90’s Dancehall production is Avant Garde Genius
Words by Brinsley Chidavaenzi
Music moves fast. One day you’re dancing to the new. Now that new has changed to the old you’re reminiscing about. Sounds come in and out of fashion in accordance with the times. Dancehall is the evolution of reggae, involved with a more stripped down and sparse sound of just vocals and bass at the core. The shift from live instrumentation to digital instrumentation such as drum kits and keyboards that were becoming more accessible and easy to afford directed a new era. Sound system culture and reggae’s emphasis on the low end is still firmly carried on to the ethos of dancehall production. However, the construction of ‘melody’ and space was not linearly carried. The room for experimentation producers had to try new patterns that weren’t bound by anything prior lead to multiple breakthroughs.
You could get sound collages with chants, vocal stabs, off-beat drum programming, a bassline (there are even occasional bass wobbles that predate dubstep and dark garage), an occasional synth lead and call it a day. Nothing else sounded like this (you can contest and say jungle did) but only because both sounds originate from the same starting points (reggae, dub) but however have ultimately different influence points (hardcore, house, Hip-Hop) as the tree widens out. The building blocks of this sound lead to the reggae fusion and dancehall pop crossovers of the 2000’s with tremendous success. Even if the sound’s got more melodic, the approach to forward-thinking technologies didn’t.
Give It to Her by Tante Metro & Devonte has obvious autotune which is back to 2003 (Jennifer Lopez and Cher are queens of predating this) but Metro and Devonte predate hip hop’s fashion with the tool which is eye-opening. Thankfully this sound didn’t die out but rather bleed into the fabric of grime, dubstep and other UK experiments across the 2000’s and in the 10’s being embraced again.
A hat off to the experimentalists, thank you.