What The Hell Is Bass House Anyway?

what the hell is bass house

Bass House Is….

“….House music with heavy bass lol. But it does go a bit deeper than just that. A lot of the high hat patterns are shuffled or taken out of the grid to create a more groovy or human feel. All basses aside we feel that the high hats and vocal samples used are just as much “bass house” as the heavy basses that make it so…. HEAVY!!” – Ephwurd

“…. Garage really. But it also has such a wide range of new influences that it’s one of most exciting music genres right now.” – Rico Tubbs

“That moment when house music and dubstep hooked up and had a baby…”Valentino Khan

“…. Fun, high energy party music.” – JVST SAY YES

“…. My neighbour’s favourite genre.” – Jaded

“….Lit” – Skin Deep

As if the world needed another genre… Along comes bass house. Or rather, along came bass house. As a term it’s not brand new – we first heard rumbles of it this time last year when Ephwurd and Jauz fired up with Rock The Party – and as a musical form it’s been around for decades.

But, unlike other genres that have pretty defined parameters or characteristics even from the off (dubstep’s halftime drum arrangement or D&B’s rapid BPM for instance) bass house’s all-encompassing melting pot is so broad it’s impossible to define what it is. You can’t even say it’s just ‘house with big basslines’ as tracks that could easily be considered bass house – such as Jaded’s Bomba or Ghastly’s Get On This – are based on breakbeat arrangements.

There’s also the territorial factor: by and large the UK’s take on bass house is the deeper, darker UKG-inspired cuts of Cause & Affect, Chris Lorenzo, Taiki Nulight, Jaded or Low Steppa. Mainland Europe’s take is much closer to electro with Tchami and Oliver Helden’s Hi-Lo project at the forefront. The US, meanwhile, have taken more reference from dubstep with the much heavier, full-frontal aesthetic.

Whether it’s the dagger tooth dubstep dynamics of Jauz, the speedo-smelting rave fusion of Joyryde, the low-swinging UKG swagger of Flava D, the tech funk bumps and shuffles of the Dirtybird crew or AC Slater’s forward-thinking Night Bass crew, one thing is certain…

Whatever you class it as, wherever it’s coming from, whoever it’s coming from, bass house is an exciting new playing field in electronic music and right now it seems to be formula free.

“It does feel like there is a bit of a buzz around this kind of house music at the moment. We’re just having a lot of fun going to the shows and getting inspired to make tracks again, it’s something I haven’t really felt since Skream dropped midnight request line all those years ago.” – Skin Deep

From the paranoid twangs of My Nu Leng – Masterplan to the driven guttural groove of Valentino Khan – Deep Down Low, bass house has many faces, facets and forms. There are various theories as to why it’s happening right now, too. But first, the roots…

Bass House History

“I guess to definite characteristics, I’d say bass house has got a lot of classic drums and percussion to it but it has the wobbles of dubstep at the same time. I’m hearing the term more often these days and it is helping to define a movement. This can only be a good thing and it’s easier for more fans to find. But let’s face it, AC Slater has been doing it for a long long time, before it “cool” so to speak. You can’t write about bass house without writing about him. Jack Beats have been doing this for a very very long time too…” – Valentino Khan

“Switch and Sinden were really the main instigators 10-12 years ago. Then Jack Beats a few years later. They were putting those big fat basslines in house music and it was a real turning point for me. It was the first time I actually paid attention to house music. It’s house for people with short attention spans! Before than house, to me, was a loop going forever. A nice groove and that’s it. I needed a break and a build up and big bassline. So everything comes around; it’s an updated version of what we were doing back then with modern production values and all the parts of genres that have come along since or just work with a house beat; dubstep and trap and garage and rave.” – AC Slater

Switch is especially crucial when joining the dots: not only did he help set the agenda with the squelchy bass tech stamps of Get Ya Dub On (2003) or the Incredible Bongo Band sampling A Bit Patchy two years later, but he also co-founded the beast that is Major Lazer with Diplo in 2009 ensuring his relevancy in today’s wider electronic melting pot beyond a series of novelty bass-laced house tracks.

We can go back further again, though: Joyryde, one of the key contributors to bass house stateside, traces the roots even further back to the mid to late 90s with Basement Jaxx’s early work and formative speed garage sounds being imported to the UK by Todd Terry and Armand Van Helden and repurposed by likes of Double 99. Hunter Siegel, a man who’s not shy of a ballsy low end himself, agrees…

“Basement Jaxx especially  in their day where exactly where Major Lazer are right now in terms of style and wild minds. I have always like that non genre based energy, but I also grew up on Delight FM (early So Solid Crew) and garage and the UKG formula I totally love…” – Joyryde

“I think the entire genre is really just a variation of UKG at a slower tempo. I personally try to take a lot of cues from older drum and bass and a lot of older UKG records – Double 99’s Rip Groove, for instance, is a universal banger – but spun with new production techniques.” – Hunter Siegel

Running alongside UKG and speed garage was the burgeoning UK breaks scene, which enjoyed its peak around the early years of the century and constantly overlapped into more house-minded sounds such as Timo Maas’s remix of Azzido Da Bass’s Dooms Night or universal tracks that everyone from house, garage and breaks played such as Zinc’s 138 Trek.

Around this time there was also what one UK dance magazine dubbed ‘hooligan house’. Spearheaded by the Audio Bullys, the dominant sound of funky house (which labels such as Defected and Subliminal were ruling with on both sides of the Atlantic) was being countered by a more rugged, attitude-edged, chunky, bass-ridden sound.

Move forward five years and by 2006/7 and artists such as Switch, Sinden, Trevor Loveys, Boy 8 Bit and Herve were fusing all of the above, digging bass house foundations sturdy enough to build mansions on. While no one really liked the name ‘fidget’, that seemed to be the name that stuck for a few years as the new breed of bass house artist began to emerge on labels such as Cheap Thrills, Southern Fried, Dub Sided and Skint…

Crookers took electro to dangerously silly levels, Zinc ditched D&B in 2008 to create his gully shuffling, hook-heavy crack house, Fake Blood and fused big rave hooks and swashbuckling breakbeats into the blend and Jack Beats became the new bass house kings with a raw, sopping wet bass sound that hit like no other artist at the time, or since.

“Jack beats are the best at that sound and they always will be… We’ve been huge fans of their music for years and years. Some of the tracks that they made 8+ years ago still work in house sets today, creating timeless music isn’t easy but it seems to be something that comes naturally to those guys.” – Skin Deep

“Jack Beats played at the first mainstream rave I ever went to (Hard 13). I had never listened to dance music like that before. I was accustomed to dark rooms with IDM and weird kids who never danced, they analyzed sounds and drums. When I saw Jack Beats playing their remix of Mars or Get Down at Hard 13 I was blown away by the energetic reaction of the crowd. From there I was hooked. It was the perfect blend of groove and technical sounds. Kids jumped… I had never seen that before.” – Ephwurd (Bais)

What’s interesting about a lot of the guys setting the foundation back then is that many of them came from other genres; Jack Beats comprises members of the Scratch Perverts and Mixologists, Fake Blood was previously known as all-rounder beatsmith Touche and Zinc’s roots need no introduction. Their wide-armed reference points and influences captured an exciting point in bass music that refused to sit still. It’s no coincidence that club line-ups were beginning to bring artists from all sides together with bass house, breaks, dubstep and drum & bass artists all sharing stages and Ibiza was no longer the sole preserve of house, trance and techno.

“From that era Twocker (Low Steppa & Skapes ) was one of my favourites as was Switch, Foamo, Redlight and Zinc with his crack house stuff but Zed Bias, El-B, Oris Jay and labels like DPR, L2S and Hotflush with Dub Child and Toasty’s kind of junglist breakstep and loads of others who were doing the “pre dubstep” garage thing. I feel are also an essential part of bass house history as is the whole bassline scene.” – Rico Tubbs

In fact the bassline scene – a full-on 4/4 mutant of UKG championed by the likes of Jamie Duggan and DJ Q – still has a bass house influence to this day: Birmingham, alongside Sheffield, was one of the key UK cities to embrace the genre and have its own distinctive scene. With this type of soundtrack happening in their city, it’s no wonder Hannah Wants, Chris Lorenzo, Low Steppa and Cause & Affect sound the way they do.

“Birmingham was the first place I heard the terms bass house in this recent context… When I first heard sounds by artists like Lorenzo and the whole Birmingham scene.” – AC Slater

The Dubstep Influence & The Wider Melting Pot

There’s just one mammoth paradigm shift that’s happened since the early days of brutish bassline-based house, breaks, fidget, electro and UKG: Dubstep.

Few genres escaped dubstep’s enormous – at points overwhelming – influence. But bass house, certainly the strands of it coming from the US, is a genre that still wears this influence proudly. Last year JVST SAY YES, a man who also makes dubstep under another alias, explained how the turbo charged 4/4 coupled with big bro-y drops was the ideal soundtrack to American’s ‘rage’ culture.

“The old ‘real’ dubstep sounds seem to too low energy from what the scene expects from bass music now. People still want that extreme sound but in a different way. They don’t call it partying over here, they call it raging. Are you coming out to rage tonight? That’s the culture that surrounds us here. The energy dictates how things move.” – JVST SAY YES

“Just like we did with dubstep, Americans like to take it one step further. It’s in our nature. Look at how house music was just a turbo charged version of disco. I think it’s because we all want to be heard. There are so many people over here and everyone wants to be famous. We grow up with this mentality. And in music there are so many people making it we’re all trying to stand out. For me, though, I’ve learnt that restraint is more powerful than going over the top.” – AC Slater

As Valentino Khan aptly puts it, bass house is – in many instances – the love child of house and dubstep. But on a broader view, you could argue it’s more the product of an entire genre orgy and not one singular dad can be deduced through DNA tests….

The 808-snapping sounds of trap, the bullish synth hooks of EDM/big room, the production techniques of drum & bass and even the chuggy, spiky licks of moobahton can all be heard in the bass house melting pot (as well its previous dads UKG, breaks, electro, fidget, speed garage etc). In fact Rock The Party was originally going to be a big room tune, then almost became a trap tune…

“That song wasn’t originally bass house. Before we announced Ephwurd we were playing around with a lot of 128 ideas. First that tune started off as a big room song with huge leads, the vocal sample and Tiesto like chords (lol)… Then we scrapped half of that and made it a trap tune…. Then scrapped most of that and sat around for a couple of weeks trying to find out what to do with it. We had so many sick elements but it just needed a home to rest on. Then Jauz came in the studio and had some dope shuffled drum patterns. Within a day we knew what it had to be so we smashed out the rest of it and thus Rock The Party was born… We think that tune appealed to so many people cause it was a fresh new sound, but it also has a little bit of everything for every DJ. Some big room, some trap, some dubstep, some house. It’s a mutt of a song really.” – Ephwurd

And here’s where we hit the most exciting part of the bass house story and the reason it has no formula….

“Given the internet and how fast music is spreading compared to 20 years ago when you only had the radio, now people listen to a little bit of everything.  This is why you’re hearing a lot of different sounds overlapping in bass house and finding a lot of artists making much more than one genre. There’s also still a very underground spirit to electronic dance music. As a result we’re constantly getting these new exciting sounds and ideas. One person can make one song that blows up and it changes the landscape and perception of what’s hot.” – Valentino Khan.

“The lines are blurring more and more every day as we see more leftfield music being accepted as pop. With every new adventurous step pop music takes so does the underground and more sort of contrarian movements. I think over the last few years things have really opened up to anyone being able to make anything they want and it almost being encouraged, whether they choose to play it safe is now really up to them as an artist.” – Hunter Siegel

In fact every artist and act that has contributed to this article is a card-carrying genre-hopper who can’t be pigeonholed to any category, let alone the loose concept of bass house.  Valentino and Hunter’s multi-genre flexes are well-known, meanwhile, a little closer to home, Finnish artist Rico Tubbs has been melting down boundaries for well over a decade and Jaded have appealed to labels from Dirtybird to Black Butter and aren’t shy of a good breakbeat or two…

“The no rules spirit probably comes from the fact no one knows exactly where it’s going, which is great because you’re not really confined to tempos or any familiar structures and sounds. We personally like to tap into some old Miami bass grooves when we approach bass heavier stuff with a touch of old UK breaks tracks whilst still maintaining the sound design. We’re also heavily influenced by a lot of techno.” – Jaded

Of course this melting pot mentality isn’t always positive; it means there’s a lot of confusion as to what bass house is… Or isn’t.

“It’s a hard thing to sum up as the term bass house is such a fragmented one. Certain things that aren’t actually house at all have fallen under the spectrum, with the resurgence of breaks (although no longer called breaks outside of a certain scene) falling into the same audience in the US in particular – acts such as Ghastly being a good example. I think it’s still unclear where the US side is going as a lot of the most well known figureheads such as Jauz play a lot of trap and dubstep in their sets, and on the UK side, UKG and the more headsy bass house are often found together.” – JVST SAY YES

“I think there is a bit of a division in scenes over here for this kind of music. On one side you have like Ghastly, Ephwurd, JVST SAY YES and Joyryde that come with a more upfront sound… The kind of fans that go to these shows are similar to that you would see at a dubstep rave. But, on the other side you have the more underground scene that’s lead by AC Slater over here. They run a label and a club night called ‘Night Bass’ and have artists such as Sinden, Petey Clicks and Jack Beats all pushing a more understated sound, very similar to what Hannah Wants and My Nu Leng are doing in the UK.”Skin Deep

In fact almost no act we spoke to for this article didn’t reference AC Slater and his Night Bass label, events and podcasts. Inspired by the UK, based in the US and uniting artists from all corners of the bass-loving globe, Night Bass is the closest thing bass house has to a regular ‘hub’.

“I was a minority in America, being a fan of this music. I’ve grown up with British music. I loved old school rave, garage, grime, everything. So with Night Bass I went back to that sound but I was re-inspired by what Low Steppa and Chris Lorenzo and all those guys were making and put my own American spin on it. It’s funny; back in the day I always dreamt of releasing on UK labels because that was my inspiration. Now a lot of UK people are releasing on my US labels which is really exciting for me.”AC Slater

With Night Bass setting a solid new foundation for bass house, more event/label/community HQs should follow. Valentino Khan reckons this is essential for bass house to develop further.

“The most important thing is to now make sure there are more formal releases and events that really bring it together. The scene moves so fast especially as this was born from the internet with free bootlegs and tracks and so on. If the movement continues to develop then it needs formalising in some type of way.” – Valentino Khan.

Bass House: The Future?

So will the term bass house stick around or is just another flash-in-the-pan catch-all for a multi-stranded movement that’s bubbling with so many perceptions and influences that it even confuses itself?

While most artists would rather avoid any question regarding genres and categories and just focus on making the most exciting music they can, while it’s clear most of the scene contributors we spoke to are all enjoying the fact there’s no rules, no formula and total freedom – the essential elements a genre needs to creatively develop – opinions are divided on its future. Will the current love for bass house lead to longevity? Only time will tell…

“People love a good genre name! And as long as we continue to support the fresh and exciting ideas then I’m sure bass house will stick around for a while…”AC Slater

“The most attractive bass music for me is the sloppy under produced stuff, once it gets all tight and ‘sensible’ then the whole get mad with friends and listen to punky shit is done… If the scene was to attempt growth on that level it will have to shake what was the original appeal. That type of music should not be oversaturated; it should be so undersaturated that when you hear it again you say ‘ ohhh wow, I forgot how much I love this’…. It’s kind of a bitter sweet opinion, but I think it’s best like that.”Joyryde

“It’s very hard to say – right now it seems that with the US focused sound anyway, it’s finding homes in a mixture of the big house guys’ sets and the general bass music DJs’ sets. Whether it becomes a scene in its own right waits to be seen.” – JVST SAY YES

“Right now, it’s too early to tell. I think someone needs to come through with something different, just like when Doctor P came out with Sweet Shop… Suddenly everyone started opening the filter cut off a bit more! It seem to be at a pivotal point though.” – Skin Deep

“I’m really bad at predicting these kinds of things…There is an underground angle to bass house that makes it difficult to crossover to mainstream. In that sense it’s a  bit like the ever-strong techno – also there’s now bit of history behind it to have strong foundation. Then again due to the rough edges some people might be temped to move over to some “easy access” house…we’ll see.” Rico Tubbs

“That’s what we are trying to figure out at the moment. The group of people making quality bass house tracks is so small that’s it’s kinda up to this small group to keep the sound afloat til the production quality can catch up. Right now the sound is getting kinda tiresome we all have to break in new ideas and themes that will inspire people to expand their minds on it. Otherwise we’ll just hear 100 more tracks that have the same pitched down bass line as rock the party.” – Ephwurd

“I think it already is here to stay considering there is a healthy interest in it stateside and in Europe. The Night Bass crew having a stage at Ultra is holding it down over there and the more it grows the more I imagine commercial interest on a larger scale will start to set in. Now it seems the EDM people are looking for the next outlet and bass house is likely to be that.” Jaded

“Who’s to say anymore really? Remember Tropical house?”Hunter Siegel

UKF Bass House is out now. Get it here.