Yes, but what does it really mean? Martin Backes is our guest with a bass music mix, prior to a show with me tomorrow - but, true to this back-to-school season, we've got reading and reflection, too. Pencils down. Photo (CC-BY) Rodd Senna.

Yes, but what does it really mean? Martin Backes is our guest with a bass music mix, prior to a show with me tomorrow – but, true to this back-to-school season, we’ve got reading and reflection, too. Pencils down. Photo (CC-BY) Rodd Senna.

Against the sweeping tide of a term as meaningless as “EDM” – perhaps describing a commercial phenomenon more than a genre – or the historically-ambiguous “techno” or “electro,” there is “bass music.”

There’s no “treble music,” but there is “bass music,” and even a “bass music culture” to go along with it.

If the term is clumsy and foggy, though, the ideas behind it are potent, the latest blossoms in a deeply-rooted musical tree. And in its latest iteration, the music appeals to people well outside a demographic or commercial context or even continent.

It appeals to people like my friend Martin Backes, a German-born and Berlin-based media artist, composer and sound designer, and veteran DJ. Martin and I will DJ tomorrow at Platoon Kunsthalle Berlin, an imposing venue fashioned from disused shipping containers. (For another angle on dance and music, see my post on my LP of experimental music for modern dance and reflections on rhythm and movement. I’ll be remixing bits of that record tomorrow.)

We’ll move together from ambient and experimental sounds early on to things you can dance to, a reminder that nowadays, it’s the norm that electronic music academics are clubbers, too – and, for that matter, people far from ivory towers are often hacking together new inventions. Labs and academies and clubs need no physical distinctions.

Martin, while known these days for art installations and beatless sound environments and bleeding-edge sound designs (he’s co-founder of sound/media lab Aconica), has in fact been DJing since 1994. That trek has taken him from the roots of turntablism in Cage, Schaeffer, and musique concrete to scratch DJing, and later digital and controllerism. He’s made a mix just to demonstrate his dancefloor-friendly side. He describes it as featuring “current bass music culture with a touch of Afrofuturism.”

But his passion for bass music is important precisely because it’s so commonplace – it has spread across any boundaries. And Martin was an early adopter, hosting eclectic freestyle nights that included the first drum and bass parties in his hometown — even if Germany is typically not associated with the movement.

And now, we get this music back, through a new frame.

I asked Martin as a guest on CDM to look at just what this phenomenon is today – and to give us some reading to provoke some more reflection on what the term might mean, whether it’s useful, and why it gets our musical hearts beating faster. Bass music is so broad, that we leave to others to trace its roots and artists, so he’s assembled reading and listening from others trying to paint a picture of the genre or movement.

Consider this a starting place from someone outside the scene that’s producing the music, providing a window to look in.

Martin writes:

“Bass music” began as an umbrella term describing various styles of electronic dance music out of the UK — namely jungle, drum and bass, bassline, dubstep, and UK garage, among others. But that was just the beginning, and doesn’t give us a clear a idea of what bass music really is now. Bass music has become a worldwide movement, which is really hard to define when it comes to labels, genre, or tempo. And this is what it makes it really exciting and inspirational to me personally. I’d suggest some reading that examines the question of what bass music is, where it comes from, and where it could go.

Recommended Reading

Martin selects some articles on the topic worth considering. It starts with Computer Music in the UK, considering pragmatically why we stick with genres – even if they’re crude – and what to make of the trajectory of bass music.

“Forget about this Skrillex guy on the top 😉 — the end of the article explains it pretty well from my point of view.”

And this is where we find ourselves in 2013. In the space of three very short years, bass music has spread way beyond its dubstep roots, incorporating countless sounds, tempos, attitudes and artists. But are we any closer to answering the question, ‘What is bass music?’

What is bass music? [Computer Music Special]

Marlon Bishop last month took on the topic of the scene for MTV Iggy, specifically its “global” component:
Please Explain: Global Bass

And to address Afrofuturism, I would suggest the book More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction by Kodwo Eshun. Eshun takes on various musics of the black diaspora, from American hip-hop and funk to British jungle, from Detroit techno to German proto-electronics, and provides a useful guide for those wishing to connect the dots between their Roots and Phutures.

Sach O: Kodwo Eshun – More Brilliant than the Sun – Adventures in Sonic Fiction [Passion of the Weiss]

Here’s a brief summary of that text, based on a lecture version:
Processing, Processing… Recap of Kodwo Eshun Lecture

And Martin points to Kode9`s idea of “collective rhythm cultures” – as Kore9 puts it, “I’m just fascinated by rhythmic collectivity, whether it’s pleasurable or not – just people moving together, differently, in time.”:
Kode9: Unedited Transcript [The Wire]

As we were preparing this story, FACT Magazine went into the latest twists and turns in the plot:
Laurent Fintoni cornered Sam Binga, Om Unit, and Fracture, among other artists – good voices on the topic.

More to Hear

Bass music radio, almost a classic out of the UK:

One of my favorite Radio DJs out of the UK, playing a lot of bass music:
Benji B @ BBC Radio 1
Benj B: King Krule in 3 Records [iPlayer link directly, if you have trouble with the other]

Since Martin’s speaking of Kode9 and Rinse FM, here’s the artist back to back with Mala and Joe Nice for the station back in 2005:

Lots more where that came from.

Come Visit Us in Berlin

Donnerstagbar | P. KIRN + Martin Backes, Platoon [Facebook]
Also the official afterparty for Serbinale, the Serbian Film Festival – speaking of cross-cultural experiences

And from anywhere:

  • Kathy Griffin

    Umm bass music….. I don’t see Luke /2 live crew listed anywhere in the article.

    • Peter Kirn

      We didn’t really attempt to list artists comprehensively. It’s a music mix and some suggested reading. In fact, we mentioned few artists at all.

  • heinrich zwahlen

    No way can someone just claim that Bass music began in London with DnB. Before that we had Miami Bass and Goldie himself lived in Miami for a while before he went to London and started Jungle. I think he clearly was an influenced by those 808 kick bass lines that i already listend to in the early 90ties. So much for the Bass lart of DnB, the drums itself not being particularly bassy actually, since they were mostly sped up 70ties (american) funky breaks. The of course we also have the dub/reggae influence, that was my no means shy on bass. Jungle took the BPM from there by flipping loops at ca 80/160.

    • Peter Kirn

      No one claimed that. He very, very clearly said that the *term* bass music began as as a term for describing music from the UK. That’s not to take anything away from Miami — in fact, I agree that the London scene really had roots in Miami – but unless I’m mistaken, people weren’t yet calling it bass music until they started talking about the Miami scene.

      Anyway, Martin was making a mix and suggesting some reading, not tackling this topic himself; I think if you follow the reading links, you’ll find some of these other connections (particularly in the afrofuturism articles, which go even further back.)

    • Peter Kirn

      That said, I’d be keen to hear if the phrase “bass music” was used before London. I don’t think it was, but maybe it was.

      The term is separate from the music, of course.

  • Chase Dobson

    MIAMI plz. (:

    • Peter Kirn

      Like I said, Martin just said a few words about the term “bass music” and suggested some reading.

      We made almost no mention of locations or artists, because to do so would require a much longer article. This is an assembled reading list, nothing more.

    • Ezmyrelda

      For being one of the most intelligently edited tech news sites out there (of any ilk) you sure get a lot of crap for the content you provide and the way it’s presented..

    • Peter Kirn

      Heh, well, Chase is a regular reader and commenter – we can add in more Miami in the near future. 😉

      (hmmm… someone from Miami want to fly me out there? There’s even a nonstop from Berlin… and winter is coming 😉 )

    • Chase Dobson

      internet + sarcasm = fail. and typically i suppose. Quite enjoyed the DJ mixes though!

  • Martin Backes

    Hey guys, you are totally right. We could have started even earlier when it comes to Bass music culture in general … of course Miami Bass is missing, Jamaican Soundsystem Culture is missing, maybe Rap/HipHop in general, etc. But we are talking specifically about the term “Bass music” (which is described as a Genre nowadays) and not about the term “Miami Bass”. “Bass music” is so diverse and from my point of view there was never ever a style of dance music which was so hard to grab and that was just the whole initial point for us. The question of what it really means. If you are willing to read the suggest articles you will see that facing this question is not easy at all. And like Peter said, this is just an assembled reading list, nothing more and it would require a much longer article for sure. But I would be also very interested in other thoughts, hints and ideas.

    • Chase Dobson

      I get ya. I simply spent a significant chunk of my teenage years and early 20’s in FL, as an electronic musician its hard to deny the indirect influence of Miami in my work. Enjoyed your mix!

    • Downpressor

      Honestly it would have been better if you just admitted that you soiled the sheets with this article.

    • Schitzky Poppinovski

      It’s kinda like Eminem telling the “ghetto” what real hip hop is…Bezerk

  • Ezmyrelda

    I’m a bit ragged from prepping tracks all night, and other convenient half truths.. But I think a component of how bass music got to where it is today came from the bass test CDs and demonstrations that car audio enthusiasts collected in the early and mid 90s. Very few people I knew growing up had phenomenal home hi-fi setups but most of my friends had expensive amps and woofer setups in their shitty beater cars.. A small part perhaps.. But a key to quite a few peoples fondness for extreme bass.

    • sebastienpaquet

      car audio bass. I recently rediscovered that stuff.

  • antiguoautomata

    Kevin Shields actually did Treble and Mid Music and talked about it in the 90s. The EP’s Ecstasy and Wine for the treble specifically and then in I Believe / Emptiness Inside for the mid…

  • Aaron

    Miami still owns the “Bass” tag. You’re daft if you don’t think “bass music” was used in regards to Miami for the better part of 3 decades. Half the music of what people make or call “Bass Music” as a genre nowadays is retro-Miami sound. To miss that is just absurd.
    Either way, it’s all junk. Real electronic “bass music” is belongs to those in the dub bass world, and I’m not talking about the sham that is dubstep.
    No one intelligent should be trying to propagate/further horrible genre ideas and this at least the 2nd time you’ve done it Peter. That VHS/tape one was absolutely horrendous and just as pigeon-holed and limited exposure based as this one.
    I got some buddies that started Scooby-core a couple years ago; and lets not forget about Polka-step. Should I write a special on them?

  • Aaron

    Here’s an easier way to make a clear point. Google image search “bass music” compilation. Of the 100s of thousand cover art results you’ll get… 90% of those will be re: Miami.

  • Aaron

    Hell. Acidlab even named their 808 clone,..wait for it… Miami.

  • Regend

    I first discovered Bass music through Egyptian Lover, Afrika Bambaataa & Soul Sonic Force, and Dub Reggae which then led me to Miami Bass. This was in the early 80’s however. Here’s my mix contribution

  • Hvidhajer

    Forgot about Jamaica?
    You can not talk bass music without looking back to Jamaican sound systems some 60 years ago. Sorry

    • sebastienpaquet

      the Jamaicans also invented mixers with faders, I think. D.i.y.-style.

  • TheOutsider

    We called it ‘bass music’ back in the mid 80s, regardless of whether it was Miami Bass acts like Luke, Dynamix II etc. or other Florida artists such as DJ Magic Mike or even Techmaster PEB. Time for a history lesson, maybe?

  • desi

    to hell with the people 80s 90s bla bla… it is started in uk.. coz
    most of the genres originated from uk and americans hate it… they have
    just one miami bass and they thinking its all the bass….

    • Arnez

      wow.. you REALLY don’t know what you are talking about. UK has serious electro penis envy. It didn’t start acid, it didn’t start techno, it didn’t start house, it didn’t start electro, it didn’t start any of the founding genres. Closest you get to anything inspiring is the Bristol sound or experimentalish synthpop acts like NO and DM. However, London does try to start 50 new genres every year to compensate.. so, I guess they can have the spam genre award.

    • sebastienpaquet

      well, Chicago got Ghetto,Detroit ,Tech and Baltimore, Bmore. Plus the whole history of hiphop.

    • Schitzky Poppinovski

      A band called DEATH started punk and UK copied… Just as they did with jazz and rock. Copy, copy

  • Schitzky Poppinovski

    I hate that just because most writers are … Anyway… What about DJ Magic Mike? I think the usage of the term Bass Music is a little off… Go Magic Mike the first go platinum NO Lyrics….