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Clownstep

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Clownstep

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Clownstep
Stylistic origins: Drum and Bass, Jungle, Jump-Up
Cultural origins: early-2000s, London
Typical instruments: Synthesizer - Drum machine - Sequencer - Keyboard - Sampler - Laptop
Mainstream popularity: Small

Clownstep is a pejorative term used to describe a certain type of sound found in the electronic music genre drum and bass. The sound is typified as having a 'wobbly' bassline, simple beat structure and/or a large amount of swingbeats.

The name originated from producer Dylan. Dylan created the term as a description of Shimon & Andy C's single Bodyrock, due to its swingbeat sound that inspired an image of clowns dancing. The phrase was then popularised by Dylan on the drum & bass webforum Dogs On Acid. The phrase was censored by the site's moderators, appearing in posts as "*********", due to its derogatory usage. A "clownsteppa" smiley was spawned, and now appears in DNB-related forums worldwide.

The meaning of the term is less a musical description than an insult within the world of internet drum and bass culture, particularly the dogsonacid forum, which is renowned within the scene. The term clownstep may be applied to any drum and bass artist that falls from favour - even the synonymous description of 'wobble' is almost meaningless as the deep bass sounds of many drum and bass tracks would be described in these terms by many listeners.

Despite the nebulous nature of the term, many drum and bass fans have found certain producers to be strong purveyors of the clownstep "sound". Relative newcomers to the scene (as of 2005) Pendulum have been singled out as pioneering the "bashing" style of pitch-bent bass tied to thunderous low-end kicks.

Pendulum's first major tune, "Vault" used this to some extent, but this element would not come to full fruition in the group's sound possibly until the release of the massively successful "Masochist". The aggressive wobble at the outset of the track is vaguely reminiscent of the other major strain of clownstep, produced by the controversial upstart Twisted Individual. Twisted's variation focuses highly on oblong drones of almost comically over-the-top bass squelches, while diverging from Pendulum's formula by relenting on heavy drum patterns or synth layers. This style is most aptly represented by Twisted's infamous "Bandwagon Blues", a track made in answer to the host of artists allegedly mimicking Twisted's admittedly singular sound (Distorted Minds and Clipz are alleged to be among the targets).

At this point, with the hybridization and co-optation of style that tends to overwhelm the UK JDB scene, many of the biggest names in jungle have produced tunes following or conjuring the aesthetic of either the Twisted Individual or Pendulum variant of clownstep. Scene stalwarts like Simon "Bassline" Smith, DJ SS, and Mampi Swift (all renowned in the past for having their own singular approaches) have all incorporated the pitch-bent heavy wobble and thunderous kicks that typify the bulk of the clownstep idiom. As a result, many jungle aficionados have become dismissive of what is perceived to be a very "commercial" and "generic" turn in the production styles of most of the UK headliners.

To be fair, however, such a gripe is not altogether uncommon in the world of blogs and message boards (especially the fiercely critical and notoriously scathing DogsOnAcid forums), and it is altogether possible that the clownstep "crisis" lamented by many today is merely a rehash of the "ragga crisis" of a decade ago.

Ultimately, despite the muddiness of the term in many circles, and its persistent pejorative connotation, the sub-genre of clownstep seems to have a sound at least as distinctive and identifiable as that of Drumfunk, Neurofunk, or Hardstep.

Despite this, artists still chafe at the label. While Twisted Individual seems to have cheekily and rather ironically embraced the tag, others remain offended. On a 2003 radio broadcast, one member of Pendulum introduced one of their new tunes, exclaiming: "This isn't fucking clownstep!"

In recent days, Clownstep has come to have an entirely new meaning, one free of shame and misuse. On several select music-community websites, such as ACIDplanet, Clownstep is becoming much of what happy hardcore did to that genre in its time. This definition of Clownstep refers to happy Drum & Bass with the swing feel on the hats and/or other forms of percussion. Though this definition and style are not yet widely in use, it is becoming increasingly popular with fans of electronic music in general, not just those who like D&B. Whether or not this sub-genre can survive commercially is yet another matter entirely.


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Music Sound, v. 2.0, by MultiMedia

This guide is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia.