From jungle to jump-up—by way of neuro, liquid, deep, pop, ambient, intelligent, soulful, drumstep, skullstep, and techstep—drum & bass has morphed and mutated into more sub-styles and categories than any other genre of electronic music. But few of those are as exciting or reinvigorating as the increasingly popular style that’s become known as “halftime.”
The recipe is simple: Halve the tempo, double the fun. Halftime tracks flex around the 80-85 BPM region (a tempo most commonly associated with hip-hop) rather than drum & bass’s traditional double-time, white knuckle 160/170 BPM framework.
Early sightings of half-tempo drum & bass can be traced back as early as 1992, with tracks such as DJ Phantasy & DJ Gemini’s “Switch To 33.” Pioneering producers Digital and Amit have been experimenting with sparse kick drum arrangements since 1999 and the sound, as it exists today, has been developing momentum in earnest since dBridge & Instra:Mental launched their game-changing duo project, Autonomic, in 2009. In the last few years, halftime has become even more prominent, not just as a subgenre itself, but as a style and rhythm arrangement across all drum & bass subgenres.
Much of this is in keeping with drum & bass’s oldest tradition: the breakbeat melting pot where the 170 BPM breaks framework is used as a blank canvas to portray the artist’s own culture and roots. While the genre’s original pioneers were using the soul, reggae, hip-hop, dub, and rare groove records they’d grown up with as keystones, newer producers are reflecting their own inspirations such as techno, trap, grime, dubstep, and hip-hop.
The sounds, dynamics, references, and spacious aesthetics of this new breakbeat melting pot resonate with what’s happening under the wider bass umbrella in other genres that cherish the halftime break: the L.A. beats scene, London’s instrumental grime sound, Chicago’s juke and footwork movement. Halving the tempo of drum & bass means it’s only 10 BPM away from these kindred styles, rather than the double-time, uniquely fast-tempo it’s largely been all these years. This has created a lot more interchange and dialogue between drum & bass and the wider musical world.
This, in turn, has accelerated creativity and opened up new possibilities. Drum & bass DJ sets are much wider and more dynamic in tempo and energy thanks to halftime tracks. Rhythmically, productions have become more varied and unpredictable, as more artists are looking beyond drum & bass’s typical two-step or “amen” drum arrangements. There are vast caverns of space that provide room for new polyrhythms and percussion dynamics—a growing community of high-level and technically-astute exponents such as Noisia, Ivy Lab, dBridge, Alix Perez, Mefjus, Fracture, and Kasra are all pushing the sound into bold new directions. Halftime isn’t just reinvigorating the genre, it’s one of the most full-flavored dishes on drum & bass’s dizzying subgenre menu.
Boasting artists and labels from the Czech Republic to New Zealand, as well as the bass universe (from house to garage to trap to hip-hop), these new releases on Bandcamp are a succinct snapshot of halftime, right now.
Shrouded in icy pads, “Snook” is a rubber ball bass jam with a groove like a tightly-coiled spring. It comes courtesy of Astrophonica newcomer Lewis James, an Irishman-in-London who started to prick ears in earnest earlier this year with a four-track mystical excursion Megacholy on Lowriders. Now packing heat on Fracture’s peerless cosmic beatfarm Astrophonica, “Snook” is part of a much bigger picture as it plays a role on the label’s first compilation Gradients. A detailed document that pitches halftime’s position within in the wider context of the most innovative contemporary jungle, drum & bass and electronica, Gradients features gems from some of the most respected names in the leftfield: dBridge, Sam Binga, Sully, DJ Earl, Moresounds, and more.
Italian trio Was A Be stir a bewitching brew of tech, dub, and ghetto influences as they flip between 170 and 85 BPM across their sets and EPs. Now firm members of Friction’s Shogun camp, they emerged on Teebee’s eminent Subtitles imprint and have helped to highlight the talent on hometown label The Dreamers Recordings along the way. “Plateau,” part of their Brainstorm EP, is even hotter than their unusual band name suggests; robotic half-tempo sleaze softened by a little R&B texture or two, it’s another firm halftime headshot from the rising Turin threesome.
Graduates of the Dilla school, Belgian beatmakers Corrupted and J.Nomad have been crafting beats independently under the radar for a year or two on labels such as Halogen and Foot Juice. Joining forces for two tracks on Corrupted’s debut EP for The Dreamers label, it’s the EP finale “Where U At” that captures halftime’s intrinsic link between drum & bass and hip-hop. What begins as a smoky, woozy slice of instrumental beats soon becomes a lot darker as the loose-footed kicks space out to revealing teeth-baring bass.
First emerging on radars around the turn of the decade, Italian-in-London Mauoq has expressed his icy, lean sentiments across a numerous tastemaker labels such as Flexout, Dispatch, and his own Mauoq Music. Here, we find him back on Giraffe-loving London indie Diffrent with a four-track package of obscene futurist flavors. Charged by unique beat variations throughout the entire release, elements of each track are halftime, but it’s the lead track that packs the biggest half-tempo punch.
Founded deep in the 140 BPM dubstep badlands but now developing into slightly faster tempo territories, J:Kenzo’s Artikal Music imprint is a great example of how halftime has wormed its way into neighboring genres so seamlessly. Especially on this release, New Zealand artist Alex Dickson’s career is also rooted in slower sub tones, as one half of the deep dubstep duo Perverse. Now operating as Pugilist, this is his second EP this year, and his first full 80 BPM release. Each track is recommended, but “Murmur” takes the pick, thanks to its sludgy droning techno-like 4/4, disarming percussion and echoes, and LSD-laced textures.
Paris representing: Moresounds (real name: Germain Bigou) emerged in the mid-’00s as a woozy beat merchant of the dubby, sample-heavy hip-hop variety. His debut album Fragments is a great snapshot of where he’s come from, while his recent Mutation Experts EP on Om Unit’s Cosmic Bridge label tells us exactly where he’s at right now. Jittering between jungle breaks and Balearic bliss by way of the tribal percussion and rainforest textures of “Ruff Times,” the whole EP showcases the Frenchman’s breadth and vision.
No halftime wrap-up would be complete without the work of Alix Perez or Ivy Lab. Here, they appear alongside Eprom, who is one half of Shades along with Perez. Tucked away on the latest Shades EP Night The Dreaded Angel, the “Sleaze” title tells the whole story. Strutting with loose-limbed swag, the beats are draped by a series of melting bass textures that appear to have been syphoned from a toxic alien swamp (location classified).
Buried deep in this newcomer’s debut album Therian, “Hollow” dissolves the fine line between trip-hop and halftime before your very ears. Somber, woozy, and laced with dusky mystical atmospheres, it’s a short, sweet chapter in a 10-track narrative that showcases this previously unknown UK artist SHRLK. It comes courtesy of another critical label in this movement—AMAR is founded by Amit, one of the most consistent contributors to the 80/160 BPM bass sound who foretold the dark, pensive cosmic halftime dynamic over 10 years ago on his debut album, Never Ending.
Having explored the halftime sound for the last two years, UK roller champions Flexout have recently established their Wave series as a dedicated space for all of the label’s half-tempo experimentations. With key subgenre up-and-comers such as Balatron and Monty controlling the Wave machine over the last year, every release has been of note. UK South Coast representer Vorso is no exception, with this teeth-baring three-piece that digs into the more alarming side of the subgenre. Gritty, angular, and paranoid, it’s the style of halftime that sits just as well breaking up a rowdy jump-up set as it does a heads-down techy neuro drum & bass set.
A Sweden/UK collaboration coming courtesy of an Australian label, on an album curated by a U.S. artist: such is the international thrust of the halftime movement. “Limbo,” which showcases equal breadth with its loose jazzy build, raffish seasick bass hook, and orchestral instrumentation on the breakdown, feels like three songs (and around 10 genres) all packed into one. For added context, check the album this has come from. Ion Driver Presents: 2 pitches Vorso and Clockvice’s halftime knockout punch against dub, glitch, drum & bass, experimental, and ambient with consistency and class.
The final remix on an extensive seven-track dispatch from Prague’s recent-and-rising ghetto bass imprint Saypens, this halftime delight is tucked away like a long lost dub. The original is a cosmic trap trip that rides away at 70/140 BPM, but by upping the tempo just twenty percent and lacing the original elements with a little more synth-ice, young Czech producer Flazha has unlocked serious levels of sci-fi swagger. The Czech Republic already has a reputation as one of drum & bass’s most dominant and creatively accelerated countries. It’s only a matter of time before the country has a big impact on halftime, too.
Hot on the heels of a high-profile EP on Hatched, the label run by original dubstep pioneer Hatcha, the Canadian beat splicer Abstrakt Sonace now heads over to Greazus’s Aufect to flex his halftime muscles. The whole EP maintains the slimy, creepy aesthetic and dubspace Abstrakt Sonance has developed throughout his 140 BPM work, but it’s “Centre” that really digs deep into the roots of jungle, thanks to fluid beat patterns, a toxic, oozy bassline, and a dubby elasticity that could be compared to Loxy or perhaps Breakage. Another firm bridge in place between dubstep and drum & bass, let’s hope Abstrakt Sonance has plans to release more halftime material in future.
Wonky beats, strange found sounds as percussion, various layers of deep, groaning basses, and a sudden topline that seems to come out of nowhere (and disappears just as quickly), Future Wildstyle have delivered a consummate addition to the spacey, 23rd Century hip-hop side of halftime that’s usually best spotted on labels such as Ivy Lab’s 20/20 LDN. Self-released by the Sheffield duo who’ve made their name in breakbeat and garage, “Oh My Days” is Future Wildstyle’s first halftime release and once again shows clear links to the wider electronic melting pot.
Recently spotted producing for hip-hop duo Mobb Deep’s Prodigy and remixing Rae Sremmurd, San Francisco’s MiMOSA’s roots are clearly, and deeply, entrenched in hip-hop and rap. Making his name in electronic trap with a signature spacey sound, “Road Trip” sees him taking a remarkable new approach as the Cali creative taps into a much more UK-centric sound that’s scuffed, twisted, and scorched by a strange rising techno texture and weirdo off-beat bass notes. An exciting new direction for MiMOSA and yet more clear routes from drum & bass to a much wider bass universe.