CULTURE
10 Tracks That Highlight UK Electronic Music's Relationship with Weed
A deep dive into UK breakbeat-infused club hits that all pay tribute to the sweet leaf. Take a big inhale, and turn on your subwoofers.
Published on February 13, 2019

When Caribbean musicians passed a sonic joint to the UK, the British coughed up their own distinct take on electronic music. English music historian Simon Reynolds dubbed these Anglophile club styles as part of the "hardcore continuum," a canon whose hallmarks include different takes on, and tempos of, sampled breakbeats and massive sub-bass frequencies. 

To get more granular, the birth of the hardcore continuum marked the moment when British electronic music producers departed from the house and techno blueprints laid out in America and started to draw influence from their own home-grown sound system culture, which developed following a wave of immigration from the West Indies in the 1940s. 

Throughout the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s, Caribbean transplants developed a subculture of shebeen squat parties and sound clashes between famous sound systems that competed to blast reggae, dub, ska, and calypso records the loudest. But the final seed for England's particular take on machine music wasn't planted until in the ‘80s, when loads of cassettes made their way over from Jamaica. 

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Above, a Jamaican sound system used for sound clashes — photo via

According to radio pirate MC Navigator, as quoted in Reynolds' electronic music history tomb Energy Flash, the name of the high-speed breakbeat-driven subgenre "jungle" was a bastardization of "junglist," a word first heard on one such sound tape. Jungle — along with its siblings in the hardcore continuum like 2-step, speed garage, bleep, and drum & bass — was infused with rasta vibes. MCs toasted ragga-style or espoused soundboy-isms over diced rhythms and dub's trademark FX or steppin' basslines. 

Although they drew liberally and directly from Caribbean culture, these English subgenres constituted a distinctly English take on dance music, and became the UK's voice in the international electronic music exchange. When jungle took over in the early-to-mid ‘90s rave scene, it marked a shift in Britain not only in musical styles but also in drug consumption habits, with partygoers beginning to favor weed over ecstasy. Jungle's half-speed basslines — which rolled under cut-up Amen breaks at about 160 BPM — encouraged clubbers to bob at a swaggering tempo that was much more amenable to a punter who's spliffed up, not munted

Just as the celebrated reggae producer Lee "Scratch" Perry allegedly blew smoke into his microphones in order to infuse or bless his songs with weed, so too was ganja woven into the sonic and cultural fabric of the hardcore continuum. Thus, the herb can provide a stable thread through which to trace the development and history of hardcore continuum styles that have shaped influential, chart-topping electronic music movements like dubstep. While many jungle and hardcore tracks reference spliffs or weed, we wanted to highlight specific tracks that are direct tributes to Caribbean culture and the bush. The following ten selects are by no means the definitive THC tunes in UK electronic music, but they provide a healthy blueprint for navigating the history of English breakbeat club music. 

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Catherine Fields
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Catherine Fields is a Hungarian Jew who escaped to Germany, where she currently lives and works as a doctor's tradwife.
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