‘It’s just good energy!’ How TikTok and Covid made drum’n’bass hot again

The 90s genre is being freshened up by young, often female artists mixing hyper-fast breakbeats with soft vocals. But why is it so suited to our post-lockdown, attention-deficient era?

When Lincoln Barrett started making drum’n’bass tracks in the late 90s, he says, “people were kind of mocking me for being into it. People were already saying drum’n’bass is dead. Going into the record shop in Cardiff, Catapult, you would kind of get the piss taken out of you by people who were, I guess, into trance.”

He laughs. In the intervening period, Barrett became High Contrast, one of the most respected drum’n’bass producers in the world: he’s about to celebrate the 20th anniversary of his debut album, True Colours. Drum’n’bass, meanwhile, has steadfastly refused to die – in fact, it is enjoying an unexpected moment in the sun, freshening up 2022’s pop music. “It’s people who aren’t really part of the drum’n’bass scene just coming through and doing jungle in their own way, and it’s really in a separate lane from established artists and what drum’n’bass is now,” says Barrett. “It’s amazing that it’s been led mainly by young women artists as well.”

At its most extreme, the pop drum’n’bass wave has manifested itself in Australian producer Luude’s breakbeat reworking of Men at Work’s 80s hit Down Under, a Top 5 novelty hit that features Men at Work frontman Colin Hay and that, as the journalist, author and presenter of the Drum&BassArena awards, Dave Jenkins, delicately notes, “has caused all kinds of debates”. He laughs as he quotes drum’n’bass legend Shy FX: “If any self-respecting drum’n’bass DJs play this, they need to look at themselves hard in the mirror and slap themselves twice.” At last count, the track had racked up 102m streams on Spotify alone.