bass how low can it go ...before it goes...
bass how low can it go ...before it goes...
bass how low can it go ...before it goes...
bass how low can it go …before it goes…

In the past few years there has been sinister cull.

Where there was once 4 in group it slipped down to three and then suddenly down to two.

What was once guitar/bass/drums and singer is now a singing guitar player and  a drummer standing face to face across the stage kicking out the jams.

And what’s missing? the bass is missing.

In the punk era the bass was king, some of the most iconic figures in the bands were the bassists from JJ Burnel to Paul Simonon to Sid Vicious himself they were coolest member of the band and in the case of the first two they could actually play a bit and in the case of Burnel they were quite possibly the best musician in the whole era. In post punk the trend continued with Jah Wobble and many others continuing to crank the bass into a new lead role.

Perhaps because it was so easy to play and also because of the killer bottom end and the punks love of bass dominated dub the four string was the king. Somehow though, in the past few years the bass has started to go the way of the harpsichord- a wacky instrument from the past pulled out for a curio effect on a tune.

We blame the White Stripes for this. The band rediscovered the Cramps method for playing rock n roll without a bass. Their massive influence on contemporary music added to the vile recession made 3 or 4 piece bands a real luxury. A two piece meant buying less gear, travelling to gigs in a  car and not having to argue with the bas player about the rider.


There are two piece bands who use just drum and bass and some of them ar egret but in mainstream terms they are just a bit too weird. And the two piece bands just keep coming with their varying line ups..

Of course in electronic music it has been the norm for ever from Suicide to Soft Cell and many glum looking righties keyboard duos but it’s recent move into rock n roll has left many bass players hanging around on street corners looking for work crying ‘buddy can you spare a rhythm section…?’



Previous articleFirst Step To Failure: Our True Enemy Is Yet To Reveal Itself – album review
Next articleTV Smith: Lucky Us (Unreleased Songs) – album review
Award winning journalist and boss of Louder Than War. In a 30 year music writing career, John was the first to write about bands such as Stone Roses and Nirvana and has several best selling music books to his name. He constantly tours the world with Goldblade and the Membranes playing gigs or doing spoken word and speaking at music conferences.


  1. In the same bound, live bass and drums seem to have expanded into the live electronic scene – Modestep/Myth of Unity, because live, we’re (bass) much more important to a live mix than a recorded one.

  2. Agree to an extent: the number of twee faux-indie pop duos has risen horribly over the years ever since Belle & Sebastian and Zooey Deschanel Instagrammed their way into the alternative music psyche. This fake-folk thing, that sounds like Fisher Price buying Dylan, is horrible and soulless, it sounds like the soundtrack to a fucking 3Mobile advert in which people step out of the Next catalogue and pass themselves off as hipsters.

    On the other hand we’re seeing a steadily rising profile for artists such as 4Tet, Caribou and Burial where the bass and the percussion really lead the way. Radiohead’s latest shows were surprising for just how loud and groovy Colin’s bass sounded and the setlists – with The Gloaming, Myxomatosis, Airbag, Bloom and The National Anthem among the staples – reflected this.

  3. Were it so, it would be a sad, sad state of affairs. Though, there are few bass players left who play anything like Steve Severin, Simon Gallup, Simon Raymonde, David J (Glenn Campling!), Peter Hook, Andy Rourke or Mick Karn .. just to name a few of my favorite bass players of a particular style; Bass hasn’t been quite as interesting to me since their collective heyday.

  4. Nah, can’t see it. Twenty years ago everyone was predicting the death of the drummer, due to the availability of cheap drum machines, but we’re still here. Bass-less music is a novelty at the moment but the fad will soon pass.

  5. not a chance, still the coolest of sounds, bass culture is with us to stay. The bass connects with us in a way the drum does, there’s something wonderfully primal about it. White Stripes were OK but the Lee County Killers did that 2 piece thing in a far more interesting & challenging way but were obviously far less commercial sounding & we know how the world loves it’s breaking of convention in a safe & commercially conventional way. Ultimately the White Stripes embraced the bass anyhow & Jack loves it these days.

  6. I’m also racking my brain for the Manc crew that were doing that 2 piece thing with no bass, it about 17 years ago, John Slater managed them, I’ll ask him tomorrow if you don’t remember yourself, they were good but Brits with fresh ideas were out of vogue the as they are now. …. you don’t need to publish this one matey.

  7. It’s a tragic trend that robs rock music of one of it’s crucial cornerstones…. HOWEVER, there will always be a mate you want in your band, who can’t really play an instrument; “Here you go, Sid, it’s only got 4 strings and you only play one at a time”… so realistically, it’ll never die out.

  8. Bands have shrunk to 2 or 3 pieces because of the cost of touring, labels aren’t paying for tours anymore as everyone is stealing the music. 1or 2 less people can make all the difference cost wise. Also as alot of bands sequence their music, 2 heads around a computer monitor is easier than 4. a good example of a powerful 2 piece band without bass is F**k Buttons.

  9. When i was a kid and told my parents i wanted to play bass i was told it would be easier to get in a band that way because most kids wanted to play guitar, (that didnt stop them buying me a classical guitar). But by the time i got to highschool and actually started playing bass there were no guitarists. Everyone played bass and one guy played electric guitar. So it seems to me when in the next couple years we come into our twenties there might be a bass relapse. (Considering this was a trend and not just an anomaly among my school).

  10. With less money up for grabs these days through selling records and playing gigs it stands to reason – there’s more chance of you making a living through music if there’s less of you in the band

  11. I play guitar in a 3 piece band, and it used to just be me and drums. While it was a lot funner to play guitar and drums because it can be really tight, It was unmatched to when we brout bass in. It is much more full.

  12. Kim Deal and the chap form the Senseless Things, as seen here….. httpss://

  13. agreed! i like bass. i released and watched over the production of the rothko album in the pulse of an artery, a band of three bass players and nothing else. ah much missed rothko. Anyhow, yeah, it’s still a wicked instrument. I was asked up on stage by The Walkmen to play bass on The Rat recently. But it’s a rare invitation.
    It’s less to do with sound and dynamic and more to do with economies of scale. Can put bass on laptop or can be played by guitarist via bass pedals. Saves a few hundred quid each night, apparently.

    • Thanks Simon- the piece is written by someone who loves and plays bass! just noticed loads of two piece bass less bands in recent years…it’s a sort of call to arms!

  14. Back in the 1980s, the underground Canadian band Deja Voodoo employed a two man lineup, guitars and drums, though that was primarily because the two members didn’t feel the need for extra members, not financial reasons. On the other side, ska bands drive guitar to the background as rhythm instrument there for flavour, or even dispense with them entirely. And Morphine completely rid themselves of guitar as a bass/drum/baritone sax outfit.

    The thing I hate about top 40 “music” that the intent seems to be to eschew musicianship, it’s all cannibalism and theft of others’ work. It’s not just the packaging and commercialization that pisses me off, it’s the complete lack of improvisation, work ethic and talent from any of these “stars”. And those who do use musicians treat them as “necessary evils” to be used and thrown away. The “American Idle” (not a typo) phenomenon is putting emphasis on single people. Two person “bands” look outrageous by comparison.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here