Drum & Bass: The Movement – The D&B Documentary in Review
If you’re reading this you will have recently seen someone on social media either critiquing or defending Drum&BassArena’s Drum & Bass – The Movement documentary. If you’ve seen that, you’ll also have seen the scale and passionate nature of some of these arguments. It managed the rare feat of absolutely clogging my newsfeed, making a welcome break from the now-classic 5g/Coronavirus theory facebook staple.
Anyway, I digress.
Purportedly exploring “how a unique UK club culture rose from an underground movement to become a global phenomenon infiltrating and influencing disciplines from mainstream pop music to video games”, it is easily both substantially longer and with higher production values than anything that’s come before it.
Right from the outset, it gives itself a mammoth task to cram into its one hour, twenty-three minute runtime. By contrast, the similar in nature Hip Hop Evolution (which you should check out on Netflix if you get the chance) stretches over four, four-episode seasons with individual episodes clocking in at between 40 minutes to an hour.
It’s structured like a timeline, reaching from circa 1996 up to pretty much the present day, stopping off along the way to explore certain spin-off subgenres and topical issues presented in the words of some of the scene’s leading lights and public figures who include, but are not limited to, the likes of Andy C, Goldie, Chase & Status, Kasra, Grooverider, Roni Size, Mefjus, DJ Flight, Friction and more.
The whole thing is tied together using the theme of D&B’s rise into the limelight as a central thread, liberally interspersed with the motherlode of rave footage, both past and present, and Drum&BassArena’s black and yellow visual ethos (more on this later).
The question that seems to have dominated the D&B zeitgeist of late is “does it manage it?”, that is; does it manage to accurately and inclusively chart the irresistible rise of D&B through the ages?
The vocal grumbling junglists don’t seem to think so, pointing out the seemingly endless litany of complaints, mostly focussed around the exclusion of some pivotal figures in the movement. There’s some truth to be had here too, with the likes of Reinforced Records, Bryan G and his V Recordings imprint, Doc Scott and Alix Perez notably absent from the debate altogether. Even forces of nature like Calibre and Noisia get scant namedrops.
While I do realise that the budget for this wasn’t infinite and that filming constraints are indeed a thing, I did find myself wishing that when the action returned to get Sigma’s or El Hornet’s opinion for the third time, that the filmmakers had talked to a slightly more diverse range of artists. It is essentially, very Drum&BassArena, and stays on-brand by hitting the broad common denominators on which they and their partner organisation, UKF, have built their church.
So does it manage it? No, not always but also yes, sometimes.
And, in those sometimes (the majority of the time really), it is a fierce, moving soliloquy to the scene that we’re all living in. It is really a love letter to drum and bass, epitomised by a closing montage of each of the interviewees simply saying that “drum and bass is life”. Right on.
While we’ve touched on what The Movement lacks, it does also pack in a great deal. Its look at the foundations of the scene, criticism aside, really gives a great sense of the raw energy of the scene back then and how it broke its own glass ceiling into the mainstream. Ommissions aside, it really does do a good job of condensing 30 years of heartfelt history into less than 90 minutes of video.
Other touchpoints like the increasing accessibility of music, subgenres splintering off, and DJing vs Producing are all skillfully dissected with tact and brevity, but none more so than the way it tackles the commercial side of drum and bass.
It is on this battleground, the same battleground we all see day in and day out, that The Movement really comes into its own. While it really does present both sides of the coin, it’s not afraid to pull any punches either. Watching Goldie and London Elektricty tear Sigma’s collaboration with mum-pop darlings Take That to utter shreds, and then cutting to a sheepish Sigma vainly trying to justify themselves is the stuff of wonders, and I sincerely hope that goes down as the timeless viral moment it deserves to be
On the topic of Goldie, there is some absolute gold in some of the interviews. The Metalheadz bossman provides a whole host of incredible soundbites ranging from “if you catch me on the wrong day I can’t mix a salad” to the frankly inspirational “commercial music will only win when I die”.
Other personal highlights of mine included watching Spirit talk about defying expectations, Kasra’s segments, John B (just because…John B) and DJ Flight’s frank look at D&B’s perceived lack of diversity. I think that, unless you really are set on dying on chinstroke hill, you’ll find at least one moment in here to make you smile.
Special mention should also be given to the aesthetics of the thing. It looks and sounds absolutely fabulous and there’s never a sense of lull or apathy, instead hurtling along and propelling you though a treat for the soul and senses. As expected it has a top-notch soundtrack that opens with John B’s ‘Up All Night’ and makes its way through a who’s who selection of both older and modern classics (Alix Perez – Forsaken, I sees ya!). The sumptuous Drum&BassArena yellow on black visuals never looked so good either, rendered in all their glory and effectively used to tie segments and narrative themes together.
Drum&BassArena really opened the rave footage floodgates here too. I don’t know if its the fact that I’ve been inside for some time now but watching it reminded me how much I, and we all, love raves, how important they are and the sense of power and restless energy you get on the dancefloor, regardless of which side of the decks you’re on.
Honestly, I think that a project of this size and scope, about such a large topic so many people feel so strongly about, was never going to please everyone. There will always be naysayers and they are of course welcome to their opinions which are, in some cases, totally valid. However, it is still and should be recognised as, the absolute frontrunner of its kind. It made me feel, it made my pulse race, it made me frown and smile and laugh and want to talk to my friends about it.
It is an exceptional achievement, one deserving of accolade, and one that should set a new benchmark for these things going forwards. It is not without its flaws but then neither are we, neither is anything and, personally, the potential for talking points that encourage healthy further discussion goes a long way to making up for its exclusions.
Finally, I’d like to point out that, among all the argument and counter-argument, I saw a lot of people saying it made them feel connected and it made them feel proud to be a part of drum and bass and, to be frank, I feel like there can be no higher praise.
Drum & Bass – The Movement is an exceptional piece of work, and dedicated labour of love, I recommend it to all.
If you haven’t managed to watch Drum&BassArena’s Drum & Bass – The Movement documentary yet WATCH IT HERE