Twenty-five years ago, a barrage of wild, speedy albums came onto the market that propelled the subgenres drum ‘n bass and IDM into the British mainstream and prompted a U.S. signing spree.
Featuring an immediately identifiable, frantic rhythm pattern, drum ‘n bass mixed sped-up breakbeats with heavy, dub-inspired bass, skittering high-hats and squiggly electronic tones to create hard, urgent beat tracks designed to keep you going all night long.
Remarkably influential, drum ‘n bass abandoned the four-on-the-floor stomp of house and techno to help spawn the genres of grime and dubstep, and unleashed beat-driven ideas that permeated culture. For a few years in the ‘00s, blandly commercial drum ‘n bass tracks soundtracked virtually every TV ad for pickup trucks.
Underneath the mayhem, a bunch of experimentalists were harnessing the advances in processing power to turn their desktop and laptop computers into musical instruments, and in doing so creating sounds, tones and rhythms unbeholden to old time acoustic or electric tools.
Saddled with the unfortunately named “intelligent dance music” tag, the producers took their cues from Aphex Twin’s groundbreaking laptop slicing-and-dicing and drum ‘n bass’s shock-and-awe beats. They embraced the open pathways with the gleeful abandon of kids exploring Disneyland.
Below, a selection of tracks released in 1997 that will help guide you into a world of silicon-driven wonder. Because a lot of the sounds were fueled by way too much testosterone (see: dubstep), we’ve tried to find some of the more restrained, melodic tracks.
µ-Ziq – Blainville
The artist born Mike Paradinas formed µ-Ziq with Francis Naughton in 1993 and released their first single on Aphex Twin’s Rephlex Records. Naughton left soon thereafter and Paradinas continued with the moniker while founding the Planet Mu imprint. In doing so, Paradinas has helped propel the careers of Chicago experimental footwork producers Jlin and RP Boo, and produced dozens of consistently genre-pushing albums and singles. The track Blainville is from µ-Ziq’s ‘97 album Lunatic Harness.
Nobukazu Takemura – Toybox with Moonshine
Too few people know about Nobukazu Takemura. The cofounder, with EYE from the Boredoms, of Osaka-based instrumental hip hop group Audio Sports, by the mid-1990s Takemura had shifted to creating synthetic delicacies as Child’s View that skittered with glitchy melodies.
Amon Tobin – Defocus
A Chilean-born, Los Angeles based producer whose body of work is as deep as it is profound, Amon Tobin tapped drum ‘n bass’s energy and mixed it with classic post-bop jazz samples to create oft menacing instrumental tracks. Defocus is from his excellent ‘97 album Bricolage. Tobin, who remains wonderfully active, releases music under pseudonyms including Two Fingers, Cujo and Only Child Tyrant on his own Nomark label.
Autechre – Tewe
It can take months of listening to crack British duo Autechre’s approach to sound, structure and melody. At times as tough to digest as skronky free jazz, their shards of digital ideas move in asymmetrical patterns that seem to aggressively repel any suggestions you may want to start dancing. But at a certain point Autechre’s algebra clicks, and the seeming mess of equations reveals a wild internal logic
Mouse on Mars – Maggots Hell Wigs
Founded in Dusseldorf in 1993, the creative partners Jan St. Werner and Andi Toma have been consistently releasing music ever since. A discography to get lost in, the group gots its start on British label Too Pure (early home to Stereolab and PJ Harvey), and has long been affiliated with Chicago’s Thrill Jockey Records. The intense experimental drum ‘n bass track Maggots Hell Wigs is the last song on Mouse on Mars’ album Autoditacker.