Drum and Bass:  How it took root in Dunedin

Drum and Bass: How it took root in Dunedin

In the 1800s, they brought gorse from the UK. Now it’s everywhere. In the 2000s, another import took root in Dunedin’s soil: Drum and Bass.

Whether you love to hate it or hate to love it, you can’t deny the fact that drum and bass is at the heart of Dunedin music culture. Originating from the UK rave scene in the ‘90s, like every other import, DnB made its way to New Zealand about a decade later. But it hasn’t always been this popular. “Even 10 years ago, you would never have heard drum and bass in the bars or on Castle Street. It was mainly live bands or people just playing music through their speakers,” said Lisa, a student who attended Otago University in 2010. Nowadays, it’s not really a party if there’s not a set of decks, and everyone’s a DJ.

Drum and bass has officially infiltrated the scene. How have we let this happen?

The very nature of DnB seems to give people the prerogative to get absolutely mongrel. “The culture of Dunedin lends itself to DnB. Big parties, lots of people, lots of alcohol, lots of drugs, and erratic behaviour,” said Olivia from Radio One. “For example, people wouldn’t jump off roofs and fucking scale buildings to house music or Taylor Swift.” Dunedin students’ inclination to do marginal things on the piss perhaps primes them to enjoy music with aggressive sounds and loud noises. Either way, students seem to think it ignites a sense of passion and freedom. Plus, it drowns out that voice in your head that usually stops you before you do something dumb (but who likes her, anyway?). “People get possessed by the bass,” said Olivia. “It’s such a hectic genre that it rarks people up.”

It’s often joked that people in Dunedin don’t actually like drum and bass, but that they only listen to it because it’s “just what you do” down here. “I love it, but only when I’m in Dunedin,” said Nicolina. “People don’t actually like drum and bass, they like the environment that they listen to drum and bass in, and also the culture of it,” said one second-year living on Leith Street.

On the flipside, some students centre their Dunedin experience around their love for drum and bass. Kelvin, Caleb, and Luka are part of Pollen Archive, an up-and-coming DnB label who are passionate about getting more drum and bass artists out there. “Drum and bass brought us together,” said Caleb. “We’re giving people a platform to express themselves, and helping people who can’t get as much exposure,” added Luka. For some, it's a form of self-expression, and a real passion for a lot of people. “It’s really freeing,” said Kelvin. “[DnB] allows people to express themselves… People tend to forget that drum and bass isn’t just fart noises and fast drums. There’s multiple sub-genres that lie beneath the surface, like liquid and jungle.” For Caleb, the drum and bass culture in Dunedin has created a community which brings like-minded people together and allows people to connect through their passion for the genre. “It scratches deeper than the surface of the music scene. It’s [also] an outlet for seriously creative people. The network allows artists to gather and share stories, music and enjoy themselves.”

It’s also highly accessible. “The accessibility to DJ is so much more affordable and easier to learn,” said Caleb. “Everyone knows how to do it now.” Purchasing a set of decks is enough to get started. “It’s way easier to learn how to DJ than learn how to play an instrument and get a band together,” said Olivia. “There’s also a lot of clout that comes with being a DJ. Being able to see your mate’s name on a lineup or up on stage is pretty sick.” The ease of learning how to DJ is enticing to anyone who wants to get into the music scene but wants to do it in an easy and affordable way. As generations go on, we’ve consistently found ways to compact everything into its most efficient form. Just as beer turned into spirits, our obsession with compaction applies also to the DJ culture, at the heart of which lies drum and bass.

Whether you like it or not, the culture of drum and bass is contagious. A bit like scabies: less gross, more controversial, but just as prevalent among students. “If you posted a video of a crowd going crazy to a mix, people tap into the vibe and their love just grows,” said Pollen member Luka. But for many, the culture is more akin to a bad rash than a passionate love; a lot of students only listen to drum and bass on the piss. “It’s only good when you’re rolled and don’t know where you are or who you’re with,” said third-year Elspeth. Josh, another third-year, said “It’s not compulsory, but narcotic involvement helps.”

For many, drum and bass is totally enjoyable in the right setting. According to Josh, the perfect place is “your mate’s garage at 4am, or any time you want the party to continue at an alarming rate.” Although, the Pollen boys were adamant that drum and bass can be enjoyed for many different purposes. “There are different genres for different types of vibes,” said Luka, who enjoys listening to liquid in the morning or when studying. Kelvin also likes liquid or minimal which he listens to when walking to uni. This confirms one student’s hypothesis that “only people who DJ listen to it sober, I swear.”

Music trends tend to come and go in waves, so will drum and bass always remain part of Dunedin culture? “I think it will always be there, but not at the forefront,” said Olivia. She reckons it’s “phasing out” now, with “house music and garage starting to take over.” Plenty of students have taken to house as their preferred version of electronic music. “House is so much more happy and fun and the vibes are better,” said Ella, a third-year student. “DnB has gross, sweaty, pushy boys, while house is so fun to boogie with your friends.” Owen, an ex-Castle St resident, thinks that “as we get older, students become more open to the idea of house music and end up liking it more or equally as much as DnB.”  With the rise of other genres, DnB gigs aren’t selling like they used to. “It’s because its oversaturated as fuck and its not new and exciting anymore,” said Olivia.

Regardless of people’s personal opinions, drum and bass has grown its roots deep into Dunedin, and will probably always be a part of our lives here as long as the student culture remains. Pollen Archive is just one example of the dedication of students to keeping it alive. “Whether you think drum and bass is good or bad, the number of listeners is getting bigger and bigger.”

As a culture, we’ve become obsessed with DnB - somewhat against our will. We, the students, have created this monster. Now, if we want to keep it alive, we’ve got to keep feeding it. Because what’s Dunedin without a bit of drum and bass? Let’s face it, we’ve all got a bit of Stockholm Syndrome when it comes to DnB. A sort of conditional love. As controversial as it is, there’s a reason it’s become such an integral part of Dunedin culture. It fuels our desires to party and gives us an excuse to get a bit feral. As long as we continue to get on the rark, DnB will always be a part of Dunners. Who needs lyrics anyway?  

This article first appeared in Issue 12, 2023.
Posted 4:05pm Sunday 21st May 2023 by Anna Robertshawe.