Drum ‘n’ bass on the John Peel show: a decade of mysterious and magical soundz

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It was sometime around the middle part of 1994 that I first came into contact with drum ‘n’ bass, via John Peel on Radio 1. Initial reaction: “this is great. what is this shit??!!”

John’s then weekend-delivered shows were, I believe, operating between Friday 10pm and 1am, then another couple of hours Saturday afternoon, to coincide with the footy, obviously. Occasionally getting a ‘music celeb’ on air to talk about how his / her team got on that afternoon. I guess nowadays they’d all have to wait around til Sunday.

These weekender slots lasted, in one form or ‘tother, from around 1991 to ’97, before a return to weekday evenings; firstly around 730 to 10pm, then increasingly put back to a later time slot, until that point when John was back to playing records in the wee small hours by the autumn of 2004.

Over the course of these 10 years between ’94 and ’04 though drum ‘n’ bass became a staple of the show. From Lemon D to Stakka & Skynet; Tech Itch to Source Direct. Despite Radio 1 soon having its own specialist D&B sourced shows hosted by the music’s own big personalities, for me it was always that dark and strange, drama-ridden unwholesome sounds that John would play in the decade up to his untimely passing that was demonstrated the real spirit and excitement of the genre.

It all seemed to make more sense when dropped in amongst the grunge, reggae, guitar pop, Ivor Cutler, and white noise.

(I especially recall John playing tracks off a budget recording D&B album from the USA in the summer of ’95 that was particularly peculiar. To begin with, it was unusual at this time for any of this stuff to not come out of the UK, or Europe generally. His younger son– big fan of the genre (who remembers ‘Tom’s Tip’?)– was present at the time. It could have been while out broadcasting live from that year’s Glastonbury).

Wether it was shoeboxes full of tapes, or white label vinyl, it was almost always the near anonymity and unexplained magic of the sound that drove the attraction for me. A kind of attraction and mystery in fact that possibly no other type of music had hitherto come close to matching. And still hasn’t.

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