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!
In fact, Drum & Bass withdrew during this time into its own little bubble where it was almost completely ignored by everyone outside of the scene. Roni Size failed to maintain the commercial interest that had secured him the Mercury music prize in 1997, and Drum & Bass’s poster boy Goldie was busy gallivanting around James Bond movie sets. Meanwhile, a new scene on the block called ‘Speed Garage’ had come from nowhere to steal D&B’s mantle of being the default go-to scene for representing “urban cool”.
Maybe a step back from the spotlight was exactly what Drum & Bass needed; A chance for it to grow organically on its own terms once again and choose its own direction. The gauntlet had been thrown down by Ed Rush & Optical after the release of ’Wormhole’ and a new standard had been set. A handful of groups and producers stepped up to the challenge – most notably Bad Company who had burst onto the scene in 1998 with their infamous debut ‘The Nine’ which was recently voted the “greatest D&B track of all time” by readers of K-Mag. ‘The Nine’ is a crunching 2-step roller which held little commercial appeal outside of the scene, yet within Drum & Bass circles this cut hung around in nearly every DJ’s record box longer than any other, and is instantly recognisable to anyone who has had even the most fleeting dalliance with D&B over the last 15 years.
Bad Company proceeded to unleash a barrage of monstrous releases for the next couple of years including Planet Dust, The Pulse, 4 Days, and Nitrous. At the time it seemed as if they were a drum & Bass hit factory formed overnight to take the scene by storm, however three of its members already had releases on renegade Hardware (D-Bridge even had releases dating back to 1995) – but it was the chemistry between the four members as a collective that seemed to hit upon something special and ultimately secure their status as D&B’s first ‘supergroup’.
Another production duo who hit upon a winning formula during this period was Total Science. Comprising of Q-Project and Spinback, both of whom had deep roots in the old skool, it was their own foundations that would provide them with the inspiration to spark a mini Hardcore revival which saw the likes of John B and Universal Project dusting off their Alpha Juno keyboards to bring back familiar rave-stabs and give old classics the modern re-rub. Total Science where the masters of this sound however, and it was their aptly named ‘Hardcore Will Never Die Remix’ of ‘Champion Sound’ which kickstarted the whole old skool renaissance.
Others didn’t fare so well. As the scene swung towards the darker side once more, the more lighthearted Jump-Up sound dithered as its leading protagonists failed to keep up with the new production ethic being set by the Techstep crowd. Aphrodite for example seemed to be locked in a 1997 timewarp for many years after, and as far as I’m aware, he still is. D&B during this time was harsh and uncompromising, it seemed to be saying that if you like big bold domineering sounds then there is a place for you on the dancefloor… if not then fuck off, because we’re going to do just fine anyway.