D-Bridge and Instra:Mental: FabricLive 50: D-Bridge & Instra:Mental Present Autonomic

D-Bridge and Instra:Mental are putting some drum back in bass music.

D-Bridge & Instra:Mental

FabricLive 50: D-Bridge & Instra:Mental Present Autonomic

US Release: 2010-03-23
UK Release: 2010-02-15
Label: Fabric

The consortium of post-millennial dance genres have often been referred to as “Bass Music”. Perhaps unconsciously, this undeniably broad rim-shaking moniker has resulted from the trimming of the “Drum” from “Drum N’ Bass”. At times, it seems like this is what D-Bridge (Darren White) and Instra:Mental (Alex Green and Damon Kirkham), veterans of late era of drum n’ bass, want us to believe. Their Autonomic podcasts have fused together the salvageable remnants of the faded genre that used to be called drum n’ bass (and jungle before that) with dubstep, funky house, minimalism, coldwave, et al. in ways that engage all genres in direct dialogue with one another.

It’s not that percussion is not important to Dubstep and corresponding genres, but it hardly becomes the rhythmengine; as Kodwo Eshun used to say, that fast-forwarded junglism light years into the future. Instead, the wobble bass becomes the predominant rhythmic instrument and drums don’t figure so much as the motivating factor as they do the hot embers that force the feet into the air.

Both D-Bridge and Instra:Mental came to drum n’ bass late in its evolution, at a time when breakbeat science had become an exercise in excess. By the time D-bridge starting putting out records as part of the Bad Company crew and Instra:Mental’s Green started to spin as Al X Green, drum n’ bass had gotten a bit too “intelligent” and self-satisfied for its own good. Its dynamism was not the result of drug cocktail equations or passion-projected spectral evocations at this point, but rather a micromanaged display of virtuosities, a look n’ see ornamentalism that, to paraphrase Tony Wilson’s words on jazz, was more fun for those making the music than for any one in the clubs dancing. Thus, the two crossover outfits began in tandem to create a parallel drum n’ bass that shedded many of its conventions and eventually united to host the Autonomic podcasts together, which won adoring fans from beyond those in their scene.

D-Bridge and Instra:Mental’s Fabriclive mix, the 50th in the series, sees the hosts attempting to reintroduce percussive rhythm back to Bass Music in baby steps. Drums here are skeletal and sparsely deployed motors that both propel and punctuate the mix. They diagram the album’s schema, which seems throughout to rely mostly on trepidation. This is a disc whose emotional thrust is the intensity and tension of apprehension. Tracks are so withdrawn and withheld via the cold atmospheres and nervous drums that the occasional outburst of melody is euphorically violent, like when Instra:Mental’s “Encke Gap” erupts what has seemed like a 15 track build-up.

That said, those violent moments are pretty rare on Fabriclive 50, which is instead pretty heavy on atmosphere. At times, this makes the mix lose its focus, particularly as it nears its end, drawing out the denouement with far more dread than drama. ASC’s “Phobos” and Skream’s “Fire Call”, for instance, slow the motion with too little action.

Perhaps contra to the reign of intelligent drum n’ bass, Consequence ft Instra:Mental’s “Reflex Reaction” samples the first half of the phrase “the mind is a terrible thing to waste”, leaving us just with “the mind is a terrible thing” and reassigning the autonomy to the body. Yet, the Autonomic mix is filled with plenty of wit. If D-Bridge and Instra:Mental can be guilty of anything, it’s compiling a little too perfectly. Some tracks are so well-layered on top of one another that it’s hard to tell where one ends and another begins. The melody and voice that begins on the ASC mix of Consequence’s “11 Circles” reverberates and spirals into D-Bridge’s “I Know”. Neither track is able to claim ownership of the sounds. They are truly products of the larger project of the full set. The moody electro of Genotype’s “Distorted Dreams” is even mashed up with the vocals of the Funky House anthem “Go” by Meleka, making for a dark R&B accretion that’s even more emotive than the original.

One almost expects reprises of prior bits at times as several cuts work like bridges to their preceding songs. The listener only glances a minute or two of several gorgeous melodies (Stray’s “Pushed” and Instra:Mental’s game-changing “Watching You”, for instance) before being swept the next chapter.

Yet, unlike so many of these compilations, Fabriclive 50 isn’t just a new music showcase/show-off. This is really the deejays’ show. Not only do D-Bridge and Instra:Mental tracks constitute a good deal of the mix, but much of the rest is from their respective Exit and NonPlus+ labels. The contrapuntal fusions are well-thought out, the transitions are seamless, and the delights are plenty. Like their free Autonomic downloads, it’s programmed like a podcast too, designed more for earbuds than crowds. Played publically, the intricacies tend to get lost in a room and become like scenery, but in close-up is where they shine.

Though it’s hard to imagine many dancefloor rushes with this music, that’s not to say it won’t bear influence at the club. The self-imposed 170 BPM speed limit enforced by Instra:Mental remains intact, but its affect is rather arbitrary (can any one but the seasoned expert ever tell the difference between 170 BPM and 85 BPM anyway?). Nevertheless, the effect the two outfits are having seems to be making waves. NonPlus+ has already released music by Actress, ASC, and Skream, and plans are in the works for future releases by Zomby, Loefah, Untold, and Jimmy Edgar, either pulling those artists to the drum n’ bass camp or vice versa. The Autonomic Fabriclive set feels for a minute like a step back, a missing parallax link between techstep and dubstep (ignoring for a minute that UKG and Grime are part of that connection too). Is it possible dubstep is finally ready to raise the tempo and get things shaking a bit more?


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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