Friday, January 28, 2005

what's that sound

I've been well out of the "drumnbass" scene for quite a while, for various reasons. I'd sample a few records here and there, sift through used sections for classic jump-up, look for familiar names at Amoeba, and at the local dj record place (no grime, no breakcore, nothing more out there than whatever comes in their Planet Mu/ Rephlex delivery) and poke dispiritedly through whatevers' listed in the Ragga section. I haven't gone to a night that advertised itself as drumnbass in ages, because I'd been so unhappy with the music whenever I did.

But last Friday I ended up at Subscience crew's at the Sublounge (my fellow-resident/organizer for our new monthly plays there as well) in SF. I wandered downstairs to the Dnb room for a while, after feeling it vibrate up through the floorboards.. And you know? it almost caught me.

I don't know what you call it - it's extremely aggressive, and techy, but with more melodic basslines. Fewer operatic synth sections than Pendulum (whom I almost like, for being the Queen of dnb, but can't actually listen to for long, and really can't dance to). But what was entertaining was that the super-obvious, heavy handed breakdowns that have become de rigeur for dnb, are becoming so heavy, so drawn out, so extreme, that they are longer than the dance sections. The usually-so-predictable song structure seems to be breaking apart, and people stand around confused on the dancefloor for minutes at a time. While a bassline careens down, pitches up, there's a 4-measure pause, a distorted howling sample, another bassline, another pause, and then the beats kick in double-time.
It still takes itself too seriously, and still relies on limp and cheesy synth sounds or sentimental vocal samples for contrast to all the chungity-chunga-zing-boom.. but it's starting to be genuinely abstract. In another way, I was thinking of a more ponderous take on the minimal grime sound.

In relation to drumnbass conventions, what I thought about afterwards was how it was like Chopin. What I remember from my piano days (ok, back 17 years ago or so) was how Chopin was in one way the height of a very particular form, the romantic form. Form had rules and conventions, tons of them. But one of the conventions was embellishment, which his music takes to such an extreme that the embellishments start breaking down any usual conception of time-signature or ratio of embellishment to "main tune." So in a way he points to modernism, just through extending what some people think of as the worst that goes on in the music.

What's also funny is that I'm back where I started with having almost no idea who's making the records that are being played. I know names, and can identify a few (Pendulum for example), but I have to actually describe the sounds when talking about the music. Which I usually try to do, and I wish more djs in dnb did, because I think they'd buy better records (or make them) if they were actually thinking about how tunes sounded instead of just whether it is the latest by xyz, or whether it's a dubplate. Or what kind of processor was used. or whatnot.


  1. agree with the d'n'b scene stuff, yes it's embellishment to the max, there's still good stuff out there, Cause4Concern sometimes hit the nail on the head, just piles of trash to sift through, silent witness also go so dark and dirty that it's still pretty thrilling.

    well i've never made a serious d'n'b track the below links show, probably offends the old skool purests and nu skool d'n'b headz but so what.


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