BRYAN GEE with DJ ZINC , HIGH CONTRAST , MARCUS VISIONARY , EVERFRESH , MC DARRISON , MC IC3 and NATURAL EMCEE at Kool Haus (132 Queens Quay East), Friday (October 8). $30 advance, more at the door. 416-870-8000. Rating: NNNNN
If you're part of the dance music generation, you probably remember the first time you heard drum 'n' bass or its earlier incarnation, jungle. You may not have loved it, but you couldn't deny that it was a truly new music, a new beat, and a sound that wasn't just a next step after disco, like house and techno.
Bryan Gee remembers that time clearly, since he was there at the very beginning when Chicago acid house mixed with British influences to give birth to the high-speed breakbeats and stomach-liquefying sub-bass lines that changed the UK dance scene forever.
"I was into everything," Gee recalls of his early days as a DJ from his London home. "I grew up in a reggae environment, then got into hiphop, soul, rare groove and acid. When I heard drum 'n' bass, it was the first thing I'd heard that was from here. It was our own thing. Everything before that was from America, but this represented where I was from."
Kind of makes you wonder why Toronto hasn't come up with a uniquely local sound. We may be great at imitating the genres emerging from other scenes, but we've never come up with our own. D'n'b became so vital because it pulls from any music it wants to, defining its identity by a style of beat but allowing almost any influence to float on top of it, which built on London's already colourful music scene.
"Drum 'n' bass is just drums and bass and anything you want to add. It can pull from everything: rock, electro, samba, funk, soul, disco, whatever. Don't be surprised by anything."
That flexibility and openness wasn't so evident at the end of the 90s, when the d'n'b underground responded to the mainstreaming of their sound by producing hard and dark techy numbers that became increasingly self-referential and alienating to all but the diehards.
Gee blames some of that on the disappearing distinction between producers and DJs. While he's known as a DJ, label boss and for his long-running weekly party, Movement, he's never made a name for himself as a producer, unlike the vast majority of those who have come up since the early days.
"I'm a DJ and I've always been a DJ. I'm one of the last. Now you've got to produce to be a DJ, and there are a lot of producers who aren't really DJs. There was a time when a lot of those guys weren't putting out proper tunes, because they just wanted bangers they could play out."
Thankfully, the rise and fall of the UK garage scene has coincided with a reborn and fresh drum 'n' bass scene. Check out mixes from the past couple of years and you can clearly hear the wide range of influences, and even some new rhythms.
As label boss and A&R man behind V Recordings, Bryan Gee has introduced quite a few names to the scene, in particular by releasing the first EP by Roni Size long before Talkin' Loud was willing to give him a chance. Luckily, Size doesn't forget his old friends, and has returned to the label for a new album.
"This week we're releasing the new Roni Size album, and it'll be huge for us. It's not New Forms - it's not so jazz-influenced. It's more raw, kind of like when he first started."