Musings and shenanigans.

14 April 2019

The 'Nuum Ourobourus

by Karl

This Boiler Room set by Reprazent Radio resident Sherelle made a lot of waves when it was released a couple of weeks back. And rightly so, its a banging mix and the party vibe is so tangible that the video will have you dancing along in your living room begging for a rewind.

But there were a few things besides the vibe and the tunes that stood out and got people talking about the set online.

First it opened a debate on rewinds and dj etiquette. Riz La Teef, who played earlier the same night, came in for a cheeky rewind around 20 minutes in. This prompted priceless looks in the dance and countless arguments online. The matter was discussed in an RA Exchange feature on DJ Etiquette and has been amicably resolved since. But rewind drama wasn’t what I wanted to write about.

Second, its cool to see women left, right and centre at a bass / jungle / 160 event. As discussed in a recent Dazed feature on the Kemistry & Storm DJ Kicks mix and again on the RA Exchange the gender balance in drum & bass has never been exemplary, lagging behind the worlds of house and techno (which aren’t paragons of virtue in terms of representation either). While it was cool to see, the bass and gender balance wasn’t what interested me the most.

What stood out to me was how this mix exemplifies the hardcore continuum coming full circle. Like a snake biting its own tail, a new wave of jungle producers are resurrecting this old genre through remixes of the classics of genres that followed in the wake of, and were influenced by, jungle.

For the uninitiated, the hardcore continuum is a concept used to describe certain commonalities and a sense of cohesion in particular strands of UK dance music. Starting with hardcore rave progressing into first jungle / drum & bass, continuing in UK Garage and then leading into grime, dubstep and beyond (how or if the term applies to the last 10-15 years of UK dance music is a contentious topic).

I call it a ‘continuum’ because that’s what it is: a musical tradition/subcultural tribe that’s managed to hold it together for nearly 20 years now, negotiating drastic stylistic shifts and significant changes in technology, drugs, and the social/racial composition of its own population.

Simon Reynolds on the Hardcore Continuum | The Wire

The existence, relevancy and current standing of the ‘nuum has been fiercely debated. These debates notwithstanding for me it has always been an interesting to approach UK dance music with this framework. Listening to Sherelle in the mix, it is interesting to see the tunes she played through this lens.

Have a look at the tracklist and you can see what I mean. There’s jungle takes on dubstep classics like Midnight Request Line and Disko Rekkah. Wiley’s grime anthem Morgue is given the jungle treatment by Danny Scrilla on and garage makes an appearance in a Fixate refix of Ripgroove.

Remixing the classics is a long standing tradition. But that was usually a matter of updating classics of the genres that came before you to the sonics and tempos of the day (drum & bass updating hardcore anthems, moving them from 140 bpm to 170 and so on). The remixes found in Sherelles set invert this relationship, the classics of garage, grime and dubstep being revisited through the aesthetics and principles of jungle, a genre that garage and grime built on. If, as Adam F said dance music is a train perhaps the train is now looping around itself.

I’m not sure where this jungle / 160 bpm thing sits as a scene or a genre in today’s electronic landscape. It looks to me like the confluence and progression of a few different genres and scenes, modern hip hop, juke/footwork and nu-jungle. But with a reverence for the dubstep, grime, garage and jungle of years past. People that grew up in the hardcore continuum (even if they never heard of the concept and were born in the late 90s/early 00s, missing the “golden days” of those genres). It looks like it retcons the drum & bass of the last 15-20 years, which is arguably pretty removed from its harcore continuum roots anyway, and continues with the breaks and bass aesthetics of mid 90s jungle music.

Furthermore I’m not sure if these remixes go beyond insular navel gazing, just a form of retromania (to use another Reynolds coined term). The tunes are banging, its cool to hear people vibing at those tempos again but those remixes don’t seem to be doing many new things. Modern production techniques and tools certainly mean that the tunes sound modern. But there seems to be a reverence for the jungle rulebook, or at least an understanding of its tropes, rather an intention to reinvent or revolutionise it.

This ties into a general appetite for retro sounding breakbeat based music, there are plenty of breakbeat bits at 120-130 bpm coming out lately. None of those are doing anything radically new with this formula either.

Using this a source material might also just be a case of knowing your audience. The plunderphonics, memes and mashups of previous years have shown us that nostalgically recycling the old can be more effective than inventing the new. And everyone knows a good sample and a sped up amen break is really energetic and effective on the dancefloor.

In any case, whether this is a new (nu?) chapter of the ‘nuum or a sign of the whole thing collapsing on the weight of it itself it is interesting. I suppose we’ll see where it goes.

tags: nuum - Boiler Room - Sherelle