A Full-Circle Farewell

Drum'n'bass may never conquer the world, but it managed to outlast this column

I'm ending it the way I started.

Once upon a time, the only music I listened to was drum'n'bass. Hip-hop was on top of the charts, but all I cared about was Ed Rush and Optical. DB and Dara, New York City's local purveyors of jungle, were my saviors. Without fail I went to all the weekly parties—Konkrete Jungle, Direct Drive, Camouflage, and Testpress Sundays—and spent all my money at the record store Breakbeat Science, back when it was on East 9th Street. In 1997, when I was a Voice intern, drum'n'bass was on the rise; in 1999, when I moved here permanently from Seattle, it was at the height of its cool, coasting on big-time releases from Roni Size and Grooverider, its practitioners and fans hoping against hope it'd cross over. It never did.

Back then, I'd spend every Sunday night at Testpress, the weekly jam hosted by DJ Swingsett and held at Drinkland on East 10th. There, I'd see local DJs like Delmar and Roy Dank, and watch TC Izlam, one of the only American jungle MCs worth hearing, guide us over the beats in a bar that was too small and with a sound system too tiny to contain the massiveness that is drum'n'bass. I'd listen as different d'n'b obsessives would talk about the latest cuts on dubplates, and argue over who was the better female junglist—DJ Reid Speed or DJ Empress. (They're both great.)

Turning the tables: DJ Empress
photo: Tricia Romano
Turning the tables: DJ Empress

Believe it or not, drum'n'bass isn't dead. Don't get me wrong: It isn't cool or hip in the slightest. Its followers don't wear skinny pants or flaunt asymmetrical haircuts. Celebrities don't play special "DJ sets." And you won't find any pictures of drum'n'bass events on Last Night's Party, or photos of fans mocked in Blue States Lose. It's a world away from Cobrasnake and Ruff Club and Susanne Bartsch and Motherfucker and the Box and 205 Club and the Trinity and basically everything my life is now. It's almost like a parallel universe.

A handful of drum'n'bass parties still thrive in New York. Camouflage is still kicking Tuesdays at Sin Sin Lounge on East 6th Street—it's been going on as long as I've lived here. And the nine-year-old Direct Drive soldiers on despite losing its latest location, Tonic, when the club closed a few weeks after the party moved there. DD has also survived moves from Baktun, Rothko, Movida, and R'N'R (the old Cooler), which are all now closed as well. "We'll kill your club," says Cliff Cho, a/k/a DJ Seoul. They are now concentrating on special events held at the Sullivan Room.

At the venerable club Love, DJ DB has an event called the Secret Night of Science, held the second Friday of each month. He specializes in the softer side of d'n'b, and is successful enough that as many as 425 people have come out, many of them new converts. "That was the challenge," says DB, who runs the night with DJ Place 42. "We didn't want the traditional d'n'b stand-around arms-folded nodding-your-head crowd. We wanted girls. You ever heard of girls?"

Meanwhile, the king of them all, Konkrete Jungle, has been going on since 1994, and is now held at the Pyramid on Avenue A. (They've only missed two Mondays, both due to snowstorms.) I went earlier this month to see who exactly goes to a drum'n'bass party on a Monday night. Answer: not many folks. And even then, it was mostly boys who appeared to be of college age, wearing the requisite baggy pants and hats, dancing the raver dance (the one that lies somewhere between jazzercise and b-boying with imaginary glowsticks), something I haven't seen in a while.

As for girls, there were a few, composing maybe five percent of the sparse crowd, including the two who were onstage: a female MC named Dyer and my old friend Christina Ingram, a/k/a DJ Empress.

"There aren't that many girls, still?" I asked Mac, the head of Konkrete Jungle. He was looking very much like the schoolteacher he is, sitting at the wooden table, his glasses resting on his nose, a pencil resting in his hand. "I blame the Usual Suspects and Bad Company for that," he said, referring to the dark tech-step producers who specialized in sonic wizardry and scaring the bejesus out of you with monstrous basslines. I, with my heavy metal past, loved it; when I spun drum'n'bass, I'd play track after track of the dark stuff. Other girls, not so much. (My all-time fave 12-inch: Ed Rush, Optical, and Fierce's "Cutslo (Locust remix)," b/w "Alien Girl" on Prototype. Yes, you are reading a foreign language.)

The bass rumbled the walls of the near-empty room; I watched as Empress spun effortlessly. When I first moved here, I thought she was the coolest person on earth—an impossibly hot, fashionable girl who played the fiercest, hardest music, and who gained respect from the toughest critics of all—the U.K. jungle gods. Watching her a few weeks ago, she still was the coolest person on earth, even if she would never pose in front of the MisShapes' wall. (Who the fuck am I kidding? This makes her even cooler.)

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