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Junglist Massive: State Of Bass Author Martin James's 20 Essential D&B Tracks
The Quietus , April 18th, 2020 08:33

Since its original publication in 1997, Martin James' State Of Bass: The Origins of Jungle / Drum & Bass has only gained in stature. With its republication this month by Velocity Press, the author picks 20 tunes that defined the genre's thrilling first decade

4Hero. Photo by Nicola Dracoulis CC2.0

Milled in the ferment of the uniquely British underground, jungle and drum & bass sounded simultaneously classic and future-bound. The musics drew their hooks from the multicultural hues of urban Britain and linked them through the historical lines of reggae, dub, jazz, soul, funk, rare groove, acid house, bleep and hardcore.

Jungle/ Drum & Bass emerged via a cultural history that explored an urban UK diaspora informed by the Windrush generation and shaped by the hustle of a creative underclass; a technological revolution where the physicality of surveillance was becoming increasingly digital; and an acceleration that saw sound mutating at blistering speed.

State of Bass: The Origins of Jungle/ Drum & Bass explores the emergence of a cultural force that defined the final decade of the millennium. Here author Martin James proposes his twenty essential tunes from the first decade of Junglism.

‘We are I.E.’ – Lennie De Ice (De Underground)

It’s hard not to overstate the importance of this tune to the entire proto-jungle underground. Featuring an Amen break sampled from ‘King of the Beats’ by Mantronix, a bass line that echoes the electronic force of ragga, gun shots, vinyl spinbacks and snatched Algerian Rai and classic electro vocal samples, ‘We Are I.E.’ is almost a blueprint for the tricks that would become ubiquitous in Jungle productions.

‘Mr Kirk’s Nightmare’ – 4Hero (Reinforced)

Taken from their second EP, Combat Dancing, this track saw 4Hero moving away from the bleep sound of their earliest productions towards dark poto-drum & bass., or darkcore as it would become known. Built around the Isley Brothers ‘Get Into Something’ break and a spoken word recording drawn rom the real life horror of drug related tragedy, this tune tapped into a growing nihilistic energy among ravers, which seemingly encouraged people to push themselves to limits of chemically enhanced endurance. ‘Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare’ was also a track that nearly destroyed DJ Rap’s career.

During one particular rave someone died just as Rap dropped it into her set. “I lost every booking I’d ever worked for. When the police came to my house they said, ‘so, you’re the DJ everyone hates’. I had no idea the guy had been stabbed but people didn’t believe me,” she told me in 1996. Nonetheless, ‘Mr. Kirk’s Nightmare’ is a pivotal tune in the development of the darkcore scene.

‘Way in My Brain’ – SL2 (XL)

The Jungle / Drum & Bass nexus can’t be understood without mention of Wayne Smith’s ‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’, the track that provided the pulsing ‘riddims’ to ‘Way in My Brain’. Built around a Casio MT-40 electronic keyboard pre-set, ‘Under Mi Sleng Teng’ became a soundtrack to the Summer of 1985 that was versioned over 450 times. ‘Way in My Bran’ lifted the Sleng Teng ‘riddim’ and added breaks from Kool & the Gang’s funk classics ‘Chocolate Buttermilk’ and ‘Give it Up’ in a fusion that marked a clear signpost in rave’s jungle flow. A proto-jungle classic as much as it's a rave staple.

‘Terminator’ – Rufige Cru (Reinforced)

Throughout 1992 Goldie worked with Dego and Marc form 4Hero to create a series of sound experiments. The primary aim was for the duo to teach Goldie the ropes of studio production, but instead the process birthed a series of tracks that would show how the tributaries and streams through darkcore and drum & bass would merge.

‘Terminator’ was the first time that the timestretching technique had been used on the breaks, an effect that allowed you to alter tempo of a sample without changing the pitch. The effect was like an experiment with the temporal flow of music, as sonic futures became historical loops. Time itself simultaneously collapsing in and building out. ‘Terminator’ proved to be a key signpost in the emergence of the cyber driven ideologies of drum & bass tech, while also providing a jaw-dropping dancefloor moment.

‘A London Sumtin’ – Code 071 (Tek 9 Remix)

Tek 9 was an occasional solo project from 4Hero’s Dego McFarlane that fused ragga with hip hop to create an instantly recognisable drum&bass sound. His remake of Code 071’s ‘A London Sumtin’ brought the ragga b-line to the fore. Stretching the ‘Feelin’ It’ break from one of rave’s favoured sample sources, the Ultramagnetic MCs’ Critical Beatdown, Tek 9’s remix twists the original’s hardcore thrust into a twisting darkcore meets proto-jungle horror movie.

‘Valley of the Shadows’ – Original Unknown (Ram)

Originally released as the b-side to ‘The Touch’, the track combined metallic, cut up and reversed breaks with sub bass intensity and two repeated phrases. The key phrase “Felt that I was in this long dark tunnel”, was sampled from an episode of the BBC documentary series Q.E.D. about out of body experiences. A second “thirty-one seconds” was lifted from the Apollo 11 countdown to the 1969 Lunar Module landing on the moon. The resulting track saw Essex boys Ant Miles and Andy C creating a Dante-esque vision of hell in the urban-scape; the use of the girl’s voice mumbling the long dark tunnel phrase ensuring a near perfect slice of breakbeat noire.

‘The Helicopter Tune’ – Deep Blue (Moving Shadow)

Take one bassline created from the sound of rotating helicopter blades, another that shifts deep rolling funk and dancehall. Add it to a break built from Blowfly’s filthy ‘Sesame Street’ that occasional erupts into a snare roll that echoes the helicopter blades. Add horn stabs, gunshots, discordant strings and a jittering Afro sequence and you’re left with a tune that oozes tension and drips with suspense. A huge anthem in 1993, its metronomic flow had all of the detailed production that would mark out drum & bass in this era. It also offered a different vision to the ragga fused jump-up jungle sound that was dominating things at the time.

‘RIP’ - Remarc (Suburban Base)

Known as the ‘King of the Amen break’, Remarc first came to prominence with his darkcore classic ‘Ricky’ but it was with ‘RIP’ that he really cemented his position as one of the most respected key players in the ragga-jungle scene. This tune takes it’s ‘RIP’ call from a sample of Saxon Sound and King Addies’ ‘Saxon Vs Addies Soundclash’ in Bermuda, 1994. Other samples included regular sound sources to the breakbeat scene Meat Beat Manifesto with their ‘Soul Driver’ track from the John Peel Sessions EP. ‘RIP’ became a regular rewind at the legendary Roast sessions as well as the sweat soaked AWOL Sessions at Paradise. A turbulent force that altered the flow of the breakbeat torrent for some time.

‘The Burial’ - Leviticus (Ffrr)

Jumping Jack Frost, with production support from Optical and engineering by Dillinja, this was an accidental dream team that couldn't fail to create a classic. With a rhythm built for the ‘Think About it Break’ (Lyn Collins’ classic funky disco tune from 1972) with harmonised vocals singing stretched out ‘oohs’ lifted from ‘Mademoiselle’ by Foxy and pitched down to sound like monk chants. The key vocal hooks of the ‘Copacabana’ melody lifted from Barry Manilow and the ragga boasting “me big, bad and ‘eavy, any sound test me tonight, Dem a go bury” were both lifted from Jigsy Kings and Tony Curtis’s ragga soundclash monster ‘My Sound a Murder’. The result was intoxicating and unsurprisingly became a staple weapon in the jungle arsenal.

‘Incredible’ – M Beat featuring General Levy (Renk)

Wicked, wicked Junglist massive. Big up the original Junglist massive. The original Dancehall Junglist… Incredible.” From its opening boast to its ‘Sesame Street’ break (Blowfly again) this tune more than any other marked 1994 as the summer of jungle. The distinctive cry of “booyaka, booyaka” that featured heavily on ‘Incredible’ seemed to be everywhere all of a sudden. By the time of that summer’s Notting Hill Carnival the ‘Booyaka’ call of ragga-jungle had taken over the streets of London, providing an overwhelming catchphrase for the nightlife culture of city life.

‘Original Nuttah’ – UK Apache with Shy FX (SOUR)

If one tune captures the multiracial essence of the jungle / drum&bass origin era it’s this Anglo, Afro, Asia meltdown. In essence a reworked version of Shy FX’s ‘Gangsta Kid’ from 1993 with a new vocal from UK Apache who had been using ‘Gangsta Kid’ as a loop in one of his own tracks. ‘Original Nuttah’ was recorded in only one studio take. Its impact was immediate. It was rinsed by Kool FM and other pirate radio stations, the main DJs dropped it into every set and the crowds demanded rewind after rewind. At one Jungle Soundclash, Kenny Ken dropped a VIP plate that Shy had recorded for him with the lyrics “You never know the article, genuine in the Jungle, you never know Kenny Ken, he rule the Jungle”. The crowd demanded ten rewinds on it, three more than DJ Rap, who got seven rewinds with the original version of the tune. In fact every DJ played ‘Original Nuttah’ that night!

‘Code Red (’94 Remix)’ – Conquering Lion (X-Project)

Conquering Lion was better known as Michael West, aka Rebel MC who’d had chart success with the commercial sound of hip-house. This ragga breakbeat mash-up couldn’t have been further from the mainstream. Like Remarc’s ‘RIP’ this tune samples Saxon Sound and King Addies’ ‘Saxon Vs. Addies Soundclash’ in Bermuda, 1994, but to much darker effect. For West, junglism was far more than a scene, he viewed it as an expression of militancy and subsequently used his profile to raise awareness of the socio-political drive inherent in the music. ‘Code Red’ was a high-octane warning of Junglism’s oppositional fury.

‘Special Dedication’ – DJ Nut Nut and Top Cat (Hard Step)

Opening with a sample of Rodigan from the beginning of a clash with Waggy T at the Mahi Temple, Miami in 1993, ‘Special Dedication’ stitched together the ‘Sesame Street’ break and a series of vocal samples from Fashion Records including Top Cat’s opening lies from ‘Gallist’: “phenomenon one, special dedication, to all the women…” Also prominent is a soul-drenched melody sampled from Frankie Paul’s ‘The Kissing Game’ which provides a link back to the rare groove all-dayers that inspired many of the scene’s DJs and producers.

‘Special Dedication’ is a moment of hard step genius that built rhythms that moved away from the syncopation of other ragga styles. Emphasis here was on textured production, soulful sources and the reintroduction of the kick drum. A style that became clearer on production by L Double and Lemon D. Strangely it was one of only a few ragga hardstep tunes.

‘Music Box’ – Roni Size & DJ Die (Full Cycle)

Enter jazz-step! The fusion of jazz with the breakbeat was as inevitable as the introduction of soul and funk. Not only had many of the scene’s leading producers been actively involved in the rare groove all-dayer scenes prior to the emergence of junglism but many commentators had already noted that the sound was reminiscent of the intricate ambience and power of bebop and jungle jazz. ‘Music Box’ was a game-changer. Size & Die place the kick and the snare on the one providing the ‘step’ in ‘jazz step’, and add bright flourishes of lounge jazz melody. In one record the flow of the stream was altered again. This tune was a force of nature.

‘Atlantis (I Need You)’ – L. T. J. Bukem (Vinyl Mania)

As far back as 1990, Danny Bukem had been creating a sound that married soulful ambient soundscapes with breaks on the track ‘Logical Progression’. Some called it Artcore, for others it was the essence of drum & bass, but it was a tune that challenged many of the historical retellings that argue jungle predated drum & bass. Danny Bukem was a home counties soulboy and it showed. On ‘Atlantis (I Need You)’ he plays the role of Charles Stepney sculpting beautiful soundscapes from an imaginary Minnie Riperton. If some of Junglism’s expressions had verged on macho, then this and other tunes from the Bukem stable redressed the balance somewhat.

‘Pulp Fiction’ - Alex Reece (Metalheads)

The essence of Metalheadz Sunday Sessions at the Blue Note, this tune melted warm sub-bass, soulful female vocals and a repeated horn refrain from Coolio’s ‘Can-O-Corn’ over stripped down, Detroit-flavoured breaks. It was the tune that really introduced 2-step into the scene, a beat that subsequently dominated the highly technical neurofunk sound as well as UK garage.

This tune famously caused a rift between Reece and Goldie when the latter refused to license the tune for use on Reece’s debut album on Island. Reece is one of those producers who should have been huge, but after his second album for Island was shelved he gradually retreated from drum & bass production. That unreleased album drew heavily on electro and was far superior to his debut. Sadly, it remains in the vaults

‘Psychosis’ - Peshay (Metalheads)

Another of the ‘should have beens’ from the drum & bass scene, Peshay was taken out of action by an illness that left him bed-bound for almost two years. Miles From Home, his debut album for Island Blue arrived too late have the impact he so richly deserved. One listen to ‘Psychosis’ is enough to reveal his production talent. Like ‘Pulp Fiction’, this was a defining tune for Metalheadz with its anxious cries, shrill noises, and jittering drum rolls that build towards the introduction of the Plastic Jam break that dominates from a minute in. The tune instantly evokes memories of a smoky basement in mid-1990s Hoxton.

‘Circles’ – Adam F (Sector 5)

A producer whose legend is often dominated by his 70s pop star father Alvin Stardust, Adam F produced a series of epoch-defining records before moving into hip-hop and ultimately film score production. ‘Circles’, his debut single, was a statement of intent. It featured 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 overall effect was of low-down, ganja-soaked, smooth jazz and soul that worked just as well chilling at home as it did on the dancefloors of the drum & bass clubs.

‘Super Sharp Shooter’ – The Ganja Kru (Ganja Records)

Zinc, Hype and Pascal’s ridiculous hip-hop/jungle fusion that starts with samples from LL Cool J and Method Man, builds through lysergic squelches, dubbed up half-time jazz beats and Sleng Teng meets bleep bass before erupting, in a flurry of gunshots into the double-time Amen breaks and wobbly bass of the main verse. This s one of those tunes that demands physical reaction and – despite it’s age and lo-fi production – still sounds immense today.

‘Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu’ – Photek (Virgin)

In which drum & bass moves far away from the waste down urgency of its funk-fried origins and moves into the territories of conceptual sound design. Built entirely around the concept of the Samurai two-sword technique, which features a long and a short sword in a choreographed attack. “I started off with three different breaks and just started making patterns with them. Then I got the idea of two swords versus one and the way that the swords slide off each other and the shapes they create… [I later] found out that the [Samurai two sword technique] was originally inspired by watching a drummer creating rhythms with two sticks,” explained Photek’s Rupert Parkes in 1997. Despite being a stunning listening experience ‘Ni-Ten-Ichi-Ryu’ was hardly written for dancefloor endurance.

State of Bass: The Origins of Jungle / Drum & Bass by Martin James is available now from Velocity Press