Drum 'n' bass is back – and bigger than ever.
Drum 'n' bass is back – and bigger than ever. The resurgence is intergenerational, international and very pop – with PinkPantheress a zeitgeist star. The Australian DJ/producer Luude is also a streaming sensation, his remix of Mattafix's Big City Life — now nominated for the ARIAs' "Song Of The Year".
Meanwhile, the pioneering British D'n'B band Kosheen, renowned for the 2000s bangers Hide U, Catch and All In My Head, are touring Australia to celebrate their 25th anniversary.
"In the UK, the festivals that we've done, the first four rows of audience have been nippers – they've been kids in their 20s – which, for me, is just like, 'Aw…'," Kosheen's frontwoman Sian Evans enthuses, sounding sprightly at 9 am over Zoom.
"They're singing every word and they're throwing their heads back, just like their parents did… That is such a buzz to see that. That makes me well up."
Last summer the Gold Coast-based Luude (aka Christian Benson) played Falls Downtown Melbourne – significant as in recent years D'n'B has been missing from Australian dance music festivals, bar Perth's long-running Breakfest, a Boxing Day institution.
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In fact, talk of a mainstream D'n'B revival began in 2021, the music popular on TikTok during the COVID-19 pandemic with PinkPantheress' ascent.
Aligned with Sweat It Out, Luude brought D'n'B back to festival settings after remixing Men At Work's '80s reggae fave Down Under. His redux, which won the 2022 ARIA for "Best Dance/Electronic Release", was at first considered a novelty.
"I think D'n'B has always been there and will always be in some form – it's just having a different moment right now in some more commercial pockets, which feels exciting," he says via email.
"It's funny that a tune I made for a bit of a laugh opened up a lot of major labels and more serious business-type people to see there's commercial viability in the genre. But it's wicked. So many amazing producers are getting the backing they deserve now in the space." Possibly Luude influenced Aussie indie-rockers Holy Holy to boldly record their unlikely D'n'B heater, Messed Up, alongside Western Sydney hip-hopper Kwame.
Jungle, later D'n'B, emanated from the UK rave scene in the '90s as a homegrown Black music – DJs Grooverider and Fabio its originators. D'n'B soon crossed over – Goldie acclaimed for his innovative 1995 album Timeless, Diane Charlemagne elevating the pivotal song Inner City Life, and Roni Size's crew Reprazent winning the Mercury Prize with 1997's New Forms.
Aside from impressing David Bowie, the charismatic Goldie became a celebrity – even acting in a James Bond movie.
In the US, D'n'B would be bracketed as 'electronica' – the catchall preceding 'EDM'. There were accusations of trans-Atlantic co-option when Virginia's Timbaland introduced triple beats into hip-hop and R&B with early productions for Aaliyah, Ginuwine and his cohort Missy Elliott.
Ironically, UK jungle stalwarts were simultaneously reimagining US rap and R&B hits – LTJ Bukem's remix of Jodeci's Feenin' and Origin Unknown's of Busta Rhymes' Woo Hah!! Got You All In Check — both instant classics. The Roots were subsequently universally applauded for experimenting with D'n'B on You Got Me, as OutKast were on BOB (Bombs Over Baghdad).
Back in Britain, D'n'B spawned sub-genres – and fostered cross-pollination. Fabio ushered in a housey, soulful and atmospheric variant with his Liquid Funk compilation – liquid funk now associated with the likes of High Contrast, who emerged from Tony "London Elektricity" Colman's Hospital Records (the Welshman received a Grammy nomination for his remix of Jorja Smith's The One). D'n'B also precipitated other movements: UK garage, grime and dubstep.
In recent times D'n'B commentary has centred on a lack of diversity – the subculture increasingly dominated by white men, although Kemistry & Storm were integral to Goldie's Metalheadz.
In the new millennium, Perth's Pendulum unleashed their hybrid of jungle and heavy metal – and, unusually for D'n'B, performed as a live band. Relocating to the UK, they released 2005's debut album Hold Your Colour through Breakbeat Kaos, Adam F's label enterprise with DJ Fresh (Dan Stein). But, bringing D'n'B into arenas, the group raised the ire of the genre's sentinels – suspicious about commercialisation. Goldie lambasted Pendulum for not recognising the music's roots. (The Dutch supergroup NOISIA were likewise polarising with their dark, industrial and aggressive neurofunk.)
Pendulum embarked on a hiatus following 2010's Immersion – core members diverted by their electro-house vehicle Knife Party. In 2016 they reunited for Miami's Ultra Music Festival. Pendulum later signed a new deal and have just wrapped a homecoming tour.
The pop D'n'B movement gained momentum in the 2010s when Rudimental charted with Feel The Love, featuring John Newman – the Londoners consistently championing rising (pop) stars, among them Sydney's Thandi Phoenix.
But PinkPantheress changed the rules of the game. The bedroom auteur went viral with her micro-bops on TikTok, rather than coming up through the club scene or circulating dubplates, though she's cultivated an anonymity characteristic of underground D'n'B figures. Notably, PinkPantheress sampled Adam F's '90s sleeper Circles for Break It Off.
Winning the BBC Music Sound Of 2022 poll, PinkPantheress reached new heights with Boy's a Liar, soliciting US rapper Ice Spice for a mega remix, and contributed Angel to the Barbie soundtrack. Leaning into R&B, she'll present her debut, Heaven knows, in November – the single Mosquito co-produced by American Greg Kurstin (who worked on Lily Allen's Alright, Still).
Many D'n'B zoomers are women defying the music's gender disparity. Similarly to PinkPantheress, Piri – a member of Loud LDN, the UK's buzz female and genderqueer D'n'B collective – blends airy female vocals, syncopated breakbeats and the sonic aesthetics of Timbaland's '90s avant'n'B, UKG, liquid funk and hyperpop.
Another Loud LDN singer/songwriter, venbee savoured a global crossover hit with messy in heaven alongside goddard – a melodic D'n'B specialist. Both Piri and venbee were billed at Listen Out, joining the seasoned D'n'B DJ Friction. While here, Venbee covered Justin Bieber's trop house Sorry for triple j's Like A Version – and she'll drop a mixtape, Zero Experience, this week.
On trend, even Melbourne R&B star PANIA has delved into D'n'B, teaming with the UKG Toddla T for BURNA FONE.
In the interim, the UK DJ/producer Nia Archives is repping the new D'n'B in clubs, branding her style "future classic". Archives, who has Jamaican heritage, is an advocate of inclusivity in the scene, countering past whitewashing and dedicating her rave anthem Bad Gyalz to female junglists. Yet she isn't fixated on retaining underground cachet. Last year the DJ played an excellent Boiler Room set but she just supported Beyoncé in London. She'll next tour with Laneway.
Archives isn't alone in reasserting the music's Black origins. Sampha, whose electro-soul Process won 2017's Mercury, is exploring D'n'B on the sequel, LAHAI – evoking 4hero, progenitors of 'intelligent' D'n'B.
In the age of curation, PinkPantheress has called her music "new nostalgic". And Luude, a fan, believes that collective nostalgia is a driver in the latest drum 'n' bass cycle, paralleling the retro sensibilities permeating house.
"The whole aesthetic is sick," he says. "It feels fresh."
The DJ himself presaged that nostalgia when he updated Down Under – Men At Work's Colin Hay actually tracking new vocals. Its success led to him being "randomly" approached by UK post-trip-hoppers Mattafix – frontman Marlon Roudette the son of producer Cameron McVey – to remix their 2005 breakthrough Big City Life.
"I'd always loved the song as a kid so it was a no-brainer when Mattafix wanted to have a go at re-doing the record," Luude explains. The project was collaborative. "I was going back and forward with Will [Kennard] from Chase & Status on ideas for it and goddard, the legend, added this sick little melody in a session that really brought the tune together."
The Tasmanian Luude launched his career in Pendulum's former hometown – their music leaving "a big impact" on him.
"I spent a lot of time in Perth when I was first producing and DJing and it's always kind of been the D'n'B capital of Australia, so that has always been something that came through. I was making more beats and bass stuff initially but, as I progressed in production, I just enjoyed making D'n'B more than anything else."
As with Pendulum, Luude has encountered old-school gatekeepers, but he mostly finds contemporary D'n'B to be fluid – after all, he was named 'Best International Artist' at the 2023 Drum & Bass Awards.
"More and more genres feel like they are open. You still get your purists – and that's fine, they are entitled to like what they like. But, as someone making music, it's nice not to have too many rules. It makes working in the studio and collaborating way more enjoyable."
Legacy D'n'B acts are benefitting from the revival. In 2019 Sian Evans rebooted Kosheen – the band lately touring the UK, with three dates postponed due to her laryngitis.
"When the doctor says it, everything goes into slow motion and you're like, 'Oh, no – that's the worst thing that can happen to a singer,'" she rues. "Well, it's not the worst thing. [But] it's the worst thing that can happen to a chatterbox like myself, because it means silence."
Evans returned to her native Wales from Bristol – the multicultural city home to trip-hoppers such as Massive Attack and Portishead, in addition to Reprazent .
"I didn't know what was gonna happen after the pandemonium breakdown of the century," she quips.
Incredibly, Evans bought Dylan Thomas' old house in coastal Laugharne, sharing stories about the famed Welsh poet and author's tempestuous relationship with wife Caitlin. She was determined that it not be used merely as a holiday let.
"The house is full of art and music now," Evans rhapsodises. "The house feels so much different – I've been here two years now. It's got a pulse, it's got a soul; we've had music here, we've had parties here, we've had songwriting camps here, we've had vocal retreats here, we've had breathwork retreats here… It's just wonderful to reincarnate the house and put the spirit back in it. So I live here. I'm very proud to live here and to know that every brick in this house has been paid for from music."
Alas, Kosheen are frequently omitted from chronicles about Bristol's dynamic breakbeat scene. The trio formed in the late '90s, Evans connecting with Decoder (Darren Beale) and Substance (Mark Morrison), both credible D'n'B producers – Decoder "magical in the studio." Kosheen broke out with the single Hide U – and their 2001 debut Resist, on Sony BMG, cracked the UK Top 10.
Evans, a singer/songwriter, had transplanted to Bristol hoping to join Massive Attack. "They weren't interested, particularly," she laughs. "I used to shop at the same corner shop as Daddy G. But, no, not interested… It's fine. We carved different directions.
"But we were an intrinsic part of that movement. There was so much freedom creatively then. It was the heyday, I think. Our generation had it so easy. We could do anything and it was being lauded. So we were just experimenting – with this little Welsh folk singer and these D'n'B producers; slam them together and make this new thing. We were cut a lot of bluff. We were allowed to do whatever we wanted to do.
"I guess that trend has continued with the budding Internet that was just beginning when we were beginning. I remember we didn't have [mobile] phones when we started out. I didn't have an email address – which used to drive everybody nuts! But that's how quickly things have changed and how those platforms have opened up. So it was a golden time."
In 2002 Kosheen toured Australia with the Big Day Out, The Prodigy headlining – yet "fractures" were already evident in the group. They amplified the guitar for their sophomore, Kokopelli – All In My Head a hit. However, later albums, like 2007's "great" (if raw) Damage, were neglected. "It was very exposing of what was going on between us in those years."
In the 2010s Evans ventured out solo. She paired with DJ Fresh for 2011's Louder, the first dubstep tune to top the UK charts. Evans also co-penned Fresh's Hot Right Now, launching Rita Ora – the track another historic chart-topper, this time for D'n'B. (Ora is rarely credited for her presence in dance, US pundits especially dismissive.)
In 2016 Kosheen finally separated over creative differences – "quite a hoo-ha," Evans laments. "I'm a songwriter, I like storytelling, I like the empathy and the warmth that comes through in a story.
"It just became very apparent creatively, musically, that [Beale and Morrison] weren't coming in that direction… They wanted to go into a very dark place where I couldn't find any purchase musically.
"I'm a woman-woman and I needed to feel it. I couldn't just regurgitate stuff or just say things for no reason." Evans' role in Kosheen "became a bit of a feminist issue," she says. "I had to stand up."
Post-split, Evans still wanted to perform her Kosheen songs. "I did an unplugged version of Kosheen, which was beautiful – with strings and with double bass… But I couldn't get arrested. I couldn't get a gig! We weren't getting any interest."
Evans contemplated quitting music, and "tried to disappear into obscurity," but was unhappy. Eventually, she assembled a new live incarnation of Kosheen with original drummer Mitch Glover. "It's a calling. It's my heart. I need to do it for my own mental health. I need to be performing and to sing these songs.
"And there's such an appetite still for that, that it drove me forward. It kept me going – the support I've had from my fans in Europe and here and from my team around me. They've just kept me pushing forward. Without them, I don't think that we'd still be here." Indeed, Eastern Europe is today a key territory for Kosheen, underscoring the globalisation of D'n'B.
Generally, Evans is gratified to observe more women entering what was once "a very misogynistic world" – PinkPantheress born in Bath, southeast of Bristol, the year Resist surfaced. "Something that has changed greatly in the last 10 years is that there are so many more fantastic female producers in electronic music, in all areas of electronic music, but also in management, owning studios… That has really been exciting for me."
Earlier this year Luude issued Oh My, symbolically allying with Loud LDN vocalist Issey Cross (and reformulating Moby's electronica Porcelain) – plus he produced Cross' Bittersweet Goodbye, sampling The Verve. And Luude has more music in the pipeline.
"It's been so good to be home off-tour and just making heaps of music again," he says. "I've got some collaborations lined up and a heap more heavier club stuff – [I'm] going to be releasing throwaways on my SoundCloud also, just so music isn't sitting on my hard drive."
The DJ will hit the summer festival circuit, playing Beyond The Valley and Wildlands – promising his "biggest shows yet."
"I'm actually working with my team now on the show; all new visuals and lighting, for sure, at all the festivals that will allow the full stage set-up – and plenty of unreleased music in the set."
As for Evans, she admits that "everybody asks" about new Kosheen material. "I'm always writing," she responds.
"But the main thing that you need for writing is time. We've been so busy with touring and gigging that there hasn't been time to just settle. I'm off to India in January – I intend to sit in a tree and write… I mean, it'd be great, wouldn't it, if I could come and stay in Australia for a bit, 'cause there are some fabulous producers there!" (Luude, take note.)
In 2017, Evans collaborated with Belgian houser Kid Crème (and Jolyon Petch) on Boy In The Picture – and has plans to reunite.
Following a health scare, Fresh pursued an alternative career as an AI engineer – but, Evans affirms, he does occasionally produce music.
"We are still very close, so I'm very supportive of Dan." And she hints at them recording more music together: "Dan is up for working on some tracks."
Evans is pragmatic about expectations that Kosheen remain current.
"There is a certain amount of pressure, from my side, to do [new music], because I want to continue touring," she says. "I think to continue gigging, which is my lifeblood, you have to have a body of work come out every so often."
First, she has an Australian run to complete. "I have seen some great messages from lovely people all over Australia on my Facebook page and on Instagram and so that is super exciting. I'm like, 'People remember us!'"