'Godfather' of the fast dance beat Music: Grooverider, who pioneered the drum 'n' bass hyperkinetic tempo, builds new sounds from whatever he finds.

November 28, 1998|By J.D. Considine | J.D. Considine,SUN POP MUSIC CRITIC

Some people talk about drum 'n' bass as if its 170-beat-per-minute tempos were inhumanly fast. But that frenetic pace is nothing compared with the kind of schedule that U.K. DJ Groove-rider maintains.

That's as it should be, though, because if it weren't for Groove-rider, it's doubtful that drum 'n' bass would be anywhere near as well-known as it is.

After all, the whole drum 'n' bass explosion began when Groove-rider was resident DJ at the London club Rage.

Some critics have even gone so far as to credit Groove-rider with inventing the whole hyperkinetic language of drum 'n' bass, in which break-beats (sampled snippets of drums or percussion) are digitally sped up and then matched with booming, dub-style bass lines.

Since those days at Rage, Groove-rider -- he answers to several other nicknames, including the Godfather, but declines to give his real name -- has helped spread the drum 'n' bass gospel across Europe and America, both in clubs and on the radio.

All told, he has probably spun millions of discs in the 12 years he has been working the turntables.

Needless to say, he's awash in music. "It's just a mish-mash of music for me," he says of his record collection. "It's all over the place. And the more I explore, the more I want to listen to more of it."

Such a voracious appetite for music is not without cost, unfortunately. Asked what system he uses to sort his collection, Groove-rider just laughs. "I haven't got no system, man. I've just got records," he says. "I'm going to have to buy another house, so I can have some space to live."

Not that he doesn't need all those discs. On a typical weekend, the London-born DJ will play as many as four clubs a night, weaving a different tapestry of sound with each performance.

"A lot of other people see [maintaining this pace] as being harder than I do," he says, over the phone from London. "This is something I've been doing for a few years now. You kind of grow into it."

As he speaks, Groove-rider is in a car, on his way to the airport for a show in Scotland. Heading out of town actually makes his workload a little lighter -- "There's only one for the night," he says, laughing -- but travel only makes his schedule more complicated. And Groove-rider is doing a lot of traveling since the release of his album, "Mysteries of Funk."

Because he neither sings nor plays an instrument, Groove-rider makes music mostly by manipulating sound, using an arsenal of drum machines, samplers and sequencers to slice, dice and re-arrange pre-existing sounds.

That may not seem like music-making in the usual sense, but don't let his use of technology mislead you. In a sense, what Groove-rider does is not unlike writing a school paper using a home computer.

Just as a student will rely on quotes gleaned from other sources as the basis for a paper, so Groove-rider starts his tracks with sounds he has sampled off other records.

But in the same way that the student's work will be judged on the basis of how he or she shapes those quotes into original thought, what makes Groove-rider's music interesting is the way he uses technology to transform the sounds he has borrowed.

"Over the last 10 years, the way of making music has totally changed, and drum 'n' bass is part of that evolution of change," he says.

Moreover, because the technology of samplers and sequencers keeps evolving, the sound of drum 'n' bass keeps changing.

"To me, it sounds so much better than it did," he says. "Even though it didn't sound bad then, don't get me wrong.

"But production skills have become much higher, people's studios have become much better, and knowledge of equipment has become a lot wider. You know, if you work at something, it always becomes better."

"Mysteries of Funk" is a case in point. Even though the album plays off the standard drum 'n' bass vocabulary, its sound and feel are a class apart.

For one thing, Groove-rider says that about 60 percent of the sounds he uses on the album were recorded live, as opposed to being sampled.

But the most radical thing about the album is that none of its songs were written the traditional way, beginning with a melody and ending with a recorded arrangement.

Instead, Groove-rider's creative process found him essentially discovering the songs as he and programmer Matt Quinn assembled the tracks.

"I normally prepare [stuff], and then Matt comes in, and we start building the tune," he says. "I'll say, 'Yeah, we're going to structure it this way,' and bam-bam-bam, we just mix it down.

"It could start any number of ways," he adds. "Sometimes I start with drums. Or I can start with the bass sound and look for drums to match that bass sound.

"That's the beauty of music, though. Because whatever you may start thinking you're going to end up with may not be what you get."

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