Yes, but what does it really mean? Martin Backes is our guest with a bass music mix, prior to a show with me tomorrow - but, true to this back-to-school season, we've got reading and reflection, too. Pencils down. Photo (CC-BY) Rodd Senna.

Yes, but what does it really mean? Martin Backes is our guest with a bass music mix, prior to a show with me tomorrow – but, true to this back-to-school season, we’ve got reading and reflection, too. Pencils down. Photo (CC-BY) Rodd Senna.

Against the sweeping tide of a term as meaningless as “EDM” – perhaps describing a commercial phenomenon more than a genre – or the historically-ambiguous “techno” or “electro,” there is “bass music.”

There’s no “treble music,” but there is “bass music,” and even a “bass music culture” to go along with it.

If the term is clumsy and foggy, though, the ideas behind it are potent, the latest blossoms in a deeply-rooted musical tree. And in its latest iteration, the music appeals to people well outside a demographic or commercial context or even continent.

It appeals to people like my friend Martin Backes, a German-born and Berlin-based media artist, composer and sound designer, and veteran DJ. Martin and I will DJ tomorrow at Platoon Kunsthalle Berlin, an imposing venue fashioned from disused shipping containers. (For another angle on dance and music, see my post on my LP of experimental music for modern dance and reflections on rhythm and movement. I’ll be remixing bits of that record tomorrow.)

We’ll move together from ambient and experimental sounds early on to things you can dance to, a reminder that nowadays, it’s the norm that electronic music academics are clubbers, too – and, for that matter, people far from ivory towers are often hacking together new inventions. Labs and academies and clubs need no physical distinctions.

Martin, while known these days for art installations and beatless sound environments and bleeding-edge sound designs (he’s co-founder of sound/media lab Aconica), has in fact been DJing since 1994. That trek has taken him from the roots of turntablism in Cage, Schaeffer, and musique concrete to scratch DJing, and later digital and controllerism. He’s made a mix just to demonstrate his dancefloor-friendly side. He describes it as featuring “current bass music culture with a touch of Afrofuturism.”

But his passion for bass music is important precisely because it’s so commonplace – it has spread across any boundaries. And Martin was an early adopter, hosting eclectic freestyle nights that included the first drum and bass parties in his hometown — even if Germany is typically not associated with the movement.

And now, we get this music back, through a new frame.

I asked Martin as a guest on CDM to look at just what this phenomenon is today – and to give us some reading to provoke some more reflection on what the term might mean, whether it’s useful, and why it gets our musical hearts beating faster. Bass music is so broad, that we leave to others to trace its roots and artists, so he’s assembled reading and listening from others trying to paint a picture of the genre or movement.

Consider this a starting place from someone outside the scene that’s producing the music, providing a window to look in.

Martin writes:

“Bass music” began as an umbrella term describing various styles of electronic dance music out of the UK — namely jungle, drum and bass, bassline, dubstep, and UK garage, among others. But that was just the beginning, and doesn’t give us a clear a idea of what bass music really is now. Bass music has become a worldwide movement, which is really hard to define when it comes to labels, genre, or tempo. And this is what it makes it really exciting and inspirational to me personally. I’d suggest some reading that examines the question of what bass music is, where it comes from, and where it could go.

Recommended Reading

Martin selects some articles on the topic worth considering. It starts with Computer Music in the UK, considering pragmatically why we stick with genres – even if they’re crude – and what to make of the trajectory of bass music.

“Forget about this Skrillex guy on the top 😉 — the end of the article explains it pretty well from my point of view.”

And this is where we find ourselves in 2013. In the space of three very short years, bass music has spread way beyond its dubstep roots, incorporating countless sounds, tempos, attitudes and artists. But are we any closer to answering the question, ‘What is bass music?’

What is bass music? [Computer Music Special]

Marlon Bishop last month took on the topic of the scene for MTV Iggy, specifically its “global” component:
Please Explain: Global Bass

And to address Afrofuturism, I would suggest the book More Brilliant than the Sun: Adventures in Sonic Fiction by Kodwo Eshun. Eshun takes on various musics of the black diaspora, from American hip-hop and funk to British jungle, from Detroit techno to German proto-electronics, and provides a useful guide for those wishing to connect the dots between their Roots and Phutures.

Sach O: Kodwo Eshun – More Brilliant than the Sun – Adventures in Sonic Fiction [Passion of the Weiss]

Here’s a brief summary of that text, based on a lecture version:
Processing, Processing… Recap of Kodwo Eshun Lecture

And Martin points to Kode9`s idea of “collective rhythm cultures” – as Kore9 puts it, “I’m just fascinated by rhythmic collectivity, whether it’s pleasurable or not – just people moving together, differently, in time.”:
Kode9: Unedited Transcript [The Wire]

As we were preparing this story, FACT Magazine went into the latest twists and turns in the plot:
Laurent Fintoni cornered Sam Binga, Om Unit, and Fracture, among other artists – good voices on the topic.

More to Hear

Bass music radio, almost a classic out of the UK:

One of my favorite Radio DJs out of the UK, playing a lot of bass music:
Benji B @ BBC Radio 1
Benj B: King Krule in 3 Records [iPlayer link directly, if you have trouble with the other]

Since Martin’s speaking of Kode9 and Rinse FM, here’s the artist back to back with Mala and Joe Nice for the station back in 2005:

Lots more where that came from.

Come Visit Us in Berlin

Donnerstagbar | P. KIRN + Martin Backes, Platoon [Facebook]
Also the official afterparty for Serbinale, the Serbian Film Festival – speaking of cross-cultural experiences

And from anywhere: