Liquid drum and bass, more commonly known as liquid funk, is a subgenre of drum and bass pioneered by London artist Fabio and later by artists such as London Elektricity and Nu:Tone. It is distinct from drum and bass due to its characteristically smooth and organic sound, taking its stylistic cues from disco, funk and jazz. You can emulate the liquid sound by adapting a few specialised, but straightforward production techniques.
By combining sequenced drums characteristic of classic drum and bass with more organic and authentic-sounding drum samples, you can achieve a more lush, dynamic drum sound. Tony Colman, who performs as London Elektricity, hires real drummers to perform on his records and blends those live drum takes with the sequenced drum tracks he’s already produced. While this may not be convenient for the typical bedroom producer, you can achieve similar results by blending sampled live drums with your existing drum sequences.
Liquid drum and bass basslines are distinct due to their relative simplicity. Where classic drum and bass lines contain a lot of movement and melody, liquid bass lines function as more of a low-end drone. By limiting the number of notes you use in your basslines and by using a deep, full synth bass tone, you can create a very authentic sounding foundation to your mix. Analogue synthesizers create a really warm, organic tone perfect for liquid drum and bass, especially when multitracked.
Pads give texture and depth to a production and liquid drum and bass has lots of them. The function of a pad is to fill out a mix without tempering the harmonic or tonal qualities that already exist. They act in a similar way to a base coat of paint, not adding anything immediate to the finished product, but without them, the final mix would not seem complete. Liquid drum and bass pads are best created using a neutral, ambient synth sound. Stick to one or two chords that relate to your existing harmonic structure and hold them down.
The distinctive ambient, atmospheric sound that characterise liquid drum and bass can be created using a range of post-production effects. Reverb, and to a lesser extent digital delay, play an important role in applying a feeling of space to your mix. Reverb, especially when applied to your pads, adds density and can approximate the sound of various recording environments, from halls to large cathedrals. Use it sparingly to tease out the subtle nuances you created with your pads.
Getting your final mix right is all important, as the way the various sounds are blended is what truly separates liquid drum and bass from similar genres. Vocals must be mixed low, pushing them back in the mix so they blend in with the rest of the instrumentation. This is an unusual technique as it goes against years of production convention, where creating the clearest, most audible vocal has been key.