2017 has seen a drastic change in my music taste. The genres I listen to, the formats I pick, the gigs I attend, and the way I consume music have all changed dramatically. I’ve gradually become obsessed with various forms of genres I never thought I’d be listening which include jungle, grime, dubstep, drum and bass, and other forms of bass-heavy electronic dance music. I’ve also reaffirmed a love for reggae, dub and dancehall. I owe it mainly to experiencing this in clubs which offer a unique take on sound system culture and a shared love of this music with friends. Seeing artists perform in a live setting at clubs with huge sound systems is tremendously different from witnessing guitar bands at a gig or festival; the volume and the bass is so loud and heavy that it’s impossible not to dance to and get involved. The audience is looser; they don’t necessarily face the performer and they may not have heard the music before, but they dance and enjoy themselves regardless. Esoteric cuts of jungle and dancehall may be played, for example nights such as Leeds’ SubDub feature the Iration Steppas, a DJ collective who play obscure dancehall cuts until the early hours of the morning.
These genres are built for the club setting, so singles are the most popular release; short, often urgent snippets of music where the goal is to get people moving. The main thing I’ve experienced with exploring these genres is that stepping outside of the confines of the album format is the key; singles, DJ mixes, EPs, compilations and watching live sets (such as those featured on Boiler Room) are the ways to go, but seeing live music is the best way to get involved.
This post will explore a few cuts from a variety of genres, many of which are classics, set staples for DJs, or just my personal favourites. These need turning up, preferably on a decent system with good bass; if you’re listening on cheap headphones or through a laptop and you aren’t enjoying these tunes, then that’s part of the problem.
The Bug – Skeng
I’ve been listening to The Bug for a few years now and his unique take on music is something I appreciate massively. From a musical background of industrial and heavy metal, Kevin Martin has appeared in countless projects such as Techno Animal, God, Ice and King Midas Sound who have been incredibly influential to the underground. His goal in The Bug is to intimidate the listener and the audience with sub-bass, layers of noise and a barrage of vocals. The sound includes grime, dancehall, industrial, hip hop and dubstep all mixed up into an experimental concoction. The album London Zoo is incredibly consistent and includes numerous highlights such as ‘Murder We’, ‘Jah War’, ‘Poison Dart’ and the classic ‘Skeng’. ‘Skeng’ features a repetitive dubstep bassline and appearances from grime MCs Flowdan and Killa P who both deliver an incredible performance in a West Indian accent. I’ve been lucky enough to see this performed live three times and Martin always steps up his A-game when performing live and constantly adapts his set to offer something different.
Kahn – Abattoir
The most ridiculous track on the list, ‘Abattoir’ features sub-bass so over-the-top it could cause earthquakes. This menacing number is from Bristol based dubstep producer Kahn, who’s signed to one of my favourite labels in the genre: Deep Medi Musik. The brass at the start signals the approaching peril: bouncing sub-bass paired with off-kilter rhythms of snare clicks and trap influenced hi-hats. ‘Abattoir’ is often heard dropped in DJ sets and gets the crowd going wild every single time. Kahn has also produced other favourites such as ‘Dread’ and ‘Badman City’ which features Flowdan, whilst his work with Commodo, Gantz and Neek similarly offers distinctive interpretations of the 140bpm sound.
Shy FX – Original Nuttah
A jungle classic, Shy FX’s ‘Original Nuttah’ is a track which gets dropped at near enough every drum and bass related club night. It provides an iconic sing-a-long-able introduction followed by intimidatingly rapid breakbeats
Benga & Coki – Night
A crossover hit, ‘Night’ brought dubstep to mainstream attention all the way back in 2007. It was played regularly on Radio 1 and was named Track of the Year by influential DJ Gilles Peterson. Coki is a member of Digital Mystikz with Mala, an incredibly influential duo who run the DMZ label where dark and minimal sounds thrived. He’s also known for his aggressive take on dubstep which pre-empted the American phenomena which came to be known as ‘brostep’, an often frowned upon offshoot where catchy melody and exaggerated drops replaced sub-bass and reggae influence. Similarly, Benga is one of the most recognised figures in the genre, even producing the successful track ‘Katy On a Mission’ by Katy B. Combined, Benga and Coki released the best track of their careers. Featuring shuffling percussion and irresistible UK garage basslines, this immediately catchy number remains one of the genres greatest moments.
Sir Spyro – Topper Top
Probably the biggest grime song of 2016, you can’t go to a rave and not hear ‘Topper Top’ dropped a few times, usually with several pull ups each time. Penned by celebrated producer Sir Spyro, the track was finally released on the Deep Medi label last year after being a sought after dubplate for months. Its intimidating spoken intro from Teddy Buckshot leads into a verse from the man himself, then an unforgettable rapid fire chorus. Also, Lady Chann and Killa P smash their verses.
Dizzee Rascal – Stop Dat and I Luv U
It goes without saying that Dizzee Rascal is one of the most influential grime musicians of all time; Wiley invented it, but Dizzee changed the game with the huge success and acclaim that came along with his debut Boy In Da Corner. I couldn’t decide which of these tracks I enjoy more so both get a feature. ‘Stop Dat’ includes incredible bassline instrumentals whilst ‘I Luv U’ is instantaneous and is one of grimes’ best known singles.
Mosca – Bax
The biggest UK garage song going, Mosca’s ‘Bax’ mixes the sounds of old school garage with his own take on the genre to an astounding effect. It’s massively danceable and catchy all the way through, and the basslines and drum fills are simply brilliant.
The A-side ‘Done Me Wrong’ is also incredible, it even features an in-song midpoint reload, a feat MC Grindah would be proud of.
Zinc/The Ganja Kru – Super Sharp Shooter
‘Super Sharp Shooter’ is perhaps my favourite jungle track of all time and there’s good reason for that. The way which Zinc and The Ganju Kru mix samples of the Wu-Tang Clan into dirty, homegrown drum and bass rhythms is incredible. It adds a sense of catchiness and familiarity, whilst crossing over to the other side of the ocean for influence. The 1990s was the era for both drum and bass, giving it a nostalgic feel when Sharp Shooter is listened to in the present day. The repeating bassline is hard hitting and memorable, and there’s a gradual build-up until the amens hit, allowing the crowds to go wild after chanting the first half of the track.
There are hundreds of tracks I could have put here, and the extensive playlists keep growing all the time. These are the classics that helped me get into the respective genres, and are excellent starting points for any curious readers.