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The State of the Scene: Drum & Bass Meets the Mainstream


In 2024, it’s starting to feel as though you can’t move for Drum & Bass. Everywhere you look, everywhere you go, you hear the distinctly repetitive drum pattern booming out at 174 beats per minute.

You go to the gym, DnB.

You go to the supermarket, DnB.

You go to the football, DnB.

It’s becoming more and more obvious that Drum & Bass is starting to breach the limits of sub-culture and is moving dangerously close to the mainstream. For better or for worse? It’s hard to say.

Certainly, for the DnB community, it’s a nice surprise to finally see the genre we love get some recognition, particularly given that, historically, DnB has always been the younger sibling within the bass music family, seemingly bound to reside in the shadow of House and Techno. But with the current trajectory of DnB, all might be set to change.

It’s been hard to keep track of the growing popularity of Drum & Bass over the last few years – it’s always difficult to quantify such a subjective thing as ‘popularity’. But one undeniable measure has been the number of tracks reaching the heights of the UK Charts. Over the last 24 months alone, we’ve seen the genre strongly represented by tunes like Luude’s ‘Down Under’ (5) and ‘Big City Life’ (8), Chase & Status’ ‘Disconnect’ (6) and ‘Baddadan’ (5), goddard. & venbee‘s ‘Messy in Heaven’ (3), without forgetting the most popular of them all, Kenya Grace’s ‘Strangers’, which spent three weeks at number one last October thanks to its widespread usage on TikTok.

This rising trajectory of the genre in recent years has not gone unnoticed. Artists from a variety of different scenes have identified its potential and have taken the opportunity to invest in the rising stock that is DnB with rappers being perhaps the best example.

While Drum & Bass has relied on the vocal talents of MCs from its very beginnings, we’re now seeing a trend of lyricists with few previous links to the genre jumping on the bandwagon, convinced either by its lucrative potential, or by a genuine musical passion driven by the quality of the genre itself.

Who can say which is the more powerful motivator.

Last summer, for instance, K Motionz teamed up with Reading rapper Songer to produce ‘Vino Bandit’ – a hugely popular song within the community which itself reached number 47 on the UK charts. Higher profile examples include ArrDee, who collaborated with Hedex and DnB legends Chase & Status to create ‘Liquor & Cigarettes’, and Tion Wayne who recently released ‘Lowkey’, also with Hedex. ArrDee was also seen performing with K Motionz at Drumsheds in London teasing a tune reportedly called ‘Heavyweight’, which the DJ later posted on his Instagram.

For context, these two rappers currently total 11 million monthly listeners between them on Spotify. Even triple Brit-winner Stormzy is rumoured to have a collab with Chase & Status in the works, with clips circling on social media.

But rappers are not the only high-profile individuals aligning themselves with the growing genre. DJs, singers and celebrities are also seeing the opportunity that Drum & Bass now presents, some taking it less subtly than others.

Indeed, just this week, Martin Garrix, perhaps the definitive example of a mainstream DJ, played Arcando’s DnB remix of The Chainsmokers’ ‘Jungle’ at Miami’s EDM festival, Ultra.

One more baffling example was the appearance of Vikram Singh Barn (who you’ll more likely know as Vikkstar123 from the extremely popular YouTube group, The Sidemen) on stage with Bou at Studio338 last month. What’s more, the most famous individual of the same group, KSI, released ‘Not Over Yet’, a DnB track produced by Digital Farm Animals, in August 2022.

And, believe it or not, in October of last year, Jess Glynne of ‘Rather Be’ fame released ‘Friend of Mine’, a poppy, 174-bpm track produced by none other than DnB icon Sub Focus, right as ‘Strangers’ sat at the top of the UK charts. Appealing as the song is, you have to question how well Jess Glynne and her track really fit into the world of Drum & Bass. It’s rather a challenge to imagine ‘Friend of Mine’ being played to a crowd of dedicated ravers at a well-respected venue like Manchester’s Warehouse Project, for instance.

The same goes for KSI and ‘Not Over Yet’. Which really begs the question: who are songs like these for? Realistically they belong at the gym, the supermarket and public events.

With this in mind, you have to consider the implications of such a trend on the future of the Drum & Bass scene.

To what extent is the mainstream affecting the scene in a positive fashion?

Without throwing around accusations of cultural appropriation, it is certainly clear that such individuals are gaining more from associating themselves with the genre than they are giving back. By now, it is clear that the size of the audience to be captured is significant.

With Drum & Bass becoming the trending genre in mainstream music, releasing poppy, palatable tunes at 174bpm is becoming a reliable way to get your song heard on the radio and in public, making it a lucrative option.

This opportunistic approach to the genre presents quite the dilemma for those already within the scene. For many years, the Drum & Bass community has prided itself on its inclusivity, welcoming people from all sorts of backgrounds. Indeed, this is one of the factors that has contributed to the strikingly special, communal feeling almost all ravers experience, as well as the growing variety of subgenres developing within the scene.

It’s thanks to the variety of influences being brought to the genre that new and exciting sonic palates are being pushed forward. Diversity is undoubtedly a positive influence.

As a result, it’s particularly difficult to say who should and who shouldn’t be making Drum & Bass or publicly associating themselves with the scene. But when it comes to online celebrities, something certainly doesn’t sit right.

Many ravers would argue that DnB’s rising popularity will finally bring it the recognition it deserves. For many years and within certain circles, revealing your love for Drum & Bass felt like confessing a sin. Even now, a large proportion of people misunderstand the genre, focussing on its largely negative stereotypes.

Certainly, it’s refreshing to have an increasing number of positive reactions now that awareness of the genre and its complexities is growing. But the problem with this is that the Drum & Bass that hits the mainstream is generally of a certain type. Perhaps with the exception of ‘Baddadan’, the Top 10 tracks listed earlier lean generally more towards the influence of pop music. A great example of this was Becky Hill’s performance of ‘Disconnect’ at the Brits last month. I can’t have been the only one who found the X-Factor-style staging with the groups of ‘raving’ back-up dancers slightly off-putting.

Despite the genuinely significant achievement for Chase & Status of winning the award for Best Producer, and their sincerity in their pride to “represent Drum & Bass music”, the staged production of the song felt distinctly disingenuous. Instinctively, Drum & Bass simply does not belong in this world. It belongs in clubs, festivals and warehouses.

The greatest fear going forward, then, is the dilution of our culture. While there are undeniably a great number of benefits to the rapid growth of DnB, if things continue in this way, it’s a worrying possibility that the music that we love will be wrested from our grip by popular culture and repurposed to fit the mould that already exists.

Fortunately, the underground community is unlikely to be affected: intimate events will undeniably continue. But large-scale events are realistically the most at-risk. It’s not impossible to imagine an influx of unknowing ‘fans’ to the festival scene as it meets popular culture.

If Drum & Bass does indeed continue to grow at its current pace, the coming years will be particularly interesting as to how the scene develops and, while there is no one right way of doing things, no way of controlling the movement, there are undoubtedly elements of pop culture to be avoided. While it’s by no means time to panic, it’s certainly cause for concern: the celebration of the genre’s growth must be balanced with caution for its effect on the culture that is special to so many.