Rock Steady

The badder the bassline, the funnier the face. This is the rule my friend Brian and I apply to drum'n'bass, punctuating our long, late-night listening sessions with screwed-up noses while doing the Fatboy Slim, point-to-the-record, isn't-this-the-shit? pose. If Bad Company's on the decks, one looks kinda constipated, or at very least in the throes of a really good orgasm.

About a year ago, four Londoners came along to relieve jungle soldiers from the search for the meanest bassline in the world. "The Nine" marked the official debut of Bad Company —who are not, incidentally, in any way related to the '70s rock group, and who are now referred to (just like Prince was until last week) by an unpronounceable logo. Really, though, everyone still calls them Bad Company.

The world hadn't heard such filthy d'n'b since Ed Rush, Trace, and Nico's "Mutant Revisited" in 1996. But after "The Nine" 's release, you could almost see all the world's jungle artists craning to get a look at what the hell had just crawled out of that dark corner. Fresh, Vegas, Maldini, and D-Bridge had all produced before, but as Bad Company they came together like dogs in heat. While many bands might spend years honing a sound, Bad Co. hit on it almost immediately, following "The Nine" with "The Pulse"/"China Cup" on Grooverider's Prototype label. (Scoring a release on Prototype is the jungle equivalent of winning an Academy Award—or dating a supermodel.)

Till the day they die
photo: Jay Muhlin
Till the day they die

Bad Co., unlike their tech-steppin' peers, have less in common with techno than with heavy metal; in their hands, basslines drive the point home like an incessant, ornery 13-year-old boy. Though it's tempting to do the obvious and compare the new Bad Co. to the old "Feel Like Making Love" one, a more apt parallel would be AC/DC. It's a sacrilegious comparison, and one more Americans than Brits are likely to make. Like those Aussies, Bad Co. use constant repetition to their advantage (if that's not a guitar riff in "China Cup," I don't know what is), flexing riddims with horny tough-guy posturing.

By summer 1999, dancefloors couldn't get enough of the already classic formula: kind of like the "uh-oh" moment in a horror film, when the glamorous actress gets offed. Beautiful strings, loaded with reverb and oodles of twinkly melodies, open "The Pulse," before an unsettling undertone creeps in, giving way to spiky shards puncturing all pleasantries in one fell swoop. (This is the part where you either cover your eyes or scream for a rewind.) When the bassline finally drops and a ton of platinum breaks speed out of the gate, the only defense is to throw the devil's horn. Because, by now, Bad Co. have you firmly by the balls. (And that's only the first 35 seconds.)

With the follow-up, The Fear EP, Bad Co. started to resemble a harder, leaner version of fluffy puff-boy Aphrodite; the oh-that-unreleased-record-is-so-last-week crowd counted the end of days for the group, saying the tracks amounted to little more than quick fixes, repetitious to the point of pointless redundancy: mean and angry, no irony intact. Last week's set at Downtime highlighted this flaw—it felt like a sports event. But Inside the Machine, the foursome's debut album, proves there are still basslines to wrangle and dancefloors to mangle.

Inside the Machine,at the risk of making them sound like sensitive ponytailed men (oh wait, that's Aphrodite), shows a softer side—one that carries those pretty li'l things in the movie to safety at the end. Bad Co. are famous for innocuous intros and demonizing denouements, but on ITM, they allow tunes to follow a natural path rather than diverting them with psychopathic tendencies. "Trick of the Light" 's melancholy and infinite sadness suggest the kind of dreary rainy day usually reserved for Portishead songs. It's the album's exquisite centerpiece. And it's musical, a strange thing to say when talking about music, I realize, but drum'n'bass has lately been criticized for being heavy on the sound effects, with nary a real idea in sight.

Filled with hummable tracks that lock-step into one's brain, ITM—even in its stormers like "Silicon Dawn" and "Brain Scan"—doesn't pile-drive the point home à la "The Nine." With old Bad Co., there was little beyond the bogeyman bass, so you hoped the DJ's mix would be swift. Though ITMis ultimately designed for a dancefloor, it's surprisingly compatible in album format. In their new guise, Bad Co. layer on ideas, regenerating stuff from the beginning at the end, slowly building something almost (but not quite) resembling a trance epic. The scattered, spiny sounds in "Silicon Dawn" evolve into a frenzied percussive workout (any drummer would work up a sweat trying to keep up with the clacks and rat-a-tats), while "Brain Scan"—which obliterates clubs with its squawks and squeals—is a sonic maelstrom pumping and pushing up bursts of distortion, whirling around the beats like a hurricane in flux. And the intro of "Dead Side," like the band's unreleased dubplate "Breathe," hints at a bright future where jungle steals shiny ripples and crisp undulations from electro's and German techno's legacies.

Sometimes, though, old habits die hard. The majestic opener, "Colonies," starts out buoyant and airy before derailing into deviant dungeon practices—like two separate songs, almost. On "Nitrous"—a collaboration with fellow heavy-metal junglist Trace—the boys revert back to pimply adolescence in a masculine mind-fuck."Nitrous" huffs its chest up and sucks the life out of the soundsystem, only to give it back in one, long, shredded guitar windmill . . . oops, I mean bassline. You don't shake and swing to Bad Co.—you pogo and pump the fist. You rock out with your cock out. Even my yoga-freaking, veggie-eating, om-chanting roomie says Bad Co. tracks make him want to drive really, really fast, or kill somebody. Like a manly man.


B.C. Recordings: www.bcrecordings.com

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