The dance-music pipeline is easily clogged. New subgenres sprout virtually overnight, adding confusion to an already crowded scene. London-bred DJ Aphrodite is like the mason of the drum 'n' bass movement -- straightening, strengthening, and fortifying the foundation of the style.
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.
"When it went from being sound-and-feeling orientated to being more about the lyrical content, that's when it lost it for me a little bit," he says. "That was probably the late '80s. I mean, how does an L.A. black guy rapping about how big and bad his neighborhood is have any relationship to my life in London? That's the bottom line. I'm trying to innovate."
The reason drum 'n' bass has successfully carved out a niche for itself is likely its innate complexity and ability to innovate and adapt, accommodating elements that don't appear compatible. On Urban Jungle, King showed just how successful it could be to spot-weld Ice Cube's vocals onto a pulsating rhythm track. The remix of Dread Warrior's "Man of Steal" bends from supple, rolling jeep beats to a drawn-out curtain call of French horns and strings snagged from John Williams' "Superman Theme."
King's best remixes shine new light on the source material. His collaboration with the old-school duo the Jungle Brothers on the anthem "Jungle Brother (True Blue)" downplayed the song's braggadocio and infused it with elements of house. This remix is widely credited as having rejuvenated the Jungle Brothers' career, as well as pumping King's name in American hip-hop circles.
Still, for all his dabbling in hip-hop, King says the genre has made few inroads in Europe. "When acid house and the whole party scene in England came through, who cared about hip-hop and R&B? That's the truth of it. Now you're hard-pressed to find a club in England that plays hip-hop or R&B. When you compare it to house, drum 'n' bass, speed garage, tech step, no one cares. If a guy comes out and plays hip-hop, the floor just clears; no one's interested. There's no power there."
But King's stylings are not just about high-energy beats. At the end of Aphrodite's extended ride, passengers disembark to the strains of "Summer Breeze," a composition interpolating elements of the Seals and Crofts chestnut with modern-day ambient electronica. Following the disc's onslaught of propulsive beats, the track is a soothing snippet of AM-radio nostalgia.
"The vocal kind of turned up," King explains. "We had the a capella vocals on a track that I used to take out to shows and mix over some drum 'n' bass. It always went down well, so I thought, 'Why not? Let's grab it and throw it into a real track.'"
Samples lend Aphrodite many of its best moments. "Spice (Even Spicier)" is kick-started with a quote from the David Lynch film Dune before being carried away by jazzy trumpets. And like the populist he is at heart, King goes straight for the obvious on "BM Funkster," which warps the bass line from the O'Jays' "Money" to delirious effect. He also layers some soulful, vintage Quincy Jones on "Rincing Quince."
But when he's not making his own music, running the operations for his labels, or deciding whose remix to work on next, King's agenda is simple: to be the best DJ he can be. "When I look down on the crowd and I feel there's a record I want to play, I look through my box. And if it's not there, then I'm gonna try to make it."
Contact Jeff Stratton at his e-mail address:
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