When news hit that Prince had passed it was like a sucker-punch to the gut. While the drum & bass scene is well known for having a somewhat guarded if not antagonistic relationship with mainstream music and celebrity culture, there’s just something about Prince that hit us at the Vault in a unique and perhaps even unexpected way.
More than just another celebrity passing, Prince seemed to represent the kind of do-it-yourself punk rock ethos at the core of drum & bass. A self-taught musician who mastered not only numerous instruments but the production and recording process itself, Prince was the perfect mix of techno-geek and guitar-head. If you grew up in the late 1970s and early 1980s and were down with Prince, you were a bit of an outlier until Purple Rain came along and blew it all wide open for the masses. Throughout it all, Prince never lost his swagger and in fact, that attitude of not giving a fuck, of bigging up “real” musicians and being an all-around inspiration and awe-inspiring force was no doubt what drew a lot of us eventual dnb-heads into his world.
Here was a Stateside artist combining funk, soul, hip-hop, rock, blues, and electronic music into one exhilarating mash-up of sound that defied genres in the same way that Prince seemed to defy clothes. It’s no wonder that so many dnb-heads cite Prince as an early influence.
For me personally, the quintessential moment was when I got my hands on the 1999 LP – that was where Prince just pulled out all the stops and took a cue from the prog rock guys and delivered two slabs of vinyl and eleven tracks that ranged from the radio-friendly “Little Red Corvette” on through to monstrous extended bits like “D.M.S.R.” and “Automatic.” Through it all was that signature groove, that funky vibe that merged the electric with the organic in ways that still holds up to this day.
I was fortunate enough to see Prince live numerous times in the past few years and there is no understating just how much presence and power he radiated in person. More than the music (which was off the chain, as expected), it was the way he was able to feed off the live band and audience alike in a kind of improvisational performance that made you feel like you were witnessing the birth of something unique and great – something that would be lost to time and hard to explain to those who weren’t there. The kind of energy that radiated off him definitely made you feel like you were in the presence of something larger than a human or mere mortal, definitely someone who you expected to be performing and sharing his love and passion for music for decades to come.
With his sudden passing, not only are we mourning the loss of an artist whose music has been intertwined with our own identities and memories growing up, but we mourn the wisdom and passion that goes with him. While this post might feel a bit too emo for the dnb-centric nature of the Vault, we can’t help but want to send a big shout out to Prince from all the junglists and dnb-heads worldwide for paving the way forward with his sound and uncompromising vision.