Note: This is a beginner's guide aimed at listeners and fans as well as producers. For more detailed advice on music production, head to the production section of the forum.
1. The Booming 808 Kick
The original jungle bass lines were made using the 808 kick, a sound included on the famous Roland 808 drum machine that was intended to mimic a kick drum. It's essentially a stab of sub bass with a tail that gives a resonant booming sound. Early house and techno producers noticed that if they sampled the sound and pitch-shifted it, they could use the kick to make up the notes of a bass line. The first jungle producers adopted this technique with relish, developing the timeless '808 kick plus Amen break' combo which is still in use today.
The 808 kick is not just popular in jungle. Hip hop producers have done it to death too. It's typical to put booming 808 kicks underneath the drums to give tracks that booming sub weight. The simple effectiveness of the 808 kick is revealed in this old gem, a Shut Up And Dance number from 1989-90 - the very earliest days of jungle.
2. The Reese
The Reese bass is named after Kevin 'Reese' Saunderson, a techno producer who used the sound on his 1986 track Just Want Another Chance. The sound on Saunderson's track was sampled by a number of early drum & bass producers, notably Ray Keith on his 1994 hit Terrorist. It's since become a staple of hard and heavy drum & bass and proved itself to be almost limitlessly flexible. There's not just one Reese bass any more, there's really a family of sounds that fall under the Reese category.
You can make a simple Reese by taking two sawtooth waves and detuning one of them. But that's really only the start. By adding distortion, or using effects such as EQ, compression, reverb and more, producers in the techier genres can extract a dazzling array of sounds from the Reese.
There are many masters of the Reese. Producers such as TeeBee and Dom & Roland spring to mind. But perhaps no one has done more to develop and popularise the Reese sound than the Dutch wizards, Noisia.
3. The Jump-Up Buzz
In recent years, producers of jump-up drum & bass have started using sounds that go beyond the Reese and are better described as a buzz. There's definitely a kind of competition going on to find the most discordant, distorted sound, with artists such as Original Sin and Jaydan increasingly using synths that sound like they could be malfunctioning power tools. Jaydan even recognised the comparison with his recent hit Driller Killer. These sounds are often made with variations of square and sawtooth waves, along with plenty of audio processing.
It's an extreme case, but Clipz's Offline is probably the best example of this trend. Its raucous bass line is so high-pitched it's arguably not a bass line at all. Mental!
4. The Organ
The distorted sound of Reese and buzz synths work well in tear-out tracks, but producers of the softer, liquid styles need something that isn't so abrasive. Low-pitching an organ sound often does the trick. Be it the classic Rhodes organ, or something more unusual, this instrument ensures the bass sounds interesting without sounding harsh. It's the perfect combination for Brazilian vibes - check the work of DJ Marky for instance. It also sounds good alongside instrument samples such as horn or strings.
On Ask Not, Q Project uses an organ-type sound to great effect, creating a smooth but energetic bass line that is quite simply a joy to hear.
5. Real Double Bass
Drum & bass is nearly always made with synthesizers, but using a real instrument can sometimes yield impressive results. The double bass - that staple of jazz music - often sounds great underneath a fast drum break. The main difference is that with a real bass sample you hear a lot of extra frequencies that a synth doesn't produce. You hear the player's fingers rebounding off the strings and the sound of the strings hitting the fret board. Though it's possible to EQ out this material, it often adds character to a track.
A celebrated exponent of the double bass is Roni Size, one of the few drum & bass artists to play his music live with real musicians. His famous Brown Paper Bag shows just how good the double bass can sound in D&B.
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