The low end

By RICHARD BECK  |  February 26, 2008

This aspect of bassline is even more striking on T2’s remix of J. Holiday’s hit slow-jam “Bed.” The original, with its slowly unfolding melody and lyrics direct enough to be worthy of R. Kelly (“love you till your eyes roll back”; “Ima rock your body, turn you over”), is meant to soundtrack the sort of lovin’ that Holiday is singing about, but the idea of anything’s going down to the tune of T2’s goofy remix is laughable. The lyrics haven’t been changed, but T2’s version is less about what Holiday wants from his woman than about the bass — in this case not one but two bass lines, both jumping octaves, phasing in and out of different fields of distortion, and generally wreaking havoc on Holiday’s visions of slippery romance. That’s not to suggest that bassline is sexless, only that bassline producers largely do away with, or undermine, R&B’s romantic clichés. T2’s remix redirects the focus from some sexed other body to your own dancing one. It’s an ingeniously humorous twist.

It’s not all sunshine, of course. On some bassline tracks, the genre’s darker, more aggressive tendencies take center stage. Producer JTJ’s “Dirty Grime” has none of the clattering drive that characterizes bassline’s more pop-oriented tracks. A thin, synthesized drum loop doesn’t so much push the track forward as chop it up into beats and sub-beats. And the bass itself is all murky, moody rumbling. But the sound of that bass is still trademark video-game buzz, and it’s difficult to sound moody or threatening when the backing track calls up visions of Super Mario Brothers.

This dark side of bassline (many of whose tracks use MCs) seems to be little more than a temporary holdover from grime, and it’s easy to envision the genre’s moving forward without it. For the moment, it’s all part of a happily chaotic scene that’s still sorting itself out. Thanks to its uncomplicated sonic profile, bassline house tracks sound terrific coming out of everything from state-of-the-art systems to cellphone speakers and car radios. Bassline house producers could be accused of pandering to the ringtone in pursuit of a quick buck, but the genre is too agile and too witty to be slapped around by snobbish chiding. If it’s dumbed down, it’s dumb in the best way.

As for the kind of inroads bassline house might make in the US market, it’s still too early to say. But there are a number of American pop artists who would lend themselves nicely to the bassline sound. Rihanna has already shown a penchant for friendship over romance with “Umbrella,” and the four-to-the-floor stomp of her single “Please Don’t Stop the Music” is aimed at both clubs and pop radio. She also uses the more limited vocal range that characterizes so many bassline vocals, and like Jodie, she gets emotional without getting all in your face about it. With crunk an ever-more-distant memory and Timbaland’s spacy techno-pop quickly exhausting its own avenues of innovation, a fresh twist on R&B would be a welcome development. Here’s hoping for a goofy, girly British invasion.

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