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The Bee's Knees: 'San Francisco is the drum 'n' bass community. There's no other city in America where you can go out seven nights a week and hear drum 'n' bass in a club.'

Mikebee's journey from classical music student to jungle DJ

By Amanda Nowinski

When listening to mikebee spin at Belle Époque, it's a bit difficult to untangle the local drum 'n' bass DJ and producer's operatic roots. While a classical-music major at Carnegie Mellon in the early '90s, Mikebee discovered the rave scene, learned to DJ, and soon after left the confining regimens of the classical training process far behind.

Since relocating to SF in '94, Mikebee has worked consistently to strengthen the city's drum 'n' bass presence. A resident DJ at the early Ikon Massive and Influx parties, Mikebee is now a resident of the eminent Belle Époque and appears regularly at Eklektik, Audible Colors and Spark! Currently at work on a collaboration with the Infinite Posse, Mikebee recently released a remix of Westside Chemical's "Phibbsboroough" on Sunburn/ Domestic. A staff writer at XLR8R and contributor to URB, Mikebee spreads the insider's word every Saturday with his "Knowledge Report"--a music news segment on the strictly drum 'n' bass Future Breaks show (90.3 KUSF, Saturdays, 3 to 5pm). He will be performing at the Cyberfest on July 10 at the Santa Clara County Fairgrounds.

Why did you completely abandon the classical world for electronic music?

The electronic music world was so much freer than the classical world. Everyone that I met, with the exception of my classmates, in the classical world was so closed-minded. If something wasn't an accepted form, then it didn't register on their radar at all. My roommate was a composition major and I turned him onto the Orb; he took some Orb stuff into his composition class and his professor literally kicked him out of the room. "This is not music," the professor said. That totally disillusioned him--he's studying film now.

What direction is drum 'n' bass evolving toward?

I think the hard days are gone. We had the tech step era, which was harsh sounds and dark themes. I think things are finally moving away from that. After things got really dark, the sound moved on to "neuro-funk," which is deep, Grooverider style--techy and dark, but still funky. I think sounds are moving onto more melodic pastures; drum 'n' bass is moving into more musical styles, especially since the UK-based Peshay's tunes have come out, which are really jazzy.

One of the beauties of drum 'n' bass is that it isn't sentimental--a producer can express his/her emotions, and even aggressions, more freely.

Definitely--it's the rough and the smooth together. I play music that is more mellow and melodic; but what I like about drum 'n' bass is that you have the drum and the bass, which are hard driving in your face, and then you have the other elements, which are smoother and more mellow. I like the tempering of both.

Is drum 'n' bass different emotionally from house?

No, it's not that different emotionally from house. The stuff that I play is a lot more akin to house. In fact, most of the Belle Époque crowd is a more house-type crowd. We don't have that many hard-core.

House can be dark, it can be happy, but it's a solid, never-ending groove. To me, drum 'n' bass has more highs and lows. When I mix the records together, I prefer to mix harder tunes with lighter tunes. I don't want to go out and hear atmospheric drum 'n' bass all night long, just like I don't want to go out and hear filtered disco all night long. I would rather hear eclecticism--and that is reflected in what I play. I like jazzy stuff, harder stuff, mellow stuff--but the one thing that connects it all is melody. I like melody, grooves and funk--that's the kind of thing I look for in tracks. A track can be hard as nails, but if it has a hook I like, or a melody that really stands out, I'll latch onto it and play the hell out of it.

The stuff I make is similar to the stuff I play. It's jazzy in sound, as well as in structure. I want to explore more improvisational bass forms, and to try to get out of programming so much, such as working more on keyboards, using more of a human element. There are things that you can do on the spur of the moment that can't be done with a computer, like bigger beats and more defined melodies.

How does the San Francisco drum 'n' bass community rate against Los Angeles' and New York's?

San Francisco is the drum 'n' bass community. There's no other city in America where you can go out seven nights a week and hear drum 'n' bass in a club. You can't do it in L.A. and you can't do it in New York. The scenes won't support it in L.A.--it's all raves and there are only three drum 'n' bass parties in L.A. New York has Concrete Jungle and **V at Twilo, but that's English people coming to New York, not New Yorkers doing their own thing. There aren't nearly as many people making drum 'n' bass in New York as there are here. There are like 50 drum 'n' bass DJs here, and they're all active. The scene here is thriving; it's blowing up in a huge way.

San Francisco came up from behind--no one really acknowledged it because it's not an L.A., and it's not a New York. People think that the biggest cities are always the first to pick up on things like this--but it wasn't true. We didn't get respect forever--we got overlooked. But now San Francisco is on everyone's lips. Everyone knows who Phunckateck is, who Noel and UFO! are. This place is just absolutely blowing up, and is getting a name on a global scale for being a big drum 'n' bass town.

Some people argue that the term "jungle" comes from the old James Brown compilation "Into the Jungle Groove." Is this true?

There are so many rumors as to where it comes from. A lot of people say that it comes from racist connotations in London, because so many inner-city black people were listening to the music, especially in '92, '93, '94. If you went to London then, any car driving by with a massive sound system in it was probably bumping jungle. There were something like 20 pirate radio stations in London at one time, operating on the roofs of old housing-project apartment buildings--the people operating these stations were always running from the cops. The music would be talked of in racist terms by the cops as being "jungle music." But there were so many people involved in the music, and nobody kept track of all the history.

It's one of those things that's lost forever; it's the old jungle lore.

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From the July 5, 1999 issue of the Metropolitan.

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