Electronic dance music, as a movement, is really an international phenomenon. Nowadays, music fans may not be aware of the international origins of the music they enjoy, as artists cross over genre boundaries as much as they cross over national ones, but there was a time when each region of the globe had its own distinct sound that manifested itself in unique cultural and musical scenes. One of the most important scenes was the British scene of the 1990s and early 2000s that gave rise to some of the EDM subgenres that dominate the electronic music landscape today like dubstep and drum and bass. So what was that scene all about? Here’s a bit of history on the rise of EDM in the UK and the EDM subgenres that developed out of that movement.
By the 1980s, the rave scene had taken off in England, with DJs spinning techno and acid house on a regular basis. By the early 1990s, however, partygoers were hungry for a new kind of sound. In London, DJs at rave clubs started playing music with faster beats (around 150 bpm – 170 bpm), incorporating more dark and eclectic sounds into their music, and blending techno with elements of Caribbean music like dub and reggae. All of these elements came together to create the jungle sound we know today. Artists like Rebel MC, Kingsley Roast, and Johnny Jungle were some of the early pioneers of this genre. Today the term “jungle” has almost become synonymous with drum & bass, although this subject continues to be hotly debated even now.
Drum & Bass
While drum & bass is built upon the same types of lightning quick beats as oldschool jungle, the current drum & bass sound has an even darker and more aggressive tone than the original jungle sound did. While the early drum & bass sound was based mostly on incorporating dub and reggae influences with complex drum rhythms called breakbeats, drum & bass today is a diverse genre that has spawned a number of further subgenres such as techstep, drumstep, breakcore, hardstep, and neurofunk. Some well-known drum & bass producers include Dillinja, Bad Company, Sub Focus, and Goldie.
With jungle taking over the UK club scene in the mid-1990s, people were again looking for a new sound. Seeking to create a reprieve from the dizzying tempos of jungle music, clubs started to set up secondary rooms where DJs would spin slower, more R&B influenced music, which became known as UK garage. This again led to more EDM subgenres like speed garage (a sped-up version of UK garage with more syncopate rhythms) and two-step garage (known more recently as “new school garage” thanks to artists like T2 and DJ EZ). The garage sound is more reliant on vocal samples than jungle or drum & bass, and also involves a lot of chopped-up and time-shifted beats.
By the late 1990s, two-step had become the dominant form of garage music in the UK. Many of these two-step artists issued singles which included more experimental remixes featured as B-sides. These B-side tracks were usually sparser than the two-step songs and often featured syncopated beats and basslines with plenty of sub-bass frequencies. The sound of these B-sides eventually expanded to become the dubstep sound we know today which includes distinguishing features like wobble bass, spinbacks, and bass drops. The genre remained mainly underground until the 2000s when radio DJs like John Peel and Mary Anne Hobbs started featuring dubstep music on their radio shows. Today, dubstep is one of the most popular EDM subgenres, and the genre tradition is being built on by major artists like Skrillex, Flux Pavillion, Bassnectar, and Skream.
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Grime is the most recent development out of the UK, and features a combination of elements from other UK genres like garage and drum & bass, as well as elements from European house music and American hip-hop. Although it incorporates transcontinental influences, the rise of the Grime scene was purely a British phenomenon, perpetuated by London-based pirate radio stations in the early 2000s. Grime can be an eclectic sound, although it is typically defined by common features like half-time beats and dark sub-bass sounds, and also generally features MCs rather than DJs as the prominent artists. Today, grime remains mostly underground, although artists like Dizzee Rascal and Kano have garnered the genre more mainstream attention.
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