THE BEGINNING

REACH OUT AND TOUCH BASS: Each month one of our writers spends a week listening to music they don’t like. Josh Sunth chose drum’n’bass

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I’d started the evening drinking fireball whisky in a Wetherspoons, and ended up alone in a room full of snapbacks and sweaty Drum and Bass enthusiasts. The friend who’d invited me to try out this alternative to Friday’s usual blend of pop remixes and Jaegerbombs had snorted a sizeable amount of coke in the mucky upstairs toilets, and disappeared with a mate from Asda into the maul of sportswear. Consequently, I was left to my own devices – armed with only a (highly regretful) affair with Pendulum during my teens to fend off the onslaught of 170bpm ‘bangers’. It was exactly how I’d imagined it.

An hour or so later, what first seemed like a guaranteed failure had turned into a refreshing antidote to basically every club night I’d experienced previously. It was frenetic and infectious. It was totally new to me. It was a novelty, to say the least. But it did little to persuade me that I’d ever become a casual listener of Drum and Bass (or that such a thing even exists). And I’d certainly not given the genre any more thought until I was confronted with the obstacle of writing this article.

DnB is just too aggressive for me. Its speed and power comes from a place which I find… confusing – if only because I don’t see any appeal in such relentless, bleak sensibilities. Or in a style that’s at odds with many of the virtues I value in music. In fact, if it wasn’t for this experiment, I might well have held off for a lifetime. But with the deadline looming, I convince myself I’ll be able to at least appreciate the craftsmanship of some albums (maybe even enjoy a few), and two days later I’m scrolling through the /mu/ essentials (look it up) of the genre, flicking through albums, and wincing at names like ‘Even Angels Cast Shadows’ and ‘Hard Normal Daddy’. (Squarepusher’s reputation precedes him, so I steer well clear).

I start with an album called ‘Anatomy’ by Calyx and Teebee. It contains songs titled ‘Vortex’, ‘Warrior’ and ‘Ultimatum’, and sounds like a thumping sci-fi nightmare of sub bass and pummelling drum lines. It’s a relentless – often blunt – object, but one that embodies the club-oriented vein of Drum and Bass that many people associate the whole of the genre with. I can admire the craftsmanship of it – the way it never slips out of glossy, futuristic overdrive for more than a millisecond – but I’ll admit I feel slightly disorientated by the elastic ending synth as ‘Vortex’ fades away, glad my trial by fire is over and I can go onto something more palatable. Because the way I see it, Drum and Bass can be split into two distinct groups: music produced for clubs, and music produced for headphones. I began my listening indiscriminately, but after a day or two, I find myself veering heavily away from the former, particularly enamoured with High Contrast’s third studio album. ‘Tough Guys Don’t Dance’, as its name suggests, is far less straight-laced than many other Drum and Bass LPs, and draws me into a vein of the genre that’s infused with melodic vocal lines, organic instruments and nods to various strands of pop culture. I actually enjoy the playful “Don’t let them sleep” sample taken from the titular film, and the soulful melodies of guest vocalist J’Nay on ‘Eternal Optimist’ – but only in the context of something like ‘Anatomy’.

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