Writing about the years 1999-2000 was always going to be a difficult one for me. Not because there wasn’t great Drum & Bass being produced (there was), but because when I write these articles I try to fit the narrative around defining moments that shaped the history of Drum & Bass… and I couldn’t actually think of any!
Whilst Jump-Up heralded a return to the boisterous abandon of early 90’s rave, there was another burgeoning sub-genre of D&B that painted a much bleaker picture of British life in the late 90’s. Spearheaded by Nico’s No U Turn label, ‘Techstep’ was a sharp, angular, and gloomy foreboding sound far removed from any kind of ‘jazzy’ laid back coffee-table sophistication.
The formula was simple: Take the drums from your last record, slightly re-arrange the bassline, stick a well known Hip Hop sample in there, and bam! – Your next release was ready for the pressing plant.
In 1996, Dance music’s reign at the forefront of public consciousness had mostly been eclipsed by the rise of Britpop, with Bands such as Blur, Oasis, and Supergrass, providing the soundtrack to a distinct period of British cultural identity that had resulted in the whole “Cool Britannia” phenomenon. Bubbling away in the background however, and now freshly detached from the jungle scene (which had since sunk into oblivion), drum & bass was busy carving out its own place in this perceived cultural upsurge of the mid-90’s.
In 1994, the government introduced a bill to tackle what it perceived as the menace of rave music. Against a backdrop of widespread protest, The Criminal Justice and Public Order Act was eventually passed into law – Part 5 of which concerns ‘collective trespass and nuisance’ where it characterises rave music as: “…sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats.” The Act empowers authorities to stop a rave in the open air with a hundred or more people attending, or where two or more people are making preparations for a rave. In other words, police now had the power to shut down anything from the size of Castle Morton to this poor guy’s bbq.
You have to feel sorry for M-Beat… When General Levy, an MC with his roots in the dancehall claimed that he was “runnin’ jungle” the fallout that followed passed into drum & bass legend. The story goes that after being annoyed by this careless boast, a committee of top DJ’s and producers calling themselves the ‘Jungle Council’ boycotted Levy and anyone playing his records. Unfortunately for M-Beat, Levy was the MC responsible for the infamous vocals on his biggest hit (and only jungle record to ever break the top 10), ‘Incredible’. This effectively ended M-Beat’s career which was a great shame, as up until this point he had a near flawless back-catalogue of ragga-flavoured jungle anthems including Rumble, Shuffle and Surrender. Nevertheless, tarnished through association, M-Beat was persona non grata within the junglist fraternity, and subsequently shunned by the scene’s top players.