October 26 2017: the drum & bass game experienced a radical shift in energy and focus as over 150 labels and their respective rosters joined forces to create a one-stop Spotify playlist that celebrated and represented all corners of the genre: I ❤️ Drum & Bass
While at first glance something as commonplace as a playlist doesn’t seem particularly revolutionary, what needs to be acknowledged is the spirit behind the initiative and the way it could have some really exciting implications for the new artists and even the creative direction of the music itself.
Bottom line: A collective mission between artists and labels from all generations active on all levels and in all styles has never happened before. Not even during the halcyon dubplate days of Music House. For the first time ever, almost the whole of drum & bass – a genre historically characterised by tight crews, intense competition, fastidious subgenre categories and benchmark-setting technical one-upmanship – has pulled together, regardless of style, territory or hierarchy.
The best examples of this unity are in the arrangement of the playlist itself. The daily updates barely ever include the biggest, A-list names at the top of the list (so the new generation are at the forefront) and the range of styles has consistently flexed between all subgenres ensuring there’s something for everyone. At a time when artists are mixing up more styles and experimenting more, there’s never been a better time to get a widescreen snapshot of the entire genre and not your preferred bubble.
Another example of this unity is a behind-the-scenes series of chat groups on Telegram where over 300 members, all artists and label owners, have congregated to discuss the project and explore the ideas of working in different ways together. As DJ SS explains below, he’s seen artists of all styles sharing tips and ideas in a way he hasn’t seen since the 90s. Even if you felt the playlist was an anti-climax, that type of activity has to be productive for the genre.
As the playlist moves into its third week of running (amassing almost 20,000 followers so far) we called up five of the main artists behind the initiative. DJ Fresh, Simon Bassline Smith, Futurebound, DJ SS and Micky Finn. Introductions with influential scene pioneers of this calibre are not necessary…
It feels significant that this kicked off on Telegram the month AIM died…
Simon Bassline Smith: That’s just a funny coincidence really. Basically we’d all been thinking independently about how we can get more drum & bass played on streaming platforms. For example, mine and Drumsound’s productions get good plays but the younger artists on the label don’t. So I was looking for a way to get them more exposure. Then I started looking at other playlists and figured it would be special to do something from within the scene. You see big grime or R&B playlists with half a million followers – why hasn’t drum & bass got that?
So I’d been thinking about that and in the meantime a group was set up between a few of us to discuss Grooverider’s birthday. One Saturday night Dan (Fresh) started talking about Spotify. This conversation carried on and I suggested a playlist that was representative of all of us. Not just the top artists but everyone. All of us coming together and building the scene upwards. Before I knew it Dan was on the phone and everything started happening.
This all sounds super quick!
Futurebound: Very quick. It started with a few of us together working out how it would work and what the basic rules were. Then we brought in various labels and it happened within weeks.
Fresh: It’s interesting when it comes to playlists. We still live in a DJ culture in drum & bass; people looked to what the DJs were playing. What Groove was playing, what Andy was playing. What we were all playing. Influencers, I guess the marketing buzzword is now. Playlists, when curated correctly by the right people, offer a similar insight into the music and into what DJs are playing. For some reason the drum & bass community hasn’t embraced Spotify or streaming as much as other genres. So this is a resource for fans so they can see what DJs are listening to and releasing on their labels. They can see what’s coming out that day or that week and check it instantly. This benefits everyone – the artists, the labels and the listeners. But we have to pull together for this to happen.
Definitely the artists. Every day I’ve checked the playlist, the artists at the top of the playlist are usually up-and-comers. This is so important. To have no hierarchy, right?
Fresh: Brendan’s got a guy in his office they call Statto. He updates us with listening figures to show how the playlist is affecting individual artists. People in the artist lounge in the Telegram group are posting their plays and showing how the listens on the playlist are dwarfing listens from other places which is amazing because our only challenge was to convince the smaller players in the game that they were going to be represented fairly. There are big chunks of drum & bass who thrive off being niche. They don’t want to be popular, they don’t want to be the thing everyone is listening to. I think they were concerned that because a lot of us come from the more well marketed side of drum & bass they thought we wouldn’t be representing the whole scene. We want to provide that resource to everyone.
Micky Finn: It’s working on a lot of levels. I’ve found artists I had no idea existed through this list already. I’ve heard tunes that’s made me stop and look them up and start following them and buying their music to play out. We all become a bit complacent in our own little subgenres so for everyone to be working together and hearing things from all sides of the genre. It’s a lot more supportive.
I think we’re all guilty of living in bubbles aren’t we?
Futurebound: Yeah, we’re fiercely loyal characters in drum & bass. We’re loyal to our artists, our subgenres, all these bubbles. And this includes the platforms we use. First we were loyal to vinyl and dubplates and now a lot of label, artists & fans are loyal to downloads. We need to get everyone in drum & bass to understand this way of listening to music. You can download your tracks to play and mix on the weekend but when you’re in the thick of a working week as a fan, you’re not listening to stuff on download stores, you’re on Spotify, Deezer, Apple Music etc. That’s where everyone needs to focus a little more; the labels, the artists, the listeners, all of us. There’s so much music coming through on a weekly basis there’s a strong chance even the closest, eager fan of drum & bass might miss something.
DJ SS: From my perspective, the unity thing was the most important. From hosting The World Of Drum & Bass events I see how people get together. When we started this thing back in the day we played with Carl Cox, Sasha, Bassline Smith, Grooverider, we were at all events. This is bigger than a playlist; I go into the artist lounge and see a tech guy talking to a jump-up guy, a jump-up guy talking to a liquid guy. This hasn’t happened for a very long time. For the generation who didn’t get to go to Music House to cut dubs this has never happened. People from all over the world, all over the genres, it’s inspiring to see this community happen again because that’s it what it was all about for me; kids from the streets, kids with nothing, scraping together what they had and creating something from nothing in studios and their bedrooms – not being controlled, not being dictated. We just got too segregated somewhere along the way.
Amen. What was cool the night before it launched was everyone posting about it in unison across all stables and labels. The fact you’ve managed to make a large proportion of grown men change their avatars to bring pink hearts is also commendable
Fresh: It’s funny when we were trying to work out the name of the playlist or how to brand it. There were a lot of ideas being thrown around from different people and we realised that whatever sound or style or label we come from there is one thing in common: we all love drum & bass. It doesn’t matter whether you like experimental stuff, tech stuff, soulful stuff. We all love drum & bass. No matter how cynical you are about this we all have this in common – we fucking love drum & bass! And this is just the beginning. There are things happening that will be revealed in six months that will dwarf what’s happening now. You won’t believe it.
That’s what I wanted to hear. There was a bit of an anti-climax from some people expecting more than just a playlist.
Bassline Smith: Yeah I get that but the first thing is to bring people together and see how it can work and see how we can work together. There’s a lot of power in the scene if we all pull together. That’s every single one of us. We’re building this for the scene and we want to create a legacy where the whole scene has come together. We’re thinking about positive ways of using the strength of everyone coming together.
Futurebound: We got over 17,000 followers in less than a week. That’s no mean feat. If some of those followers are brand new to Spotify and new to streaming drum & bass then that’s even better.
DJ SS: I know for a fact a lot of labels we’ve dealt with had never used Spotify or put their music up on there. We’ve had to show a load of people how to set up Spotify because they want to be part of this.
Fresh: People nearly lost their businesses last week because of the amount of work we’ve put into this. Phones going off left, right and centre. It’s testament to how supportive and helpful drum & bass is. It’s like a family.
DJ SS: We’ve been inviting American labels, Australian labels, even Russian labels and they don’t have Spotify. I’ve been speaking to a label from China and they want to be involved. So we’re thinking of new ways to link people, new ways to bring us all together and new ways to celebrate all forms of drum & bass. Not just the trendy stuff or the chart stuff or underground stuff. It’s about drum & bass music. That’s the philosophy.
I think the reason drum & bass has been less streamed that other genres is because it’s made to be mixed – that magical third tune between two tunes. I was wondering how you can incorporate new technology like Dubspot to incorporate mixes.
Micky Finn: Dubspot is really interesting and we’ve talked about doing mixes with tracks from the playlist. But what’s even more interesting is when you’re looking at how music is made and what its purpose is. So if more people stream drum & bass, more people will tailor originals or versions for playlists. So they’re not making it with a club in mind or a DJ in mind, they’re making it with the listener in mind.
Futurebound: We’ve already seen it with our own music – tracks without that long 16 bar intro get more plays than the more DJ-ready productions for example.
Fresh: The irony is that we’re still arranging things for old school vinyl DJs. I think it holds us back and frustrates a lot of people. You don’t get the chance to make music where you’re just thinking of the listener because we all became concerned about certain big DJs playing our tunes. You think about the classics we all grew up on, the arrangements were crazy, things were switching and chopping all over the place, it was really exciting and experimental. Maybe this new format can give us an excuse to experiment and divert from the standard format we’ve all been hell bent over for so long
Futurebound: That feeling is universal across everything we’ve been doing on this. We’ve been like little kids again – like the Music House days, thinking about ideas and different things to do.
DJ SS: What’s important is that we don’t divert from the original plan too much too quickly – we want it to be no hierarchy, we want everyone to be involved, we want everyone treated fairly and everyone benefiting and that does take time.
Bassline Smith: When we launched it, we had so many labels getting in touch so it’s taking time to get everyone involved. We’re setting up guidelines to make sure everyone gets the opportunity to represented fairly and properly.
Fresh: That’s all practical stuff to make sure we’re visible but as Leeroy (SS) said, the main thing is having us all together and having a network in telegram of artists and labels and creative people. It’s place where we can all put our heads together and share ideas.
Bassline Smith: Not just producers, or labels but promoters, MCs, people who specialise in PR, in coding, in graphics, in social media, video. Everyone involved across the entire scene coming together. There’s a lot of really talented people behind the scenes making things happen like Gareth Databeats and Vince Facts Of Life, our designer.
DJ SS: Even artists are getting stuck in and making videos and graphics. We’re showing what this means to us and pulling together.
Bassline Smith: We’ve gone way beyond what we’d do for own shit for this. It’s for drum & bass.
Micky Finn: That’s the most important message right now. I think some people think we’ve got an ulterior motive with this. But trust us; we’re in this to bring the scene together and to help everyone.
Fresh: Everyone who loves drum & bass is to benefit from the success of it. This has never happened on this level before and it’s just the beginning…