Bassline (sometimes referred to as bassline house, organ house, Niche or 4x4) is a type of music related to UK garage that originated in Sheffield in the early 2000s. Stylistically it comprises a four-to-the-floor rhythm normally at around 135-142 beats per minute, a strong emphasis on bass, and a pop music aesthetic similar to that of its precursor 2-step garage.
In the scene's early days the most prominent bassline club was the Niche nightclub in Sheffield, which became at the centre of controversy due to a police raid which resulted in the club's closure in 2005. The club reopened in 2009, only to be closed down a year later, and then reopened a third time in 2017. Like grime, which was developing concurrently in London, bassline was associated with violence, anti-social behaviour and criminal activity during the time of its rise to popularity, which contributed to a general lack of willingness among venue owners and the police to accommodate bassline events.
Early bassline shares more similarities with its predecessor speed garage than the style that began to emerge in the latter half of the decade, with many people still referring to bassline house releases from the early 2000s as speed garage. This early style grew from the sound that was pushed in nightclubs in the North and the Midlands during the late 90s that played speed garage mixed with melodic vocal house. Most early bassline house tracks simply expanded on this as many tracks feature either 'warp' or 'reese' speed garage basslines, or the Korg M1 style organ lead. This led to many releases having a 'warper' mix along with an 'organ' mix of the same track. Like most electronic music, sampling played a big part, as lots of the same sampled basslines can be heard in old speed garage and bassline house releases.
Towards the end of the 2000s, a new wave of younger producers such as TS7, coupled with the rise of Digital audio workstations, which reduced the use of drum machine samples and old sampled basslines, took bassline to a different path. This style started to be called '4x4', moving further away from the original speed garage sound, but still retaining the core elements such as the warping basslines and female vocals. In general, bassline as a whole remained fairly underground and was mostly only popular in the North and Midlands, and releases often never went beyond a 12" vinyl EP, or featuring on obscure CD mixes or compilations. However, 4x4 Bassline gained popularity on the pop charts and allegedly one reason for this is it appeals to both genders, while grime and dubstep at the time gathered a predominantly male following. However, a more aggressive style of bassline also caught on, which was absent of pitched up female vocals and melodic leads, and was more reminiscent of grime. It became common for people to MC over bassline.
Like dubstep and grime, bassline generally places a strong emphasis on bass, with intricate basslines (often multiple and interweaving) being characteristic of the genre. Bassline tracks use a four-to-the-floor beat. The music is often purely instrumental, but vocal techniques common in other styles of garage can also be present, such as female R&B vocals sped up to match the faster tempo, and also samples of vocals from grime tracks. Most songs are around 135 to 142 bpm, faster than most UK garage and around the same tempo as most grime and dubstep.
The increased appeal of bassline may be in part due to the vocal contributions of female artists such as Jodie Aysha. The lyrics of bassline are often focused on love and other issues that may be considered more feminine. In a blog posting, Simon Reynolds described the bassline genre as "the drastic pendulum swing from yang to yin, testosterone to oestrogen, that I had always imagined would happen in reaction to grime, except it took so long to happen I gave up on it and just forgot." It has been argued that grime and dubstep originated in turn from "an over-reaction - to the 'feminine pressure' of late-'90s 2-step."
Together with its return to feminine-style music, bassline is said to embrace pop music aesthetics, and to have a euphoric, exuberant quality similar to that of earlier British rave music - both also in contrast to grime and dubstep.
Early bassline was described as largely similar, and in some cases synonymous, with its precursor 2-step garage, a description denied by proponents of the scene. The 4x4 beat of bassline has been noted as a difference between the two. Producer T2 maintains the genres share a common origin in house music but are different sounds, while major bassline distributor and DJ Mystic Matt describes bassline as having a similar rhythm to UK garage, but that the strong emphasis on bass renders it a separate genre.
Bassline originated from the Niche Nightclub in Sheffield which opened in 1992 and closed on 27 November 2005, following a police raid named "Operation Repatriation", where over 300 police officers raided the club, although no one was arrested. The police force had expressed fears that the scene attracted violence, gang culture and crime, largely from outside of Sheffield.
Sheffield's police force have stated "the only gun crime related to nightlife in Sheffield has been with bassline", and that many shootings, stabbings and drive-bys have occurred in and around bassline nightclubs including Niche. Steve Baxendale, the former owner of Niche Nightclub, has also expressed that the closure of the club that brought bassline into the spotlight has helped to increase the genre's popularity, but also that organizing bassline nights has become significantly harder, as club owners are put off by its early history. In 2009, Baxendale opened another venue in Sheffield called Niche nightclub on Charter Square located at different premises from the original Sidney Street building. It was briefly closed after another stabbing in 2010 but allowed to reopen as a members-only venue. As of 25 October 2010, the club had again been closed down permanently. It was demolished in August 2016. A new venue was opened on 28 January 2017, but closed within a year following further stabbings at the club .
Excerpt from "Heartbroken" by T2, one of the most widely known bassline tracks and the first to be internationally popular.
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Bassline was an underground scene in the West Midlands (Birmingham) and the north of England until the release of T2's single "Heartbroken" on All Around The World, which attracted international attention, entering the music charts in several countries, including the UK Singles Chart where it reached #2. Grime MC Skepta reported from a tour of several resorts in Greece and Cyprus in summer 2007 that the track was requested in clubs there. Additionally, the track received significant airplay on UK radio stations. Some music critics have said Bassline is more mainstream-friendly than grime, since it appeals more equally to both sexes, whereas grime gathered a predominantly male following.
In December 2007, a reworked version of "Heartbroken", renamed "Jawbroken", created in aid of Ricky Hatton's world title fight against Floyd Mayweather, was selected as warm-up music for the fight.
After T2's success, H "Two" O released their single featuring vocal group Platnum, "What's It Gonna Be" which reached number 7 in the national charts on downloads alone, rising to number 2 the following week, where it remained for the next 3 weeks. Later in the year, one of London's leading bassline producers, Delinquent, signed a deal with All Around The World for another national release, "My Destiny".
Tony Portelli signed the M.I.RAW Recordings single DJ Q (BBC Radio 1Xtra DJ) & MC Bonez to Ministry of Sound to release the single "You Wot!" nationwide for download and sale on 14 July 2008 & 21 July 2008 respectively. The video for the single has received airplay on notable TV music stations such as MTV Base. 23 Deluxe also released their single "Show Me Happiness" which reached number 2 in the BBC Radio 1 Dance Singles Chart. "Daddy O" - a song by Wideboys reached number 32 on the 2008 UK singles chart.
An example from "Bassline Bangers". Harder bass lines and 4x4 beat can be clearly heard.
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After its success through the mid to late 2000s Bassline began to enter a stage of commercial decline. This was mainly driven by the genre not having a presence in nightclubs as it did previously. At this point the genre started to combine elements from older 2-Step and UK Garage tracks. Artists like 1st Born, Mr Virgo, Freddo, TRC and DJ Q pioneered the new sound which called upon more highly swung beats instead of the classic 4x4 drums that were used in old school Bassline tracks. The music at this time was mainly championed by DJ Q via his weekly spot on BBC Radio 1Xtra.
With Bassline as a scene in decline and nightclub owners still unwilling to carry out events, there was a resurgence in the music as a sound and party culture mainly due to the warehouse and rave culture in the North of England.
Musical commentators observed something of a revival of the genre in 2017, with the increasing popularity of the 'Bassfest' festival and the emergence of new producers pursuing a sub-bass driven style.