Bassline Dictionary: D&B


Here’s a situation all non-producing bass fans can identify with: hearing an awesome bassline and wanting to tell our friends about it… But not having a clue how to describe it (besides making crazy noises and looking a bit weird) or understanding how it’s made.

Well here’s a potential solution: To celebrate this week’s release of UKF Bass Culture 3, we are providing you with an essential bassline dictionary. It starts right here with five dictionary definitions of classic drum & bass basslines.

Never be scuppered in bassline banter ever again!

Heartwarming Chest-Bass

Like seeing an old friend at the crescendo of an Indian summer.

Example: Seba – Addicted

A purring, brooding classic, the summer season is drawing to a close and the nights start drawing in, you may find yourself wanting a heartfelt bass, here it is.

Synthesis is the key here: two saw-tooth waves sound good but when you slightly detune each oscillator by around 12 cents you will suddenly find the movement and the mood you are looking for. A low-pass filter will trim away any edginess, leaving a few odd harmonics to add richness and texture.  A dash of chorus and saturation will provide the interest and hearty, subby weight that all good bass needs.

Old School Bass

Bubble, flex and bounce. Shake a leg personified.

Example: Chase & Status – Count On Me (Andy C Remix)

This is a classic sound synonymous with D&B. Its infectious nature, uplifting feel and timeless sound will make even the hardest raver reminisce about the good ol’ days.

Creating a bass like this needs a tried and tested technique, created in the days of the EMU sampler and the tradition is still strong today as it has ever been.

Take a triangle waveform and saturate it gently to make it really warm. Then create some movement using an LFO linked to a low-pass filter; this should be a slow movement about half the speed of the beats to create that “warb-warb” sound we all love. When this type of bass is re-sampled something interesting happens: at the original pitch the bass sounds the same, but as you play the note higher up the scale the speed of the modulation increase in sympathy. This euphoric feel and classic technique is D&B bread and butter.

Resampled Neuro-Bass

Buy a snake and shave off half your beard mental.

Example: I Am Legion – Make Those Moves (Teddy Killerz Remix)

Approach with caution, handle with care, don’t look it directly in the eye.

To create this bass you must perfectly balance the following elements: unbridled energy, an ounce of disgusting grim, and a screwface that summons the power of a thousand lemons. Once combined you will find yourself in Zen mode: controlling a tornado from the very eye of the storm.

Seeing that this is a remix, extensive use of re-sampling is essential. This means running the bass through filters, distortions and modulations multiple times to create a magnitude of different edits. In this example there is also extensive use of finding the sickest part of the basslines, looping those parts, then filtering it to create devastating impact.

The 303 Throwback

Chuggy, driving bass that forces you to move.

Example: The Prototypes – Pale Blue Dot

The origins of this bass are rooted in tracks such as Sub Focus’s Timewarp. For the veteran heads that know about D&B roots, an appreciation of techno production is essential. They will also a ‘tip of the hat’ to the classic Roland 303 sound.

The approaches to a bass like this are numerous, but core elements are clear you either need an arpeggiator to create the driving 8th note bass or, alternately, a step-performer LFO linked to the amplitude of your synth will create a similar effect.

Using a square or saw-tooth wave will create the harmonics you need. Finally excite the sound in the mix with some crunchy, rude and edgy resonance to make those top-mids cut, sizzle and pop. Add a steppy groove, some triplet kick drum fills and a punchy snare and you will have a winner.

Variations Bass

Strictly for devoted bass warriors.

Example: Noisia – Oh Oh

The roots of this bass can be heard in tracks such as The Tide. The creation process has been known to drive even the savviest of engineer to bass block (for more information on bass block, please see writers block for DJ/Producers).

For this type of bass, you will first need to tame a beast of a synth called FM8. This gives you limitless sonic power and the ability to create almost infinite variations of your original bass idea. For the filters why not go crazy, experiment with some vowel filters and really get your basslines talking. Mapping parts of the synth to a hardware controller means you can really get inside the sound, using your hands to create movement and screw facing the whole time are both essential.

To really set this bass off and absolutely mash up the dance, one should invest in some premium filters and distortion. A classic choice is Izotope Trash, but if you have some serious cash then a Sherman filter-bank will set you apart from the part timers.

Do you have any counter-theories about the creation of these basses? We would love to hear your thoughts about your favorite synths, plug-ins and techniques that are responsible for creating this bass culture that we all know and love. 

All of these examples – plus 35 more! – can be found on UKF Bass Culture 3. Out now!

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