Top 5 Drumnbass Releases of the Past Decade
Its roots are buried deep within reggae, hip hop, breakbeat and many other genres. It’s defined by complex, high-velocity percussion and wide-ranging expressions of bass, from deep sub patterns to snarling, almost animalistic barks and roars. It’s constantly associated with visions of the future, from slick ultramodern clubs to grungy dystopian alleyways. These are some of the defining characteristics of drumnbass.
However, just like most other musical genres, drumnbass is a vast umbrella term for a veritable jungle (pun intended) of offshoot styles, from the colorful, dancefloor-friendly vibes of liquid dnb, to the menacing and maddening sonic beatdowns of darkstep. Every subgenre has its own set of influences, and by now have grown so distant from one another that you might not even notice the correlation unless it was pointed out to you.
My taste tends to favor the heavier side, particularly the realm of neurofunk. This style has evolved into a blend of some of my favorite characteristics that drumnbass has ever incorporated, like thick, chunky snares, elaborate bass manipulation and plenty of textured atmosphere.
I mention this because most of my favorite drumnbass releases of this year fall into the neurofunk zone; in recent years, neurofunk has become arguably the most popular and innovative subgenre in drumnbass, and the many excellent releases that have come out over the past 5 years are testament to that rise in appreciation.
With that in mind, here’s a list of my favorite drumnbass releases of 2015. Click the names of the producers/releases to read more about each one and stream their music!
5. Enei – Rituals LP – Hailing from St. Petersburg, Russia, Enei has been making serious waves in the drumnbass world, gaining the favor of genre heavyweights like DJ Hype, Andy C and Goldie after the 2012 release of his debut album, Machines. His sophomore effort is dominated by dark and minimal yet high-energy techstep cuts, taking cues from subgenre pioneers Ed Rush and Optical. Some of my favorites on here are “Vertigo,” “Lost World” and “Bad Proof.” I wasn’t feeling the songs with vocals – I’m not fond of vocals in drumnbass, and I felt that these tracks were backed by the least-interesting instrumentals on the album – although the vocal performances certainly have commercial appeal. The big surprises on here were “Dead Space,” the banger made in collaboration with Mefjus, and “Analog Desert,” which is a gorgeous trip hop excursion that was completely unexpected. All in all a formidable release from this rising drumnbass star.
4. Phace – Phace and Friends EP – This Hamburg, Germany producer also dropped a full-length album this year, Shape the Random, however I really couldn’t get into it; the mixing had this crunchy/crispy quality to it that was seriously lacking mid-range frequency, and although some of the grooves were creative and experimental, the whole thing just felt too flat and tinny to have real impact. However, he followed this up with Phace and Friends, an EP that has a lot more energy than most of the cuts on Shape the Random. Each song is in collaboration with other neurofunk heavyweights, including Mefjus, Current Value and Noisia. The only disappointment on this one was “Bang Bang,” the song done with Mefjus, which felt gimmicky and repetitive in comparison to the other heavy-hitters in the tracklist. The major highlight was “Drawback,” the collaboration with Noisia, which is one of my favorite drumnbass tunes of the year.
3. Module Eight – Legacy LP – If quieter, more minimalist drumnbass is your thing, you probably loved this project from Module Eight. This drumnbass “supergroup” consists of renowned UK producers dBridge, Skeptical, Loxy, Kid Drama and Resound, who came together to make a very atmospheric, futuristic record with a lot of memorable ear candy. There’s a heavy techstep influence here, as there is on Enei’s Rituals, however it echoes a lot more influence from Photek than Ed Rush and Optical, featuring plenty of sub bass and intricate percussion patterns that give off an authentic spy movie vibe. By the middle/end of the album this vibe becomes somewhat monotonous, but overall it’s one of this year’s more progressive releases. “False Positive,” “Ghost,” “Slip Scheme” and “Rudeboy” are some of my favorite cuts from Legacy.
2. Noisia – Incessant EP – By now I’ve name-dropped them several times, but what can I say? The Dutch trio known as Noisia have proven time and again that they are one of the most important drumnbass acts of all time, having contributed heavily to neurofunk’s powerful trademark sound. Their 2010 full-length album, Split the Atom, is one of my absolute favorite records, and since then they’ve dropped several singles and EPs populated by a number of memorable bangers. Incessant is no exception, featuring 2 tracks by Noisia on their own and 2 others featuring heavyweights Mefjus (Austria) and Hybris (Czech Republic), throwing down on some excellent grooves. I really enjoyed all 4 of these songs, but the 2 that stood out the most are the title track, “Incessant,” and “Clusterfunk.” “Banshee” is a softer and more atmospheric adventure, but is still well-composed, while “Reptilians” had some interesting moments but was a bit weak compared to the others. Nice little collection of tracks.
1. Mefjus & Rido – Optimum Trajectory EP – Absolutely loved this EP, easily my favorite drumnbass release of the year. It’s a perfect example of neurofunk done right: it’s noisy, heavy, relentless and danceable from start to finish, with top-notch mixing and palpable energy. Austria’s Mefjus is a fantastic producer who has proven to be one of the most talented and prolific artists in drumnbass today, and this collaborative effort with Rido – a unique Czech producer that’s released some choice cuts over the past 8 years – is pretty much flawless to me. All 4 of these tracks are likely to be featured in plenty of DJ sets around the world for years to come.
HONORABLE MENTION: Various Artists – Destroy Rave EP – I hadn’t even heard that this compilation was coming out, so it was an awesome surprise when I was able to check it out. 3 of the 5 tracks on this thing really stood out to me: Aeph & Maztek’s “Hypnotize,” “Ashes Away” by Memtrix and “Place Your Bets” by Uman. “Hypnotize” is just a masterfully pieced together sound collage, “Place Your Bets” is a loud, robotic beat with some laser-sounding bass blasts that’s destined to slay on the dancefloor, and “Ashes Away” features something that heavier drumnbass tends to lack: melody. It has a beautiful, emotive chord progression, sounding like something Xilent would create. It’s just one of those songs that makes a great ending to a DJ mix, leaving people with an uplifting mood they’ll carry off the dancefloor when the lights come on.
Drumnbass has endured as one of the most popular and influential forms of electronic music, and pioneering producers continue to push the envelope year after year. Here’s to many more years of evolution for this awesome genre!