The term bass music is a catch-all for darker, urban breakbeat electronic music styles that include drum n' bass, dubstep, trap and some of the more aggressive takes on electro. The phrase only came into use recently but has quickly become the accepted umbrella term for a slew of genres that share a low-end aesthetic.
The history of the movement breaks down like this:
1999: Respect and Konkrete Jungle
In Los Angeles, the story of bass music begins in the 1990's with two very disparate scenes: hip hop and raves. Out of the latter scene came jungle music, a frenetic and dark pre-cursor to drum n' bass. It stood in stark contrast to the blissed out, repetitive thumping of trance and techno found at the underground desert raves common at the time.
In 1999, an underground crew named Junglist Platoon began hosting weekly drum n' bass shows in Hollywood under the name Respect. (Founders Machete and Scooba were on the
original Electric Daisy Carnival line-up back in 2000.) Around the same time, an ambitious young Angeleno named Kevin Moo — who would later found Low End Theory — graduated from passing out flyers for raves to promoting a short-lived weekly named Konkrete Jungle at Spaceland. He merged his two loves of hip hop and drum n' bass, booking Busdriver and Infiltrata (aka John Dadzie) when they were barely old enough to drink.
2002: Dub Club
L.A's thriving drum n' bass scene was put on ice after the death of MC Robert “3rdeyestylez” Bautista outside of a show in 2002. According to witnesses including 11-11 Agency founder Sara Ajiri, he was murdered during a gang initiation gone awry, sticking up for his friend in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Meanwhile, Dub Club at The Echo gathered steam and introduced the sub low rumblings of reggae and dancehall to a new generation. It became an essential mixing ground for LA Bass and had an unquestionable influence on drum n' bass, hip hop and a new sound developing across the pond.
As dubstep emerged from the basements of South London, it very quickly found a home in downtown Los Angeles. Friends Drew Best and John Dadzie (now working under the name 12th Planet), formed a label named Smog and hosted “an experiment in dubstep” at Casey's, an Irish pub in downtown. Best, speaking to LA Weekly, said they “booked whoever we could find in L.A. that had enough dubstep records to mix an entire hour.” The bass could be heard echoing down the empty streets from as far as Pershing Square.
2006: Pure Filth
Around the same time, a sizable British ex-Olympian named Sam 'XL' Hobson began hauling a gargantuan sound system down a narrow flight of steps to the basement of the MJ Higgins Gallery downtown for a weekly night titled Pure Filth. The first performance at the speakeasy gathered less than thirty people, but within weeks the crowd grew into the hundreds with headliners including Kode9 and Mala — two essential figures to the minimalist and brooding UK sound. With speakers set up at both ends, the place would vibrate so heavily that small bits of the ceiling often fell to the floor during parties. The building was demolished a few months into the club's run, but by this point a movement was afoot.
2006: Low End Theory
Enter the L.A. Beat scene. After spending some time in the business end of the music industry, Kevin Moo (aka Daddy Kev) founded Low End Theory at The Airliner in 2006. Propelled by a community of jazz-twisted beatmakers and MCs, Low End launched the careers of Flying Lotus and Daedelus by always pushing boundaries and being ahead of the curve. Whereas the scenes that came before it were UK imports, the Low End vibe is distinctly Los Angeles. Bringing a commitment to bass culture, hip hop swag, and a jazz-fueled intellectualism, Low End quickly became a hipster media darling, drawing attention worldwide thanks to crossover performances from the likes of Erykah Badu, The Mars Volta and Thom Yorke.
2009: The Underground Bubbles Up
By 2009, Bass music in its modern form was in full swing and EDM was launching a takeover of the US. A week after Caspa sold out the House of Blues, Rusko drew over 2,000 to Control at the Avalon. Pure Filth began curating nights under The Dome at Coachella featuring acts from across the spectrum of L.A. Bass. A skinny little kid named Sonny Moore quit his screamo band and crashed on the couch of seasoned bass hawker Dadzie to learn a few production tricks. Turns out he was a quick learner.
2010-2011: Mainstream Exposure
That kid's name was Skrillex, of course. Dubstep became a million dollar industry and the local scene gave way to an international phenomenon bearing a vastly different sound. It was around this point that some began to detach themselves from genre definitions and show love for the the all-inclusive term 'Bass.' Electronic music evolves so fast now that it doesn't make sense to waste time sticking labels on sub-genres. As the history in L.A. shows, everything is connected and the grand unifier in this story is dirty, filthy, sub low bass.
The Los Angeles underground is thriving, with legions of producers, MCs, DJs and production crews throwing parties in clubs, warehouses and secret locations almost every night. Smog is now a worldwide brand, Respect, Dub Club and Low End Theory are going strong each week, and the recent emergence of trapstyle music has shown that the new generation are blazing trails into the future. What started as a small community of isolated scenes has developed into an uncontrollable musical beast.