Benjamin Wolff reviews

United Nation: Three Decades of Drum and Bass

This documentary gives you no time to warm up. It begins with the full-on heavy breaks and drops of drum and bass music as cast and crew are introduced in a visually stimulating opening credits. For anyone with a personal history in drum and bass or the warehouse rave scene, you are instantly hit with a wave of nostalgic euphoria as the sounds and images of your youth pulsate throughout the theatre.

United Nation: Three Decades of Drum and Bass adheres to a very conventional documentary structure. The documentary is vocalised through Terry ‘Turbo’ Stone, the founder and promoter of United Nations. There are interviews with a wide range of prolific drum and bass DJs and MCs, from Skibadee and Andy C to Sigma and DJ Fresh. All of whom, give passionate and interesting accounts and opinions of the development of the drum and bass scene from the late 80s to the present day, as well as the influence of United Nation on that scene.

The documentary is at its greatest when those interviewed are discussing the cultural and sociological implications of the music and the scene during the 80s and 90s. There are discussions on the breakdown of racial/cultural barriers, DJ Ray Keith calling the scene ‘the first time black and white people engaged on a real level’. We are also shown how the scene was a direct response and a necessary creation during a bleak political and economic climate. Or in the words of Jumping Jack Frost: ‘[it was the] middle of a recession, Maggie Thatcher, the country on its knees, people needed to dance, people needed to express themselves.’

As we go forward in time, we watch the evolution of the drum and bass scene. The turn from the ‘Summer of Love’ to thug culture, darker music and harder drugs. The introduction of the Criminal Justice Bill, the rise of the MC, and the need for tougher security. The documentary follows the music, the politics and the industry with impressive balance.

The film also follows the life of Terry Stone very closely. Often, we are taken away from focus on the music or the scene to instead focus on Stone’s personal life. To focus on his success, his married life and rise from flyerer to powerful promoter. At times the documentary appears to almost slip into a vanity project and lose touch with its discussion of the music. However, in due fairness, this is a documentary of United Nations, not just of drum and bass.

To be appreciated, the documentary requires an love for or interest in drum and bass and the rave scene, but to those that possess this, it is surely not to be missed.

United Nation: Three Decades of Drum and Bass is in cinemas now. Cameo have a special screening on 24 February 2020, including a Q&A with director Terry Stone and DJ Kid.

Reviewed as Film of the Week, in partnership with Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh.