Netherlands, Berlin to South America, Russia to the US. Diakon has used Soundcloud to both find other Dubstep to listen to and collaborate with other users from the US, Dublin and Manchester while Demeter has noticed a concentration of listeners from Romania, America and Chile.

The interview highlighted how broad Dubstep really is. The genre does not solely contain the acknowledged sub-genres like Funky, there are understated differences, for instance, with live Dubstep acts Jazz Steppa and Floating Points Ensemble, variations on the popular whomp whomp bass style, different beat types and rock and metal influenced producers such as Vex’d and Distance. Spreezy and Diakon believe there is a bright future for Dubstep, Spreezy cited the relatively unexplored laid back Dub style as a future development and Diakon thought that the sub-genres may get folded back into the main genre but was unsure of its future. This could be an appropriate predication for a genre that to an outsider can seem overly complex and unstable as a whole.

Though I wasn’t converted to the Dubstep cause by the end of the interview, I felt that it is a far more interesting genre (and set of sub-genres) than what I had experienced and there are areas of it I would like to explore. Demeter may have a point saying that because Dubstep draws from a large range of influences there is something for everyone. Most intriguing was the proposal of Dubstep being the first genre to emerge in the Internet era and how that has affected it and how its development and that of other genres may be affected musically and commercially in the coming years. The speed of the genre’s evolution promises that great advances could be achieved in the future, although this variety also threatens to destabilise and possibly even destroy the genre as it nears its tenth birthday. I may not be a fan but it has much to offer the musical explorer and I hope it continues to long into the future.

A full transcript of the interview will be published in September.


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