If, today, you were asked to imagine humanity's future, you’d probably describe a bleak, technological nightmare, and of course you’d be spot-on.
Post-lockdown, pessimism rules OK, but a few decades ago the future seemed full of promise and potential, and nothing epitomises the utopian ‘90s dream better than the lush, ethereal sound of atmospheric DnB.
So, in a possibly ill-advised attempt to stretch out our remaining years for as long as possible, let’s return to the dolphin-powered vibes of ‘90s DnB with ten atmospheric gems from the heyday of the scene.
1. JDL - The Runner
So, what else makes this track tick apart from drums, bass and Vangelis samples? Well, that’s it, bucko. Why would you need anything else when you’ve already been blessed with the finest sounds available to human ears?
Sadly never made available digitally, presumably due to the frankly audacious amount of sampling involved, The Runner is the perfect record to keep in your dusty drawer of replicant knick-knacks.
2. Voyager - Hypersleep
Another atmospheric classic inspired by ‘80s sci-fi cinema, Hypersleep features a lengthy sample of dialogue from James Cameron’s impeccable Aliens.
Yes, possibly the only jungle classic to feature the vocals of Sigourney Weaver and ‘My Two Dads’ star Paul Reiser, Hypersleep is as deep and mysterious as the cosmos itself.
Of course, the biggest mystery of all is Ripley’s absence of delight at being freed from all social and familial obligations after her 57-year sojourn in an escape pod.
3. Forme - New Element
Jazzy vibes and late night atmospherics dominate this rolling journey into the depths of advanced dance music. Sampling the aforementioned Hot Pants beat along with some Cold Sweat and vocals courtesy of Archie Shepp, this track was released on the achingly cool Mo’ Wax in the mid-90s and features on the legendary Logical Progression compilation.
Despite its ultra-hip pedigree, New Element is perhaps best known as the soundtrack to spoof director Ken Korda’s gritty Speeding on the Needlbliss from Channel 4’s The Adam and Joe Show.
Will we ever see anything that comes close to the cultural significance of this momentous ‘90s moment in our natural lifetimes? No.
4. Source Direct - Secret Liaison
Featuring tastefully programmed drum choppage, a huge, ponderous bassline and amazing atmospheric tones, this is a masterclass in timeless drum ‘n’ bass that will sound stunning even after the heat death of the universe.
5. Paradox - Deep Sleep
Another full-on Amen slammer, Deep Sleep features some beautifully sequenced breakbeat programming from Amiga-totting drumfunk legend Paradox.
A Dune-inspired rinseout that samples David Lynch’s 1984 movie adaptation to within an inch of its arid life, this track features copious vocal snippets courtesy of Kyle MacLachlan and Siân Phillips, and even Brian Eno’s Prophecy Theme gets in on the action.
It’s also worth checking out the flip side, A Certain Sound, which believe it or not is an atmospheric Amen DnB banger complete with a load of samples from - guess what? - David Lynch’s Dune (1984). Hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
6. PFM - Danny’s Song
Atmospheric DnB owes a big debt to the more psychedelic end of early ‘90s dance music, and on this track PFM combines a trippy synth hook from Aphex Twin’s Selected Ambient Works Volume II with a haunting wordless vocal from Banco De Gaia’s Heliopolis and a snappy breakbeat from Psychotropic’s Hypnosis.
This certainly wasn’t the first time PFM dipped into their record collection to provide inspiration for a track; you can hear the intro of Solo’s Rainbow (a techno cover version of the surprisingly funky theme tune to the UK children’s television series of the same name) in their earlier track, Love & Happiness.
7. Seba - Valley of the Moomins
What could be more relaxing than a visit to the idyllic Moominvalley from Tove Jansson’s beloved children’s books? Hanging out with the emotionally unavailable Snufkin, getting trolled by Little My, and conducting experiments with Snork, it would be a Moomin-lover’s dream come true.
However, these delightful denizens were inspired by Jansson’s real-life experiences as a depressed, closeted bisexual woman in the repressed mid-20th century, and appropriately there’s more to Valley of the Moomins than mere mindless euphoria. To wit, the blissful atmospherics are juxtaposed with sinister synth strings, abstract pitch-modulated breaks, and a mysterious vocal sample.
8. KMC - Alpha Centauri
The epitome of the synth-heavy Scottish atmospheric DnB sound of the late 90s, KMC’s Alpha Centauri is a suitably spacey track that eschews breakbeats for brutal techno-inspired one-shots and features an ahead-of-its-time LFO-modulated bassline that takes the genre in exciting new directions.
Fans of ‘90s Japanese sound modules are in for a treat with this one, and they will be delighted to hear some tastefully-employed Roland JV expansion presets in the mix.
9. Hieroglyphix - The Rhythm is Back
Featuring classy beats that have become much-sampled in the recent atmospheric DnB revival, this track’s titular vocoded vocal sample is taken from a demo for a Best Service sample CD.
Along with myriad synth sweeps and a catchy bassline that swaps between round, techy synths and bumping 808 kicks, this Total Science production is one of the long-running DnB duo’s funkiest atmospheric jaunts.
10. Blu Mar Ten - Santur
Based around some excellent E-MU samples of a three-stringed South Asian instrument known as the sarangi, Santur is a blissfu trip into atmospheric DnB that also features jazzy piano chords, sexy brass licks, fluttering tremolo effects and a funky analogue-style bassline that is sure to bring succour to even the most jaded electronic music fan.