Easter Thursday: the biggest night on the raving calendar of the year so far. Four days off work, four days to recover from the fact that four men have just arrived on stage together for the first time in over 10 years... And drum ’n’ bass history is about to be made.
Everything goes black. The band’s unpronounceable logo blazes up in 3D visuals and Bristol’s Motion becomes a sea of lighters. A flood of belligerent beats ensues and the sea erupts into a tsunami. Roars rage through us like an uncontrollable tidal wave. A huge man to my right grabs my hand, throwing my arm up, ragdoll-style. A girl in front turns around screaming "It’s fucking Bad Company mate!" to anyone who’ll listen. At the bar there’s the same fever; everyone jumping, slapping the bar just as d’n’b fans bashed the pipes on the walls in The End years ago. The vibe is physical; overwhelming. It’s fucking Bad Company mate, and everyone in the 1000-capacity room – from 18-year-olds keen to see what the hype is about to heads twice their age who’ve waited for this for years – everyone knows how big a deal the next hour will be.
Rewind: No other act has pushed, pulled and punched drum ’n’ bass forward as much as Bad Company. They are to d’n’b what Masters At Work are to house, DMZ are to dubstep and Underground Resistance are to techno; between 98-2005 DJ Fresh, DBridge, Vegas and Maldini set new parameters for d’n’b across 70 productions and four albums. Their sound could never be defined or pigeonholed; from raw tech grit (‘Dogfight’) to salubrious funk (‘The Bridge’) by way of demonic bass (‘Planet Dust’) epic, body-hurling hooks (‘Torpedo’) and dark, slinky soul (‘Ladies Of Spain’). No other act in d’n’b covered as much ground with such creative excitement and consistency in such a short space of time. Beyond their productions they brought the scene together with one of dance’s most densely populated online forums, Dogs On Acid, while BC-branded labels signed debuts and early releases from the likes of The Upbeats and Chase And Status. They were even responsible for signing D.Kay, Epsilon & Stamina’s 2002 sing-along summertime smash, ‘Barcelona’.
Essentially, Bad Company’s actions and melting-pot attitude captured and shaped the essence of what d’n’b is, what it’s been, what it will always stand for.... in the right hands. Describing themselves as the ‘sacred keepers of drum ’n’ bass’, they’re the first to admit that the genre isn’t always in the right hands. It happened when the four young 20-somethings catapulted themselves into the genre in 1998 with the epoch-defining single ‘The Nine’. It’s happening again now...
“Everything goes in cycles,” explains long-haired bass poster boy Fresh, the most recognisable member of the group thanks to his recent five-year chart assault. We’re in a quiet hotel bar. It’s the calm before the storm: all four – each dressed head to toe in black – sit back and relish what’s clearly ‘a moment’. Their soundcheck has gone well, it’s the first time they’ve seen their visuals set up; they know they’ve done everything they can to ensure their momentous comeback hits as hard as the hype.
The hype clock was wound up last July by one of the biggest DJ agents in bass music, Obi Echolocation (who represents acts from Jack Ü to Chase And Status), who rang them all up individually and insisted that “the world needed a Bad Company reunion.” The hype countdown started two months later, in September, as DBridge was spotted smashing Sun And Bass and Outlook festivals with new Bad Company material. By February, the night they revealed comeback track ‘Equilibrium’, the hype clock was ticking so loudly every DJ, label and fan imaginable was screaming about it. Case in point: on all three occasions I’ve spoken to Andy C since December he’s gushed about this reunion.
“In the 90s there was this moment when drum ’n’ bass had some commercial success and the big guys like Photek and Goldie and Roni had been signed by majors,” Fresh says. “A lot of people who didn’t give a fuck about drum ’n’ bass wanted a piece of it and diluted the scene. There was a backlash. And we were driven by that backlash.”
“It was like, ‘Fuck that! It should be like this!’” laughs Vegas, the youngest member of the crew. The dreamer of the band, he’s slightly scruffy with an air of a loveable urchin. “It’s gone so watered down, a lot of what you hear on the radio and a lot of the sterile, soulless releases you hear now. The commercial thing has exposed d’n’b to a lot of people. It’s time to come along and say, ‘Now this is the real shit!’ It happened like that in the 90s, and it’s happening again.”