I went to the ICA last night and found myself at the bar. The first time I went there was in ’95, I think – Alex and I had found some night listed in The Wire and we called them up. “Is it a jungle night?” “It’s breakbeats, but none of that white glove stuff.” He thought we were ravers. The night was drab, nobody danced. I liked it though – I’d never been to a London bar, never felt like I was part of anything new, even as a spectator. Drum n bass – even this late and clinical – was my first brush with how that feels. I went back to the ICA bar a few times, and to other bars. They always played drum n bass. It began to sound like they all had the same tape. I heard it again last night – I don’t know why I expected anything else.

I don’t know whether the brushed steel and faux-factory fittings of London barland suited the music or whether the music shaped itself to its new homes and became more precise, pedantic and cool in response. Simon Reynolds has written a lot about the symbiosis between music and crowds – the way music responds to its space is important, too. The drum n bass in the ICA bar fit the place so well – expensive, cramped, surly, made arrogant and impotent by its own respectability. (It’s a marvel anything good flourishes in this atmosphere, though it does – the gig I’d come to see was marvellous.). Playing that music in that place seemed like a natural response – not an impulsive one like a kiss, but a worn-out mechanical reaction, like switching off the alarm clock, swinging your legs out of bed, going to work. If I’d asked the people behind the bar if they liked it, what would they have said? If I’d asked why?

What happened to drum n bass? What went wrong? Well, I know about that. People like me got into it and went to the ICA to hear it. A lot of us wanted it to be more like us, not (as I hoped) less – though both reactions kill the music they love. And, crucially, nobody much bought it – the six-year stagnancy of drum n bass is an excellent example of what happens when a style has no overground to aspire to, play off and torment. But the real question is – why is it back? Drum n bass, to these ears barely changed, has been back on the pirates, back in the magazines, all year, and as I say it never left the bars but it’s as strong as ever there. Some of the music is getting into the charts now – Shy FX and T Power, and Aphrodite, making the pop jungle records that never seemed to quite surface back in the day. Even they sound plastinated, stuck in time and form like a musical Bodyworlds, more rigid than rinsin’. I resent it, and feel stupid for that – but drum n bass represented something to me. I loved it for its sounds but also for its promise of an endless parade of newness. I don’t know if that promise has been broken exactly, but the exhaustion of drum n bass, and its odd revival, still hurt a little.