But there is something much more specific that we think of as “bass music”, too. There is the boom in the “boom bap” of classic hip hop, the 808 kickdrum in electro, Miami bass and all the hybrid regional and diasporic rap beat and booty bass forms which emerged in the last 30+ years – and of course there’s Caribbean soundsystem culture which put the emphasis on the low end going right back to the 1950s. More specifically still, there’s the creative and social nexus where all of these things meet with disco, electronic experimentation and psychedelic bohemianism – which all happened in its most concentrated form in Britain. The low-end experimentation that took its cues from the music that came over with the Windrush generation of Caribbean immigrants and their children, injected its influence into the cultural circulatory system of the nation, and from there sent genre after new genre out into the world. Unmistakeably British, unmistakeably hybrid, an ever-growing dysfunctional family of sounds that the DJ and producer Skream once referred to as “mongrel music”.
This is what this book is about. Broadly speaking it’s a story of that Caribbean influence as it’s created new forms, starting in the late 1970s with lovers rock and post-punk – two very different styles of music that nonetheless were both very British, and both underpinned by that deep soundsystem bass – and going all the way through to the sounds of the 2010s emerging in the wake of grime, dubstep, new wave house, Afrobeats and UK rap. This isn’t intended as a definitive history, though. Quite the opposite, in fact: it’s deliberately partial, arbitrary and conversational, not trying to impose any grand theory or narrative onto its subject matter. Underground music, club music, soundsystem music are by their natures hyper-social – formed from interlocking networks of crews and movements, each one comprised of individuals whose cultural perspective is formed from thousands upon thousands of hours immersed in crowds, sounds, words and bass. Information, style, knowledge, innovation are all transferred through this seething network, via meandering late-night chat, MCs’ catchphrases, rumours, babble and jokes. Moving at the speed of life. The artistic moment – if “art” is even sufficient as a term for something so ingrained into life – is extended through hours, nights, weekends, summers, something new always being added to the mix just as you think you have a handle on it. Understanding comes not from explanation but from life-long experience, from meeting the people that make up this mass.
Bass, Mids, Tops will be published by Strange Attractor Press on 13 December 2019.