A History of Drum and Bass in 10 Essential Tracks

A History of Drum and Bass in 10 Essential Tracks

From its origins in the British rave scene of the early 1990s to the spectacular stages of festival behemoths like Let It Roll and Rampage, drum and bass has come a long way in just under 30 years.

Now striking a balance somewhere between full-blown mainstream success and underground obscurity, the genre in its many forms has some of the most passionately devoted fans of any scene, electronic or otherwise.

With the UK's biggest drum and bass festival Hospitality In The Park having just taken place in London over the weekend, we decided to look back at ten of the tracks that have defined the genre over the last quarter of a century. 

LTJ Bukem - Demon’s Theme (1992)

As with any genre, it’s basically impossible to pinpoint a single track that started things. And with lots of breakbeat hardcore from around 1990-1992 incorporating the distinctive Amen break that went on to define drum and bass, it muddies the waters slightly.

But this track from LTJ Bukem, released in 1992 but reportedly produced up to two years prior, is about as good a pick as any for the first of the lot.

Goldie - Inner City Life (1994)

Within a few years of its birth, jungle had fully established itself as a distinct and recognisable genre in the electronic music underground, with the likes of Shy FX, Dillinja and of course Goldie paving the way for generations to come.   

The iconic producer's 1994 single 'Inner City Life' rightly remains one of the genre's most iconic tracks to this day.

Roni Size/Reprazent - Brown Paper Bag (1997)

With their Mercury Prize win in 1997 for the album New Forms, Roni Size and his band Reprazent brought drum and bass to the attention of the mainstream and the music press like never before (despite its chart performance it's probably fair to say General Levy's 1994 single 'Incredible' was not taken quite as seriously).

High Contrast – Return of Forever (2002)

Around the turn of the millennium, figures like Fabio helped to propagate a sound that would go on to shape the whole scene. While the popularity of the more melodic style known as liquid would not necessarily hit its highest heights until later in the decade, early releases like this (and others before it) are a hugely important moment in the history of drum and bass.

In the intervening years, London Elektricity's Hospital Records and Hospitality brand have arguably become the most recognisable out there, signing giants like Netsky, High Contrast and Logistics along the way. And this track, the opener from High Contrast's debut album, is just one example of the sound that made them so popular.


DJ Marky & XRS - LK (2003)

Although figures like DJ Marky had been involved in the scene from more-or-less the very beginning, the early to mid 2000s really marked the point where people across the world were becoming acquainted with the Brazilian scene, and the characteristically Latin take on the genre from the producers therein (Shy FX even got in on the action with his classic 'Shake Your Body').

Nicknamed 'sambass' – for obvious reasons – DJ Marky was the biggest proponent, earning himself an Essential Mix spot in 2004, and the honour of being on the sambass heavy soundtrack to legendary video game FIFA Street (which also featured Drumagick, Peshay, Ramilson Maia, Roni Size and SL2).

Even if you don't think you know this one by name, just hit play and you'll see...

Pendulum - Tarantula (2005)

No longer a scene just for the UK underground, drum and bass was big business from the midpoint of the decade onwards, and Australian group Pendulum were proof of the global reach.

With their debut album Hold You Colour they laid the groundwork to become arguably the biggest drum and bass act in the world, even if their later releases ventured into full blown electro-rock.

On one of their most famous tracks from that debut, Tenor Fly and $pyda's unmistakable vocal serves as a nod to the popular ragga styles of the genre's earliest iterations.

Chase & Status - Take Me Away (2008)

Along with Pendulum, another act that made a name for themselves around this time were London duo Chase & Status, who in the years since have gone on to work with the likes of Rihanna and Snoop Dogg.

As with Pendulum, it was a more drum and bass focused debut album that set them on their course to stardom, with More Than A Lot including a handful of tracks that have gone down in the history of the genre.

The Plan B collab 'Pieces' was perhaps the most popular in the mainstream, but 'Take Me Away' remains a classic for those in the scene. 

Dub Phizix & Skeptical – Marka (2011)

While this track is maybe not quite as indicative of the broader evolution of the genre as some others mentioned here, the dark, half-time favourite still sounds as vital and exciting as it did when it came out 7 years ago. And it has become something of a classic of the genre in its own right in that time.


DJ Hazard - Bricks Don’t Roll (2014)

Every now and then, a certain track comes along in an underground genre that doesn't just get played in those circles, but instead seeps out into the broader dance music world. The sort of track that you will hear on numerous occasions across a festival weekend from all manner of DJs. Think Benga & Coki - 'Night' from dubstep, or Rebound X - 'Rhythm & Gash' from grime. 

In recent years, 'Bricks Don't Roll' was that record for drum and bass. And the fact that it was voted by fans as 'Best Track' at the 2016 Drum & Bass Awards despite being released in 2014 is a testament to the impact it had. Although at the less overblown end of jump-up, it also highlights the growing popularity of that sound in recent years (see also Macky Gee - 'Tour' ).

Noisia - Into Dust (2016)

Full disclosure, I have to admit that my knowledge of the dominance of neurofunk/techstep (that's a debate for another day) in recent times is slightly limited. But for a few years the hard-hitting, more complex style has been the sound most prevalent across the scene, soundtracking enormous festivals and events like the near-peerless Let It Roll.

This comes in no small part thanks to hugely popular acts like Noisia, who cemented their place as a global tour de force with the release of 2016 album Outer Edges.

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