Rediscovering the underground chronicles
Introducing this month’s Radical Tracks playlist; a musical journey tracing the evolution of the UK underground music scene from Jungle, to the emergence of free party culture and Drum and Bass of the 90s. This playlist explores and pays homage to the underground pioneers of Drum and Bass and Jungle, alongside championing the collectives and producers often forgotten within the genre today.
Beginning this journey from a musical and stylistic perspective, the mass immigration period from Jamaica to the UK during the 1970s is an integral catalyst to this genre’s story, creating a melting pot of rich and diverse influences never before seen on the UK music scene. Amongst the many significant cultural contributions that came to the UK during this period, one noteworthy aspect was the introduction of the legendary sound systems. As it was here, during this vibrant time, that we saw the beginnings of the genre Jungle.
Fast forward to the 90s, DJs started taking influence from US hip-hop, mixing the distinctive breaks typically heard within Acid House and later bringing this fusion to the burgeoning rave scenes. Here, free party culture — which saw the set up of sound systems in warehouses and fields — paved the way for a whole new derivative of creativity. Within the 90s rave culture, the motive of going against the system in the name of love and unity drew parallels to the sound system culture native to Jamaica. As a result, more producers began experimenting with basslines influenced by Dub and Reggae. They melded these basslines with the tradition of toasting, which involves lyrical performances over dub instrumentals originating from Jamaica. This fusion played a pivotal role in inspiring the emergence of MC culture.
Further developing from the quickening tempos of Acid House and Jungle, in the mid-90s Drum and Bass was first sonically born, characterised by a fast, percussive breakbeat foundation. As the genre delved further into the late 1990s, the sound of the UK underground took on an even darker and more aggressive tone as the trend of aphotic atmospheres in tracks grew and producers started to discard breaks and incorporate a style known as ‘steppa’; a 2-step beat with a consistent bassline.
Within the story of these genres, it is also important to recognise the integral role Pirate Radio played in the flourishing of the UK underground sound. This illegal initiative was set up to pioneer UK sounds that were blocked by the status quo. Radio aerials were set up on high-tower blocks, creating space for communities to spread and inspire without boundaries.
One of the most recognisable figures first to have mainstream success from the underground was Goldie, who shot to fame after the release of his album ‘Timeless’ (1995). He became an icon, acting as a beacon of hope within the Jungle, Drum and Bass and Breakbeat Hardcore scenes, embodying the message that despite your past, it can be possible to break free and become extremely successful. However, while Goldie undoubtedly was a legend in his sound, his partners Kemistry and Storm also played a vital part in his success with his label Metalheadz.
These two women can be seen as pioneers in the scene, operating in a male-dominated industry that was (and still is) rife with sexism and toxic masculinity. After the Metalheadz label launched in 1994, the duo were able to help inspire a community and began to shape the scene in fresh and interesting ways. Sadly, this synergy they began to create came to an end after the tragic death of Kemistry in a car accident in 1999.
The unfortunate toxicity of the scene is still apparent in Drum and Bass, making it a particularly difficult space to enter as a Queer or Flinta person due to the aggressiveness that breeds around harder and faster music. But, looking to the future, inspiring and powerful collectives such as Queer Rave Soundsystem founded by DJ Xīlhu Ayebaitari and Unorthodox with Nathan X, Pinks & Clarkus and drag performer Ash Kenazi aim to reform and breakdown the genre to be re-established with its passionate roots.
Ordered consecutively from date, from 1995 to 2023, this month’s Radical Tracks playlist presents you with both classic and new flavours of DnB and Jungle.