Modern classical

[Goldie & The Heritage Orchestra @ Bristol Harbourside Amphitheatre, 25/07/15].

I was standing in the VIP section of Bristol’s Harbourside Amphitheatre, pouring out shots from a bottle of rum smuggled in past security. I’d managed to blag a press pass to cover the event for a local events magazine, and was scanning the faces of the crowd, feeling slightly dazed and out of place among the media types, waiting for the gig to start.

It was the only event outside of London in which Metalheadz founder Goldie would see his 1995 album Timeless performed live by the Heritage Orchestra, one of the most progressive and innovative orchestras in the UK, who have played with acts such as Aphex Twin, Amon Tobin, Bjork.

Watching the crowd of veteran ravers, largely in their 30s and 40s, fill the venue, there was a discernible buzz, partly due to the oddity of the occasion; awaiting an orchestral rendition of one of the defining albums of drum n bass, one which expanded its parameters in previously unexplored ways, and undoubtedly marked the younger lives of many of those in attendance.

I started pondering how a form of music that emerged with such furious energy in the early 90s, bringing an unprecedented intensity to sampled breakbeats, had 20 years later found an acceptance in a relatively mainstream music event. Was it evidence of the gentrification of drum n bass? The commodification of a once threatening and otherwordly sound that was born bouncing off the pirate radio antennas of tower blocks? Was Goldie merely another co-opted figure of the underground, now palatable enough to appear on the BBC and talk to your mum about?

Actually, the answer seemed like no. The gig was a magnificent experiment of the possibilities of a electronic music transposed to a live setting. Created by a live string section, bass, brass, choir vocalist Vanessa Haynes and a superb rhythm section focused on the prodigious talents of drummer Adam Betts – who also drums for noise/Mathrock outfit Three Trapped Tigers – it was, at times, an overwhelming experience. At certain points it felt the audience didn’t quite know how to respond, whether to try and rave it down or stand there in awe. One guy next to me, tall, bald and dressed all in black, turned to me during a pause between songs, and said, wide-eyed ‘it’s almost as though this was how it was supposed to be played’.

I wonder whether, in another 20 years, the same cohort, by then in in their ’50s and ’60s, will still be busting out their best skanking moves. Will drum n bass be considered a venerated form of modern classical music by that point?

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