Bradford, Snobbery, Bassline & Me...

The turn of the 21st century was a curious time. From the upbeat Y2K festivities to the sobering events following 9/11, the entire world underwent rapid change—much of which was a reaction to a scary vision of modernity unfolding. Clinton and Blair-era optimism was buried and replaced by the hard-nosed ‘realities’ of international security in a world of terror.

Bradford, a city in the North of England, right next to Leeds, had always been sensitive to racial and political tensions. Just a few months prior to 9/11, the now-infamous race riots had erupted in the city, largely instigated by an outside group on the far-right. The ensuing chaos resulted in a record number of convictions, with several people dead and hundreds injured; this was one of many events that came to define many people’s relationship with the social and cultural landscapes they inhabited.

Just before I hit teenagehood, I took a trip to the cinema with my mum that was interrupted by a bomb scare, which brought about more confusion and more questions. I’m a mixed-race man—half white, half Asian—and there was always a certain discomfort around asserting my identity. I was given a ‘white name’ at birth, a compromise for my middle and last names which were clearly Iranian. During my school years, I recognised that for all the efforts to bring together Bradford’s communities, racial groups still tended to stick together, especially between white and Asian groups. Because I grew up in majority white areas for a big portion of my childhood, I befriended mainly white people. I was told (more than once) that this meant I’d chosen the “white side”; I begrudgingly accepted that I must have. Once I began secondary school, the consequences of these choices became more obvious—my friendships were centred on my predominantly white peer groups, and I was treated as such by both students and teachers.

In 2007, whilst still in my school years, bassline/4x4 had begun its fateful surge towards mainstream popularity. From humble beginnings in the UK underground, the genre was moulded after the success of speed garage, and it developed into a buzzing scene most notably represented by the legendary Niche nightclub in Sheffield. Walkman phones were busy bluetoothing low-bitrate bangers from the back of school buses, and everybody knew a friend of a friend who knew how to burn a CD for you. Debates were had about what the genre was called—I knew it as ‘Niche’, which shows how closely the club had become associated with the sound. Many people I speak to from home still have strong memories of going to one of Yorkshire’s many ice rinks, their skating sessions scored by the likes of Platnum, Danny Bond, Jamie Duggan and T2, the latter of whom had been era-defining.

The ‘T2 Era’ is a term that has increasingly won favour amongst my friends for describing the central role T2 had in bringing bassline to the mainstream. Released in 2007, featuring the sped-up vocals of Jodie Aysha, “Heartbroken” has retained a universal appeal among bassline heads and curious listeners nationwide; its bittersweet overtones are accompanied by flitting bass, plucked synths and forlorn songwriting, depicting a very different, dare I say joyful, time in UK music history.

As it happens, “Heartbroken” was one of the few bassline tracks at the time that I really enjoyed. As much as my choice of identity had come to define my world and its surroundings, so too did my choice of music. Though I initially cut my teeth listening to classic hip-hop, courtesy of my older cousin, I quickly discovered Eminem and Linkin Park, which seemed to be perfect bridges into rock, metal and hardcore punk—genres which seemed to reflect my working-class frustrations. Bassline seemed crude, and in a time defined by New Labour’s ASBOs and a much more casual culture of poor-shaming, the neighbours down the road blasting organ bassline were deemed ‘chavvy’, a label that was seen as a badge of shame for the aspiring middle classes among us. In hindsight, it’s clear that this was an odious form of snobbery.

Truthfully speaking, bassline has struggled to shake its negative labels over the years, largely due to its portrayal as a genre inextricably connected to crime and violence. This is not without some basis in fact. From 1992 to 2005, Steve Baxendale’s Niche club grew to become a site of pilgrimage for speed garage and bassline fans but could never quite shake these associations, despite its success. ‘Operation Repatriation’ forced the club’s closure in 2005 and many, including Niche’s owner, opined about the seemingly racial charge to the police raid. Subsequent reopenings were similarly doomed and the venue closed its doors for the last time in 2017. By this point, I was thoroughly absorbed in the genre and was saddened by the loss of such a legendary space—it felt like punishment for my earlier ignorance.

My journey towards finally appreciating the genre started at university. Whilst regularly hitting nightclubs in York, I began to notice something peculiar: the success of deep house had opened the door to jackin’ house, UK bass and, by the end of my stay, a new strain of bassline. I became engrossed, with releases like Foamo’s “Release Me”, “I Know” by Martin Ikin and “Stackin Papers” by U Know & The Drill whetting my appetite for the harder end of dance music. Right as the heyday of UK bass was arriving, I began reconnecting with my musical past.

I pored over the old Supa Dupa compilations, listening to classic bassline bangers from the likes of DJ Q, Freddo, TRC, A dot R and Subzero along the way. Club videos from that time started to show a different picture too: behind different eyes, the diversity of these environments started to stand out. Though questionably dressed (it was the late 2000s, after all) a lot of club promos show ravers—white, Black, Asian, both male and female—having the absolute time of their lives, their grins accompanied by gunfingers, whines and alcopops. Bassline’s capacity to unite people, irrespective of race, is something I’d grossly overlooked.

Many of my friends shared my newfound enthusiasm. We compared new finds, digging through dead links, old CDs and YouTube videos, with songs often helpfully titled things like ‘Track 01 - Niche’. One of T2’s standout tracks, “Why”, is credited to Jamie Duggan on YouTube; the overall lack of verifiability added to the process of discovery somehow. Others I introduced to bassline didn’t receive it so openly. As much as I’d fobbed the genre off as a teenager, the grittier sounds were overbearing for some—the usual eye-rolling tropes of the genre being “just a load of noise” were readily trotted out. But that didn’t matter to me.

I remember taking a moment to look around the room at a 4x4 rave in Nottingham last year, clutching a lukewarm Guinness whilst I narrowly avoided being floored by my mate who’d taken off his shirt. The room was crammed full of flushed, sweaty faces bussing skanks to a Wideboys tune. Thanks to bassline/4x4, I found a freeness that I will hold onto forever.

Posted on April 20, 2021