Although this blog is primarily about house and techno, I can’t deny the impact of drum & bass on my musical development. When I started DJing in Cardiff in the mid-90s, I was buying Photek and Reinforced twelves alongside Warp and UR records, and when I made pilgrimages to London I visited Metalheadz at the Blue Note as well as Lost. I sold dozens of copies of my Drum & Space mixtapes through the early internet music forum UK-Dance, which netted me my first overseas gigs, so it was a big part of my life. I lost interest by the turn of the millennium, but I’ve heard some great new stuff over the past couple of years that’s pricked my ears up again, and I’ve had Paul Woolford’s excellent Special Request podcast on repeat this week, which has inspired me to pick out a handful of all-time favourites – one from each year I was seriously collecting…
Alex Reece – Basic Principles (1994)
Yes, he became pretty shit when he signed to Island after the success of Pulp Fiction, and his stuff generally hasn’t dated well, but I’ve still got a soft spot for his debut on Metalheadz. This has his signature minimal approach, with stripped-down drums and a simple three-chord loop, and it rolls beautifully.
Photek – Rings Around Saturn (1995)
There are many Photek productions I could have chosen from this era, but the sixth release on his own label is the peak of an extraordinary run of form for my all-time favourite D&B producer, layering an inspired Pharoah Sanders sample (from Astral Travelling) across some of the finest breaks he ever chopped. In fact the man himself put it pretty well in his FACT interview last year: “You know, with UFO/Rings Around Saturn I honestly thought, wow, I’ve just made a perfect 12″. And the thing is, they really do stand up today – even now, there’s nothing at all about them that I’d change.”
Source Direct – Secret Liaison (1996)
Although they’re best known now for their tremendously dark material, this was a big tune for LTJ Bukem, released on his Good Looking label – but it has much bigger balls than a lot of the other floaty D&B from that time. A deceptively tranquil intro gives way to a tearing Amen workout tempered with sublime chord/bass licks. Also love this amazing interview which features a 20-year-old Jim and Phil tearing around in their matching Beemers and hanging out in a Home Counties beer garden before hitting the studio in their mum’s house.
Krust – Soul In Motion (1997)
One of the highlights of a particularly fruitful phase of experimentation for Krust, which started with the Genetic Manipulation EP and culminated in the truly jaw-dropping True Stories for Talkin’ Loud the following year. Instead of the standard intro/breakdown/drop/breakdown/drop template of most D&B, the structure owes more to minimal techno, rolling out uncompromisingly rugged drums with a precision-tooled palette of bleeps, fx and bass which twist and turn over 10 bowel-quaking minutes. It still sounds utterly unique and I don’t think Krust ever really got the recognition he deserved for these records outside the scene.
Matrix – Mute ‘98 (1998)
Amid the relentless stream of dark techstep from the likes of Ed Rush, this mellow yet menacing cut from Optical’s brother, released on Grooverider’s Prototype label, really stood out for me. The production is next-level, the bassline is sublime and it’s full of unique touches.
Bonus cut: Paradox – Drum & Chase (1999)
Great to see Paradox getting props from the likes of Ben UFO as he’s been banging out some of the finest drum programming in the game since 1996. This is a track from the first Drumworks EP on Reinforced, which I heard for the first time on the much-missed R Solution radio show on Kiss, around the time broken beat was starting to happen. It’s one of the few sub-170 tracks in his catalogue and mixes well with the tougher end of the emerging Goya sound.