What do you think about when you think about drum and bass? I used to think about sweat, matted white dreadlocks, brown t-shirts, yellow teeth, the faint smell of saliva mingling with mud, lads called Leigh, the word "munch", Chewbacca, Amber Leaf tobacco, mould, bedsheets sprayed with deodorant, Aldershot, Kettering, Burton, student halls, the film Snatch, and terrible weed. Now, though, I am a changed man.
I recently decided that if I'm going to write about electronic music for a living, which I somehow do, then I have to embrace the un-embraceable with arms wide open. I told myself that I couldn't spend the rest of my days with my head in the sand, blindly dismissing genres willy nilly like a bitter-beyond-his-years 14-year-old. I had to learn to love aggrotech, dubstep and neurofunk because to shun raggacore or handbag house or cybergrind would be like a restaurant reviewer not being into aubergines or star anise, or an art critic 'not quite getting the fuss' about oil paintings or sculpture. So that's how and why I decided to try and get into drum and bass.
Armed with four cans of Relentless, a family bag of Twiglets and a huge sense of trepidation I set myself the task of listening to all of Jockey Slut's Top 50 drum and bass records ever list. Why that list? Because I had an old copy of the magazine in front of me, and access to YouTube, and the task I'd taken on was such an arbitrary one in the first place that another arbitrary element didn't make any difference. Plus it looked sort of legit. I recognized names like DJ Krust and Peshay from Facebook status updates posted by people I went to school with who morphed from normal schoolboys into calling themselves Spirit IntheSkye, and if it was good enough for Woody Warlock it was good enough for me. Did I end up falling in love? Find out below. If you want to try it for yourself, the playlist is below....
Things started pretty averagely with Alex Reece's completely-fine "Pulp Fiction" which sounds like....well, drum and bass. The kind of drum and bass that has really naff saxophones on it—the kind that always makes me think of bad record shops and people who are really into watching Spaced. That, though, was my issue. I can't blame Alex Reece for that. It's not his fault that I carry around with me these unflattering comparisons, these limiting schemas, these unfortunate associations. So I listened again, I listened harder. I listened to it five times in a row and though I didn't have a Big Epiphanic Moment, I did catch myself thinking, 'oh, this is quite good, this is actually not bad, this is listenable,' and if there's a higher compliment you can pay a record, I've not heard it yet.
For a while, tracks came and went—"Shadow Boxing" by Nasty Habits rolled by very pleasantly, Dilinja's "Acid Track" sort of scared me in a good way—and while part of me still thought about the fact I'd probably prefer to be listening to some Polish disco edit or a "Behind the Waterfall" by David Lanz & Paul Speer, there was an inkling, just an inkling, that maybe I'd got drum and bass all wrong. Had I? No, surely not. I couldn't be wrong. Could I?
Well, yeah. I was wrong. For years I've been telling myself that drum and bass was the musical preserve of the kind of person I didn't think I ever wanted to become. As soon as I heard the words "drum and bass" and "party" used in close conjunction I used to come out in hives, terrified of what must have been happening at these raves—and they were always referred to as "raves," a word alone which causes me to shiver involuntarily. I imagined rooms that reeked to the high heavens, filled to the brim with blokes who looked like Spider from Corrie, shocking out to songs from the Ali G in da USAiii soundtrack. When I wanted a picture of the most miserable future ever, I used to find myself imagining a boot from Cyberdog stamping on a badly rolled spliff forever. At a club night called SkrewFayce. In a town like Bodmin.
What a load of shit that was. What an infantile way of looking at the world and other people and their enjoyments and pleasures. What narcissism and aloofness. As I glugged on my big thick can of energised sugar water ("Our classic, refreshing, great tasting energy drink, formulated to support those who are committed to chasing down their goals with passion and energy!") and slid into my third listen in a row of "Nico" by Ed Rush, I nearly wept big, fat, taurine-laced tears of regret. I'd denied myself so much pleasure, restricted myself from potholing in new musical caves, effectively stunted my own artistic growth for the sake of keeping up online appearances. Oh how I'd wasted my years on this earth.
As the tunes kept coming, these fast, furious blasts of high tempo wreckage, mangled incantations pinged in from another universe, a universe where the lumbering thump of house and techno's 4/4 rigidity is viewed with suspicion, I felt myself falling deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. Slurping down old party footage on YouTube; gorging on flyers and posters; rolling around on the unspooled polyester type plastic film from my hastily-purchased cassette packs. I'm there with a Metalheadz bomber jacket on, telling Goldie what an inspiration he is. I'm down the pub with LTJ Bukem and the 4 Hero lads, sharing a big bag of dry roasted and some hot takes on our favourite Reinforced 12"s.
From the jangly rush of Adam F's oddly-Christmassy "Circles" through to the hummingbird breeze of "Bambaata" by Shy FX, via Marcus Intalex's wine bar reverie "How You Make Me Feel" and the balmy and blissful fug of "Heat" by Wax Doctor, I was discovering gem after gem, delighted to live in an age where one track leads to a seven hour binge. Having become so accustomed to the aforementioned sense of rigidity that the pools I usually swim in are rooted around, it was a delight to find myself bobbing to something that felt mutant and reflexive, angular and often deeply strange. Sure, there were moments when the thought of another mangy, stringy double-bass bassline nearly sent me rushing for a Marcel Dettmann mix, and, yes, maybe there was one saxophone too many in the Jockey Slut list—and everyone knows the saxophone is the devil's instrument—but I persevered and came to accept my previous failings as a listener —and as a person.
In just one day I'd had to rethink everything I thought I knew about my relationship to and with an artform. And I managed to get through all that Monster too. I went to bed feeling very, very sick, but very, very happy. But still very, very sick.