Posted by: martinworster | July 24, 2011

122. BASS CULTURE

Bassline! – the deep bassline uniting most post-war good British music..

Just read the excellent ‘Bass Culture’ by Lloyd Bradley. It must be considered one of the most definitive books on post war Jamaican music. It clearly charts the emergence of reggae against the backdrop of historical, sociological and political realities in a very volatile Jamaica. It’s great at documenting the rise of all forms of Jamaican music from the island folk traditions and Mento, to all the nascent reggae forms – rock steady, ska, roots, dancehall, dub.

It was also fascinating to learn that lovers rock was a largely British creation, a more female friendly version of roots with proper strong structures and vocals that was sold back to Jamaica from it’s British based disapora. Then of course, there’s the whole debt that modern DJ culture owes to Jamaican dancehall and soundclash culture – the cutting of dub plates, MCing, speaker rigs, exclusivity of tunes, dub techniques in the studio, the rewind etc etc.

Dee Sharpe – Let’s Dub It Up ([perhaps my favourite lovers rock tune)


It was further illustration to me of the fascinating interplay between different musical cultures and sounds that Britain is so good at. Other countries seem to invent new genres – and frequently we go on to perfect them. Consider how the Rolling Stones (and other blues based acts) took southern black Delta music sped it up slightly and sold it back to the US homeland. Same with house music from Chicago, originally a strictly gay urban scene that eventually mutated into mainstream rave culture and electronica. Similarly UK garage used US deep house and New York garage as its template, adding bigger basslines and 2 step rhythms. And again with the early forms of reggae in Jamaica – which was originally fed by soul and R&B from the US in the 50s. It’s such a fascinating and seemingly endless cross fertilisation of creativity and musicianship.

Growing up in Britain, particularly of my generation or older, you were always exposed to quite a lot of reggae. The 1950s saw large scale immigration from the West Indies, particularly Jamaica, and this forever affected the musical landscape. Sound systems took off in the 1960s perhaps culminating with the Notting Hill Carnival and the emergence of some quality British reggae acts like Steel Pulse, Matumbi and Aswad (before they went cheesy in the 80s). Then of course on a main stream popular level songs like Millie’s ‘My Boy Lolipop’, Musical Youth’s ‘Pass The Duchie’, Alta and Donna’s ‘Uptown Top Ranking’ and Janet Kay’s ‘Silly Games’ were all massive hits. I appreciate some of the quality of this list might be deemed questionable by purists. I am solely listing them as evidence of Jamaican influenced music bursting into the British pop mainstream.

Althea and Donna – Uptown Top Ranking


I would say the impact of the Jamaican influx on post war British music was one of the most significant factors affecting the type of musical output. As a product of 1970s London, The Clash were heavily influenced – big basslines, dub versions of albums, productions by Mikey Dread, the spear head of the whole punk / reggae cross over that occurred in the UK in the 70s. Following this was the early 80s 2 Tone ska revival with bands like Bad Manners, The Specials and Madness. Not to mention Police (basically pop reggae) and UB40 – I am glossing over rather superficially here but it’s easy to see (and hear) the all pervasive influence of Jamaican music.

Perhaps my real, deepest exposure to reggae first occurred when going out raving in the early 90s in London at the birth of the drum n bass and jungle scenes. A lot of the tunes would sample reggae and dub – the big basslines, vocal samples from MC greats like Big Youth, Yelloman and U Roy. Artists such as Rebel MC, Barrington Levy and later, UK Apache made basically dancehall tunes with a faster drum and bass rhythm. In fact the whole ethos of sound system culture was directly imported wholesale into the rave scene. MCs would chat and toast in a patois style and fashion. DJs would rewind tunes when the crowd demanded it. Raves would advertise the sound system by how loud it was – 50 K turbo rigs were the norm. As it was those halycon pre-internet days, DJs would drop exclusive tunes – dubplates – that you might not hear anywhere else. Ganja smoking was endemic at all of the dances.

Dee Patten – Who’s The Badman


Criminal Minds – Baptized By Dub


A quick mine on YouTube will quickly reveal how rich a seam of pre-jungle dubby drum and bass was made in those fervent times. An unrivaled time of creativity in terms of both volume of output and the progression of sounds.

Further, the musical style and production techniques were heavily indebted to Jamaica. Dubby sound affects, rhythm and bass driven, rasta chants and samples, bass drops, call and response basslines, sub oscillation basslines – in fact the bassline was everything, so much so that the crowds would cheer and scream at the basslines. Of course all of these influences would emerge into pure jungle around 93-94.

Having heard the roots influences on the dance music that was being sampled at that time we started to dig deeper for the original 70s versions of dub and reggae. A lot of my friends really got into dub and rasta culture and often chill out rooms would play dub music. We’d visit the Dub Club at the Dome in Tufnell Park to see sound systems like Jah Shaka and Manassah in a bass quaking to-the-point-of-gut-wrenching Dread environment. Just another example in a long heritage of white boys being fascinated by black culture and music.

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