Death of/in British Drum ‘n’ Bass Music
Maynooth University (Ireland)
Almost since its inception, the demise of British drum ‘n’ bass music has been heralded by critical observers and consistently refuted by its practitioners. More than twenty years since it emerged, clubs and raves are still bubbling with its distinctive sound and energy. Part of the music’s vibrancy undoubtedly results from the talents of its creators and innovators. Another part is simply the connection drum ‘n’ bass followers have with the music: a sense that this is their music; a scene they make on the dance floor, over the airwaves, or via social media. Drum ‘n’ bass is as alive as ever.
Yet, like other genres of music — like popular or rock music more generally — drum ‘n’ bass has to deal with the death of leading artists. In 2017, as May passed to June, drum ‘n’ bass practitioners and followers mourned the death of Marcus Intalex, a widely respected Manchester-based DJ/producer and founder of the influential Soul:R record label. In comparison to the deaths of stars such as David Bowie or Prince, the passing of Marcus Intalex barely registered in mainstream media: hardly surprising, given d&b’s relatively small cultural footprint. Within the d&b scene, however, Marcus Intalex was the first drum ‘n’ bass leading light to pass away in the social media age, a factor which made the subsequent response all the more remarkable. Across sites such as Twitter, there was, of course, plenty of sadness and respect for his achievements. Practitioners and followers tweeted links to some of his best tracks, live sets, podcasts and interviews. Kind words were said about the man and his legacy. But then something else happened. Within two days of the news breaking, MC DRS and Luke LSB released a track called “Angels Fall” (DRS and LSB 2017) originally on bandcamp.com and announced that all proceeds would be used to help pay for funeral costs for Marcus’ family:
We are still very much mourning the sad and sudden passing of our beloved friend Marcus Kaye, known to many as Marcus Intalex or Trevino. Whilst longer term we will be putting our heads together to find a fitting tribute to Marcus’s life and music, for now we would like to share a track from DRS and LSB which seems to reflect our thoughts at this time. The track ‘Angels Fall’ is available now to download with an option to make a donation which will help us to support Marcus’s Mum Pat and girlfriend Ayumi in the short term and with funeral arrangements while finances are being arranged. Any excess funds raised will be distributed to causes close to their hearts. Thank you for your messages of love and support and your many memories of Marcus which are giving us comfort in this dark time (Farmer 2017).
Within a week, the original DRS tweet was re-tweeted 700 times and the scene’s top DJs and artists such as Andy C and Goldie called on their followers to buy the track and sent messages of love and support to Marcus’ family and friends. The most crucial point to take from all this is the fact that proceeds had to be raised. There is no way that I, merely a distant observer, can know the circumstances, but the contrast here has to be made with the death of other musical stars: no fundraisers were needed for Bowie or Prince, but in the world of drum ‘n’ bass — and arguably more broadly across EDM, given the expanding range of scenes — participation in the industry does not necessarily generate the income and fame (or more accurately, achievement or impact) provided in other scenes. To help meet the shortfall, then, drum ‘n’ bass “headz” stepped in, facilitated by new social media, music technologies such as MP3s, and new distribution networks such as Bandcamp.
Amidst this period of mourning, too, the full-spectrum vitality of drum ‘n’ bass was on display. Tribute shows were aired on Doc Scott’s Future Beats radio show on Origin Fm; DJ Bailey’s Radar Radio show; by DJ Fabio on Rinse FM; on DJ Hype’s Kiss Fm show; and by DJ Friction on BBC Radio 1. There were tribute events in Manchester and no doubt numerous shout-outs by MCs in clubs and raves across the country. And across these diverse channels stories were told about Marcus Intalex that demonstrated the humble, communitarian origins and development of drum ‘n’ bass. At the core of these messages was something that may not be unique to drum ‘n’ bass but is nevertheless definitive: it is a musical industry, a cultural economy, a scene, a livelihood, maybe even a way of life, built from the ground up by people just like Marcus Intalex. In record shops, DJ booths, dance floors across the country and then the world; in music studios; on their own record labels; with their talents and commitments in relations of solidarity (by no means exclusively), British drum ‘n’ bass music was made, extended, pushed and pulled forever forward by artists and practitioners, promoters and punters buzzing on exactly the sort of devious drops, rumbling basslines, kicking breakbeats and choice samples that Marcus Intalex put together so perfectly. In Marcus’ passing, then, d&b had cause to stop, take stock, look back and become nostalgic and yet thankful for the efforts he pursued, along with many others (e.g. Calibre, DRS, Dub Phizix, Fabio, Doc Scott). Marcus Intalex was a leading light, a Mancunian master of this decidedly British form of music. But his impact was also far more universal. His music touched lives across the scene. His expansive discography, which extended into techno music via the name Trevino, is intimately known by drum ‘n’ bass followers. His music will be played for years to come. Rest in peace Marcus Intalex. And rest, sir, knowing that drum ‘n’ bass continues: death in drum ‘n’ bass reaffirms there has been no death of drum ‘n’ bass.
Alistair Fraser is Lecturer in Geography at Maynooth University, Ireland. His work cuts across political, economic and cultural geography, including research on the global food economy, land reform and agrarian change in South Africa, and British drum ‘n’ bass music.
Farmer, G. 2017. "LSB & DRS release track for Marcus Intalex, ‘Angels Fall’". Data Transmission, 31 May. <https://datatransmission.co/news/lsb-drs-release-track-marcus-intalex-angels-fall/> (accessed 7 Oct 2019).
DRS, and LSB. 2017. Angels Fall. (YouTube).
<https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wDQzgjCkYLo>. (accessed 7 Oct 2019).