Drum and bass is a genre of music designed from the ground up for club listening. The high tempo drum patterns demand that you find a dance floor and the full weight of the bass is a totally different experience through those Funktion-One stacks down the warehouse than it is through the little Logitech-1 speakers you plug your laptop into in your bedroom. Of course there is plenty of drum and bass made with the home listener in mind (most liquid tracks for example), people who listen to drum and bass regularly know that it is much more wide ranging and varied in sound than the non DnB listener would think: a favourite quote of mine from Calibre is that rather than being a traditional music genre ‘drum and bass is just the tempo and there are endless possibilities within it’.
However, I believe there is a perception of drum and bass as being just club music and this is a shame because it has held it back from use in other mediums and DnB has much more to offer than just being a soundtrack to drop some pills to. It pops up on TV every now and then, usually to add a bit of excitement to a montage such as Match of the Day’s goal of the month competition. In films it’s used even less and nearly always within the context of club culture. Two examples that spring to mind are the villain in Blade listening to Source Direct’s ‘Call and Response’ on his headphones (a suitably evil sounding track for a human-hating, club-owning vampire to listen to I’m sure you agree) and Aphrodite’s ‘Stalker’ blasting out in the record store in British rave culture film Human Traffic. There is only one film, so far as I can tell, which dares to use drum and bass as a key component; only one film that embraces 170 bpm for the atmospheric and emotional effects it can have, rather than just using it as an easy signpost to signify a strand of 90’s youth culture.
Darren Aronofsky’s Pi (1998) is that one film. Luckily for us it’s a minor masterpiece which perfectly shows how well drum and bass can fit into the cinematic experience. Produced for a tiny budget of just $60,000, Pi is a psychological thriller about a mathematician trying to find a way of predicting the stock markets and the shadowy forces who want to use his discovery for themselves but it is anything but a dull maths lesson. The soundtrack is dominated by drum and bass and contains tracks by artists such as Orbital, Roni Size and Aphex Twin as well as original tracks from Clint Mansell who would go on to do more brilliant work with Aronofsky particularly for Requiem for a Dream and Black Swan. The tune selection is impeccable, the DnB here is harsh and aggressive, it sounds like it could be made up of industrial noises from 40 odd years in the future. This fits perfectly with Aronofsky’s high contrast black and white visuals, lo-fi aesthetic and plentiful use of extreme close ups which often make earth look like a strange and alien place. Together with the music this gives the film an overpoweringly paranoid, claustrophobic atmosphere while simultaneously getting the adrenalin pumping. The main character’s flat is filled by this monstrous computer the mechanics of which jut out all around him, it’s forever linked in my head to the dark, metallic beats of the soundtrack.
The music is a great fit thematically as well. The film is as much obsessed with the madness of the human mind as it is the precision of mathematics and mechanics; only drum and bass can match this with its precisely programmed drum patterns which none the less can sound absolutely insane when you listen to them. I love Pi, it’s one of my favourite films, the soundtrack and how it is used is the main reason for this.
I’m by no means saying that every film should try to shoehorn some drum and bass in – for the vast majority of films this would just be ridiculous and a big part of Pi’s power comes from how unique it is – but surely there should be more than one film out there which moves at 24 frames per second and 170 beats per minute.