Ill Blu, UK Drill and Hardcore

Son Raw investigates the current state of Black British music and the new single from the North West London drill duo.
By    June 23, 2020

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Son Raw will never die.

The concept of the Hardcore Continuum, proposed and developed by music Journalist Simon Reynolds, deserves a re-examination now that we’re over 20 years removed from its genesis. The basic idea is that Hardcore Rave, Jungle, UK Garage, Grime and Dubstep, and finally Funky House weren’t simply distinct musical genres, but a continuing expression of a musical community of working class, mostly Black dance music fans, DJs and producers. Ever since Funky fizzled and post-Dubstep petered out into more standardized House and Techno however, there’s been angst and anxiety among music commentators, with many claiming that the continuum simply died off. On one hand, that sort of makes sense: the first generation of Hardcore ravers are in their 50s by now – far from their prime partying years.

Furthermore, most producers and DJs championing the idea of the Hardcore Continuum are doing so because they read about Reynolds’ theory and are actively drawing from it, despite, often enough, not actually being from the communities the theory documented. Which is how you get a bunch of white guys making IDM tracks with rave stabs and self referential Jungle breaks.

However, the idea that continuity in Black British music simply vanished around 2010, or stalled with Grime’s revival around 2014, is patently ridiculous. The UK has never had more black emcees, vocalists and producers finding success, even if their creative output doesn’t fit The Hardcore Continuum’s vision of DJ-led music. It’s a humbling reminder that Black British music existed before rave, and continues to fix after. When reality doesn’t fit the model, you fix the model.

(As an aside, to read more about pre and post-rave Black British music, I strongly recommend Joe Muggs’ recently released Bass, Mids, Tops: An Oral History of Soundsystem Culture.)

Take “Dumpa,” Ill Blu’s latest single with UK Drill heavyweights M24 and Unknown T. For the type of electronic/dance music fans that get their info off Discogs, Ill Blu are best known as a UK Funky production duo who released a few well received singles on Hyperdub. Over on the bastion of commercialism that is Beatport however, they never stopped. Far from the prying eyes of tastemaker journos and DJs, Ill Blu shifted to working with vocal artists in genres as diverse as House, Afrobeats and now Drill, all while making music that fits perfectly within the lineage of Black British dance music. Dumpa’s main vocal hooks are a longing R&B sample and a Jamaican Patois chant, both elements pulled directly from Jungle and Garage with a bit of post-Drake flair borrowed from fellow Caribbean outpost Toronto. The drums and sub bass are a broken, stuttering web of complexity that echo D&B and Grime not through imitation but through continuing those genres’ search for new ways to make people dance.

Finally, a few years removed from Drill making its way to the UK, the genre’s tempo, slang and cadences have been completely transformed, assimilating not only Black Britain’s Jamaican inflections but also the voices of the British Black Africans who’ve shifted the culture in recent years. There’s even classic Eski clicks ripped straight from the Grime playbook.

In 2020, decades removed from rave’s genesis, perhaps we should be thinking about the Hardcore Continuum less as a straight line connecting genres and people and more like a ship of Theseus: an ur-genre centered around Black British musicians that constantly regenerates itself, losing and gaining practitioners and ideas as time goes on. What we definitely shouldn’t do is continue looking in the wrong places or pretend that successors to musical modes like Jungle and Grime don’t exist, just because they don’t fit our concept of DJ-led, instrumental music sold out of record shops (or Bandcamp). Hardcore never died, it just started spitting bars on YouTube.

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