The Rough Guide to Drum 'n' Bass follows the path of the breakbeat after its arrival on British shores and its subsequent recirculation throughout the world via genres like Jungle, Drum 'n' Bass, Hardcore Techno, Trip-Hop/Down Tempo and Big Beat. Originally the part of late '60s/early '70s records where all the instruments would drop out except for the drums, which would continue the groove rather than solo, the breakbeat formed the foundation of the early hip-hop records (when it was still largely the provenance of guys with "two turntables and a microphone") and of the records made when hip-hop was largely created by the sampler. Now generally defined as almost any rhythm that is not in 4/4 tempo, the breakbeat has become the building block of what is considered the first specifically British strain of dance music, Jungle, and later the crucial aspect of other British mutations of hip-hop - Big Beat and Trip-Hop.
Covering both the innovators and the apprentices of breakbeat science in an encyclopedic format, this book is divided into two sections: one focusing on Drum 'n' Bass/Jungle/Hardcore and the other focusing on Trip-Hop and Big Beat. While combining these somewhat disparate genres under the umbrella of "drum 'n' bass" may be controversial, there is no denying that all these artists belong to the same breakbeat continuum. Of course, as anyone who has ever read an interview in the music press would know, musicians hate to be pigeon-holed, so quibbles over nomenclature shouldn't matter anyway, right?
What does matter is that beginning roughly with the records of Shut Up and Dance in the very late '80s, enterprising British producers started turbo-boosting the low ends of House and Techno with the chest-caving sub-bass and hyper-kinetic breakbeats of hip-hop to create a new form of music known at various times over its progression as rave, Hardcore, Jungle and drum 'n' bass. While it has never had anywhere near the prolonged mainstream acceptance of House, there is no question that drum 'n' bass's mutation of rhythm, celebration of speed, dialectic of ecstasy and come-down, and play of surfaces is potentially the most exciting musical development since the dawn of hip-hop.
Moving in parallel to the evolution of drum 'n' bass, albeit with very different chemical imperatives, artists like Coldcut and DJ Shadow took their cues from the mix-and-match aesthetic of cut 'n' paste legends Double Dee & Steinski and the dusty productions of hip-hop masters the 45 King and DJ Premier to create their own blunted, detached take on aural collage called variously Trip-Hop, Down Tempo or Downbeat. A few years later, as the dividends of abstraction were evaporating, some court jesters with samplers and big record collections remade this minimal music with rock's maximal hedonism in mind to produce Big Beat, the most mindlessly enjoyable music in years.
Although The Rough Guide to Drum 'n' Bass is meant to function as a reference book, by no means does it pretend to be objective. The proliferation of electronic dance music has been the biggest breath of fresh air to blow across British and, even if it doesn't necessarily want to admit it, American youth culture in some time. Its greatest failing, though, has been the largely uncritical press that has developed alongside it, which has given the culture extreme delusions of grandeur. While wanting to celebrate the achievements of Jungle, Down Tempo and Big Beat, this book has been written with the full intention of ruffling feathers and provoking debate within a scene that has been too insular for its own good.
Thanks to everyone who loaned me records and photos and divulged info, my editor Jennifer Dempsey and, most of all, to my wife, Rachael, who put up with my bouts of insomnia more than any reasonable person should have to.