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While the widespread availability of home PC's and free sequencing software has resulted in a glut of home made techno on the net, only recently has the DIY sensibility found it's true expression online, in the form of Speedbass. Like postmodern pranksters, the exponents of the Speedbass sound mock the autonomy of the music industry, parodying its' cliches while courting its' acceptance.

"Barnstorming" the Midwest USA at speeds of 150 - 300 bpm Speedbass is the newest techno sub-genre, a postmodern cut up of electronic styles whose tracks are distributed exclusively via the internet. The term Speedbass was first coined by Producer/DJ Terbo Ted in late 1998, and in the few months since then an online community has sprung up to fuel the progression of the fledgling musical form.

Speedbass is described by it's proponents as an explosion of generic convention, though Drum and Bass, Gabber, Dub, and Rockabilly are often cited as musical influences. Discarding the "fluff" of other genres Speedbass producers favour hyper accelerated breaks and beats, which slide uneasily over the surface of warped subharmonic bass lines (a favourite Speedbass gag is to subject the listener to subsonic test frequencies). Inane vocals co-exist with hillbilly banjo, and sound effects gleaned from the vast sample archives of the internet are thrown in for good measure. Clearly stylistic consistency doesn't rank very highly with Speedbassheads, as they happily mix up a smorgasbord of aural excess where the only concession to uniformity is that a track must feature "fast beats and lots of BASS."

Demonstrating a punk rock DIY sensibility Speedbass producers seem to delight in outmaneuvering the constraints of the very musical category they have created. In the six months since it started Speedbass has now splintered into a number of sub-genres: Porn Bass, with audio samples from adult videos; Bass Rodeo, which incorporates traditional Mexican and Country Western bass lines in doubletime; and Mutant Bass, where extended bass solos, tempo shifts and dub effects are more prominent. And Speedbass fashion is as much of a stylistic pastiche as the music it accompanies. As most parties take place in remote locations, and since most of the locals are loggers and ranch hands, Speedbass dancers trade in urban rave wear for backwoods camouflage: cowboy hats and logging pants are the uniform of preference. And surprisingly the drug of choice at these outdoor gatherings is not the rush inducing methamphetamine you might expect, but a slug or two of good old fashioned moonshine whiskey.

As one observer of the fledgling scene has pointed out, there is no real consensus as to what constitutes the Speedbass sound and style, or whether the tunes are actually any good in the first place. But then in many respects it's not the sound that makes Speedbass interesting, rather how the music is made and distributed.

For the past year it has been widely predicted that the MP3 format will revolutionize the music industry, putting high quality audio compression and distribution in the hands of the consumer. By compressing audio data to file sizes that can be easily downloaded, even with a slow connection, MP3's coupled with cheap CD writing hardware pose a serious challenge to the recording industry. Putting theory into action, Speedbass producers not only source most of their samples on the internet, but distribute their tracks free as MP3's from numerous homepages, or with a software program called Hotline which allows the almost instantaneous dissemination of samples, new tracks and information. Rather than rely on the traditional vinyl dubplates to fuel their roving parties, Speedbass DJ's download new tracks from the internet and burn them to CD for mixing live.

In this environment of unhindered exchange, the metaphor of the information superway is one that Speedbass followers have taken to heart. Images of open Midwest desert highways are a recurrent theme on Speedbass homepages, where the rallying cry is "No Speed Limit!", recalling the cypherpunk assertion that "censorship is just a speedbump on the information superhighway." But how long can this utopian road journey last? Already there is talk of the first "official" Speedbass vinyl releases, which will surely spell the beginning of the end for a community whose ideals are based on the free exchange of ideas. This is something that Speedbass' proponents have predicted from the beginning: the co-option and dissolution of their creation.

"We could fabricate a movement just as convincing as anything Mixmag could dream up, but we could make it really silly and fun, and design it so anyone could jump in on it and be part of it...eventually it could become so widespread, the glossies would be forced to cover it... then we could claim victory and begin to destroy the movement as quickly as it was created." (Bob Mutant, The Bass Mutants)

This telling statement begs the obvious question: is Speedbass just an elaborate hoax designed to poke fun at the mechanisms of the recording industry? One thing's for sure, like any good punk inspired movement the days of Speedbass are numbered, so before these techno-cowboys ride off into the sunset you might as well put on your dancing boots, saddle up, and join them on the open highway.

The best known Speedbass website can be found at:

Jonathan Nicol,
May 1999