Photo by Joshua Hanson
While EDM dominated dance music for many years, another style of electronic music has made a big comeback and has seen a steady rise in popularity: Liquid Drum and Bass.
This genre is experiencing one of its most exciting chapters from drawing ecstatic crowds at the bass stages of major festivals to thousands of online streams.
“Liquid Drum and Bass is a great genre to listen to while working or when you’re on the go as well as being a great music for the club.” says producer Heymac from Edmonton, Canada about the growing appeal of this genre.
He is part of a rising number of North American Drum and Bass producers and has been creating waves in the scene since he started producing five years ago with his unique cinematic music style inspired by movie soundtracks.
Releasing his music on several influential labels and making it into the electronic music charts lead him to multiple features on radio shows and his tracks being included on popular Spotify playlists.
But before we get deeper into how Liquid Drum and Bass is conquering today’s dancefloors and gaining followers worldwide, let’s have a quick look at the beginning and at the culture that started electronic dance music.
So What Is “Liquid Drum and Bass”?
Liquid Drum and Bass is the most versatile and enduring subgenre of Drum and Bass or “D’n’B”, which pioneering artist Goldie once called “The Bastard Child” of electronic music.
Its roots go back to the early 90s when something special was brewing in the UK music scene.
From Pirate Radio & Illegal Rave Parties To The Biggest Clubs
It was the dawn of electronic dance music before anyone has ever even heard of the term “EDM”.
Reggae, acid house, UK breakbeat, funk, hardcore and Detroit techno all blended into one revolutionary sound: Drum and Bass – the new soundtrack for the rebellious inner-city youth.
It spread through pirate radios and in the bustling scene of underground (and often illegal) rave parties.
As the new sound gained popularity, it managed to cross over from the underground to commercial radio stations and into the big clubs around 1995.
A New Style is Born: Liquid Drum And Bass
While much of Drum and Bass and its dancehall and reggae-influenced subgenre ”Jungle” had a very heavy sound towards the end of the century, a new, lighter genre emerged: Liquid Drum and Bass.
“It almost seemed like a competition at that time, which Drum and Bass producer could come up with the heaviest and most techy sounding beats.”, says Heymac about the late 90s, “It eventually reached a level, where it couldn’t get much more grimey and hard. That’s when Liquid Drum and Bass really took off.”
This new dream-like sounding version of Drum and Bass was more melodic, atmospheric and included soulful vocals.
Introduced originally by the UK’s legendary DJ Fabio as “Liquid Funk”, it steadily grew in popularity in the early 00’s until it completely exploded around 2003.
By 2005 it was the most prominent selling sub-genre of Drum and Bass.
Spilling Over The Atlantic
While Drum and Bass’ popularity was creating a buzz in Europe’s electronic music scene, first cassette tapes with that new sound made it to North America in the early 90s.
What was initially confined underground radio shows and played in smaller clubs and bars, became the dominant sound in the underground electronic dance music community around 1994/1995.
By the 2000s, Drum and Bass was everywhere with popular artists like Dieselboy (US), DJ Slick (CAN) and Goldie (UK) touring the world.
But the hype that Drum and Bass parties created also meant that the authorities started to pay more attention, which made organizing those events increasingly tricky.
What started with a DIY approach, throwing underground parties in empty warehouses or remote outdoor locations, promoted mostly through word of mouth or flyers, now had a vast list of requirements of strict and sometimes expensive safety protocols.
At the same time, the mainstream took notice of Drum and Bass’ popularity.
Soon, elements of that style like the raw electronic sounds made it into more commercial and polished Dubstep tracks of new producers such as Skrillex.
EDM Takes Over
While Drum and Bass and Liquid Drum and Bass managed to stay hugely popular with a very loyal following especially in the UK, Europe, Japan and Australia, a new and much more commercial form of dance music took over in North America in the mid-2000s: EDM.
Heymac describes it like this: “North America’s dance music has a much more overtly commercial approach to it. But since Drum and Bass is not a genre that has broken into the mainstream too much, it hasn’t been affected as much.”
For a young generation that didn’t experience the variety of music styles of the 1990’s rave culture, this version of commercial “EDM” that saturated the airwaves, clubs and festivals, was their introduction to electronic music.
And it led many them to want to dig deeper and learn more about the pioneers and roots of this style.
An Alternative To EDM
While EDM and Dubstep experienced a steep rise in popularity and a massive hype in the last ten years, Liquid Drum and Bass in North America mostly stayed under the radar, attracting a growing loyal fan base through regular club nights and live streams.
In recent years, as people are getting more and more tired of EDM, there’s been a sharp increase of Liquid Drum and Bass’ exposure on YouTube and Soundcloud, introducing it to a new young audience.
Many electronic music festivals now include a dedicated Drum and Bass stage, while the world’s largest Drum and Bass festival “LET IT ROLL” in The Czech Republic attracts 30,000 people every year.
North America’s Liquid Drum and Bass Scene Today
No wonder that after years of EDM being all about stage shows and gimmicks rather than the music, people are looking for something different.
And Canada’s thriving scene is offering exactly that and much more.
As Heymac puts it: “Canada’s scene has always been about the music, promoting artists, bringing people together at unforgettable events and building a community that is united by the love of one style of music: Liquid Drum and Bass.”
But Drum and Bass and Liquid Drum and Bass, are not just music from the past.
While veteran artists such as Nu:Tone and pioneering labels like Hospital Records are still producing new releases, there is a unique and dynamic young scene coming up.
And the fact that Heymac’s recent release “Night Garden/Ode to what was” made it into Juno Download’s top 100 at number 61, is just proof of the quality of new music coming out and of the recent popularity of this genre.
“Liquid Drum and Bass is the best it’s ever been right now.” says Heymac, “The amount of music being produced today by new artists such as Bensley or Polaris which are both from Ontario keep the genre fresh and exciting. While Liquid Drum and Bass have generally been a Europe dominated genre, I’m excited about the future, as this surge of Canadian and US talent is finally putting North America on the map.”