The History of Rock Music: 1995-2001

Drum'n'bass, trip-hop, glitch music
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(Copyright © 2009 Piero Scaruffi)


(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Rock and Dance Music")


TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Dance music of the 1990s largely rejected the simple, jovial, hedonistic approach to body movement that had ruled since James Brown invented funk music in the 1960s. Disco, techno and house had simply imported new technologies (both for rhythm and arrangements) into the paradigm of funk. The 1990s continued that process, but further removing the "joy" of dancing from the beats, and, in fact, replacing it with fits of acute neurosis. One of the most important ideas to come out of Britain was "jungle" or "drum'n'bass", a syncopated, polyrhythmic and frantic variant of house, a fusion of hip-hop and techno that relied on extremely fast drum-machines, epileptic breakbeats and huge bass lines.

Precursors of jungle included, in the USA, Bug In The Bassbin (1992), the rhythmic workout of Carl Craig's Innerzone Orchestra, and, in Britain, Baz De Conga (1990) by Lost (the brainchild of producer Steve Bicknell who the following year founded the first major London nightclub for techno music, also called Lost). The experiments of Plaid and Meat Beat Manifesto also laid the foundations of jungle.

Jungle saw the light in 1992 in London with tracks such as Earth Leakage Trip's Psychotronic (1991), Nebula II's Flatliners (1992) and Johnny Jungle's Johnny, followed by Andy C's Valley Of The Shadows (1993) and Ed Rush's Bludclot Artattack (1993), while Omni Trio's Renegade Snares (1993) and especially LTJ Bukem's Music (1993) invented "ambient jungle" (a calmer, introverted version of that hyperkinetic dance music). The name originated from the London club that first promoted the new style, the "Jungle". Jungle (the style) spread like wildfire through other club venues, such as "Roast", "Roller Express", "Telepathy", "Desire", "A Way Of Life", "Jungle Rush", "Jungle Fever", "Thunder And Joy", "Thrust", etc. In 1994, the style began to be called "drum'n'bass", and in 1995 Goldie turned it into a mass phenomenon. The London club "Rage", thanks to disc-jockeys Fabio and Grooverider, became the epicenter of drum'n'bass.

Few genres of popular music underwent so many changes and reached such ambitious heights as jungle did. Within a few years, jungle musicians were already composing abstract and ambient pieces, integrating breakbeats with pop vocals, adopting jazz improvisation.

The golden age of drum'n'bass

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

4 Hero (2), the duo of Dego MacFarlane and Mark Mac, coined a sort of "armchair jungle", a groundbreaking marriage of fusion-jazz and ambient music that even employed lush strings and free-form electronics with the sci-fi concept album Parallel Universe (? ? - jun 1994) and with the ambitious Two Pages (? 1997/? 1998 - jul 1998).

The first star of jungle, Goldie (1), born Conrad Price, made his name with the extended singles Terminator (1992) and Timeless (1993), which were mini-symphonies of hardcore techno, and the groundbreaking Timeless (? 1992/? 1993 - jul 1995), that used breakbeats to construct atmospheric music. Thanks to his skills at sound manipulation, he turned songwriting into sound painting. And the hour-long composition Saturnzreturn (1997) removed any boundaries from his studio explorations.

Another milestone for "ambient jungle" was the tour de force of Waveform (? ? - oct 1996), by T Power (Marc Royal).

Roni Size (1), the leader of Bristol-based dj collective Reprazent and one of the first "auteurs" of drum'n'bass, blended jungle's breakbeats with live instruments and singing on the monumental double disc New Forms (? 1996/? 1997 - jun 1997), and reconciled dance music's suite format with the traditional song format of pop/soul music.

Other musicians who merged drum'n'bass with jazz were Photek, born Rupert Parkes, with Modus Operandi (? 1996/? 1997 - sep 1997), and James Hardway (real name David Harrow), with Deeper, Wider, Smoother Shit (? ? - jul 1996).

Major additions to the drum'n'bass canon came from varius directions. Fila Brazillia, the duo of Steve Cobby and Dave McSherry, were perhaps the most adventurous in cross-fertilizing different genres, particularly on their later albums, such as Power Clown (? ? - aug 1998) and A Touch Of Cloth (? 1999 - nov 1999). Adam Fenton's Colours (? ? - nov1997) was also an album of diverse stylistic experiments. Boymerang (1), the new project of former Bark Psychosis frontman Graham Sutton, sculpted Balance Of The Force (? ? - may 1997), a conceptual work of art that straddled the boundaries between pop, jazz and avantgarde. The imaginary soundtrack Exorcise The Demons (? 1997 - ? 1998) qualified Source Direct, i.e. veterans Jim Baker and Phil Aslett, as jungle's equivalent of Barry Adamson.

Meanwhile, new styles continued to emerge from London clubs, such as "techstep" (a fast, brutal fusion of techno and jungle probably invented by DJ Trace in 1994), "speedgarage" (mainly a production technique, developed in New York by Armand Van Helden in 1996, of huge breakbeats and bass lines, which he himself defined as "a cross between house and drum'n'bass"), "two-step garage" (interplay of frantic breakbeats and velvety soul vocals, emerging in 1997, e.g. Dem 2 & KMA's Destiny), and "drill'n'bass" (very fast drum'n'bass). Garage music (only vaguely related to Larry Levan's "garage" of the 1980s, and closer to the style perfected by disc-jockey Tony Humphries of New Jersey's "Zanzibar" club) was refined by groups such as the Dreem Teem and Tuff Jam, and began to climb the British charts with Shanks & Bigfoot's Sweet Like Chocolate (1999) and Dj Luck & Mc Neat's A Little Bit Of Luck (1999).

Germany's Panacea (1), i.e. Mathis Mootz, borrowed elements from death-metal and industrial music for the "drill'n'bass" sound of Low Profile Darkness (? ? - feb 1997).

Animals on Wheels, the brainchild of British electronic musician Andrew Coleman, employed a kaleidoscopic assembly of jazz samples, frantic breaks and downtempo electronica on Designs And Mistakes (? 1997 - oct 1997) for his brand of drill'n'bass.

Japan's Bisk, born Naohiro Fujikawa, introduced a very ornate, baroque, manically-crafted style on albums such as Strange Or Funny-HaHa? (? 1996/? jan 1997 - apr 1997).

Propellerheads, i.e. Alex Gifford and David Arnold, led "big beat", the subgenre of drum'n'bass that assimilated tribal African beats, with Decksandrumsandrockandroll (? 1997- jan 1998).

Avantgarde jungle

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Thanks to ever more intricate beats and to free structures borrowed from jazz, jungle music rapidly became the foundation for a new kind of avantgarde music, "conceptual jungle", pursued by the most austere of the genre's visionaries.

Spring Heel Jack (23), the project of John Coxon and Ashley Wales, subverted the rules of ambient jungle with the symphonic extravaganzas There Are Strings (? 1995 - ? 1995) and especially 68 Million Shades (? 1996 - feb 1997). The experiments with jazz and minimalism of Busy Curious Thirsty (? 1997 - sep 1997) blossomed on Treader (? 1998 - may 1999), a wild excursion into 20th century classical music. Most of its tracks sounded like symphonic poems: lush, thematic orchestral narratives built out of samples, loops and echoes. The jazz elements became predominant with Disappeared (? 2000 - aug 2000), a work that alternated calculated geometry and Wagnerian intensity. Storming, Foetus-like spasms crushed a steady flow of sonic debris, while elsewhere melodic fragments morphed into alien structures. Masses (? 2001 - ? 2001) completed their conversion to avantgarde jazz with a chamber concerto performed by the sensational ensemble of Matthew Shipp (piano), Evan Parker and Tim Berne (saxophones), Roy Campbell (trumpet), Daniel Carter (flute and saxophones), Ed Coxon (violins), Mat Maneri (viola) and William Parker (bass). And Amassed (? 2002 - ? 2002), featuring Han Bennink (drums), Ed Coxon (violin), John Edwards (bass), Evan Parker (saxophone), Paul Rutherford (trombone), Matthew Shipp (piano), Kenny Wheeler (trumpet), and the "shoegazing" guitar of Spiritualized's Jason Pierce, was one of the most exhilarating stylistic orgies of modern jazz, straddling not one stylistic border but pretty much all possible borders.

Tom Jenkinson, better known as Squarepusher (2), coined a cubistic version of drum'n'bass on Hard Normal Daddy (? ? - apr 1997): a wild assembly of manic breakbeats, spirited electronica and disjointed samples concocted a whirling cacophony a` la Morton Subotnick. Visceral intensity and impeccable fluidity coexisted and enhanced each other. Each piece on Go Plastic (? ? - jun 2001) was, de facto, a treatise on a new form of Dadaistic, disjointed, beat-based music in which the drum-machine became the equivalent of a jazz instrument for a creative solo improvisation while approaching the abstract intensity of chamber electronic music (basically, musique concrete imbued with punk frenzy).

Brazilian-born Amon Tobin (12) well impersonated the classical composer in the hip-hop age. Instead of composing symphonies for orchestras, Tobin glued together sonic snippets using electronic and digital equipment. Adventures in Foam (? 1995 - jul 1996), released under the moniker Cujo, and especially his aesthetic manifesto and masterpiece, Bricolage (? ? - apr 1997), unified classical, jazz, rock and dance music in a genre and style that was universal. Tobin warped the distinctive timbres of instruments to produce new kinds of instruments, and then wove them into an organic flow of sound. Tobin kept refining his art of producing amazingly sophisticated and seamless puzzles on Permutation (? ? - jun 1998), Supermodified (? ? - may 2000) and, best of his second phase, Out From Out Where (? 2002 - oct 2002). Once he had exhausted the possibilities of instruments and samples, Tobin turned to found sounds and field recordings as the sources for The Foley Room (? 2006 - mar 2007), without basically changing style. In effect, Tobin carried out several philosophical debates at once (e.g., on the irrelevance of the message, on the irrelevance of time), while entertaining his audience with catchy numbers of an extra-terrestrial music hall. Tobin was debating on the meaning of music itself, on the nature of composition, on the viability of communication, on the ultimate constituents of sound. His neglect of form was a new kind of form, a form that had reduced form to the annihilation of form. The dualism of content versus form was resolved by the post-modernists as a non-issue: Tobin redefined it as a process, a process of form-abatement by which content is created, as if content and form were the same substance, and more of one meant less of the other one. Not surprisingly, this logic took him to ISAM (? ? - apr 2011), which was basically an elegant noise collage

Matt Elliott's Third Eye Foundation (1) evolved from the atmospheric blend of guitar textures and jungle breakbeats of Semtex (? 1995 - ? 1996) to the sample-based disorienting puzzles of Ghost (? ? - apr 1997) and especially You Guys Kill Me (? 1998 - nov 1998).

Twisted Science (1), the project of disc-jockey Jon Tye, was to techno what Sonic Youth were to rock'n'roll: a scaffolding of hard-core techno was brutalized by layers of abrasive electronica, distorted hip-hop beats, jungle polyrhythms and industrial cacophony on Blown (? ? - jun 1997).

Witchman (1), born John Roome, contaminated drum'n'bass with gothic, techno, industrial, dub and ambient music on Explorimenting Beats (? ? - ? 1997).

Faultline (1), the brainchild of clarinet player and studio wizard David Kosten, fused chamber music, industrial techno and free-form noise on the melancholy multi-part sonatas of Closer Colder (? ? - sep 1999).

Klute (Tom Withers) indulged in intricate and psychotic arrangements on Casual Bodies (nov 1997/jul 1998 - oct 1998).

Andrea Parker (1), a classically trained cellist, a disc-jockey and an electronic composer with a penchant for analog synthesizers, mixed string orchestrations, hip-hop beats and heavy bass to create the highly seductive music of Kiss My Arp (? ? - nov 1998).

Neotropic (2), the project of female electronic dance musician Riz Maslen, offered a dreamy, deconstructed version of trip-hop and drum'n'bass on 15 Levels Of Magnification (? ? - jul 1996), although the tracks floated weightlessly (and beat-lessly) in the fragile, haunting electronic soundscapes of La Prochaine Fois (? ? - jun 2001).

Icarus (2), the London-based duo of Ollie Bown and Sam Britton, dislocated beats and melodies on Fijaka (? 1998 - may 1999) while adopting a digital and minimalist aesthetic that would lead to pieces such as Three False Starts, off I Tweet The Birdy Electric (? ? - apr 2004), at the border between ambient, jazz, concrete and glitch music.

Venetian Snares (2), the moniker of Canadian electronic musician Aaron Funk, established his trademark "breakcore" style of complex, brutal, distorted, skittering, whirling drum programming (with a manic passion for the 7/4 time signature and often only consisting of "clicks and cuts") on Printf("shiver in eternal darkness/n") (? ? - may 2000) and especially on Doll Doll Doll (? ? - sep 2001). Innovative tracks of the period include the ten-minute Twisting Ligneous, off 2370894 (? ? - jul 2002), the 15-minute A Giant Alien Force More Violent & Sick Than Anything You Can Imagine (? ? - oct 2002), the nine-minute Marty's Tardis, off The Chocolate Wheelchair Album (? ? - oct 2003), the digital pastiches of glitchy videogame-like drill'n'bass of Find Candace (? ? - feb 2003), and the ferocious bombardments of the mini-album Winnipeg Is A Frozen Shithole (? ? - jan 2005); while Badminton (aug 2002) and Moonglow (2003) toyed with jazz. Funk transformed from punk terrorist to nostalgic dreamer and existential philosopher with the "Hungarian" album Rossz Csillag Alatt Szuletett (? 2004 -mar 2005), that introduced strings, horns and piano. His split personality then yielded works such as Meathole (? ? - aug 2005) in the old brutal style and works such as My Downfall (? ? - oct 2007) in the orchestral style.

Noize Creator (1), the project of Dresden's disc-jockey Stefan Senf, emerged with harsh, visceral cut-up breakbeat decostructions that sounded like Nine Inch Nails playing drum'n'bass, and Deferred Media (? ? - ? 2001), a barrage of syncopated beats set against wildly disjointed soundscapes.

New York's progressive jungle

TM, , Copyright 2005 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Jungle came to the US in the second half of the decade, thanks to British expatriates such as DJ Dara Gilfoyle, sculptor of the cerebral, sinister, post-industrial soundscapes of Rinsimus Maximus (? ? - jun 1997). New York became the main USA center for jungle. We (1), featuring Gregor "DJ Olive" Asch, demolished the cliches of dub, trip-hop, drum'n'bass and jazz on As Is. (nov/dec 1996 - may 1997). Datach'i (2), Joseph Fraioli's brainchild, spun the chaotic high-speed digital novelties of 10110101 (? ? - oct 1999) and the hyper-kinetic pandemonium of WeAreAlwaysWellThankYou (? ? - aug 2000). Dylan Group (2), i.e. percussionist Adam Pierce and dj Dylan Cristy, retooled drum'n'bass for the post-rock generation with the jazzy, vibraphone-driven It's All About (? 1997 - feb 1998) and the more relaxed More Adventures In Lying Down (? ? - mar 1999), even expanding into progressive-rock with Ur-Klang Search (? ? - feb 2000). Dylan Group's multi-instrumentalist Adam Pierce also had his own project, Mice Parade (1), that was even more adventurous on The True Meaning Of Boodleybaye (? ? - mar 1998) and on the the symphonic Ramda (? ? - aug 1998), a dazzling take on dub, jazz and techno.

The musicians of the New York school created such bold experiments that the term "progressive jungle" was more appropriate.

At the same time, New York was home to the "Illbient" movement (as christened by DJ Olive).

Paul Miller, better known as DJ Spooky (5), the star of the Illbient movement, opted for a chaotic flow of rhythmic and non-rhythmic electronic sounds that harked back to Italian futurism and to electronic-music pioneers such as Morton Subotnick and Karlheinz Stockhausen. Songs Of A Dead Dreamer (? ? - apr 1996) explored the least visited interstices of genres such as ambient, dub, electronica, trip hop, drum'n'bass. The tracks on Riddim Warfare (? ? - sep 1998) were not so much dance grooves as catalogs of sound effects that turned drum'n'bass into an electronic symphony. His most ambitious work, Viral Sonata (? ? - ? 1997), credited to Paul D. Miller, was an amorphous aural architecture that evoked a post-apocalyptic wasteland roamed by ghosts. File Under Futurism (? ? - sep 1999) was chamber electronic music. Optometry (? ? - jul 2002), performed by the quartet of pianist Matthew Shipp, bassist William Parker, saxophonist Joe McPhee and drummer Guillermo Brown, was one of the works that blurred the line between live and sampled jazz music.

The Illbient disease contaminated even avantgarde composer Bob Neill, a former member of La Monte Young's ensemble, who collaborated with DJ Spooky and We's DJ Olive on Triptycal (apr 1996 - sep 1996).

DJ Olive himself demolished and redirected the entire movement with Buoy (dec 2003 - ? 2004) and Sleep (sep 2001 - mar 2006), that contained only one colossal track each, and each a titanic endeavor of abstract soundsculpting, musique concrete, glitch art and ambient droning.

Mocean Worker (1), the project of New York-based vocalist and bassist Adam Dorn, followed in the footsteps of the jazz and drum'n'bass fusion of Spring Heel Jack, duly updated to the age of digital soundsculpting, on Home Movies From The Brain Forest (fall 1997 - ? 1998).

In Los Angeles, Medicine's guitarist/keyboardist Brad Laner used the moniker Electric Company to carry out a study in deconstruction of drum'n'bass as Kraftwerk would have done it, on Studio City (? 1997 - mar 1998).

San Francisco-based disc-jockey Jhno (John Eichenseer) offered a bold fusion of ethnic, ambient, jazz and techno music on Understand (? ? - apr 1995), while Kwno (? ? - ? 1998) mixed drum'n'bass and computer-generated improvisation and Membrane (? ? - ? 2000) focused on inventing a new vocabulary of irregular rhythms and eerie soundscapes.

Demolition Squad (1), the Los Angeles-based duo of jazz saxophonist Jim Goetsch and Japanese keyboardist Kim Koschka, integrated drum'n'bass, dub, trip-hop, world-music, orchestral and electronic effects to craft Hit It (? 2000 - mar 2001).

Under the moniker Hrvatski, Boston's electronic and digital composer Keith Fullerton-Whitman (2) began composing drum'n'bass soundscapes that were actually audio collages of breakbeats, as documented on Oiseaux 96-98 (? 1996/? 1998 - aug 1999). He began a more austere career of soundsculptor under his own name, first with the mini-album 21:30 (oct 1999 - ? 2001), an abstract piece for guitar and laptop computer that borrows the "phasing" technique of minimalist composer Steve Reich, and then with the album Playthroughs (sep 2001/apr 2002 - oct 2002), also dominated by electronically-manipulated guitar tones. The mini-album Antithesis (? ? - apr 2004) and the full-length Multiples (jul 2002/apr 2004 - may 2005) were split between droning trance, ambient nebulae, minimalist undulations and guitar psychedelia. All these strands came together on his masterpiece Lisbon (oct 2005 - mar 2006), a 41-minute live improvisation that also ventured into field recordings and Alvin Lucier-inspired feedback-driven music.

Post-house music

The old canon of house music had already been revolutionized by Chicago's Sound Patrol (Derrick Carter) with the psychedelic spiritual anthem Tripping Among The Stars (1994). House music became more aggressive via bombshells such as Flash (1995) by Chicago's producer Green Velvet (Curtis Jones) and The Witch Doktor (1994) by New York's Armand Van Helden. New York's Todd Edwards introduced the vocal experimentation of Saved My Life (1995). Junk Science (? 1998 - jun 1998) by Washington's duo Deep Dish (Ali Shirazinia and Sharam Tayebi) summed up the spirit of the new house style. Chicago's dj Theo Parrish (1) joined the crowded ranks of deep house (a hybrid of house, jazz, funk and soul) with his sprawling First Floor (? ? - oct 1998). Detroit's Kenny "Moodymann" Dixon (1) quickly became the leading intellectual of deep house via Silence In The Secret Garden (? ? - feb 2003) and especially Black Mahogani (? ? - apr 2004), albums that mixed live instruments with samples and that bridged deep house with disco-music, funk, soul and jazz of the 1970s.

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