Best days of our lives. Truly the internet age has made more music accessible to more of us than ever before. With infa-red agility we can swing between our competing desires and fill our homes, heads and cars with the latest sounds at the click of a mouse. A lot of things shared among tight communities are now accessible to any of us.
In the sphere of dance music this means unprecedented access to DJ mixes, podcasts, a never-ending luxuriant stream of the hottest sounds played by the hottest mixologists on the planet. All in danger of being ruined by that other thing that’s flourishing in the modern age. The shit MC.
You know the shit MC. The one who ruins those live-sets at four in the morning by bellowing over the music, usually a mix of stentorian nonsense, pointless shout-outs and cretinous rabble-rousing, puncturing the flow and cumulative build of the DJ's skills by continually asking for hands in the air, repeatedly demanding we make some noise when all we want to do is dance.
The shit MC can be found on any mix but is most prevalent on d&b mixes or live sets at the moment. Drum & bass, perhaps more than any other type of music, relies on a mix between spontaneity and sureness of touch. Occasionally a great set can be enlivened by the right voice, saying little, but having maximum impact when they let a track roll out or know the music enough to know when to chat, build pressure, release tension, when to stfu.
The shit MC pays little attention to the music. The shit MC doesn’t sense the vibe of a venue or club, the shit MC just wants to foreground his massively limited verbal skills in ugly chuntering whorls of gibberish that entirely destroy the sense of flow and finesse the DJ is bringing to the room.
MC'ing should always be a contact sport, not a solo wankfest — in its earliest incarnations with people like U-Roy and Brigadier Jerry and Nicodemus you can hear in those yard-tapes the sense of people fighting for the mic, and once on it justifying that struggle.
As dancehall spread worldwide the best MCs spat pure science: check out any Saxon Sound System tapes from the early '80s and get a lesson from Tippa Irie, Papa Levi, Peter King et al about how to command a mic AND sit in a groove, drop bombs lyrically but never disrupt the dancefloor.
MCs like Dynamite, GQ, Fearless, Flux, Hyper D, Rebel MC and the Ragga Twins were vital voices in early d&b, lighting up mixes with their bruising backchat, obviously massively influenced by those early dancehall pioneers.
Trouble is — today’s d&b MCs haven’t listened, haven’t learned from the right people, bring an overwhelmingly arrogant sense of the MC as pure Butlins Redcoat, whipping up a crowd that need no such thing, hollering (they always holler, usually way too loud in the mix) a grab-bag of shout-outs, borrowed rap lyrics and assorted gibberish over music that doesn’t need it, to crowds who don’t want it.
It’s often simply a case of MCs who don’t know the music they’re MCing over. If a track already has vocals, we want to hear them, we don’t want them smeared with a barrel-load of bantering bollocks that just fucks with the mood and feel. A good DJ/MC combo can elevate the vibe at all the right moments, propel things forward at all the right speeds but a bad DJ/MC combo can stall the flow, deflate the vibe, leave most punters thinking “the music’s great but when is this utterly incomprehensible buffoon gonna shut the fuck up?”
MCing was once a vital part of d&b culture, the bridge between the DJ and the crowd, the umbilicus link back to the reggae, dub & dancehall roots that so massively fed and nurtured d&b culture.
The crucial failing of the bad MCs so prevalent at the moment is in forgetting that reggae side to things and thinking rap invented the MC. A good d&b MC can take a set to another level, focus the crowd not thru aggression, arrogance or hostility (all good things in a rap MC) but through warmth of tone and heartfelt purpose i.e. making sure people have as good a time as possible.
Too many times in recent months otherwise superb mixes and sets have been sabotaged by some chucklehead on the mic who thinks laziness will do, who loftily thinks the crowd deserve only to hear his own smug coasting around his own lyrical limitations.
C’mon DJs, promoters, the punters deserve better. Secure MCs for your slots who know the crucial part MCs have played in bass-music history, and know the difference between dominating a mic and letting the music speak for itself.
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