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[whitespace] Moving On: Goldie serves notice on his new album that he's done with drum 'n' bass and looking for new genres to pioneer.

For Whom the Drum 'n' Bass Toll

On his latest mix album, Goldie sounds a final note for dance music

By Michelle Goldberg

WITH HIS LATEST two-CD mix album, Goldie all but announces that drum 'n' bass, the genre he helped create, is dead. "I've kind of done everything I want to do in this music, and whether I go into film or acting or fucking do sculpture for the next four years, I've really enjoyed it all," he's quoted as saying in the five-page liner-note essay.

"For a guy whose been making music for a very short time," Goldie continues, "I've had a great run. I do feel very happy in myself; in how I can move on with it." The piece goes on to speculate what Goldie will do as he "moves off into his post-junglist phase." All of which explains why INCredible Sound of Drum 'n' Bass (Ovum/Ruffhouse/Columbia) is less a look at the future of breakbeat science or even a survey of its present than a retrospective of its near past.

That's not to say that the album is weak, just that it doesn't even try to break new ground. A look at the track listing shows why: 16 of the set's 26 cuts were recorded before 1998. Often the best bits are the oldest, like Doc Scott's "Here Come the Drums," an electrifying, frenetic 1993 track that combines a fog of ominous low-end tones with beats that careen like ping-pong balls.

When "Here Come the Drums" was originally released, it signaled the emergence of a new kind of dance culture, one that traded the naïve utopianism of house and techno for a more unstable, thrilling but threatening futurism. A mere seven years later, though, "Here Come the Drums," like many of the tracks on INCredible Sound of Drum 'n' Bass, sounds merely nostalgic.

Why? What happened to make what was once the most innovative, avant-garde pop music out there run its course so rapidly? It's not that these tracks seem less impressive in hindsight. Deep Blue's "Thursday," with its beat-boxing robot rhythms and its dreamy-yet-urgent waves of melody, still glows with brilliance--so does Goldie's own alternately ethereal and aggressive "Manslaughter," from 1994, Roni Size and DJ Die's haunting, stuttering "The Calling" from 1997 and Grooverider's oceanic "Rainbows of Colour" from 1998.

But these numbers give off a museum kind of brilliance, one that you can appreciate without finding it relevant to right now. Doc Scott's "Unofficial Ghost," which borrows heavily from Vangelis' Bladerunner soundtrack, is gorgeous, but it channels a very specific historical mood of mystical X-Files paranoia. Could it be that mere days into the collective exhale of the year 2000, the aura of danger and decay in the air has dissipated enough to make the track feel dated?

Drum 'n' bass is music about the external; it's the sound of a culture on fast-forward, of chaos and out-of-control momentum. Perhaps that's why it doesn't have the universal staying power of songs about human constants like love or sadness--or even the ecstasy that fuels house and disco. Implicit in drum 'n' bass is the idea that the world is changing too fast to get a grip on, and the music itself is just as subject to being left behind.

ONE CAVEAT is in order--though these tracks may sound a bit tired on the stereo, they'd still likely work their magic on the dance floor. Which explains, really, why pure drum 'n' bass often ages badly on CD. Unlike the breakbeat pop of Everything but the Girl or the ambient rhythmscapes of Redheadedstepchild, both of which remain fresh after hundreds of listens, the tracks on INCredible were originally intended as functional music to get people moving in nightclubs.

Despite critics' attempts to get a read on electronic music by forcing it into the same album-style parameters as rock, dance music simply works differently. It is tied far more tightly to fashion than rock has ever been, and thus its cycle of obsolescence advances more quickly.

DJs, after all, are prized in a large part for their role as trend-setting shoppers--they have to have the newest, rarest vinyl, to be quicker consumers than their peers. In this milieu, the fact that the tracks on INCredible hold up at all years later is a testament to the producers' skill--these compositions are the closest drum 'n' bass will ever come to classics.

The advertising industry's rapacious appetite for cool hasn't helped. Without an overt message of its own--aside from a fetish for speed and technology--drum 'n' bass makes the perfect soundtrack for ads for cars and personal electronics, as well as for Hollywood chase scenes.

Granted, allowing corporate America to rob the underground of its passions puts music fans in a continually defensive posture. Nevertheless, the heat and spark that make new sounds exhilarating are dampened once the mainstream gets a hold of them, and drum 'n' bass' power has been diluted, probably irrevocably. It's not that the music didn't have the same subversive energy as, say, bebop, it's just that bop thrived as long as it did because industry hadn't yet discovered the cash value of hip.

Goldie seems to know this. On his last album, Saturnzreturn (also a double-disc set) he tried to push the genre forward with "Mother," an epic one-hour symphony of Oedipal pain. But "Mother," although it boasted some truly stirring, powerful moments, was unquestionably pretentious, and it was largely unplayed by fans and derided by critics.

So Goldie is giving drum 'n' bass one last hurrah and then moving on. He's already starred as the villain in the latest James Bond movie, as well as in the still-unreleased Everybody Loves the Sunshine with David Bowie. Additionally, he's collaborating on a movie script with writer Josh Evans.

He knows that hipness is a perishable commodity. Rather than an attempt to keep a flagging scene alive, INCredible sounds like Goldie is taking his cue from big business and cashing in one last time on his brand name before leveraging his street cred into new industries.

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From the January 20-26, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

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