Words by Alexander
Drum & Bass has a reverence and respect for its history, or at least I think it does?
Telekom Electronic Beats TV recently invited a cross section of since-day-dot originals and new skool trail blazers for the series’ first Drum & Bass blind test. 10 tracks, labels covered and release info redacted. The object of the exercise, to identify each track, racking up points along the way dependant on success. In the hot seat – Fabio, Djinn, Bailey, Tim Reaper, Klute and DJ MustBeTrue. Admittedly, the first track a DJ Rap pad infused hard-stepper called ‘Fuze 1+2’ was a complete mystery to me, but I did alright on the rest.
An express route through the best of the ‘90s stopping at bona-fide classics from Peshay, Ed Rush, Lemon D, Shy FX, Photek, Dillinja and more. This is a version of the Drum & Bass story which I recognise, although it is just one version of that story amongst many. You could as easily summon names like Aphrodite, Bizzy B & Pugwash, DJ Phantasy, DJ Red and Sappo, still getting an equally true albeit different picture of what ‘90s Drum & Bass sounded like.
It’s this duality within our genre which has been the second talking point over the last week. The chasm between different sub-sectors of the scene feel bigger than ever. The importance of reputational identity has been pushed to the fore with a dispute over namesakes between stalwart UK selector DJ Flight and relative newcomer, US based Flite.
DJ Flight might just have had the best record bag of the noughties. It was by way of her BBC 1Xtra show The Next Chapter that I was introduced to some of the decades edgiest productions from the likes of Martyn, Jonny L, Craggz & Parallel Forces, Instra:mental, Breakage, Fracture & Neptune, Sabre, the list goes on. A champion of the underground signing artists to her own Play:Musik imprint, the kind of selector’s ear that earns a place as a Metalheadz resident no less. Undeniable contributions to the no nonsense end of the genre, and still doing it.
It’s a pedigree that warrants respect, however you might not know it reading some of the abusive comments on twitter from those who feel that her American counterpart Flite owes no dues to his preceding soundalike. Oceans apart, proximity gets reduced through the medium of online discourse on the subject. The reverence I thought Drum & Bass had for its history is looking pretty thin at this point. Clearly differing generational attitudes are amplified and perspectives polarized.
The burgeoning question becomes what is this music, is it ‘one music’ and who is it for? To anyone who feels set on divorcing politics from music, this is the point at which that notion becomes delusional. Both operate through the shared intersection of culture, and a clean 30 years deep, Drum & Bass is a culture owing to a myriad of foundational cultures which have fed into it. I would suggest that a level of contribution to Drum & Bass does allow for a certain amount of ownership, and the right to call out things as you see it.
Drum & Bass is in the midst of an important conversation with itself right now which encompasses origins, opportunity, equality and where we are going as a musical movement.
So many of the tracks included in the Telekom Electronic Beats TV Drum & Bass blind test came from a golden era in the late ‘90s when the genre felt entirely future bound, innovative and subversive. Today Drum & Bass can at times seem self-referential in part to its own detriment, you would hope however that while we try to remain mind-set on the future there is still enough respect for those who paved the way.