Zed Bias, Ramadanman and a short history of garridge.

The progress of that nebulous area known as bass music has been non-linear, hard to keep up with, but constant and adventurous. This mainly UK phenomenon started with the Brits and their love affairs with reggae, soul, hip-hop and house. It evolved into the early break-beat hardcore and jungle that in the space of a few years morphed into drum ‘n’ bass. Though that music was seen as an abrupt break from the house and techno continuum that had ruled the clubs in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, New York and New Jersey style house, commonly known as garage, remained a popular music form in ’90s Britain.

In the side rooms of drum ‘n’ bass parties and on the ‘come down’ morning sets on pirate radio stations, British djs played ‘chill sets’ of American garage dub mixes pitched up by 4 to 6 notches on the technics. This style of playing dubs by Todd Terry, Masters At Work, MK, Kerri Chandler and Mood II Swing, among others, led to a style of UK music production that reflected this type of djing mixed with a little drum ‘n’ bass swagger. That music was called speed garage.

This is in turn morphed into 2 step garage, and once again the influence of American producers cannot be overlooked. Productions by the likes of Todd Edwards, Armand Van Helden and, in particular, Roy Davis Jnr. — specifically his track “Gabrielle” with its sped up 2 step soul beat — took the music in a more fractured and funky direction. The sub- bass of drum ‘n’ bass and speed garage remained, but choppier beats that weren’t four to the floor, and a fixation with saccharine American r&b vocals, defined this direction.

Next came dubstep, in its early form, an uptempo, dubbed out and abstract form of 2 step garage, led by producers like Horsepower Productions (whose music was coined dubstep by none other than San Fran’s own XLR8R magazine) and Maddslinky (aka 2 Step veteran Zed Bias). This took 2 step out of its sweet, ‘champagne and cocaine’ phase and into slightly more alien territory, displaying the Detroit affection that had been a de-rigeur part of drum ‘n’ bass.

The next phase I’m sure we all know; the darker sounds of grime and the current embodiment of dubstep, a mirror of the heavy techstep that became a feature of drum ‘n’ bass in the mid to late ‘90s. And though some may decry its drift towards what has come to be derogatorily known as ‘bro-step,’ the music’s laden half-tempo/full tempo tension and sense of robotic dread reflects the darkness of the current era and offers a disenfranchised and skeptical generation a valve for its frustrations, by avoiding the cliché of affluent hedonism (that has become a dire albatross around dance music’s neck) and resorting to the more visceral approach of lights out, heads down, heavy, heavy abstract beats and sounds. Certain dubstep artists like Hyetal, for example, produce a transcendent style of music, but most try to shake the disease with a sub-bass exorcism. The bass is never too dark.

However, many producers continue to fly the garage flag, and subtly (or unknowingly) reference its connection to American house music, while a cadre of new artists explores ever more abstract inflections of the sound. Zed Bias is from the former camp, an old school UK garage head who has remained on track, even as the British music press has now coined the music UK Funky in the never diminishing quest to generate as many column inches in describing what is essentially all an evolution of soul and reggae (or the music played at Larry Levan’s Paradise Garage, where the garage word originally comes from). The straight-ahead uptempo approach of speed garage and 2 step is celebrated once again. As are the female r&b intonations and samples, albeit this time filtered through the aching pathos of Burial’s machine elegies to lost times, people and brain cells.

Ramadanman, like Deadboy, Joy Orbison, Pangaea, and Scratcha DVA, is a new producer and he continues the constant progress of a distinctly British dance music culture, which, as it moves forward, occasionally stops to ponder its US East Coast roots before blasting into sonic pastures yet unexplored. This new phase proves, to quote my friend Noel Stiers, a prominent SF house and drum ‘n’ bass dj in the halcyon days of the ‘90s, that “2 step never died. It only played the background for things to settle.”

So come through on April 30th and experience where is sound is, and is going.

Chris Orr