412 Drum and Bass: Thirty Years Of DnB Thriving In Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh is not just my home, it’s the city that has helped shape me as a musician and a positive human being over my 31 years of life. Who I […]
Pittsburgh is not just my home, it’s the city that has helped shape me as a musician and a positive human being over my 31 years of life. Who I […]
Pittsburgh is not just my home, it’s the city that has helped shape me as a musician and a positive human being over my 31 years of life. Who I am is largely derived from my love of drum and bass and the community here who has continued to keep that sound alive. Once I was old enough, I did everything I could to become involved in the scene by going to shows, offering to help at events in any way I could, and just generally getting involved.
This article is a tribute and a look back at the community that made all of this happen. I am honored to have been one very small part of this community of inspiring and life-changing individuals.
Today, we are looking at thirty years of music history in the 412 covering the early years of how Jungle/DnB took hold and to where it is today. Below you’ll find excerpts from just a few of the people involved, giving their perspective on the Pittsburgh DnB scene over the years and walking you through the cities rich history with the dynamic sub-genre. ––Pete Domville aka Headphone Activist
I spoke with Geoff “Cutups” Maddock to start things off, to learn more about the early development of our community.
HPA: So can you take us back to the early 90’s and walk us through what the sound in Pittsburgh was back then?
Cutups: So from 1991 to 1993, four-to-the-floor dominant genres like house and techno were the staple at raves of the time, but jungle-predecessors UK hardcore and breakbeat were starting to catch the ear of some early players in the Pittsburgh rave scene like Deadly Buda. As these genres morphed in their early years, keen-eared DJs began focusing on the new style that incorporated the sounds of reggae and dub: what became known as Jungle.
So Jungle was able to break the norm the way dubstep would later down the line when I started going to events, Interesting. Where did the scene move from there?
From 1994 to 1995, DJ’s like Dieselboy, Sine, Ruffian, Adair, XL and others started to get booked at events playing jungle fairly regularly and 1.8.7.’s energetic, live PA’s turned even more people onto the sound. Despite the interest, there was still a perception that jungle was relegated as a 2nd tier rave music. To push the sound past this, UDG Inc started throwing all jungle events, giving it a bit more recognition and making it clear that this wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Heading into 1996 a group affiliated with UDG Inc opened up a multi-floor club in downtown Pittsburgh called Club 168, where the long-running Steel City Jungle weekly started.
In combination with 187 and Dieselboy’s increasing popularity and notoriety, Steel City Jungle really raised Pittsburgh up in the national jungle/DnB conversation. Steel City Jungle was a core foundation for the next generation of promoters and artists to meet, network, and party. As its popularity grew, it became clear that Jungle music had taken root in the city and it wasn’t going anywhere.
As electronic music continued to find a larger audience later in the 90’s, did you notice that same growth in Pittsburgh’s community as well?
So from 1996 to 1998, the overall rave scene went from one size to a considerably larger size, and people who were just hobbyists of the older generation tried to make it more of a career.
Club 168, club Laga, and Metropol (large clubs) start featuring more rave music. There was a second run of an all D&B night at Club Laga that was far more successful and well attended during this period as well, this is where you had the genre dividing into sub-genres like Jump Up, Techstep, IDM, afro-funk, ragga, which in some ways fractured things, but in others brought in a few audiences based on the diversity that was flourishing under one umbrella. There were a number of locals doing jungle on the radio – between college radio (Ratana, Preslav, Farmer T, Starchild) and pirate radio, there was still quite a bit of jungle out there. This was also the time that Roni Size was blowing up so there was nearly sort of a crossover into the mainstream, although that was more in the UK and only on the fringe here. There started to be a sense that there wasn’t quite a singular home for Jungle anymore. The rave scene had kind of evolved into something that was different from what people had been drawn to, and wasn’t really a home for the modern D&B scene for folks who were mostly at this point well over twenty one.
Yeah, the overlap between 1999 and 2009 is pretty crazy, it’s starting to make sense why the community decided to start Fuzz.
Yeah, so, Nick Teodori was a big supporter of D&B throughout the 90s. He was a graphic designer and ran a tape distribution called Bulletproof. He was also heavily connected (through putting out mixtapes) with what was becoming the “first” generation of American d&b producers. They featured Sniper, Abstract, Sage, UFO, E-ssassin, etc. and I think more than anyone, was motivated to find a place that would be good for presenting D&B in a way that made sense to him and the fans. Nick and Jason Alaska started a night called BALANCE, which was originally at Zythos on the south side. It’s not there anymore, but for maybe a decade, it was the one electronic music-focused bar on the southside. That night moved a few times, first to the Oakland Beehive, and then eventually they linked up with another dj – Bricks (not the owner of Timebomb, but another D&B DJ) and moved their night to the BBT. At this point, the BBT was a “rock bar” with more of a focus on beer and food than music, though folks like Manny Theiner had booked acts more on the experimental side as well. I’m not sure anyone else in the electronic music scene (if you could call it that) would have thought to approach the place.
After a few months of Balance, DJ Brick dropped out, and Nick and Jason started looking around with the idea of trying to get a whole crew from the DnB culture involved to try to keep the night going – so nobody would have to do all the work. It was also clear that while the DJs and fans of the music were passionate, and we were out there, it would take working together to really keep something rolling, even at a small spot. So, they approached a number of the DJs around at the time and ended up forming the “412DNB” crew.
At the time that was Alaska, Ratana, Bagel, Ian Vaughn, and myself. When “412DNB” came together, we also re-named the night to FUZE – as in to fuze together a bunch of different people, sounds, as well as something “explosive”. We also started bringing in sound each week from the Wizard Workshop Soundsystem. That kind of became the main thing – presenting D&B with a large sound system (for the room) and loud.
Fuzz would go on to be one of the longest-running Drum and Bass weeklies in the United States. Their Mission: Drum & Bass on a solid sound system, top-notch locals, and high caliber guests for a reasonable cover.
In the first years, Nick Teodori was the conceptual and graphical leader of the night and ran with design concepts based on inside jokes, misprints, and whims. So the proposal to change the night’s name in 2004 from FUZE to FUZZ wasn’t entirely surprising. The early resident rotation included Alaska, Bagel, Binac, Bricks, and Ratana with Absolut, Cutups, Ian Vaughn, MPS, Midas, and NCrawler coming in within the first few years along with support from “Jungle Mike.”
Part of what made the event so successful and continued for so long was that the crew would pull all the money from the weekly nights so that they could afford to lose money bringing headlining artists from around the world. It shows how much love and dedication the crew had for DnB.
Next, I spoke with Depth One, here’s what he had to say about his time in the Pittsburgh DnB scene:
Depth One: “I got my first taste of Pittsburgh DnB in the Bay Area where Bulletproof mixtapes were in stock at record shops there. Bulletproof mixtapes was run by Nick Bulletproof of Steel City Jungle and FUZE! He released tapes by the top DJs in Pittsburgh and the Midwest. I recall having tapes by Phantom45, Danny the Wild child, Special K, Sine, and Alaska that I first found in SF.”
“I started raving in ’96 in the CT/NYC scene. I gravitated towards Jungle Boy mixtapes, and the NYC DJs like DB, Dara, Odi, Reid Speed, Christian Bruna. The Breakbeat Science and Satellite record shops were at the forefront in that region.”
“I then found myself moving to Pittsburgh in 99 where I finished high school and quickly started performing in the rave scene. By summer 2000 I was working with a promoter named Tree and his rave production team called Inadaze. Shortly after that, by 2001 I started working with Jungle Mike Truby and his crew Faithindnb.”
“Jungle Mike was the guy that got me into the FUZE! Stage at the BBT while I was still underage and only 19. Everything started moving fast after that, I would frequently be playing multiple shows in a night or weekend. This lasted throughout the aughts and into the transition from FUZE! to FUZZ! I was officially brought on as a FUZZ! resident as well prob by 04. Drum n bass dominated the Pittsburgh bass music scene into the 2010s until Abz became the first to start pushing 140 bpm authentic UK dubstep. The night quickly became open to that sound. And we all began to dabble with 140 more and more. Experimentation in bass music continued throughout the 10s, whereby 2015 I was playing multigenre bass music sets moving from 120 bpm to 172 bpm, and playing UK bass, dubstep, trap, footwork, and DnB.”
“FUZZ” was founded in 2000 as “FUZE” at a time when Drum & Bass was vital in Pittsburgh but had to claim its own identity away from the rave and club scene. The BBT, as a “dive” bar that had never hosted electronic music or DJs, was a surprising choice to some, but to others, it was an immediate and perfect fit. As an unpretentious, intimate shot and beer bar where we could be ourselves and present an uncompromising vision of drum and bass music, it was just right. In the first year, the 412DNB crew coalesced out of like-minded DJs and fans, with everybody putting in work on djing, promotion, graphics design, bookings, and legwork. Over the years, people came and went, but a few things always remained the same. Nobody ever took home money as part of the crew. We always rolled our door charge into bringing in the best local, national and international D&B talent, as well as breaking in other new sounds in the bass music spectrum. It’s been a fun ride seeing so many great headliners and great locals smashing the place week after week.”
When I started going to Pittsburgh events Depth was one of the DJ’s that I always made a point to go and see live. When we finally connected and became friends, our shared love of Tech Step and unique sub-genres in DNB was the foundation of our friendship. Aside from his technical mixing style and upfront track selections, He truly is a great DJ and a part of what has helped keep DNB in Pittsburgh continuing on such a strong trajectory forward.
Next up, we talked to Adam aka ABZ/DJ Oura. He is the owner of Savory Audio. Savory Audio is a dance music label based out of Pittsburgh. Started out in 2009 as a dubstep and bass label. The label was revived in 2019 to serve as the creative output for Oura and his friends.
DJ Oura: “I think the longevity had mainly to do with the fact that the BBT was extremely accommodating. They were able to draw a consistent crowd on their off-hours and the fact that we had a constantly rotating cast. Basically, someone would step away and someone else would step up. But it was usually by committee. In the later years, the crew got smaller because we all got older obviously. One of the biggest things that we did was never pay residents and rarely paid guest locals. It was pretty understood that we banked the door money to be able to bring in headliners that rarely got covered by what we charged. It was also Wednesday so we could get people on tours a little cheaper because it’s mid-week.
“My biggest influence locally was XL and he is gone now, but he was doing breakbeat hardcore in 93 with Dieselboy and all those guys, I met him through James Dishman. Him and Ryan Mathew and my brother who passed away all came from the same area. James went to Pitt and was in a jungle crew that was a predecessor to 412DNB and Steel City Jungle. But I was new and went to visit James at college and I played some records and Chris was into it. We eventually went on to have a crew and do tags and stuff. He was one of the smartest dudes I ever met and he taught me a lot about DJing. Like he would wait until all the jungle DJs bought all the hype records and then he would go in and buy the stuff everyone slept on. Like buying all the copies in Pittsburgh.”
Lastly, we spoke with Dropset. Dropset is Pittsburgh’s next up-and-coming Drum and Bass artist, one who is carrying the torch for the next generation of DnB enthusiasts.
Okay, so, how did you discover drum and bass?
Dropset: “So, when I first started going to raves I was into all kinds of different EDM genres. I always enjoyed drum n bass, but after I saw DJ Dara at Club Laga in ‘01 or ‘02 I fell completely in love with it. I always gravitated to darker, heavier sounds even before drum n bass, so lucky for me techstep was in its golden era at the time. Producers like Usual Suspects, Cause 4 Concern, Ed Rush and Optical, Ram Trilogy, Bad Company, Loxy, Ink, Dylan, Tech Itch, all those dudes. Labels like Renegade Hardware, Virus, and Ram could do no wrong at that time.”
100% Tech Freak was the label that really solidified my love for DnB as well! So production or DJ first? Also, can you cite any mentors and or your process for learning these skills?
“I started out DJing before producing under the guidance of a few local friends, most notably Curtiss AKA Depth One (just Depth at the time). I had a pair of decks set up at my mom’s house and he would stop over and we would mix records for hours. I was probably 16 or so at the time, so I thought it was super cool to have an established DJ take the time to show me the ropes. Curtiss has always been a good friend and we still stay in contact to this day. In terms of production, I had always messed around but never had the dedication to take the time and energy to actually get good at it. About 5 years ago I made it my New Years resolution to get serious. It’s certainly paid off. I’ve had the privilege to learn from some of the top names in the industry including Philth, AKOV, and Joe Ford. I’ve also learned a lot from collaborations with artists I look up to such as Volatile Cycle and Transforma.”
With your years of experience now, can you elaborate more on the software you use for your production?
“My DAW of choice is Logic Pro X. No particular reason, it’s just what I started with and I’m comfortable using it. I’d probably get on Ableton or Bitwig if I had the time to learn another DAW, but I love Logic. My main synth is Serum. I find I can get practically any sound I want out of it. For in-depth sampling I prefer Kontakt, although Logic has a great stock quick sampler I use frequently. For me, the Izotope and Fab Filter bundles are must-haves. Duck by Devious Machines is my go-to for sidechaining. It’s technically volume automation which I find to be way cleaner than traditional side chain compression. They also make a really cool plugin called Infiltrator which is amazing for sound design and FX.“
It has been awesome seeing you starting to play out of state. How has traveling / playing music for other local crews been?
“Aw man, it’s been going great. Everyone I’ve played for so far has been beyond professional and courteous. Honestly it’s still kind of weird that people want to book me outside of Pittsburgh. Like, really? You’ll not only pay me to play but you’ll handle my travel and accommodations as well? It’s a really humbling experience and I have such gratitude for being given these opportunities. It’s been a really cool journey so far”
That’s dope, you have also been getting some great endorsements from some major artists in the DNB world. Any one in particular that stands out or has really surprised you to find out they are supporting your work?
“Noisia!!! Haha that one was insane. The downside is, it’s like, where do you go from there? But no, it’s crazy. People like Burr Oak, John B, Mob Tactics, BTK… I’ve released two tunes on C4C (more to come) and like I said earlier, that crew was a huge influence for me early on. It’s surreal to have a working relationship with Mark now and to consider him a friend who I speak with regularly and bounce ideas off of. “I’ve found that pretty much all of the labels I’ve worked with so far have been really easy-going and accommodating. That’s not to say this is the case with every label, as I still have my sights set higher than where I’m at currently. It just seems that since drum n bass isn’t the most lucrative or popular genre we are all here for the love of it and to push good music.”
Congrats again on all of the endorsements that you are seeing from the DnB world. Locally, can you talk more about how 412DNB has helped shape your sound?
“We have a pretty tight-knit DnB community here in Pittsburgh but unfortunately it’s been pretty small over the past few years. This isn’t discouraging though, because I’ve been in the scene here for about 20 years so I know it ebbs and flows. We were actually on an upswing right before Covid hit. Hopefully, we can keep that rolling now that we are starting to have events again. But yeah, if it weren’t for guys like Curtiss showing me the ropes early on, as well as having long-standing weekly events like Fuzz at the BBT giving me a place to go regularly where I could immerse myself in the sounds then I almost certainly would not have pursued the path I’ve taken.”
How are things looking for 2022 for the Dropset project?
“To finish out 2021 I’ve got releases lined up with C4C, Korsakov Music, and Ekou Recordings. I’m also contracted for a few 2022 releases as well but it’s a bit early to announce those. There are a lot of Pittsburgh shows lined up in the coming months, and I will be traveling to Baltimore for a b2b with NYC homie KillBreak (Eatbrain, C4C) at the Fabio and Liondub show. I recently signed on with CyberGroove Agency for US bookings, so if you want to see me in your city give them a shout!”
Thanks so much to Dropset, Depth One, Oura, and Cutups for chatting with us. If you are still scrolling and diving into this article, I want to thank you for taking the time to learn a little bit more about my city’s music history.
First off, I want to say a big thank you to Geoff (Cutups) for all of his insights into the history of this scene, thank you to Todd Keebs for helping with editing and giving me access to the photo archive he had put together over the years for Fuzz.
Lastly, thank you to everyone who helped with taking the time out of their day to make this article happen, especially the artists who contributed, and of course, Heard It Here First.
Support Cutups on Twitter | Soundcloud | Instagram | Blog
Support Depth One on Soundcloud
Support DJ Oura on Soundcloud | Facebook
Support Dropset on Facebook |Twitter | Instagram | Soundcloud
Support Headphone Activist on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | Soundcloud
Follow the HIHF team on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to keep up with fresh tunes, merch giveaways, exclusive mixes and interviews, and so much more!
Loved this article! Great job Pete!