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My Obsession with Downtempo

James Kent

A look at one man's addiction to the way out sound from the underground

When I was younger I used to listen to a lot of Rock & Roll. I grew up in the age of disco but I always preferred rock — Zeppelin, Floyd, Sabbath, Hendrix — even that bad pop metal that was huge in the '80s. In the early '90s my tastes inevitably turned to grunge and some of the better alt-rock, but before long I got turned on to techno, house, and other forms of electronic music and suddenly it was all over for Rock & Roll. Back in those crazy '90s I went through hip-hop, dub, ambient, jungle, trip-hop, house, and hardcore in just a few years, but none of those styles grabbed me and held me like my latest and greatest musical fixation: downtempo.

It may be a sign that I am mellowing out a bit, or maybe it is because I now have a small child in the house, but lately I have been listening to nothing but downtempo — it's all I want to hear. Downtempo is a musical style that seems simple on the exterior but is actually very complex when you dig into it. At first pass it may seem like acid jazz, mellow electronica, or slimmed-down drum & bass with a chill groove, but it is more than any of those descriptions. Downtempo is the first real lounge music of the new millennium, the smooth jazz of the year 2000. Unlike darker downbeat styles like abstrakt, illbient, or trip-hop, true downtempo does not sway into the macabre or dive deep into melancholy. Good downtempo does not want to be 'in your face' or 'emotionally charged' but instead aspires to be the ultimate holy grail of all chilly chill-out music. It is the gently thumping stone groove of pure leisure, the luxury of enjoying life, the soundtrack for rollin' on by with your arm hanging out the window and a big old smile on your face.

Yes, downtempo is music to relax to. It is great music to have playing in the background while working, reading, meditating, driving, taking a bath, having sex, hanging out with friends... But don't get me wrong, this is not elevator music we're talking about here. Downtempo is a strange combination of ritual trance, hip-hop, and modern electronic beats layered with soothing jazz, funk, R&B, and pop melodies. Good downtempo is like a velvet funk for the inside of your head: it's soft, lush, rich with warm tones and all sensual to rub up against. Who could ask for more?

One of my downtempo staples over the last few months has been Kruder & Dorfmeister's The K&D Sessions. Kruder & Dorfmeister are a pair of producers from Vienna, Austria, and are widely considered to be the chilliest groovemeisters in all the world. Their trademark G-Stone style has all but defined the downtempo genre, and if you are at all interested in learning more about downtempo I would highly recommend any of their albums. The K&D Sessions is a double CD on which K&D remix tracks from Depeche Mode, Lamb, Bone Thugs 'N Harmony, Rocker's HiFi and many others. This two-disc set is a great introduction to the downtempo style, is consistently sweet and mellow, and has a lot of different influences to keep it interesting.

Another place to look to for the emerging chill beats is Om Records ( I have had a compilation of theirs called Om Lounge2 in very heavy rotation in my CD player lately. Om Lounge2 has 14 great tracks from various artists — including Soulstice, J-Boogie, and afro-mistyk — and there is not a bad track in the bunch. I have come to expect great things from Om Records and again they did not disappoint. Om is known for producing great psychedelically influenced mood music, and their compilations Mushroom Jazz and Altered States of Drum & Bass are also filled with mind-melting grooves and hyper low-down funk. They have also just released Om Lounge3 which I am very anxious to check out. I would highly recommend any of Om's compilations as a good way to learn more about their particular style. I'm sure you'll find what they do pleasing to your ear.

For those of you looking for more experimental downtempo I also highly recommend DJ Krush, a longtime Japanese B-Boy making a big name for himself worldwide. Krush has put out a handful of interesting and unique albums all toying with the boundaries of hip-hop, acid jazz, and trip-hop. His latest outing, Kakusei, is a bit more dramatic and risk-taking than his 1997 solo album Meiso, but it is well worth having in your rotation for the truly dope beats and eerie textures Krush puts together.

And finally I'd like to mention a cat named DJ Dusty who has been streaming a great downtempo show called Afternoon Nap over the internet for quite some time now. If you have an internet connection and an MP3 player like Winamp, RealPlayer, or Windows Media Player, you can pick up the Afternoon Nap stream at the Shoutcast homepage ( or at Dusty's site ( where you can also find Afternoon Nap artists and play list info. The Afternoon Nap is a good place to check out what downtempo is all about, and if you like what you hear I urge you to go out and support the artists who are making this music possible.

I'm genuinely surprised that downtempo is not more popular right now. It is mellow enough for anyone to enjoy (even straights and old folks) yet it is deep and altered enough to make guided headphone journeys a blissed-out treat. You would think every radio station in America would be slipping some downtempo funk into its rotation, but with the rare exception of a few indie stations it is still only found in the DJ music underground. Some music critics may dismiss downtempo for its deliberate airiness and seeming lack of depth but I think that kind of analysis really misses the big picture. There is as much depth to serenity and leisure as there is to rage, melancholy, or any other emotional extreme. I guess I've just outgrown my rage and melancholy and have cultivated a greater appreciation for peace and serenity in my life. How about you?

Copyright : Supermassive, LLC
Tags : downtempo chill music
Posted on: 2001-05-01 00:00:00