At a nightclub somewhere in the 90s, some clubbers went crazy at the sound of some drum & bass music playing. In fact, much of what shaped this genre had to do with the perception of those who frequented these clubs and the music that blasted each night.
As cultures shifted, and as nightclubs drifted from being a place to meet young love interests to a place to let loose from it all, we would see drum and bass music evolve along with it.
This evolution of drum and bass music surprised no one, however. Drum and bass music comes from a long line of predecessors, and as we’ll see, fans of electronic music are no strangers to change. To this day, it continues to evolve, and artists continue to push boundaries into previously unknown musical feats.
But what exactly is drum and bass music? We explore below.
Definition: What is Drum and Bass Music?
The definition of drum and bass music may seem like a fairly contemporary genre at first glance, given the name–but there’s a lot more to it than these two instruments.
Drum and bass music is actually a subgenre of EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and a fairly prolific one at that. Because of its darker, more menacing tone and insatiable catchiness, it became a hallmark in any nightclub and a staple of the underground EDM scene.
Drum and Bass Music Characteristics
In order to understand how drum and bass music gets characterized, we have to look at what defines it apart from similar genres in EDM.
Compared to other genres of EDM, drum and bass music holds a distinction for its fast breaks at 160 – 180 beats per minute, as well as its reliance on a strong bass line. Drum and bass music is also heavily defined by its influence from a range of musical scenes and styles, primarily from Jamaican dub and reggae, as well as jazz and funk.
If you’re looking for a complete rundown on the aspects that make up drum and bass, below are some of those critical elements.
With hyper-fast beats per minute, there also comes a firm reliance on a good drum beat. Most drum and bass songs are composed using an incredibly high tempo of 4/4, any slower, and it falls into the realm of genres like techno instead of drum and bass.
A solid bass is just as crucial to any drum and bass track, as indicated by the name. The bass doesn’t have to be low-pitched, either–in fact, most drum and bass songs use a high-pitched bass line, generally produced using a synthesizer.
It also defines drum and bass music as a genre, to some extent. Before any heavy experimentation with a bass line, drum and bass music was simply known as ‘jungle’ and was virtually identical in terms of speed and cultural significance.
Drum and bass music is best when all of its influences (funk, jazz, electronic, reggae, the list goes on) play together to create something new and groundbreaking. That is why the best drum and bass musicians take influences from genres outside of the genre and attempt to incorporate them into their work.
Jungle and techno music generally don’t go above 130 beats per minute; this is where drum and bass music differs widely from these parent genres. Drum and bass music is well known for going well above 160 words per minute, usually capping out around 180 words per minute.
Origins of Drum and Bass
The history and culture behind drum and bass music are probably two of the most important things to consider when analyzing its difference from other genres. It started in London in the late 1980s as an alternate form of electronic dance music (initially known as jungle music) and developed alongside many other genres frequently played at nightclubs and music festivals.
It also takes heavy inspiration from Jamaican dub and reggae, which fused with British rave culture to create a truly unique genre in its wake.
7 Examples of Drum and Bass Music
The strength of drum and bass music is most definitely in its diversity. The scene's best tracks can be found over the genre, and drum and bass music has been prevalent in both the underground and the mainstream music scene.
While many DJs have specialized in various sub-genres of jungle and drum and bass, most of the genre's artists have been and remain connected through record labels, events, and radio shows.
Andy C – Quest
A legendary production from Andy C, the fluid and bassy sound of Quest is built to clatter any sound system it comes across. Now that we mentioned it keeps your sound system in mind because they built this track only for the most monstrous bass systems out there.
Sub Focus – X-Ray
One of the finest tracks from Sub Focus, X-Ray, is hailed as an anthem by all of their fans across the world. This track will get any D&B head slamming their head to the insane guitar riffs and penetrating synth chords.
Origin Unknown/Andy C – Valley of the Shadows
Valley of the shadows is a prime example of acoustic keyboard-heavy drum and bass. Despite its intensity and reliance on a strong bass line, this song is relatively simple when stripped of its bare elements.
Featuring only a drum pattern, synth notes, and samples from the acoustic keyboard, what it lacks in structure, it makes up for in its aggression. This kind of minimalism was quite rare for the time in Britain, which made this style incredibly palpable and fresh.
Bad Company – The Nine
A classic from the tech step era, The Nine by Bad Company excels in preserving the essence of that genre. Fans agree–it is one of the top ten most listened tech step tracks of all time.
Fresh – Signal
Signal by Fresh was a hit among all clubbers in the 90s, and despite virtually being the same song as Doc Scott’s Unofficial Ghost from 1996, it still got everyone moving on the dance floor just as much.
Moving Fusion – Turbulence
Many people consider this the anthem of Moving Fusion. It stands up to that title on the dance floor. Despite this, they haven’t done a live tour in over seven years, so chances are you won’t get to see them in person any time soon.
Pendulum – Voodoo People Remix
Many consider this track to be one of the most timeless D&B titles out there. Despite this, a lot of people disliked the remix, saying it was a lazy remake of the original and it didn’t live up to its standards.
5 Best Drum and Bass Musicians
There are an uncountable amount of musicians that arose from this genre; many attempted to copy what more successful artists had already accomplished. Thus, there can be a lot of mundane artists to sift through, but there are just as many that shine outside of this.
Below are some of the most well-regarded drum and bass musicians to date.
Spor (also known as Feed Me/Jon Gooch) is one of the biggest names in the modern drum and bass scene. Based in Hong Kong, he has already released four tracks with artists like mau5trap. Because of his unique and visionary take on drum and bass music, has invigorated the genre with heavy inspiration from several musical styles.
A brilliant producer who can change styles at a whim for fun or artistry, he currently has three major releases on Hospital Records and Drum and Bass Arena, followed by a remix for the Southampton Bass band, FooR.
Andy C is one of the most prolific drum and bass producers out there–maybe literally, since the Drum and Bass Arena Awards gave him the title of ‘Best DJ’ for ten consecutive years. Infusing elements of D&B with dubstep, his explosive on-stage performances have shaped the modern-day rave scene.
Regardless of how you feel about him, his loyal fanbase and status as a D&B icon make him an artist on this list you can’t miss.
The Dropset is destroying the drum and bass scene with its devastating beats that appear on sets around the world from some of the biggest names in the game.
While not as dominant as Andy C at the Drum and Bass Arena Awards, the Dutch trio has won the Best Producer award multiple times in recent years. Along with this, their latest album, Outer Edges, saw them touring the world with breathtaking accompaniment on stage.
After becoming widely recognized after his fantastic rendition of Mike Snow’s Black and Blue single, the Belgian drum and bass music producer Netsky is now sweeping the scene on a global stage.
With heavy incorporation of liquid funk, trap house, and drumstep, his music easily transcends simple drum and bass. Using several layers of instrumentation, sound clips, and repetitious vocals, many regard Netsky as a pioneer of the D&B genre.
Following a remarkable chain of chart hits in 2012 and 2013, Sub Focus hit the international stage with its punchy yet soothing beats. Nowadays, they are busy touring Europe and performing at music festivals, so if you are in the area during their performance, I wouldn’t miss out on a live performance from Sub Focus.
The History of Drum and Bass
To learn about the full history of drum and bass, we’ll have to start with the origins of the genre in British rave culture, the rise of the jungle subculture, and the past and present development of the genre into its subsequent subgenres.
British Rave Culture
Drum and Bass, often stylized as DnB or D&B, emerged as part of the British rave scene in the early 90s and have quickly evolved since then into a global phenomenon. In its inception, producers would mix African beat/reggae elements with early electronic dance music, resulting in an upbeat and undeniably hip new sound.
Like many genres of British electronic music, drum and bass music also harkens back to influences from early rave, jazz, dancehall, and funk—among many other sounds stemming from the hardcore breakbeat genre that dominated the 90s sound waves.
While distinct in its musical definition, drum and bass music harbors a deep connection to past musical movements rooted in the early British rave scene and British-Jamaican music culture.
Rise of the Jungle Subculture
A direct predecessor to drum and bass music, Jungle is a genre of EDM defined by its wicked fast breakbeat speed and its stylistic reliance on reggae. With its focus targeted more at the break beat programming and intensity than the bass line itself, it paved the way for experimentation which would culminate in drum and bass music.
It’s best to think of drum and bass music as a subgenre of jungle music–all drum and bass music technically is jungle music, but not all jungle music is drum and bass.
Influence on Speed Garage/House Music Genre
In the late 1990s, the development of house music quickly overshadowed the popularity of drum and bass music (also known as speed garage), including prominent subgenres like garage house, acid house, and hip house.
This genre shift was primarily because of the club scene steadily declining in female to male ratio as the ’90s progressed (I’m serious about this), which resulted in a slightly darker and less optimistic atmosphere in these clubs.
Because of the growing craze for a darker and more atmospheric audio aesthetic, speed garage became the new norm in the D&B genre. With similar rhythms, vocals, and bass lines, but slower and friendlier (or at least radio-friendly) speeds, this captivated clubbers for its moodier takes on the genre.
The sound also marked a period in which drums and bass became more isolated and drew inspiration from themselves rather than other musical genres of drum and bass music themselves.
Even though speed garage never became very popular, the influence it had on drum and bass music was very significant. Along with this, speed garage heavily influenced many other similar genres like jazz, metal, hip-hop, big beat, house, and trip-hop, even extending its influence into underground EDM genres like dark-side hardcore.
Evolution of Drum and Bass Music
In order to understand the evolution of drum and bass, we have to look at the full history of its making and the other sub-genres that influenced it along the way–starting in the late 1980s with EDM.
Electronic music originated from a combination of sampled syncopated rhythms and sound bytes sourced from a variety of music genres. Come 1990, the electronic music scene began releasing more bass-line and breakbeat tracks, often adding dancehall and reggae elements. In early 1991, electronic musicians began cutting heavily sampled tracks and creating heavy bass lines over drums.
We also can’t talk about drum and bass music without bringing up the development of hip-hop alongside it in the late 80s. Initially, break beats in hip-hop production influenced the sound of hardcore breakbeats, which then gave its roots to Jungle, and then drum and bass music.
Around the year of 1995, many D&B producers moved away from reggae-influenced styles. They created more complex, heavily modified staccato percussion and prominent bass lines, further expanding the drum and bass genre.
Modern-day mainstream drum and bass music shares many musical characteristics with hip-hop and dubstep, although it is now mostly devoid of lyrics. Despite this, there is still a prevailing underground scene that continues to define the genre to this day.
What is Drum and Bass Music? Final Thoughts
I believe drum and bass music is incredibly distinct in its musical definition, but despite this, it doesn’t shy away at all from branching out into other genres and styles.
Drum and bass music has gone through some incredibly radical changes in its lifetime and has already been succeeded by several genres in its wake. One thing is certain, however, and it’s that fans will always be around to listen to what revolutionary new sounds are coming out of the genre to this very day.