Neurofunk

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Neurofunk (also known informally as neuro) is a dark subgenre of drum and bass which emerged between 1997 and 1998 in London, England as a progression of techstep. It was further developed by juxtaposing elements of darker, heavier, and harder forms of funk with multiple influences ranging from techno, house and jazz, distinguished by consecutive stabs over the bassline; razor-sharp backbeats; scarce or nonexistent traditional melodies; a hyper focus on sub sound design; the use of modulated, distorted and filtered synthesizers and audio capture from samplers such as the Akai S1000 and Emu E6400. Neurofunk is very closely related to Techstep, but the primary characteristic that distinguishes the two genres is the emphasis on flowing complex rhythms using processed and enhanced sampled breakbeats/percussion and expressive, distorted, filtered and modulated bass sounds overlaid with rich layered soundscapes and percussive stab sounds often found in Neurofunk. Neurofunk, as described by Musicmap creator Kwinten Crauwels, "sounds like the natural soundtrack of the brain: neurological chemicals flowing and rushing, creating both deeply obscure and delicate emotions."[1]

History[edit]

Neurofunk as an independent subgenre of drum and bass divergent of techstep has remained both controversial (in its official use) and confusing (in its perception) since Simon Reynolds first coined the term back in 1989 before re-purposing it in 1997 to this new phase of drum and bass.[2] Nevertheless, an Internet search nowadays produces more results for neurofunk than techstep, including in scores of album titles and the names of several social media groups, so how did we get from techstep to today's neuro and what forces shaped the common consensus?

1997 - 1998[edit]

The Wire Magazine (December 1997) featuring "Neurofunk flavas"

Many consider the first neurofunk track to be Ed Rush & Optical's “Funktion” (released December 1997), but it was probably Optical's “The Shining” (released 1–2 months earlier) that deserves the accolade.[3][4][5][6] Previous contenders namely “To Shape the Future” might nowadays with the benefit of chronological collectivism be considered more techstep-in-transition or proto-neurofunk (see further down regarding the fate of techstep).[7]

In “Neurofunk flavas” his first of several articles on the subject published in books and magazines Reynolds described Ed Rush & Optical as “the rising stars of neurofunk” with producers “moving away from techstep towards a new sound” with “ultra-complicated basslines” and a “two-step rhythm” amongst other things; Optical AKA Matt Quinn himself was restated as defending “the current vogue for two-step simplicity as a back to basics return to da funk, and a timely retreat from the baroque excesses of breakbeat science” and said to be doing engineering/production work at the time for Grooverider’s album Mysteries of Funk (released September 1998; “C Funk” a defining track).[8] Also introduced was Stakka & Skynet (Psion) in this “new breed of neuro producers” though in hindsight several other artists and tracks were ascribed to the emerging subgenre with a lack of scrutiny or perhaps on their potential for “drifting towards neurofunk” with prospective techstep producers in mind.[9][10] It's also worth noting that Optical had been drifting away from amens since around 1994 and wouldn't have been aware initially that he was producing neurofunk – only that Reynolds had an acute sense of change and a ready-made classification.[11]

Grooverider merely commented "From back in the early seventies funk has always meant movement to me. Dance music is just a classic example of that new age funk” and this may have been his only contribution to neurofunk; likewise, John B only produced 1 or 2 such tracks albeit several years later.[12]

Accrediting Simon Reynolds in May the following year after neurofunk's foundation Calyx’s spokesman responded about the neatness of “neuro-funk” mechanics and overloading tracks with distortion "Where techno or house is ultra clean, we want to get grungey, to ruff things up.”[13] A good example would be E-Z Rollers - Weekend World (Calyx remix).[14]

The Place To Be, a new fan site founded August 14, 1998 was dedicated to the music of brothers Matt (Optical) and Jamie (Matrix) Quinn and anything related.[15][16] The following year it was re-hosted at neurofunk.com until it's closure towards the end of 2002.[17] The dubplates section featured new and recognised producers of both neurofunk and techstep albeit no attempt to distinguish them; neither through the various interviews despite the themed partiality towards neurofunk.[18][19]

Ed Rush & Optical’s first album Wormhole (released November 1998) established neurofunk as a well-recognised subgenre in its own right; Voyager (released same month on Audio Blueprint) in comparison received less notice – notably the track titled “Reverse Engineering” by Psion as well as a contribution called "The Trouble With Funk".[20][21][22] Decades later, Audio Blueprint was described as “being at the top of the Neurofunk family tree” met with acknowledgement somewhat by Nathan Vinall during his interview.[23]

From 1998 and into the 2000s the Breakbeat Science website had neurofunk listed as a subgenre in their cyberstore conflicting apparently with the “future funk” term Grooverider was using.[24][25]

Ryme Tyme hailed the “voice of neurofunk” had a surprise early hit with “We Enter” that also played on MTV before going on to collaborate with several pertinent producers, including Optical and Matrix.[26][27][28]

Regarding Andy C’s record label that featured mostly RAM Trilogy and related neurofunk producers Origin Unknown, Shimon, Megnetic Media, Andy C, Red One Ram never wanted to restrict itself to this kind of neurofunk: "the most machine-like, almost robotic version of dance music hitherto known.”[29] Interestingly, RAM may have released the first neurofunk LP “Sound in Motion” (signature track being of the same name by Origin Unknown).[30]

Artists continued to produce conventional techstep as pioneered by DJ Trace in 1995, such as Dom & Roland and Technical Itch – seemingly uninfluenced by neurofunk – whereas in other works breakbeats began to be replaced but maybe lacked the engine-like consistency and perceived quality of variable, hence verifiable, “funk”.[31][32][33] Amen techstep began to decline, but there was certainly no shortage of rudimentary techno-influenced drum and bass including its later repetitive offshoot “Technoid” from producers such as Raiden (associated more with neurofunk) and The Sect.[34]

DJ Elhornet having played out in several different countries described “a very large global following of tech inspired drum and bass” and shared his view of the neurofunk pioneers being “Ed Rush & Optical, early Usual Suspects, Stakka & Skynet, and early Bad Company”; the first relevant examples of “early Usual Suspects” probably being “Sin” then “Shiver/Mamba” by related groups Fibre Optix and EB1, respectively.[35][36] Bad Company’s earliest presumed neurofunk track “The Code” was released using the alias of Absolute Zero + Subphonics.[37]

1999 - 2001[edit]

Neurofunk as understood in the years either side of the new Millennium is not well documented since many key websites, newsgroups and forums from that era are now defunct.[38] Black Sun Empire debuted in 1999 followed by a release in 2001 (both on a sub-label of Citrus Recordings) but did not see their music as neurofunk despite fans looking to them as an authority on the subgenre.[39][40] Bad Company are known to have produced several tracks for different labels leading up to this period, including “The Nine” on their own BC Recordings – voted number 1 drum and bass track of all time by readers of Knowledge Magazine – but it's not known if there was any contemporary association with neurofunk in accordance with later recognition.[41][42] The same could be asked about Konflict’s “Messiah” (white label from 2000) destined for Renegade Hardware – named the number one most essential drum and bass track of its decade (also by the influential Knowledge Magazine).[43][44][45]

Neurofunk certainly was not a term touted commercially by Kmag in its features, interviews and profiles – some artists not wanting to be pigeonholed.[46][47] According to EBK whom produced a few tracks in 1999 “there's wasn't really many people making that specific sound at the time, I was inspired by Optical mainly, and also the early Hardware sound”.[48]

Several years since abandoning the Konflict name, Kemal (together with co-member Rob Data) was “considered by many to be among the greatest examples of the drum and bass sub-genre known as Neurofunk” and had once collaborated with Stakka & Skynet.[49][50] An article published a decade and a half later featured Ed Rush & Optical and Konflict in a list of drum and bass pioneers with emphasis on their innovative neurofunk.[51] In a more recent interview Kemal said “I can understand the nostalgia of reverting back to the early days of tech step and neurofunk but I have always been interested in discovering new manifestations of the sound”.[52]

Updates to neurofunk.com were anticipated with excitement, once prompting a mid-2001 message board poll with options such as “)EIB(“ vs. “What’s a Neurofunk”?[53] A similar poll the same month associated neurofunk with Ed Rush & Optical, Kemal & Rob Data and Cause 4 Concern (C4C) vs. techstep as typical of the No U-Turn record label; yet another poll the year after with a choice of 10 favourite subgenres resulted in neurofunk gaining the majority vote.[54][55] In a much later interview Cause 4 Concern (Troubled Mindz), who had early releases under nCode (incl. Hybridz, Pressure Rise) with member Optiv (Edward Holmes) common to all groups were apparently not really comfortable with the neurofunk term stating other groups (aforementioned) “were getting labelled more than them … but understood people need to describe and find the music they like.”[56]

One of the first US producers Psidream (Jeff Malcolm) later stated he preferred less funky more modern crisp and melodic neurofunk.[57] Technorganic Recordings began signing neurofunk works produced by Gridlok and also Substrata from 2000; Gridlok whom that year featured in the top 10 of the mp3.com techstep charts later expressed like for “real neurofunk” but hate for what it was to become with lack of cultural diversity and a cause of segregation.[58][59] Gridlok was also part of the Project 51 trio and collaborated initially with Glitch.[60] Oliver Scott (Vector Burn) also debuted around this time.[61]

A group of DJs and producers, including Rob F, Impulse & Mecha (Sinthetix) and Mayhem (Anthony Rotella) had been “pushing the sounds of upfront (stateside) neurofunk” through their new record label at the time with releases originally planned from late 2001.[62] Elsewhere Mayhem claimed “Neurofunk is the future of drum'n'bass” with mention of Ed Rush & Optical, Bad Company, and Konflict.[63] Rob F & Impulse also produced a track titled “Creature” in collaboration with Kemal (released 2002).[64] That year a lesser known anthem “Dreamtime” from a Bad Company solo member appeared on a subsidiary label EP.[65]

Decoder, Rascal & Klone, and Accidental Heroes (in particular Sonic AKA Jasper Byrne) were not names often associated with neurofunk, yet from the early 2000s had had numerous such releases.[66] Tracks began circulating that period from the more familiar Desimal described as “biomechanically enhanced neurofunk” with his sound being almost unclassifiable though his first official releases would not be until 2005.[67]

Other new artist names and groups: Acetate, Decorum, Filibuster, Shorn Doda, Fresh & Vegas, Drum Kru, The Visitors (incl. Nico & Rukkus), Ant Miles, Kraken (incl. Spy, Profound Noize, Mo-Funk), Friction, Koldfront (incl. Karl K), Fierce, TeeBee, Arkane, Budoka, Anorganik, Bulletproof, ICBM, KC, Stratus.[68]

2002 - 2003[edit]

A short-lived Internet radio website existed until 2002 named “Neuro FM”, albeit featuring mixed drum and bass content.[69] The Place To Be similarly featured “NeurofunkRadio”.[70]

Confusion was expressed in June 2002 “what is funk?” with similar discussions focused mostly around 2-step beats as contrary to amens/breaks.[71][72] Complaints of weekly “what's neurofunk?” topics no doubt led to a neurofunk knowledge base thread being bundled alongside the official message board FAQ.[73][74] Neurofunk basslines did begin to receive some technical descriptions, however, and perhaps artists found them somewhat technically challenging and it had more to do with synths combined with the bass and general vibe.[75][76][77]

More producers began to appear on the scene converging alongside the first pioneers, with the thought once entertained whether neurofunk's inventor was Concord Dawn.[78] Other contemporary producers from Australasia included Static (said to be producing “propa neurofunk” mostly in collaboration with Rregula leaving several unreleased dubplates) and Phetsta.[79][80][81]

Silent Witness (often in collaboration with Break) was viewed as instrumental in what some envisaged as a transitional period for neurofunk to which he replied “It’s very nice to be associated with such acts and the ‘neurofunk’ genre. I simply played my part as a young producer trying to compete with some great names.”[82]

The DSCI4 label and its discussion forum – initial moderators included Rob F (Sinthetix) and Black Sun Empire members – had been associated with neurofunk since before 2003.[83][84] Neurofunk itself had been associated with nerds and geeks encouraged to stay within the confines of the DSCI4 forum criticised for their “techno-gabber-noise”.[85][86][87]

In February 2003 Calyx’s first release for Metalheadz was reviewed (and apparently published in a newspaper) with “Harking back to that style Optical used to have going in 98/99, it’s the sort of thing a more pretentious reviewer would call neurofunk- and it’s excellent”.[88]

A Matrix & Fierce event was advertised in March 2003 for the following month – also featuring Sinthetix “with their own ruthless breed of neurofunk”.[89] Impulse (Josh Clark) had been profiled by Ohm Resistance the previous year as having refined his production “into a new, alien instrumental funk”.[90] Kiko, Mayhem and Submerged were also significant studio partners described in more detail by DJ Hektik in “The Lost Works of Sinthetix”.[91][92][93] Later that year Jamie Quinn received much fan appreciation for his “amazing funk … that seems impossible for any other producer to capture”.[94]

In April 2003 Mayhem posted a comprehensive list of artists making “proper neurofunk” tracks at the time, including those not mentioned elsewhere: Apparatus (Stereo StormTrooper), ICBM, Skinny & Lynx, Mindscape, Stare & Phibbs.[95] In July Bulletproof & Optiv's “Camouflage” was likened by a forum member as one of neurofunk's best tunes that year.[96]

Neurofunk was said to be “coming through with a vengeance” at the end of 2003 with a couple of lesser-known producers named alongside Skynet, Bulletproof and Sinthetix: Falcon (Tekken) and K-Step, but nobody was quite ready when Corrupt Souls came on the scene, formed out of the Sinthetix crew (Josh Clark & Marcio Alvarado), and likened to being “amongst the world's best dnb producers” with their initial “tech funk” release being well received with a huge response.[97][98][99][100][101] Unbeknownst to many, Marcio already had a solo release out on his own label earlier that year.[102]

A DJ mix from Hungary was quoted to be “the world's longest neurofunk tune”.[103] It was uncommon to find mixes with pure Neurofunk content; artists not mentioned so far on this occasion included Pacific and Defiant; Noisia's mix from the same month added the Koldfront crew: Kaos, Karl K & Jae Kennedy with Dieselboy (a renowned Tech DJ in his own right). The principal neurofunk DJ (from 2002 onwards) was undoubtebly Typecell (Guido Hoppe) in terms of consistency with sets; also recommended is Andrew Thrasher's "Best of Neurofunk" series.[104][105][106][107]

Hungary, Russia and Ukraine had an underground tech scene coupled with the exchange of dubplates over P2P “tracks that get on the internet first (320kbps) make you more or less famous” mentioned Sunchase, one of the more well-known names of Russian drum and bass with releases on big labels like Moving Shadow (uncommon at the time for this region) and admittedly influenced by the same pioneers repeated above.[108] The first distinctive neurofunk came from Random Soundz, Chris.Su, SKC (all from Hungary) then Subwave & Logical, Bes (TAM Records label owner) & Spectrata, Chaoz (track titled “Tainter”), Dissident & Ruffen, Static Nitro (Sunchase), Sta & Paul B, D.Hut and Implex.[109][110] DSCI4 010 included a remix of Chris.Su's track “Astrosine” by Ill.Skillz; lastly, Jade & Matt-U appeared towards the end of this period soon affirming “their stature in neurofunk drum and bass”.[111]

German producers included Phace viewed as “Firmly at the forefront of Neurofunk's evolution” describing their own sound as a “digitally twisted and punked up version of Neurofunk” having considered Konflict as “Neurofunk ambassadors, but on the more technoid sounding side of things”, N.Phect & Dizplay who commented “We tried to present our whole spectrum from the Neuro-sounds we're known for right to the more ravy stuff”, X-Plorer & Dee'Pulse (4 Red Eyes, Neutrik), Misanthrop, and lastly Cyb Orc supposedly with “so many legacy tracks recognized as Neurofunk … only few were officially released due to false ‘racist’ slanders”.[112][113][114]

Other new artist names and groups: Chromatix, D-Force, Mosquito, Logical, Negative & Suture, Default (incl. Fission), Tricorn (incl. Raiden, Jarman, I-Rate), Timecode Audio (Falcon & Chase), Maldini, Thinktank, Militia (incl. Killer Instinct, Nu Balance), Accella & Hochi, Audio, Lost Sequence, E-Sassin, Morebeat, Pacific, Polarity & Shroombab, Pyro, Spinor.[115]

2004 - Present[edit]

Noisia, interviewed in August 2004, mentioned they had always been influenced by “Ed Rush & Optical, Bad Company, Stakka & Skynet, Matrix, Cause 4 Concern, Teebee, Synthetix” as pioneers of neurofunk and technoid drum and bass.[116] Noisia's early collaborators included Milo and Prolix (SicSoundz). Incidentally, despite only receiving scant references TeeBee had been producing neurofunk-sounding tracks since around 2000.[117][118][119]

2006 saw the first ever drum and bass compilations appear with “neurofunk” in the title released on MacroVision Records and .shadybrain Music labels, respectively.[120][121] A similar release that year featuring producers N.Phect & Dizplay, Subtone, and Generic summed up Syndrome Audio as proving to be “a label showcasing quality and variety in todays neurofunk”.[122]

kRoNe hailing from Spain had his debut in 2007 – featured as the opening track of a neurofunk mix by the label owner.[123][124]

Neurofunk's golden era is considered to be the years either side of 2010 after which productions began to decline, with this subgenre evolving further around 2013-2015 into just “neuro” (with a new imagined “Tesla” bassline) after a couple of proposed beta terms failed to catch on.[125][126]

Neurofunk Confession (circa 2018) from Singomakers is a sample pack inspired by several neurofunk artists and available for purchase in several formats.[127]

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