WORDS

Why has 2015 been such a strong year for neurofunk?

2015 the year of neuro

Neurofunk to me: you wake up, it’s 2pm it’s already dark, you get your breakfast and sit in front of a big computer. You don’t talk to anyone, all you can think of is yesterday’s frequency and you start working around it. It’s a lifestyle that’s similar to hackers; you’re surrounded by technology, you’re obsessed with searching. You’re inventing and you’ll never stop. You’re not social too much. You’re more of a scientist”. – Billain

To me neurofunk is a way of life, since I’ve been producing it I’ve been no longer able to listen to the music in a “standard” way, you become a kind of scientist who analyzes and makes experiments in laboratory daily, you become the neurofunk”.Maztek

“To me it is just a term that tries to categorize a specific type of music you can’t really categorize. Neurofunk seems to be more of a full on movement these days. The music evolves too fast and constantly, so in my view you can’t really define the term musically anymore. That guy who wrote the neurofunk Wikipedia article actually described its very origin quite well. That old school neurofunk term to me is equal to Konflict’s Messiah or Ed Rush & Optical’s Point Blank. Whereas nowadays the sound of it is more diverse, digitized and a synthesized hybrid.” Phace

It’s the love of my life, besides my wife. For me it started in the late 90s, when I first heard the likes of Bad Company, Ed Rush & Optical, Stakka & Skynet, Konflict and the other pioneers – after experiencing their music, I knew I was hooked for life. Even when things seemed the darkest, about five years ago, when the never-ending mantra ‘D&B is dead’ was the strongest, several acts bailed and converted to dubstep – I started a neurofunk label. This how important neurofunk is to me.”Jade

It’s drum & bass that’s full – tonally and harmonically. Something that has you questioning how the hell the bass is so loud and rich and the drums are so clear and snappy, everything is clean but distorted and it doesn’t quite make any sense at all but somehow it all works. It’s almost impossible to describe without swearing or demonstrating with a shoe being thrown in a rave but if you hear something that makes you want to shout at someone next to you it’s quite possible it’s neruofunk you’re listening to.”Xtrah

Phace describes it as the “punk rock of electronic music”, Maztek calls it “the rock & roll of electronic music”, Disprove describes it as “one of the most complete genres in electronic music”. We’re calling it one of the defining sounds in drum & bass 2015.

Cases in point: Noisia & The Upbeats winning Best Track for Dead Limit and Mefjus winning Best Album in the Drum&BassArena Awards. The success of Let It Roll Festival (lead picture) who have recently developed from their festival roots to launch their own label. The first Ed Rush & Optical album in over six years. Ed Rush’s brand new label Piranha Pool. Prolix’s new label Trendkill.

Truly unique, head-bending designs on tracks like June Miller & Mefjus – Saus and Billain – Kingston Drone. Current Value’s return from crossbreed to D&B. The Beatport dominance of Eatbrain and Blackout. The support it’s had on the most dominant D&B labels such as Critical, Shogun, Ram and Hospital.

From the ever-developing phenomenon that is Noisia to the next generation of new artists such as Signs, L 33, Zombie Cats, Doctrine, Trilo, A-Cray, Pythius, Hypoxia, the darker, techy, complex, neuro sides of drum & bass havn’t just been unavoidable but exciting, varied and progressive.

But why?

Could it be a natural knee-jerk to the poppier, commercial side of drum & bass? Could it be the influence of act such as Noisia, Mefjus, Phace and Misanthrop? Could it be the success of festivals this year? Have developments in production technology influenced the sound? We address these questions and more with the help of a wide range of the scene’s contributors and spokespeople…

I actually think that 2015 was a very strong year for Drum & Bass in general, no matter what sub-genre. For me personally 2015 has been one of the best years since I started to do my take on underground Drum & Bass music. I never released more music in one year and never have been touring that much.”Phace

To me it is the most boundary pushing and in terms of producing the most challenging kind of electronic dance music – in regards to sound design as well as rhythmical structures and time signatures without ever leaving its path in meeting top notch audio production standards and its purpose to make people dance.”Current Value

To us 2015 has definitely been a good year for neurofunk. Music-wise the quality has been there, and it seems that the genre (which is constantly in the process of being redefined) is heading in a new direction regarding arrangements, design and format … The genre is interesting, not boring at all or repeating itself in circles – it keep on opening new doors.”Signs

Production standards, development and a disdain for stagnancy are definitely consistent themes among all producers we spoke to.  In this way, neuro represents the technically-hungry, persistent and progressive foundations drum & bass was originally founded and really progressed into a world of its own 15-20 years ago with artists such as Photek and Ed Rush & Optical setting new sound design benchmarks, Goldie pushing ideas of arrangement and composition to new levels and Dillinja with his infamous mixdowns. Essentially neuro represents the original spirit of drum & bass.

Neurofunk or tech?

Before we get deeper, let’s get this clarify things; We’re calling it neurofunk. You could quite easily call it tech. We all know the type of drum & bass we’re talking about here and the more you focus on genre names the less you focus on the actual music and its creativity. But is there a line between the two descriptions? We asked Noisia so you don’t have to (really, don’t)…

That question is almost as uninteresting as it is hard to answer. What exactly is the consequence of knowing when a tune crosses the elusive Noisia-Tech-Neuro Meridian? Will opinions be adjusted? Governments overthrown?” Noisia

Fair. Misanthrop, meanwhile, thinks that neurofunk is a stupid name and died 10 years ago…

Neurofunk to me is the combination of deep funk/jazz elements combined with dirty basslines, catchy hooks, funky drums and sci-fi sound design made mainly between 1998-2005. The newer stuff doesn´t transport the term neurofunk (very stupid name btw.) to me anymore. Which is not bad at all, because it’s fresh and sounds different. I would rather speak of techstep or tech drum and bass than of neurofunk in 2015.”Misanthrop

Bad Taste bossman, and a quarter of the freshly reformed Bad Company, Vegas thinks the term neurofunk carries weight, although we should still see beyond pigeonholes.

To me it’s a bit of a weird word as I come from a place where it’s all called drum and bass but this word has definitely become real and what it stands for is the side of the scene that I love and have always followed”Vegas

A new generation of producers and fans

Don’t forget about the most important people listening to this and attending the shows: they are young fans. Young fans want something strong and powerful and energetic. Neuro provides that. People give energy to music, music gives energy to them; right now they’re feeding each other.”Teddy Killerz

With the Teddy Killerz observation in mind, neuro’s success and dominance right now is a ‘right time / right place’ thing. But Billain takes this deeper again. In his recent 2015 retrospective, he considers that the new generation of music fans have a different perception of production complexity. This is down to two things: being more technically savvy and being able to digest more and more information and the new benchmarks being set every year with tracks such as Saus or his own kickdrum-free Autonomous. Once a boundary has been broken, producers look to break the next one.

Eatbrain boss Jade, meanwhile, reckons neuro’s current success is also a kickback of dubstep…

I think a whole generation grew out of dubstep, looking for new stuff. Dubstep, even on the top commercial level, was heavily influenced by D&B. I couldn’t help but think about Noisia when I heard Skrillex’s hard growl basslines. These are speculations we have been talking about, I could be totally off as well. What I know for sure, is that there has never been so much quality neurofunk music released than this year. Thanks to especially Blackout, but RAM, Critical and Shogun have been releasing some heavy artillery as well. We also receive so many demos to Eatbrain, that it’s not even possible to get back to everyone. This means there is a new wave of young producers interested in neuro, which promises an even brighter future.”-  Jade

Big Festivals & big label backing

Full-scene support with the most prominent labels in the genre is definitely key to neuro’s success.  Shogun with the likes of Joe Ford and Fourward, Ram denting the spectrum with releases from Misanthrop, Audio, June Miller and the Teddy Killerz, Hospital releasing Reso’s powerful second album Ricochet.

It’s also had an exciting, successful year due to the success of big D&B exclusive festivals such as Let It Roll and its representation at some of the biggest EDM events such as EDC Las Vegas where the likes of Noisia, Ed Rush & Optical, Kasra, Enei, Foreign Concept, Black Sun Empire and State Of Mind performed.

Maybe drum & bass as a whole has grown, breaking new ground and proving that it works on festivals and big stages just as well as other genres that used to make D&B look underground? Festivals like Let It Roll really show just how massive the audience is, and what’s possible.” Noisia

There are three corner stones; The really big names like Noisia and The Upbeats have really flown the flag for this type of music so there’s been a trickle down effect for newer guys like me. The festivals and shows have been incredible like Let It Roll. Before now platforms for the techier and neuro side of the music and haven’t existed on this level. And there are a lot of new young producers who want to make this music. Those are three corner stones for the progression of neurofunk. That adds up to the standing where we are. But all scenes are sinewaves; subgenres go up and down. But yeah 2015 has been incredible for all of us. It’s very refreshing.”  – Mefjus

Neuro: the church of sound design

I look at it like this: if you can make the most technical music, make it sound good and know exactly how to control sound the way you want to control it, you can do what you want to the degree that you want, then that’s where a lot of electronic producers want to be…. I think?” – Xtrah

THE key characteristic of neuro: sound design. Noises you’ve never heard before, mixed at degrees of clarity previously unknown to producers before. We’ll let the masters explain why sound design in neuro is so exciting….

 

The quality is really high lately and I think drum & bass has always been like this. It’s research; an introspective journey through the complexity of the sound mixing energy to other emotions until you come to a unique style in the world of electronic music. From the jungle to the more modern or minimal neurofunk this music has always been unique, if that was the original mission and midset it’s still there.  – Maztek

Neurofunk did indeed enjoy a healthy year as we can hear more ‘daring’ or let’s call it ‘unorthodox’ sound design and arrangements. I mean this in an absolute positive way! I like how everything breathes these days… Bring back those dynamics! These are very inspiring times I think!”Current Value

I think the main reason for its success at the moment is that it’s the genre with the most advanced sound design and creative ideas. The producers are willing to question that standard D&B sound (read: amen breaks…) at the moment, which I think makes the whole genre extremely interesting. It’s a similar vibe like back in the DSCi4 Rec forum years. That said… The midrange reese filter bass could be the new amen in time…”Misanthrop

Drum & Bass (and many other electronic music genres I can think of) always has been very connected to the technological evolution of music production. Particularly neurofunk. There is something fascinating about it. And we are living in a digital age that changed the whole production game drastically. As technology always will evolve (unless it all just blacks out one day…) the music will always progress too. The young, hungry and rebellious D&B scene always seems to strive for the next thing. That’s a very healthy attitude if you ask me. Nothing is worse than standstill.” – Phace

However, sound design is just the start. Tunes still have carry a groove, some type of funk and fresh ideas. Like Mefjus and Phace’s Bang Bang or Noisia & The Upbeat’s Mouthbreather.

The technological marvel doesn’t actually make the music any good… It’s just a way to get excited about what you’re making, which then, hopefully, transfers to the listener. It’s just a way in. What eventually makes the tune good or not, above all else, is the vibe and the groove (like any D&B subgenre). Sound design only serves to compound that. It’s a lot of fun though!” – Noisia

Is neuro’s current popularity related to the commercial success of pop D&B?

When considering this feature and speaking to artists, I wondered if neuro was the necessary bitter yin to chart-topping D&B’s sugary  sweet yang? While some artists are enjoying their newfound love for songwriting, more underground artists react and make even darker, heavier, more dangerous sounding productions. “In its pure form it’s not very radio-friendly,” agrees Eatbrain founder Jade. “It’s hard to find a catchy happy melody in these tunes, which are primarily aggressive and dark.”

Sonically, it is the perfect counter to the radio-friendly commercial drum & bass. But the creative mission behind it isn’t a contrived reaction. Dark designs have been constructed long before Rudimental even started high school. If anything, commercial drum & bass has played a major role in neuro’s development as the entry point for new drum & bass fans…

The commercial world has actually educated people in this sound. People can’t help falling in love with drum and bass when they are exposed to it. Like a drug, it heads straight for your heart and makes you rush. And, like a drug, you want more. So you search and you search and then you find the refined version which makes you rush even more. Mmmmmmmmm. At the same time as this new thirst for drum and bass has arisen the production levels and musical ideas have all collided into some of the most advanced music ever created in history!”Vegas

In this sense; it is right time, right place. All the puzzle pieces are in place for an exciting creative breeding ground for futuristic, aggressive, complex electronic music: advanced technology, fresh fans and producers with new ideas, the right environments to play the music in and, let’s face it, a politically charged world climate and paranoid sense of authority control that’s not too far away from the dystopian future we were foretold growing up.

PLUS key subgenre frontrunners who refuse to compromise and come with real character and humour. Any conversation about neuro/techy drum & bass will always refer to Noisia. London Elektricity describes them as one of the top three drum & bass acts full stop, Kasra, meanwhile, cites them for their passion for the underground, their support for new artists, their refusal to compromise and the way they compose themselves.

“Some artists who play on the biggest stages have to compromise to get there. Noisia don’t. They have character and it comes across in their artwork, on their radio show,” he states. “I think this is a key point: Music is supposed to be fun… I think we’re getting better at remembering this fact. There are other ways of presenting the music; it doesn’t have to be an all-black record cover with a skull on it. Just because music is hard it doesn’t mean it’s made by miserable people with no personality.”

 

The cult of personality is key:  in the 90s and early 2000s drum & bass artists could sometimes be moody and reserved. In a way they had to be: the genre was in a league of its own (both tempo-wise and sonically) and the media didn’t get it so they either criticised it or cashed in on its danger factor when it pleased them… Before declaring it dead. Again. Back then you either got drum & bass or you didn’t. And those who got it enjoyed its best kept secret feeling and strove to maintain that in order to maintain some sense of purity. Even among DJs that behaviour was clear with the pimp-tight dubplate culture dictating who had what tunes.

This sense of reservation, distrust of media and tightness among crews is no longer necessary: the age of internet dominance, the sound of commercial drum & bass massaging the wider music psyche into accepting the faster, wilier dynamics and the fact that it’s a global movement and not just coming from the UK have created a different behaviour code; artists are more open, presentation has changed, new concepts are being developed and the scene – D&B at large, not just neuro – is much more open with everyone willing to help each other. “Many producers are happy to share their techniques now. It’s more of a vibe thing,” agree the Teddy Killerz. Disprove does too. We’ll leave him to sign off the debate with one clear message: 2015 has been a great year for drum & bass full stop, not just neuro…

The main factor could be that right now we have some world class producers on top of the game that aren’t rich mainstream dickkheads but humble audio-masters. This, to me, gives a huge amount of inspiration to the community, especially to the newcomers that nowadays have also access to great tutorials/masterclasses/ama’s served by their own heroes. The support around the D&B producers is very strong.”Disprove