Of all the questions that have surrounded the origin stories of jungle and drum 'n' bass, the one most commonly asked is which came first?
It’s not an easy question to answer, as despite popular histories of the era suggesting that Jungle was the forerunner, there is a lot of evidence to suggest drum 'n' bass came first. What’s clear though is that all of these styles were a part of junglism and the drum 'n' bass junglists came to represent the more experimental, ambient side of the movement that some called artcore, others described as intelligent drum 'n' bass.
In October 1994 Bukem, Fabio, Kemistry and Storm and a selection of guests took over the Mars Bar in London's West End for a Monday night session called Speed. It was an event that was key to the sudden creative growth of the drum 'n' bass scene. A meeting place for like-minded producers, DJs and punters, it was a million miles from the jungle raves that were raging to crowds upwards of 5000 in other parts of the country.
With a capacity of only a few hundred, Speed was the very epicenter of this growing scene and in many ways the catalyst for the clear emergence of a separate drum 'n' bass node to the junglism network.
Here Martin James, author of State of Bass: The Origins of Jungle/ Drum & Bass, suggests seven vital tracks that soundtracked legendary drum 'n' bass club Speed.
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L. T. J. Bukem - 'Horizons'
Home Counties soul boy Danny Bukem delivered his first slice of drum 'n' bass as far back as 1990 with the track ‘Logical Progression’.
By the time Speed opened its doors he was well established as a DJ and producer and the club became his laboratory where he would test his science on the crowd. As a result early mixes were aplenty, including a tune that seemed to capture the very atmosphere of Speed, ‘Horizons’.
With the haunting voice of Maya Angelou performing at Bill Clinton’s presidential inauguration and keyboard flourishes lifted from Lemon Sol’s ‘Sunflash’ all stitched to Kurtis Blow’s ‘Do The Do’ break, this tune represents the very essence of Bukem’s trademark soulful ambient soundscapes.
It was also the way into junglism for jazz heads, soul boys, and electronic freaks everywhere.
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T.Power & MK Ultra – ‘Horny Mutant Jazz’
Marc ‘T Power’ Royale had been producing and engineering hardcore breaks tracks since the early days while his own output on SOUR would take a deep dive in to the claustrophobic strains of technology driven psychosis before he would eventually resurface with a series of cub and radio jump up ragga monsters with his long-time sparring partner Shy FX.
‘Horny Mutant Jazz’ is an orphan tune from his catalogue that just doesn't seem to fit the story. Working with fellow toker and hip-hop creative MK Ultra, Royale brought a downtempo groove lifted from The Headhunters’ ‘God Made Me Funky’ that collapses with the vocal statement ‘the white man has got a God complex’ from the Last Poets tracks of the same name.
After which the tune becomes a high groove melt of analogue synth, freeform muted trumpet, panpipes from Tangerine Dream’s ‘Yellowstone Park’ and one of the most used breaks in drum 'n' bass, ‘Sesame Street’ by Blowfly.
Not only did this track open the world of drum 'n' bass to the trip hop and down tempo scenes due to its inclusion on Wall of Sound’s 'Give ‘Em Enough Dope Vol 2' but the ‘Mutant Remix’ reworking by DJ Trace gave rise to an entire new area of junglism called techstep.
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'Renegade Snares' - 'Omni Trio' (Moving Shadow)
A masterpiece from producer Rob Haigh, ‘Renegade Snares’ was a tune that traversed the space between huge raves like Elavation, the dark zone of A.W.O.L. at the Paradise and the sweat soaked rooms of Speed.
In basic terms ‘Renegade Snares’ spoke the language of the drum 'n' bass club before the doors of Speed had even opened. On this tune Haigh stretches the hardcore uproar down soulful avenues with a sampled voice from Soundsource’s ‘Take Me Up’ melted over heavily flanged rolling snares and a haunting melodic piano refrain.
If certain tunes mark the transition between sub-genres and styles then this one of the most important from the era, wherever and whenever it was dropped the crowd would go insane.
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DJ Krust - ‘Set Speed’
When Doc Scott played a dub of this jazz stepper from Bristol’s DJ Krust from beginning to end in all of its glory, it spread like a fever through the whole of Speed.
Everyone from punter to VIP went berserk for its stripped down two-step momentum, transfixed by the interplay between synths and strings, acoustic guitar lifted from ‘Cavatina’ by John Williamson and breaks drawn from Bobby Byrd’s ‘Hot Pants’. It was one of those perfect Speed moments.
Krust would was a mainstay of the hugely influential V Recordings stable that included Roni Size among its producers.
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4 Hero - 'Wrinkles In Time'
Any one of 4 Hero’s tunes from this era could have been in this list but this one has all of the hallmarks of the Speed sound. Phased synths that seem to push and pull at the rhythm, distant alarms, tinkling bells and a break from ‘Wah Wah Man’ by Young-Holt Limited.
Lifted from their 'Parallel Universe' album, 'Wrinkles In Time' captures the atmosphere of accelerated culture and temporal shift that underscores drum 'n' bass thanks to timestretching breakbeats, dislocated sci-fi ambience and samples from the furthest reaches of the crates.
4 Hero worked at the melting ground the junglism and Detroit techno (for a deeper Detroit vibe check out their 'Jacob’s Optical Stairway' album). 'Wrinkles In Time' remains a perfect example of Speed’s future bound history lessons.
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Adam F - 'Circles' (Sector 5)
Adam F may be more often associated with Goldie’s Metalheadz but this tune is pure Speed. Featuring hooks sampled from Bob James’ ‘Winchester Lady’, vocals lifted from Tameka Starr’s ‘Going in Circles’ and Blackstreet’s ‘Physical Thing’ over breaks from Kurtis Blow’s ‘Do the Do’ the tune felt like it was beamed from a 1950’s smoky dive into a scene from Star Wars.
The overall effect was of low down, ganja soaked; smooth jazz and soul that also became a huge influence on the Liquid scene that would follow three years later. Adam F would later deliver one of Liquid’s touchstones with ‘Brand Nu Funk’ moving into hip-hop and ultimately film score production.
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PFM - ‘One & Only’
Dreamy synth washes, sparse, bass pads, and echoing female vocal, repeated horn stabs and breaks drawn from James Brown’s ‘Cold Sweat’ make this seem like standard drum 'n' bass fare until an utterly monstrous heartbeat bassline demolished any sense of sedentary groove.
In many ways the dream scapes of this tune were the perfect example of the Good Looking label (the more laid back and luscious side to Looking Good records) and epitomised the kind of sets Bukem laid down at Speed.
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State Of Bass: The Origins Of Jungle / Drum & Bass is available now from Velocity Press - order it HERE.
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