Born From Jungle Techno, The Amen Break, Hip-hop And Dub: A History Of Drum’n’Bass

by: filthy light thief

Perhaps you were there in 1991 when someone spun We Are i.e. for the first time. Maybe you were a suburban rebel in the mid 1990s, listening to British pirate radio and taping the broadcasts. Or you kept it legit and heard Fabio and Grooverider on Kiss FM or BBC Radio 1. Perhaps you only caught wind of it when Goldie was on BBC’s Maestro (prev). You might spend your time figuring out which breaks were used, from the well-known Amen, Brother sample (prev), to Both Eyes Open  by Lucille Brown &  Billy Clark. Or maybe you don’t know the difference between clownstep and liquid funk, but it sounds like something you want to know more about. Step inside, junglist, and embrace the bass.

There are many versions of the history of Jungle or Drum and Bass. Most histories note the shift of hardcore techno / rave styles into higher BPMs and the addition of reggae and dub influences, often citing Innerzone Orchestra’s Bug In The Bassbin (1992), Baz De Conga (1990), and the experiments of Plaid (1991) and Meat Beat Manifesto (1990) as precursors to what would become drum and bass. Others note the asynchronous beats on Frankie Bones BonesBreaks records (from the first volume: Bass Rock Beats, and Vol. 2: Jamming Breakdown 2) as playing a significant role in the shift of styles. Whatever the origin, the general sound of jungle and drum’n’bass can be characterized by fast breakbeats (often sampled from a variety of sources and filtered in a variety of ways) and heavy bass lines.

Jungle picked up steam quickly, moving from being non-existent in 1990, transitioning from techno and breakbeat hardcore to “jungle techno” with a first few tracks in 1991, then coming on strong on pirate airwaves and rave circuits in 1992. Things turned legit in 1994, with jungle getting featured on Radio 1, and the press, record industry and legal radio stations like Kiss FM had finally woken up to Jungle. The focus of the day was around ragga jungle, which featured more of a reggae groove and prominent MCs, putting a voice and a face to the otherwise mysterious DJs behind their decks and even more hidden producers. The peak of ragga jungle was brief, mirroring the rise and fall of “General” Barrington Levy, who was the voice of M-Beat’s “Incredible.” In a prominent magazine interview, Levy said such things as: “I run jungle at the moment” and “I came along and bigged up jungle. I took it national”, examples of typical MC bombast. But those words were felt to be more than posturing from others in the jungle community.

A self-appointed “jungle committee” (believed to include Grooverider, Goldie, Jumping Jack Frost and DJ Ron) formed to keep the music from getting too commercial, and amongst other things decided that “Incredible” shouldn’t be played by anyone claiming to represent jungle. DJ Rap, one of the few female jungle DJs, played it anyway and was blacklisted from events. But regardless of committees, times changed, and so did the sounds. Rap’s 1994 track Spiritual Aura was something of a precursor to one side of the sound of jungle: “intelligent drum’n’bass” (though LT[J] Bukem was headed there in ’91 with the Logical Progression EP). LTJ Bukem started his Good Looking Records with the atmospheric Demon’s Theme (backed with the much harder A Couple Of Beats), and continued towards more atmospheric DnB with Peshay, PFM, Blame, and Blu Mar Ten, to name a few.

On the other side of the drum’n’bass divide were the harder sounds, like hard step found on DJ Hype’s label True Playaz, which opened shop in 1996 with Hype’s single Peace Love & Unity / And Remember Folks. Jump-Up is another off-shoot, which is still hard, but with more hip-hop and funk influences, like those found on Urban Takeover the label of Aphrodite and Micky Finn. That label also started in 1996, with Aphrodite and Micky Finn collaborating on Bad Ass / Drop Top Caddy.

An even more intense branch of Jungle was also started around this time. Breakcore, which would go on to get it’s own sub-genres, may have started with Alec Empire and his Digital Hardcore Recordings (DHR) label. The sound fused intense drum patterns with more abrasive sounds, as heard here on a track from his album The Destroyer, released in 1996. One of the genre’s sub-genres is Raggacore, which brought back the reggae influences. But I digress, back to the jungle.

In 1995, Jungle’s first full-fledged celebrity hit it big. Goldie sold 150,000 copies of 2-disc album Timeless in the UK alone. The album was released not on his own Metalheadz label, which he formed the year before with fellow junglists Kemistry (Kemi Olusanya) and Storm (Jane Conneely), but on the larger dance label FFRR (Full Frequency Range Recordings).

It was around 1996 that Jungle became Drum’n’Bass, at least according to Fabio, who had been involved as a DJ in London (Brixton, more precisely) starting back in 1984. Where Jungle was a media star in 1994, rising over hardcore with it’s “cartoonish” elements, ’96 saw Jungle become something sinister in media coverage. The ragga elements disappeared by-and-large, and the style was widely labeled Drum’n’Bass.