[30 May 2006]
Drum ‘n’ bass used to be exclusively British. After all, the music began in London as a fusion of multicultural influences: breakbeats (drum), reggae (bass), house, techno, and soul. About 10 years ago, during the golden age of drum ‘n’ bass, the idea of American d&b was laughable. A few primitive singles and labels cropped up, but the Yanks were years behind the Brits, who not only had an established community of producers and DJ’s, but also a club and rave infrastructure to support it.
Damian Higgins, aka DJ Dieselboy, has had a major role in changing this. Originally based in Philadelphia, Dieselboy began spinning d&b in the early ‘90s and established a reputation for surgically tight mixing, aggressive tune selection, and a tendency to pitch up records extremely fast. A perennial rave favorite, Dieselboy became America’s top d&b DJ, earning worldwide respect for his skills. However, Dieselboy has done more than just play records. He ventured into production, collaborating with Technical Itch and Decoder on now-classic singles like “The Descent” and “Invid”. In Philadelphia, he started Platinum, a long-running d&b weekly. In 2002, he set up Human Imprint, a label for showcasing American talent as well as his aesthetic vision. On The Human Resource, Dieselboy has picked the cream of his label’s output and presented it in the now-standard d&b double CD format, one disc unmixed and one mixed.
Disc one is that rare unmixed d&b compilation that’s listenable all the way through. The vast majority of d&b tunes are made for DJ’s, with extended intros and outros for mixing. A six-minute d&b tune, for example, would usually have only four minutes of substance. But the production on these tunes is so deep and sophisticated that they’re enjoyable from beginning to end. Although the tunes come from an array of producers, they reflect Dieselboy’s singular taste: distorted basslines, rolling beats, technical edits, and cinematic darkness. Thus, there’s not much variety here. Tunes typically begin with foreboding ambience, head into a dramatic breakdown filled with swordfighting synths, then drop into a crushing melee of sliced and diced breakbeats and pounding bass. Ragers like Evol Intent and Ewun’s “The Rapture” and Dieselboy, Kaos, and Karl K’s remix of “Grunge 3” show that the Americans have caught up to the British, and then some.
Disc two is a mixed compilation of tunes from Human Imprint’s catalogue. Surprisingly, Dieselboy doesn’t do the mix, instead turning over the duties to Atlanta’s Evol Intent crew. The mix begins with a cinematic intro featuring voice actor Michael McConnohie. After some unexpectedly slow breakbeats, Infiltrata and Define’s “Parallel Universe” drops with the weight of a collapsing house. From there, the mix pretty much holds the pedal to the metal until the end. There are brief ambient and hip-hop interludes, but by and large the mix is one haymaker after another. With essentially no dynamics, the mix gets a little tedious. However, the production here is so awe-inspiring that one keeps listening to see what mind-boggling stutter edit comes next. Are there actual songs here? That’s debatable. But what’s certain is that the pumped-up, scalpel-sharp production lights up dancefloors.
Despite their technical wizardry, these tunes still noticeably crib from British d&b producers like Goldie, Danny C, and Bad Company (no relation to the classic rock group). It’s telling that in a compilation of Human Imprint’s four-year history, the sounds have remained the same. American d&b producers are still using the same breakbeats and basslines as their British forebears, just now with more prowess. A true American revolution would be to use those skills for something new.