A while ago, I made a global bass blogging guide as an instruction leaflet for new members of our team. In the end it became a compilation of all my knowledge I’ve built up so far, which also contained a graphic visualisation of the ‘music landscape’ and how the concept of global bass relates to that landscape. The picture was shared about 50 times on Facebook I believe and it caught the attention of our friends at Rhythm Travels, who asked if I could draw up a short description. That description, in turn, evolved into this article.
Let’s face the question straight away: what is global bass? Is it a scene at all? And if yes, what are its boundaries and what binds it together? Or better, who decides about its boundaries and about what binds it together? I can guarantee you that if you ask three different people active in global bass music, you will get three different answers. Or no satisfying answer at all. Along the lines of ‘global bass is whatever I’m feeling today’.
So instead of asking what people themselves think, it could be illuminating to imagine a ‘landscape of music’ where all the different genres are arranged according to how much they are related to one another. Deephouse for example, would not only be close to house but also to techno and, if you look at the type of chords and samples that are used, to UK garage. If you’d then look at UK garage and ask yourself which other genres it is most related to, like grime or DnB, you write down those too according to the same rule: the more genre X is related to genre Y, the closer they are together on the landscape.
Of course, ‘being related’ is very arbitrary. Something can be related because of the BPM or the types of melodies and chords used, but also because genre X has been derived from genre Y or because both genres are often made by the same artists. Ideally, you could imagine different possible landscapes, based on different quantitative proxies that you could measure. For example: ‘how often the different genres are included together on the same mixtapes’, ‘how often artists from the different genres collaborate on tracks or EPs’, ‘how often the different genres are tagged together on Soundcloud, Youtube or in blogposts’, ‘how much the different genres sound like each other according to specific, quantifiable characteristics’ or ‘the terms with which aggregates of listeners describe the music’ etcetera. Any of these landscapes would be a complex combination of main genres, their several subgenres and ‘hybrid genres’, genres that combine elements of different pre-existing genres into a new sound. These landscapes would also change over time. They can be seen as frozen cross sections in the ever evolving, further-branching family tree of music history. The tree that roots, as DJ Zhao so sharply observes, for its most part, in Africa.
Because I didn’t have the analytical techniques available to do actual measurements – in fact researchers are doing these kinds of studies – I designed a music map based on my personal intuition. I believe a landscape based on the average of different proxies would probably look somewhat like this. It’s not perfect because both kizomba, bachata, but also some deephouse and UK garage are quite close to RnB. To represent that in a better way, the chart should have more dimensions.
What I then did to complete the puzzle is drawing the boundaries of the different ‘clusters’ of music. Clusters are combinations of genres which are commonly seen as having something in common and presented (read: commercialised!) together under a shared label. The best known examples are of course EDM (house, electro, techno etc.) and urban music (hiphop, RnB etc.) but other examples are Latin-Caribbean (reggaeton, salsa, bachata etc.) or UK bass music (UK garage, DnB, grime etc.).
In many cases, there is overlap between these clusters. Dubstep, especially its American spin-off brostep, would be part of both UK bass and EDM. And for its many collaborations and overlap in style, aesthetics or themes in lyrics, much Latin-Caribbean music like dancehall and reggaeton, is closely related to urban music (which is a commercial euphemism for ‘contemporary black/afro-diasporic music’).
So where does global bass come into this story? Many genres which are classified as ‘global bass’ have arisen in the 2000s or early 2010s, that are all in some way, hybrid genres between existing music in Latin America, the Caribbean and Africa and the two main clusters in contemporary culture: urban music and house. Like in older genres of music like rock, sounds that become popular worldwide mutate into different variants in different parts of the world, drawing from ‘local’ music, either popular or folkloric.
Besides, many ‘global bass’ genres also are hybrids between urban music and EDM themselves. Few scenes embody this more than the UK bass scene and the Dutch eclectic scene. Both derive almost directly from Jamaican soundsystem culture, brought to the UK and the Netherlands by the countries’ Caribbean communities. UK bass evolved from dub and ragga, Dutch eclectic from early dancehall, which became bubbling, eventually leading to the creation of Dutch house. In both scenes, samples were replaced by synths and drum-computers as the most important musical features, absorbing elements of the simultaneously developing rave culture.
The gap between, rave culture on the one hand and urban music culture on the other hand, which has grown in the 90s and 00s, hasn’t always existed. Both hip-hop and house share direct common ancestry in genres like disco, funk and soul. And there is no reason why the gap should remain. Today’s hybrid clusters can and probably will be tomorrow’s main clusters. Especially now everything we’ve known since the 90s and before is essentially dead, nostalgic and self-repetitive. If this would at the same time provide an opportunity to musical heritages from non-Western parts of the world to be heard, that would be a great gift to humanity.