by Chanté LaGon
10 a.m. Thursday morning with a cold and cough. A stranger's call to New York likely disturbs a Nyquil sleep, as if it's not too early anyway. A crusty British voice interrupts the the answering machine to begin a conversation on "Shades of Technology," fickle U.S. ravers, and educating the minority with drum and bass.
DJ DB is a professor of sorts. While his teaching methods vary, his commitment to the music doesn't slack.
He needed an outlet for the music he brought from the U.K.; he established Brilliant and NASA, New York clubs that catered to the growing hardcore breakbeat scene.
He wanted greater access to d n b records; he hooked up with DJ Dara and Paul Morris to open Breakbeat Science, later joined by Sean the Shooter, the first U.S. store dedicated to drum and bass music.
He set out to represent a wide spectrum of drum and bass; enter "Shades of Technology," a 17-track CD that rolls listeners along the genre's many categories.
Let class begin.
"It's important to me [to educate while entertaining], not necessarily other DJs. If I'm not doing education, it's not as challenging for me. It's finding the balance between playing stuff that's new and stuff that's different," DB said.
The formally titled "DJ DB Presents Shades of Technology: A Drum and Bass Mix" easily makes the grade. Forget kindergarten, sitting in one class all day; "Shades" takes you from one school to the next. "It's got everything from dancefloor killers to low tempo nod-your-head stuff on there," satisfied student Doughboy informs me.
"I wanted it to represent what a drum and bass set would sound like. That was the goal of the album," DB says.
Being one of the first to offer that sound to New York's club kids probably was enough to put DB on the tenure track. After moving to the States from North London in 1989, DB opened Brilliant, and later co-founded NASA in 1992. "We wanted to promote the U.K. music scene," he said. Vastly different from techno-based U.S. parties, NASA events were ahead of their time, exposing headz to early forms of jungle.
NASA was featured in the movie "Kids," but according to DB, "When they used it in 'Kids,' it wasn't our club. NASA was already closed at that time. But the kids who were in the movie were actually NASA kids."
DB continued to spin for parties across the nation and around the world, further developing skills that are tighter than Siamese twins. By "musically flirting" with familiar crowds, teasing them with unreleased records, or giving them just a bit of one of their favorites each week, a permanent love thang developed.
Soon DB moved into music's business arena, becoming A&R director of Sm:)e Communications, a sub-label of Profile Records, and opening Breakbeat Science in 1996.
Two years later, he left Sm:)e to co-found F-111, a label dedicated to releasing drum and bass. "Shades" is the first full-length CD release. "Sales have not been that great, but the press has been fantastic," DB said. A quick scan of Web reviews confirms that. "Distribution hiccups" have contributed to slow sales, he said.
The album might not be in the right place at the right time, but the content is. While some critics have said that jungle/d n b has lost its creative mobility, DB disagrees.
"It's not stagnant. It's going through a little bit of an introspective phase where it's become a producer's medium. The records are really about sounds, and not really about the dance floor. I don't think it's stagnating, but maybe a little self-indulgent. Which is why maybe in the UK it's shrunken in popularity a little."
Thank goodness for good ol' American parties. The U.S. is definitely happening, especially Atlanta, DB said. "I think Atlanta is one of the best scenes right now, as far as big parties go. At least in Atlanta I feel like there's a lot of good dance energy. I play for Outerlimits pretty regularly and I always have a good time."
Let's not discuss DB having to spin to an empty Chili Pepper in late May (shame, shame, shame). Add to that a general complaint about American party-goers: "My main gripe is the gripe I've had with dance music of all genres it is a phase for these kids," DB said. "I'm a little bitter that all these kids burn themselves out on...whatever. They do just as many drugs in the UK, but when they burn out on the drugs, they still listen to the music."
By now, the gruff voice has given way to a tone of urgency mixed with contemplation. "I've never been able to figure out why that is," he says. "I think it has something to do with American culture."
The drugs complicate things, DB said. "It's really not right because so many of the producers of the music don't use drugs. It's about the music."
I offer my opinion and an anecdote about fans wanting to share drugs with artists.
"On the one hand, I understand that they want me to me happy. I haven't DJd for years being high, and I wouldn't dream of taking chemicals when I'm about to DJ. Certain drugs make the music sound really different. Cocaine makes it sound like there's not enough treble...you keep turning the treble up," he explained.
Consider drugs a cheat sheet: When DB is on the decks, there simply is no reason for them. The mind-bending effects of the music are what has DB hooked.
"The thing that's fascinated me about this music is that it never stays the same too long. I think it will continue to change and fracture and subdivide. Whether it's a retro look at itself or something we haven't expected or heard before."
It's a safe bet DB will be part of that evolution. Reserve your spot early. It will be a class you won't want to miss.
Shades of Technology
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