The UK dance music scene, especially in the late 80s and early 90s, was ruled by Breakbeat Hardcore, Garage, Jungle and eventually Drum and Bass. These genres were all born of each other with DJs and producers creating their own style by experimenting with records and most importantly, break beats. Jungle is one of my favourite early UK dance music genres; influenced by Dub, Reggae, Acid House and Breakbeat Hardcore, Jungle eventually gave birth to the more mainstream Drum and Bass that we hear today. While Jungle was heavily influenced by the Breakbeat Hardcore scene, a genre that mixes acid and techno with break beats, it wouldn't be Jungle without the Dub and Reggae influence that Jamaican migrants brought to Great Britain around the 1950s.
"After World War II, Great Britain encouraged mass migration from countries of the British Empire, this included Jamaica" (BearingUK, 2017).
One of the most notable Jamaican influences in UK dance music was the sound system. These systems – stacks of speakers set up on the streets of Kingston, Jamaica, playing US rhythm and blues records (Parkin, C. 2017) - would take part in Soundclashes in the UK, where two systems would be set up near each other and would compete to be the best system with the title of 'Champion Sound'. Sound systems would often have an MC, which is why Soundsystem culture is also credited with the birth of hip hop in the 1970s. MCs such as Kool Herc used reggae sound system culture to promote breakdance culture (Dubijad, A.).
In the 70s, DJs in the US were beginning to mix breaks from Disco tracks together into one continuous loop, this was the beginning of the very early stages of hip-hop, and these innovations were also making waves in the UK. A new genre of House called Hardcore Breakbeat was created, using breaks from disco records such as the Think Break, The Funky Drummer and the most sampled break in the world, the Amen Break.
Rappers in the UK started to put their own twist on this new Uk dance music sounds, and began to bring more and more of their Jamaican, Ragga influence to the music. Ragga, otherwise known as Raggamuffin, is a style of dance music originating in Jamaica and derived from reggae, in which an MC improvises lyrics over a sampled or electronic backing track. Artists like Ragga Twins and Rebel MC are considered the pioneers of the beginning of Jungle (BearingUK, 2017) as they were some of the first to incorporate this style of lyricism to electronic music. This Jamaican influence also brought the sounds and bass lines of Dub and Reggae into the breakbeats, with a faster tempo and more intense feel, Jungle was born.
Let's take a look at the different characteristics of Jungle through one of the records credited with taking Jungle to the mainstream, Incredible by M Beat featuring General Levy.
The first thing we hear beside the Raggamuffin lyricism, is a plucked guitar with a timbre similar to that you might hear in Reggae, only in a slightly different timing and style. Reggae instrumentation usually focus on the off beats where as in this song we can hear the guitar hit on the first beat, and then on the off beat between beats 2 and 3 in a 4 bar measure. There are other examples of Jungle where the instrumentation is focused a lot more on the offbeat, but for this song some creative differences can be noted. The drum breaks are the foundations of Jungle, much like they are the in hip-hop, but having come from dance music they carry a lot more intensity. I am fairly sure that the drum break in M Beat's Incredible is taken from the beginning of this song by Kid N' Play;
The sample is sped up (ranging from around 160 to 180 bpm) and chopped to the desired effect of the producer; in Jungle it is common to hear a very scattered drum break that almost sounds as though it was improvised. As the drum break is the focus of Jungle tracks, it is also where we find the most variation within the instrumental, with most of the other sounds or samples just being loops, especially when it comes to the bass line. As I mentioned earlier, the bass lines in Jungle, both regarding the timbre and chord progression, are pulled directly from Dub and Reggae influence. Listen closely to the bass line in this track (from about 0:20) and just try for a minute to imagine the beat over the top as double time.
While the instrument of choice has moved from a bass guitar to a synth usually running a sine wave oscillator, the style and notation remains the same. Much like House music, other sampled vocal cuts and instrumental loops from Jazz, Funk and Reggae records are utilised alongside the dub bass lines and break beats from various sources to create Jungle.
While Jungle moved closer to the MCs with Ragga lyrics and Jamaican influence, other producers stayed closer to dance music fundamentals. The breaks are still full of energy and he bass lines are still dub inspired, but new ad creative ground was being covered.
Check out this 1993 track by DJ Crystl;
And this 1994 tune by DJ Fokus;
Moving further towards the dance scene, Jungle slowly but surely became Drum and Bass. Drum and Bass today is characterised by a beat that is built around a more precise pattern; usually working with 16th notes, a snare hits on every 2nd and 4th beat of a bar, and a kick on the 1st and in between the 3rd and 4th beat of a 4 bar measure. It looks something like this;
The kick and snare are the most important part of the modern DnB beat, the rest is usually sampled from breaks similar to that of Jungle, or written by the producer with drum samples to represent a break. The bass lines began to move in new directions as well, with influence coming not just from the classic Jungle and Dub era, and began to take shape as a style of it's own. As the name suggests, the genre was built around the use of interesting bass lines and hard hitting drums inspired by Jungle breaks.
Pioneers of DnB like Goldie, Andy C and LTJ Bukem who all reached fame around the mid 90s, produced tracks that were focused more towards erratic breaks similar to that of Jungle. The only difference being that these producers were beginning to somewhat leave behind the Jamaican influence.
Near the end of the 90s and the beginning of the new millennium, Drum and Bass has cemented itself as a stand out genre, with producers like High Contrast, Roni Size and later Pendulum. While Jungle had a rugged and raw approach, DnB was more polished, precise and leaned more towards musically minded compositions, and while sampling was still utilised, the purpose of them changed as they now mostly accompanied compositions rather than being the crux of a track. Here's a great example of the kinds of new sounds that came from DnB, from producers High Contrast;
Notice the difference in the bass line compared to older Jungle tracks.
This new sound caters a lot to the mainstream audience as it's easier to listen to, has a simpler formula and has familiar chord progressions similar to that of rock or pop. Drum and Bass has even taken the shape of a full band with acts like Pendulum or The Qemists, and has influenced other genres with bands like Enter Shikari.
Drum and Bass is now a massive part of the dance and EDM scene across the world, and now remains a "pop" genre in the UK. A lot of EDM, especially in the USA, has taken the DnB style (mostly the drum beat) and twisted it with influence from the recent mainstream explosion of what we now call "Dubstep". So it's a bit hard to pinpoint exactly what DnB is at it's core, unless you understand it's foundations and early beginnings. In an interview about where the genre is heading, legendary DnB producer Goldie told Channel 4 News "The thing with Drum and Bass music, at it's pure source, it was the punk of this country, it was about working with music that was completely fresh and new."
Artists that are still carrying the torch of pure Drum and Bass to new heights are producers like London Electricity, Danny Byrd, Andy C, High Contrast, Dj Hazard, just to name a few. Even in other parts of Europe like the Netherlands, acts like Noisia are pushing the genre in a darker direction, away from the glitsy over glamorised EDM world.
Jungle may be a genre that rarely exists today, but it's influences are still found throughout dance music, and Drum and Bass wouldn't exist without the Jamaican foundations that built it.
Parkin, C. (2017). A brief history of Jamaican soundsystem culture.
Channel 4, Goldie and Rudimental on the success of Drum and Bass, 2015
Bearking UK, That UK Sound - Roots Of UK Jungle Documentary, 2017
Dubijad, A. The history of Sound Systems | Street Life.
M-Beat feat. General Levy's 'Incredible' - Discover the Sample Source.