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NOTED: 10 of Dance Music’s Greatest Basslines
Posted by Allan Struthers on October 12, 2012

In dance music, the bassline will forever hold a truly sacred position. You can throw as many spot on chord progressions, stomping drum beats and perfectly programmed synth leads into a track as you want, but nothing will ever quite outshine a perfect bassline. A precious object of rare beauty, a flawless bassline will lodge itself in your brain for eternity. It possesses the ability to reach deep inside you and summon up a magnificent euphoria that rushes through your entire body, from head to toe. The greatest basslines harness an otherworldly power to control you, to sketch a scrunched up expression of delight onto your face and to send out the sort of authoritarian fat grooves that command your muscles to shunt your limbs around in ways you didn’t even know they could go. All encompassing and inescapable, the bassline’s duty is to carry the weight of a tune, and a particularly good one will harnesses that power and slam the great bulk of a song directly into your chest. In short, basslines are pretty good.

If you are the kind of person who goes to clubs where they specifically play dance music, you’ll understand what I mean. Bass is special, and sometimes you’ll chance upon a song that really lets the low end do all the talking. As a great lover of all things bassy, I’ve taken it upon myself to compile a list of my 10 favourite basslines of all time. Here, I’m concentrating just on the tunes that pivot around strong bass riffs and that allow their other layers to take on more subtle, backseat roles. There will no doubt be some gems that I might have missed, after all, it’s pretty much impossible to have listened to every dance track ever made. However, the point of this article isn’t to split hairs about which tunes should or shouldn’t be in the list. It’s to celebrate, and hopefully share some of the finest musical craftsmanship the world’s producers have managed to display. So without further ado, allow me present to you, in no specific order, the Top Ten Basslines of All Time, Ever!

Nicholas Jaar – Mi Mujer

Just listen to the way that bassline swings around the track. At this slow tempo and with the use of distant vocals, Jaar really gives his tune a lot of space to breath, before duly injecting it with a dose of ultra thick bass, giving it the heftiness needed to shift feet on the dancefloor.

Benga and Skream – The Judgment

This is ominous done right. The tribal thumps and tension building dirge provide the perfect prelude to the heavy undercurrent that dictates the direction of the song thereafter. Carefully placed spikes of cutoff/resonance and brief LFO flourishes add an extra tang to darkness. An absolute belter.

Double 99 – Rip Groove

I know the term, ‘drop’ has become something of a dirty word over the last few years, but in the days before mindless mid-range chuggery, we had absolute bangers like this. The vocal cut alone sounds as though it could be the focal point of this song, but then, out of absolutely nowhere, a killer bassline swamps everything. Here, the level of attack on the filter nicely contrasts the speedy drums that rattle underneath, to create a lurching piece of perfect dancefloor wooziness.

Justice Vs Simian Mobile Disco

The first analog synthesizers were invented in the 1920’s. Since then, I’d contest that no one has put the lower end capabilities of them to better use than Justice and Simian Mobile Disco in this unashamedly funky chunk of synth pop madness. This is a bassline that flexes and pops around the room like an overexcited, ADHD suffering 7 year old. And yet, despite the tremendously catchy vocals and amazing rhodesy chord progression, it’s the bassline that manages to take precedence over everything. If you’re hearing this and not grooving then what the fuck is your life?

Propellerheads – Take California

I don’t think I’ve ever heard a bassline and a drum beat work so well together. The way this whole piece just rolls is incredible and when that Nixon sound bite is used as a trigger for releasing all the built up pressure of the breakdown, the end result is sort of thing that causes maniacal laughter, excessive speeding and 10 car pile ups.

The Ganja Kru – Super Sharp Shooter

This bassline is as close as you’ll get to a sonic representation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As Jekyll, it squats and bounces pompously around the first half of the track, demanding a portentous sort of respect from its hip hop beat and semi-slurred vocal counterparts. But then, after a couple of minutes, the madness takes over. Transformed is our slow paced and well measured, chunky slab of bass into a flailing, jacked up juggernaut that runs amok to the soundtrack of an ecstatic Amen Break. Absolute. Fucking. Madness.

Caribou – Sun (Midland Re-Edit)

Here we have the only remix, sorry, ‘Re-Edit’, on this list. Midland’s take on Caribou’s blissed out and ethereal track, ‘Sun’, gives the original piece a whole new sense of life. Taking the floaty pads and airy vocals from Snaith’s original and jamming them up further into the headspace than before, Midland clears the path for a bassline that subjects your body to a brutal juddering whilst allowing you the space to reach for the lasers and let your eyes roll deep into the back of your skull. Ugh, it’s perfect.

Squarepusher – Come On My Selector

It’s not too often you’ll find slap bass mixed in with dance music, and that’s because in pretty much every situation, it would probably sound really fucking stupid. But Squarepusher is a deranged genius, remember? And deranged geniuses with penchants for massacring breaks and playing the bass guitar incredibly well are precisely the kind of people I want behind the controls of a project as daunting as this. Fusing together slap bass and dance music is like trying to breed a dog with an eagle. You just know that the result is either going to be a horrific mess or one of mankind’s most wonderful achievements. Thankfully Tom Jenkins gets it spot on and manages to create something that just about surpasses the awesomeness of a flying Labrador with a giant eagle head and huge talons.

The Tuss – Shiz Ke O

Of all the tracks in the list, this one is probably the least well known. But popularity isn’t part of my judging criteria, and this is the sort of tune that I believe everyone ought to hear at least once in their life – perhaps just as they’re being born. Anyway, make it past the first 36 seconds of abstract churning and you’ll be treated to a slippery bassline that bursts onto the scene with real fluidity and acts as the slimy undergarments for an array of synth stabs, managing to stay (only just) on the right side of being stupidly cheesy. Take this time to forget being serious for a second and just ride the groove.

Floating Points – Vacuum Boogie

Okay, I said at the beginning that this list was in no particular order. Well, that was a slight lie, because I’m saving the best till last here. A trained jazz musician, Sam Shepard’s productions as Floating Points always seem to display a certain degree of maturity. With not a single loose thread on show here, the production on this track is unbelievably tight. The song picks up speed over the first 2 minutes, adding a surprisingly large number of subtle yet perfectly executed layers on in quick succession, before blasting off with (what I believe is) the greatest bassline of all time. Its perfection lies in its simplicity. Seamlessly integrated into its surroundings the 5 note sequence shakes the speakers with the exact amount of force required for the job, whilst at the same time stamping a copy of itself onto your brain for eternity. Amidst rising and falling atmospherics that evaporate in and out of reality, the solidness of this bassline remains a constant guide that holds and directs you through one of the most perfect euphoric experiences that dance music has to offer. Utterly timeless.