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Characterized primarily by speedy, rapid-fire beats, drum 'n' bass' complex rhythms open up to reveal grids within grids, patterns within patterns. Aphrodite (real name: Gavin King) has added throbbing, liquid bass pulses, which have proved all but irresistible to dance floor patrons. He's the guy who's made drum 'n' bass safe for the masses and helped the genre cross over to American audiences as well.
That bottomless, reverberating bass that wiggles and wobbles through his tracks is King's secret weapon. On last year's Urban Jungle, an album of remixes and original compositions in the hip-hop vein, he gives Ice Cube's "Bend a Corner Wit Me" an impossibly thick and gooey bottom end, a speaker-rumbling assault that keeps the groove flowing. On his own "Dub Moods," a catchy, ultrafunky bass line descends down a flight of skittering beats. But it's not just his low-end theory that gives the music such heft -- at times he employs high-pitched melodic bass tones that sound like the mammoth door chimes at the Munster mansion.
When drum 'n' bass (sometimes called "jungle") came along between 1995 and 1996, it quickly established itself as Britain's most important new dance trend, developing its own specialists, fans, and doctrine. Five years later the genre still rules the British club scene.
"For me there's no other," King says in a recent phone interview from a Canadian hotel room. "If you go to a really kicking drum 'n' bass party, there's not an atmosphere quite like it, with such a good energy level."
On his just-released, self-titled debut -- which compiles his best-known singles with some new material -- quiet interludes help divide the blocks of beats. The disc's overall feel steers clear of the dark, claustrophobic grooves that lend some jungle a menacing edge. Instead King's moods gravitate toward the bright, upbeat end of the scale, a key to his broad appeal.
On March 27 and 28, King will bring his one-man show to South Florida for the Winter Music Conference. That's just one of four Florida performances. "I have no idea why I'm doing so many shows here," King says, sounding genuinely bemused. "It's just a big dance scene down in Florida -- probably something to do with the Miami bass -- and when I look at my tour schedule, there's always more gigs in Florida than anywhere else."
Despite the attention paid to him here, King's not about to give the state the nod as his favorite place to play. "No question about it -- it's England," he proclaims. "Whatever's said about anything, England is the only place. There's no comparison to the dance scene anywhere else."
Swept up by the first acid-house/rave phenomenon that Britain enjoyed in 1988, King taught himself to be a DJ, helped start a successful London dance club, and became a sought-after dance-floor instigator all across Europe. In the early '90s, he began releasing a series of singles under the DJ Aphrodite banner, launched two record labels, and developed a rep as an in-demand remixer.
Other drum 'n' bass DJs like Goldie and LTJ Bukem maintain higher profiles. But King's output is arguably the most user-friendly. He's also the hardest worker of the lot. Indeed King eschews the glossy magazine and fashion frenzy that can infect DJ culture and dilute its impact. "The music's my cup of tea," he insists. "That's what I'm in it for."
His new blend of drum 'n' bass is often called "jump-up," owing to its immediacy and reliance on those upbeat, perky rhythms. He'll throw in a breakdown or trigger a sample at fairly predictable intervals, working wonders on the dance floor, where King aims for maximum booty-movement. His melding of computerized textures, well-placed samples, and a seamless rhythmic flow creates an extended dance travelogue.
"I'm just trying to take people on an atmospheric journey in an hour or two or three," King says.
Still, Aphrodite is perhaps more suited to an adrenaline-fueled dance excursion than to listening at home. The sheer length of the album may try the patience of those wanting an abridged trip. "It's quite a long, long album," he admits. "It's 73 minutes, mate! If people think it's too long, then I've got to make a better one."
King does much more than simply rock the funky beats. He launched Aphrodite Records six years ago, home to his own recordings, both as Aphrodite and as a host of aliases. The Urban Takeover imprint, which King started in 1996 with DJ/partner Mickey Finn, has been on the frontlines of drum 'n' bass since its inception, releasing some of the genre's biggest-selling pioneers.
The Urban Jungle compilation takes a rather unique approach, retooling American hip-hop standards by Jeru the Damaja, A Tribe Called Quest, Aaliyah, and Ice Cube, among others, in drum 'n' bass style.
"I was into that kind of stuff before it was even called hip-hop," King says. "I was big into electro, which became hip-hop. I'm 32, and these things were big when I was a teenager." Listening to electronic pioneers such as Kraftwerk and Afrika Bambaataa lent King an appreciation for massive slabs of electronic bass. And though he's transformed songs like N.W.A's "Gangsta Gangsta" into percolating dance workouts, he notes that the lyrical side of such gangsta anthems has never been particularly inspiring.