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Front. Commun., 13 April 2022
Sec. Multimodality of Communication
Volume 7 - 2022 |

Multimodal Gestalts and Post-pandemic Utopianism: Drum and Bass on the Bike

  • Future University Hakodate, Hakodate, Japan

Framed within a society insidiously damaged by the novel coronavirus pandemic and associated lockdown restrictions, this article examines the drum and bass on the bike initiative of British DJ Dom Whiting. The initiative comprises of Dom riding a tricycle through various urban landscapes while broadcasting live to social media from on-board mixing decks. Since the first two solo rides in early 2021, thousands of individuals have accompanied him through twelve urban landscapes in addition to millions more participating across social media through views, comments, likes, and shares. Situating YouTube uploads as text, and positioning Dom as a harmonic navigator of change and reformation in the urban space, the article draws from a social semiotic multimodal approach to communication and details the development of three multimodal gestalts indicative of post-pandemic society. Against a soundtrack of thunderous drum and bass music, the three emergent gestalts communicate post-pandemic utopianism through the reformation of the relationship between motor vehicle drivers and cyclists, the reformation of urban road space use, and the reformation of diversity in organized cycling events.


The human inclination to imagine futures unknown stands an act of social dreaming, or in other words, utopianism. Sargent (1994) defines utopianism as “the dreams and nightmares that concern the ways in which groups of people arrange their lives and which usually envision a radically different society than the one in which the dreamers live” (p. 3). For centuries, humans have drawn from utopian aspiration to structure thoughts and actions geared toward solutions across diverse fields such as society, politics, and welfare. While “utopian thought can foster important kinds of reflexivity” it is often criticized as being “structured around the mindset of control, reason, and centralism, all of which have proven to be obsolete and in contradiction to the ethics of tolerance, pluralism, and dignity that has grown and spread rapidly around the world in the post-war era” (Hedrén and Linnér, 2009, p. 210). In literary discourse, popular culture, and social science research, the urban landscape provides context for both utopian and dystopian futures (Pinder, 2002; Ganjavie, 2014). The urban landscape provides a visual canvas for the expression of structural inequalities and for the optimism of regenerative possibilities (Conte and Monno, 2016; Nijman and Wei, 2020). While the visualization of utopian aspiration has been established through the urban environment, less attention has been given to the soundtrack or musical accompaniment to such dreams and aspirations.

Music as a temporal sensory aesthetic can be considered distinct from noise. Griffin (2005) details how “music can reflect the material tensions of society but with transformative energies which prefigure and anticipate change,” further adding that through “its vaguely mimetic and revolutionary aspects combined, music reflects the contusions of the here and now, but also designs the not-here, the not-now, and the not-yet of the utopian” (p. 247). As a genre, drum and bass is a “highly visceral, exhilarating style of music consisting of thunderous bass lines and frantic drums” (Fraser and Ettlinger, 2008, p. 1,648). As a temporal sensory aesthetic, drum and bass music has heritage connections to utopianism in a euphoric or sublime sense, the urban landscape, and aspirations for social change. This is particularly apparent among those impacted most by pre-existing structural inequalities. For instance, during the 1990s drum and bass served as a medium for cultural expression among working class youth in London who were disenfranchised and disillusioned with the opportunities provided by mainstream society (Reynolds, 1998). The rhythmic predictability and breakbeat structures are believed to provide sensory comfort to marginalized audiences when juxtaposed against the disruptive unpredictability of survival within complex post-industrial urban landscapes (Christodoulou, 2020).

While the realization of a post-pandemic urban utopia is an impossibility, the aspirational act of social dreaming nonetheless inspires and informs contemporary urban planning designs. Likewise, while it is improbable that drum and bass can sustain equitable social change, it is nonetheless an aspirational medium for the canvasing and communication of futures unknown. As individuals and communities in the UK emerge from lockdown restrictions, opportunity exists for scholars to draw attention toward post-pandemic initiatives with the potential for social change and reformation in the urban space. Situating YouTube video uploads as text, and positioning DJ Dom Whiting as a harmonic navigator of change and reformation in the urban space, this article draws from a social semiotic multimodal approach to communication and details the development of three multimodal gestalts indicative of post-pandemic society set against a soundtrack of thunderous drum and bass music. The drum and bass on the bike initiative is significant due to the success achieved within a relatively short time frame. Since the first two solo rides in early 2021, thousands of individuals have accompanied him on rides through Birmingham, Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol, Cardiff, Leeds, London, Manchester, Nottingham, Oxford, and Swansea in addition to millions more participating across networked social media through views, comments, likes, and shares.

Discourses of Damage

As of January 27th, 2022, over 16 million cases of SARS-CoV-2 have been documented in the UK resulting in 154,702 deaths (Worldometer, 2021). Since March 23rd, 2020, UK citizens have been subject to state-sanctioned lockdowns and restrictions on social movement, community participation, and interpersonal contact with friends and family (Institute for Government, 2021). Throughout, accusations of overzealous policing, infringements on civil liberties and government hypocrisy have been commonplace (Liberty, 2020; Spurrier, 2020; Cunliffe, 2021; Harrison, 2021; Fisher, 2022; Grierson, 2022). The Independent Scientific Pandemic Insights Group on Behaviors (SPI-B) which “provides behavioral science advice aimed at anticipating and helping people adhere to interventions that are recommended by medical or epidemiological experts” (UK Government, 2022, p. 1) have been condemned for the explicit and unethical manipulation of fear to control citizen behavior and justify lockdown restrictions (Dodsworth, 2021). The SPI-B advised the UK government that “the perceived level of personal threat” from the novel coronavirus should be increased as “a substantial number of people still do not feel sufficiently personally threatened” (cited in Rayner, 2021). Entire communities have been insidiously damaged through tactile incentives undermining social cohesion and trust (Walker, 2020).

American philosopher John Rawls warns that without inclusive sentiment individuals become “estranged and isolated in their smaller associations, and affective ties may not extend outside the family or a narrow circle of friends.” The danger being that “citizens no longer regard one another as associates with whom one can cooperate to advance some interpretation of the public good,” but instead “they view themselves as rivals, or else as obstacles to one another's ends” (Rawls, 1971/1999, p. 206). Rather than promoting solidarity and framing fellow citizens as comrades in a shared struggle against an invisible enemy, official discourses of lockdown have advanced the anxiety-provoking idea that our fellow citizens represent an existential threat due to their infectious potential. Shields et al. (2020) document how in such a scenario, “bodies are suspect because they are involuntary toxic media of infection. Contact between bodies becomes a feared danger that actualizes the risk that is widely felt and discussed” (p. 218) (i.e., it is not the “virus” that should be feared but rather “each other” within whom the virus resides). The consequences of exclusionary social practice alongside fear-arousing discourse include physical and mental health problems (Galea et al., 2020), unemployment and work instability (Partington, 2020), and the exacerbation of class inequalities (Arber and Meadows, 2020). Drawing attention to the impact of inequality on human suffering, the Centre for Social Justice (2021) outlines how the novel coronavirus pandemic in the UK has caused “disproportionate hardship among many of the least well-off in our society” (p. 6) thereby further entrenching the cracks and fissures of a society damaged through the austerity measures of the conservative and liberal democrat coalition governments.

Post-pandemic Potential

While the pandemic has caused untold human suffering, recent research has identified several areas in which the pandemic has contributed to social improvement. The Centre for Social Justice (2021) report mentioned above also draws attention to grassroots resistance in the form of “an outpouring of community spirit and localism which many see as an opportunity to rebuild our social fabric” (p. 6). The pandemic and its associated prohibitions have reminded individuals and communities of the importance of face-to-face interpersonal connections in the management of mental wellbeing (Together Coalition, 2021) and this has given rise to increases in solidarity and activism across local communities (Lock, 2020). Landrigan et al. (2020) document how the pandemic has promoted greater global awareness and a collective resistance against structural violence underpinning the disproportionate impact of the novel coronavirus on ethnic minorities and those with low socioeconomic status. The same authors also highlight “a remarkable worldwide reduction in ambient air pollution” (p. 447) which they believe presents “a once-in-a-generation opportunity to emerge from this crisis and to build a cleaner, healthier, and a more just world” (p. 448). A reduction in air pollution has correlated with a greater appreciation for nature and the outdoors. In a study across nine countries, Pouso et al. (2021) conclude that while strict lockdown restrictions increased the likelihood of mental health disorders, the symptoms were reduced through having access to outdoor spaces. Such findings echo those found in other contexts. In largescale study within the US state of Vermont, Morse et al. (2020) highlight the therapeutic role of nature in times of crisis such as in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina where outdoor parks provided psychological, physical, and social benefits to survivors.

It is apparent that the outdoors can provide significant affordances to humans when experiencing or recovering from crisis. Relative to the novel coronavirus pandemic, these affordances are heightened with the outdoors as a site of unconstrained dynamic freedom and movement juxtaposed against the static confines and limitations imposed through indoor lockdowns. Cycling has emerged as an accessible means of experiencing outdoor dynamic freedom and movement. During the pandemic the number of people cycling in the UK rose considerably for the purpose of leisure and fitness (Laker, 2021). Cycling also appeals to urban designers and bicycles often feature in utopian urban transport systems due to their flexibility, relatively low-cost, and low impact on the environment. Throughout the pandemic cycling was incentivised as “a low-cost, sustainable, equitable, and space-saving mode of transport” (Kraus and Koch, 2021, p. 1). During the first wave of lockdowns, the UK Transport Secretary gave a speech in which he declared that “one form of transport which has seen a significant increase is cycling—it is great to see people switching to a clean, green mode of transport with significant public health benefits” (UK Government, 2020). In addition to physical health benefits such as increased cardiovascular health, the known mental health benefits of cycling include reductions in stress, anxiety, depression, and reduced susceptibility to dementia. These mental health benefits are exacerbated through the interpersonal contacts and social interactions gained through cycling with other individuals. Cycling therefore also serves as an activity for communities to come together and re-establish a sense of cohesion (Garrard et al., 2021). Within the UK, bottom-up calls for more equitable and inclusive social change are now more vocal than at any other point in recent memory. A strong appetite therefore exists for the creation of alternative post-pandemic futures rather than for a return to the way things were prior (Binding, 2020).

DJ DOM Whiting and Drum and Bass on the Bike

The drum and bass on the bike initiative was created by British DJ Dom Whiting and borne out of frustration during the original UK lockdowns. In a media interview soon after the rides began, Dom explains, “I wanted to bring people together and enjoy a bit of music, because we've been away from each other for a long time. We hadn't had live music for so long, it's nice for people to be able to come out and experience it” (cited in Busby, 2021, p. 3). As of November 2nd, 2021, 12 drum and bass on the bike rides have been uploaded to YouTube and these videos provide the analytical materials in the current study.

The role of a DJ is multifaceted but revolves around the playing of music for an audience. It is understood that contemporary DJs have abilities and skills relating to a sense of rhythm and timing, perception of atmosphere, good interpersonal communication skills, and technical hardware abilities. As culture-bearers and culture-brokers (Takahashi and Olaveson, 2003), DJs must be aware of the needs and expectations of an audience and how different demographics are motivated to participate. Brewster and Broughton (1999) frame DJing as “an emotional, improvisational artform” wherein the DJ aims to master “the relationship between some music and hundreds of people” (p. 11). Through reading and manipulating emotion, the desired relational dynamic of unity and connectedness is sought after wherein individuals contribute toward the shared vibe (Reynolds, 1999). The vibe, as a sensory abstraction, has been defined as “a kind of energy or pulse which cannot be expressed or understood in words but as something which can only be physically experienced” (Takahashi and Olaveson, 2003, p. 81).

In relation to the characteristics of the drum and bass vibe, Christodoulou (2013) outlines how a drum and bass DJ is required to “provide a continuous soundscape that conveys a sense of the urban jungle as a battlefield of accelerated culture in which only the most competently adapted to the challenging conditions of life in a post-industrial inner city can survive” (p. 208). Moreover, with “a volatile rhythmic framework, an effect of cyborg artificiality,” the aesthetic of the drum and bass vibe serves to align it within “a larger constellation of social concerns” (Chapman, 2003, p. 1). However, these appeals do not need to resonate in the conscious mind as drum and bass is believed to transcend conscious awareness and intellect. Muniz (2017) suggests that drum and bass “seems to have created a kind of religious fervor in its listeners and followers that is far beyond what other music genres seem capable of pulling” (p. 2). The appeal of drum and bass within the human psyche and its relevance to alternative social and cultural outcomes is mirrored in the observations of other researchers who have suggested that the music “offers insight into more general issues regarding the relation between alternative cultural economies and capitalism” (Fraser and Ettlinger, 2008, p. 1,647).


Bateman et al. (2017) outline that any multimodal analysis must start with fixing the analytical focus according to a research question that is to be pursued. After witnessing a dramatic surge in popularity of the drum and bass on the bike initiative across various social media platforms and in terms of actual participation, the author was moved to understand what post-pandemic social reformation cues were responsible for the widespread appeal of the initiative. The current study draws from a social semiotic multimodal approach to communication and details the development of three multimodal gestalts indicative of a post-pandemic society. A social semiotic approach to multimodality extends the analysis and interpretation of language to be inclusive of various communicative modes which service the construction of overall gestalts of meaning (Kress and van Leeuwen, 1996). Researchers are required to work out how “components—or modes—work together to make meaning and understanding in what ways particular modal choices are shaped by the interpersonal, social and cultural contexts of their use” (Flewitt et al., 2019, p. 1).

In the current study, attention is directed toward overall gestalts of meaning inferred by the perceptual subjectivity of the researcher and supported by the online comments of viewers on YouTube. This top-down approach to perception and the inference of meaning is underpinned by the “resource integration principle” (Baldry and Thibault, 2006, p. 4) which emphasizes “the interaction of smaller-scale semiotic resources on higher-scalar levels where meaning is observed and interpreted” (p. 19). The value of inferring meaning from multimodal gestalts is further underscored by the super-addictive effect of multisensory integration which contends that the processing of multimodal information generates a more significant cognitive response than if each unit of stimuli were presented unimodally. It is therefore believed that the overall sum exerts a greater degree of influence on meaning-making and understanding than the constituting parts taken in isolation. In terms of procedure, the 12 video uploads detailed in Table 1 were watched several times while extensive research notes were compiled. The purpose of these viewing sessions was to perceptually draw out commonalities between the rides which could be used to (1) explain the appeal and popularity of the initiative and (2) which were indicative of a post-pandemic society. To support this process viewer comments were also extracted from YouTube. These comments were not quantified or formally coded as their inclusion was for the purpose of supporting the validity of the perceptual subjectivities of the researcher pertaining to the extraction of the multimodal gestalts. The lack of quantification in the current analysis also extends to the identification of communicative modes as the actual number of modes used is not important, rather what is important is “the complexity of interlinked communicative modes or the intensity of a specific mode or several modes employed by the social actor” (Norris, 2004, p. 104).


Table 1. The drum and bass on the bike rides (information correct as of January 31st, 2022).

After several iterations three primary multimodal gestalts were identified as communicating post-pandemic utopianism through the reformation of the relationship between motor vehicle drivers and cyclists, the reformation of urban road space use, and the reformation of diversity in organized cycling events. These gestalts were extracted based on their consistency across all video uploads and ride experiences. The three gestalts essentially became an integral feature of the performative and participatory experience and were therefore subject to high degrees of repetition and visual representation. Moreover, given the contested use of road space in the UK between motor vehicles and cyclists, in addition to the recent changes in the Highway Code, it was believed that these three gestalts, inclusive of a desire for more diverse participation and interactions within outdoor social events, marked a significant shift from social experiences and interaction prior to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.


Across all ride videos posted to YouTube the camera position is fixed thus limiting the frame of observation. The consumption of the experience through YouTube has the potential to therefore be far removed from that experienced by individual riders during the event. This applies to a range of sensory inputs and encounters pertaining to sight, sound, smell, and touch. The livestream Facebook and YouTube viewers experience the drum and bass on the bike rides from a backwards facing camera in which Dom and his mixing decks are centred within the foreground. Consumers of the livestream Facebook and YouTube uploads therefore always view Dom within a fixed frame of movement while other individuals remain in a state of dynamic flux as their position within the frame changes and alternates. All riders are foregrounded against a rolling canvas of an urban landscape. The central and static framing of Dom also identities him as being the leader of the drum and bass on the bike initiative. Although the riders are moving forward through the urban environment and negotiating various obstacles along the way, the remote social media viewer is only able to look backward toward the oncoming riders. For the remote social media viewer, the backward facing camera prohibits the future from being known until the moment of experience. The perpetual state of temporality and moment-to-moment experience contribution to meaning-making filtered through time as an unseen sensory variable. This in turn stimulates arousal and anticipation of what is about the happen and the framing of the real-time riders as travelers forging onward through time and space into the unknown.

During the first two drum and bass rides, Dom rides solo. Almost all spoken language comes from Dom speaking into the microphone, typically prompted through interaction with his handlebar mounted smartphone. As the rides are livestreamed on Facebook, remote social media viewers can participate through posting real-time comments. Dom's response to the comments almost always consists of a “shout out” inclusive of mentioning the name and location of an individual viewer (e.g., “Out to Harry listening in Jersey!”). In DJing culture the act of “shouting-out” serves to build community through a declaration of allegiance (Jennings and Petchauer, 2017). In contrast to the live comments posted through Facebook, participant comments on YouTube reciprocate the affective emotions between the DJ and the audience with similar terms channeled back toward Dom such as “big up from,” “much love from,” and “thank you from.” The remote social media audience is “shouting-out” the DJ thus establishing a mutual relationship of community inclusion and respect. Further evidence of this can be seen in the transmission of a slogan which allows participants to align themselves within an imagined community of likeminded others. Concerning the formation of social movements, “when it comes to sustained collective activity, the key factor at play is the development of a common framework of identification” (Chodak, 2016, p. 277). The author details how a fundamental component in the establishment of a common identification, especially within social movements with viral diffusion potential, is the use of slogans which “can be treated in terms of creating networks of support for participants of collective action” (p. 294). Through the repetition of slogans, inclusive of those emblazoned on social media merchandise, participants can establish and affirm their own identity and membership within a collective while also using the slogan as a call for social action relative to a particular agenda (Pickerill and Krinsky, 2012). The drum and bass on the bike slogan of “yes, yes” is simple in structure, easy to memorize, and a literal affirmation of approval. During the first two rides, Dom repeats this slogan multiple times as an indicator of inclusion, approval, and agreement. As with the “shout-outs,” remote social media viewers then re-affirm their alignment, appreciation, and community membership through repetition of the slogan in the comments section on YouTube.

Multimodal Gestalt 1

The drum and bass on the bike initiative communicates post-pandemic utopianism through the reformation of the relationship between motor vehicle drivers and cyclists. During the first few drum and bass on the bike rides, Dom's primary face-to-face interactions come through communication with the drivers of various motorized vehicles as he cycles through the urban landscape. The relationship between cyclists and drivers of motor vehicles has received significant attention in the UK due to the realities of poor cycling infrastructure and the fact that cars were involved in at least half of cyclist deaths during 2019 (Webster and Davies, 2020). It is well-documented that emotional tension exists between cyclists and other road users. Walker and de Castella (2013) report on the “war between drivers and cyclists” while others have highlighted how “frightening or annoying non-injury incidents...are an everyday experience for most people cycling in the UK” (Aldred and Crosweller, 2015, p. 379). As a solo rider, Dom positions his tricycle on the shoulder of the road thereby submitting the primary road space to the various motor vehicles encountered (Table 2). This relational positioning can be considered traditional in that cyclists are expected to assume a subjugated position on the road in relation to motor vehicles. This dynamic has long been confirmed through the UK Highway Code regulations. However, from January 29th, 2022, several new amendments to the UK Highway Code came into effect including changes to the hierarchy of road users and the road positioning of cyclists. The new rules place “those road users most at risk in the event of a collision at the top of the hierarchy” while cyclists are able to ride “in the center of their lane on quiet roads, in slower-moving traffic and at the approach to junctions or road narrowings” (Department for Transport, 2022). Mainstream UK media have generally responded to these changes by inflaming pre-existing tensions thus legitimizing the right of other road users to view cyclists as targets of aggression.


Table 2. Reconfiguration of the relationship between motor vehicle drivers and cyclists.

The reconfiguration of the relationship between cyclists and motorized vehicles, in terms of space, road access rights, perception and emotion, is important for the creation of more equitable urban environments. Dom communicates with drivers by asking “Can I get a horn?” or “Where's the horn?” In addition to language, this request is accompanied by an extension of the microphone toward the driver, an attempt to make direct eye contact with the driver, and on some occasions, through a pushing gesture which replicates the pushing of a steering wheel horn. The extension of the arm and microphone toward the vehicle is symbolic in that it is literally extending an invitation to participate through dialogue.

Dom's approach is a tactile negation of a common sound indicator of anger and aggression, the kind frequently directed toward cyclists on UK roads. By framing the giving of a horn as a sign of inclusion and participation, further supported through language which “shouts out” the “horning crew,” Dom is pacifying drivers who might otherwise use the horn as an expression of aggression and disapproval with Dom's presence on the road. When receiving “a horn” Dom typically deploys his slogan of “yes, yes” as an affirmation of approval and signification of community inclusion into the “horning crew.” Through language and embodiment, the cyclist and driver are brought into a relationship akin to that of the DJ and an audience. In later rides, these expressions and gestures are replicated by other riders who accompany Dom, and such actions serve to indicate and affirm membership within the newly formed community of riders. Primed by the routines established on the first two rides, the giving of a horn is also met with collective cheers and whistles from other riders. Through the reconstitution of participation and meaning, drivers who interact with cyclists by giving the horn are rewarded rather than condemned while aggressive outcomes and potential conflict are avoided.

Multimodal Gestalt 2

The drum and bass on the bike initiative communicates post-pandemic utopianism through the reformation of urban road space use. In the third drum and bass on the bike ride, Dom rode through Bristol and was accompanied by ~20–30 other riders from the start. As no community rules or routines for real-time participation had yet been established, the Bristol ride stands as the most authentic and acts as the procedural template for participation on subsequent rides. This ride also witnessed the transformation of public perception from an eccentric solo rider playing loud music to the spectacle of a collective of riders moving through the urban landscape in alignment with a soundtrack. From the evolving spatial dynamics communicated in Table 3, the Bristol ride was the first demonstration of how a small number of individual riders formed into a collective able to dictate road use terms to more powerful and dangerous motorized vehicles. The riders can be seen spread across the entire width of road thus demonstrating their collective power to occupy and reconfigure urban spaces. Behind the 20–30 riders, several motorized vehicles are being held up although none of them used the horn as an indicator of aggression or as a demand for the riders to vacate the road. The riders have thus attained partial safety and greater powers to assert their right to occupy the road space by way of numbers. The spectacle of the collective advancing down the middle of the road raises the attention of pedestrians occupying their traditional space on the pavement.


Table 3. The reformation of urban road space use.

The frames extracted in Table 3 show the development of a collective social movement around Dom who remains fixed as an anchor point from which the movement grows outward across the urban road space. Relative to perception and grouping principles, this expansion begins with a high degree of proximity and interpersonal space between individual riders and then later, as a collective movement and group identity emerges, with a low degree of proximity and interpersonal space until the entire urban road space is occupied, and motorized vehicles are paralyzed as they are consumed by the cycling collective. The full-scale occupation of the urban road space indicates the existence of critical mass riding. As a form of social activism, Parry (2015) describes how critical mass riding “is an international phenomenon that has proved remarkably mobile across borders and has prompted civil and legal contestation in many cities and jurisdictions” (p. 345). In swamping the roads, critical mass rides restrict the movements of other motorized vehicles thus promoting change toward more environmentally friendly urban environments. In post-pandemic times, critical mass riding assumes greater symbolism as reflected in several YouTube comments. The critical mass is seen as an example of “freedom” and “power to the people” awarding a “sense of normality” back to people suffering at the hands of lockdown restrictions. However, critical mass riding also encourages a disregard for traffic regulations and a lack of individual responsibility and awareness for other road users.

On later rides the occupation of the road space and the safety attained in numbers also gives rise to more elaborate forms of individual expression such as bicycle tricks, wheelies and the setting-off of smoke flares thus further contributing to a carnivalesque atmosphere and experience. As part of the reformation of the communal use of urban road space, the cycling movement reconstitute the road space as a temporal or mobile dancefloor. Dancing is an embodiment of cultural discourse manifested through the body in a variety of ways “subject to socially and historically variant conventions and divisions” (Durant, 1984, p. 95). In relation to the unity and connectedness expressed through the notion of the vibe (Takahashi and Olaveson, 2003), numerous instances were observed of specific dance movements associated with drum and bass. Given the high tempo of drum and bass music and its Jamaican roots, crafted modes of discursive embodiment are drawn in contrast and tend to reflect slow, controlled movements such as that seen through “skanking” or “two-step” dancing. Across many of the rides, Dom can be seen gesturing with both arms raised in the air. Dom thumps his arms back-and-forth in rhymical alignment with the beat. Other riders replicate this motion with the specific finger position indicative of heritage connections with drum and bass music. The hand and fingers are formed into the shape of a gun by extending the thumb, index finger and middle finger while closing the ring and little finger. With roots in “Jamaican reggae sound-system events where local ‘Yardie' gangs would often meet to settle scores with gun violence” (Christodoulou, 2020, p. 18), this movement is common within the participatory framework of drum and bass and is often accompanied with shouts of “bo!” intended to replicate the sound of gunshot. Such embodiment is also believed to “connote an ability to survive inclement social circumstances in everyday urban life” (Christodoulou, 2020, p. 18).

Across the various rides there is evidence of collective learning in terms of the cues provided by urban design features. An example of this can be seen when the rider collective enters a tunnel or passes under a bridge. At this point Dom typically turns the music volume down and holds his microphone in the air which is met with collective cheers, shouts, and whistles. This exchange is performed without spoken instruction or guidance meaning that the participants have taken communicative cues from elsewhere after watching others perform the same ritual in previous video uploads. The tunnel or bridge, as urban design feature, provides a communicative prompt for the collective to act in a certain manner, first with Dom reducing the volume of the music and raising his arm and the microphone in the air, which in turn is a cue for the riders to make noise and raise their own arms. The tunnel or bridge then reverberates the sounds made by the riders thus contributing toward the vibe.

Multimodal Gestalt 3

The drum and bass on the bike initiative communicates post-pandemic utopianism through the reformation of diversity in organized cycling events. Despite the known health and community interaction benefits of large-scale cycling events, participation in such events is usually quite strictly regulated in terms of equipment specification, gear such as clothing, helmets, shoes etc., fitness level, and interest in cycling as a sport. This is certainly the case for competitive events. From a non-competitive perspective, following the London 2012 Olympic Games and the success of the GB cycling team, broad societal interest in recreational cycling has grown at a significant rate. A London School of Economics report released after the London 2012 Olympic Games describes how the increase “in cycling's popularity is not an isolated event or confined to an elite sports segment: it is consistently being reflected across the UK at all levels ranging from social; occasional and regular; commuting; frequent and increasingly, tourism and holiday cycling” (Grous, 2012, p. 9).

It nonetheless remains that cycling, whether for recreation or large-scale participation, attracts a niche profile of rider. Aldred et al. (2016) explore the extent to which increases in cycling within the UK have reflected increases in rider diversity. They conclude that “in areas where cycling has increased, there has been no increase in the representation of females, and a decrease in the representation of older adults,” further noting how the “UK's culturally specific factors limiting female take-up of cycling seem to remain in place, even where cycling has gone up. Creating a mass cycling culture may require deliberately targeting infrastructure and policies toward currently under-represented groups” (p. 28). The drum and bass on the bike initiative therefore stands as an example of a large-scale non-competitive cycling event (i.e., cycling as the primary form of real-time participation) which is inclusive of forms of diversity not otherwise seen within society.

Across the rides evidence of diversity can be seen through the various types of equipment used to participate (e.g., different kinds of bicycle and scooter). There is also significant diversity of rider which is more reflective of urban landscapes in the UK than it traditionally is within the sport of cycling. There is participation by young and old riders, male and female riders, riders of different racial backgrounds, riders with different body types and physical profile. The videos also showcase different fashions and clothing types. Some riders can be seen smoking and consuming alcohol while others are eating. There is also evidence of animal involvement with dogs (assumed to be pets) being brought to the event in addition to one rider having a parrot on his shoulder. From such diversity of participation, the drum and bass on the bike initiative communicates unbound inclusivity to an extent which is otherwise difficult to find within contemporary society. It could also be argued that the diversity of participation and inclusivity shown within the video uploads is facilitating improved social relations between community members of different backgrounds. Having spent almost 2 years apart and isolated under the lockdown restrictions associated with the pandemic, such large-scale displays of close interpersonal contact and communication provide inspiration and hope as society builds toward a post-pandemic future.

During the Brighton ride, Dom made several comments into his microphone expressing how overwhelmed he was that many people had come out to participate. He also referred to the transformative potential of YouTube comments— “if you're re-watching this back on YouTube, thank you very much as well, I've been reading through all the comments, literally given me a new lease of life, no joke.” Dom is situating himself as the recipient of positive feedback in the way that a DJ receives feedback from an audience. Through the giving of drum and bass on the bike to others, others have given back to Dom in an exchange that solidifies community inclusion and identity while also prompting awareness of personal and social transformation. Several YouTube comments referred to the wider appeal or greater significance of drum and bass on the bike through reference to post-pandemic culture, the bringing of people together and expressions of desire for the same experience within their own urban environment. During this ride Dom appeared to be much more aware of what was being created as he asserts, “this is officially becoming a movement and I can't believe it.” At the end of the Cardiff ride, Dom again affirms how the drum and bass on the bike rides have contributed to his own personal transformation in referring to “...some of the best experiences of my life doing these bike rides.” It is also telling that none of the riders, including Dom, appear to be wearing face masks or are concerned with maintaining social distancing. To this end, participation may be seen as a sign of rebellion, rejection of fear, and the prioritization of enjoyment with others over potential health hazards or infection risks.

The drum and bass on the bike initiative stands as an unofficial social movement with significant cultural and community value. However, in contemporary society it is understood that notions of diversity hold significant appeal to various corporate agendas. It can be suggested that the success of the movement across different urban landscapes puts it at risk from commercial commodification. There has been evidence that the drum and bass on the bike rides have already been recruited by the capitalist agenda, the same agenda which promotes structural inequalities in society and which drum and bass music is resistant toward. For example, Dom has recently featured in numerous interviews and newspaper articles (Busby, 2021; Way, 2021) in addition to a television commercial for the BBC promoting the England national football team. These corporate entities have attempted to harness the authentic cultural appeal of the rides yet in doing so have reconstituted the initiative in a way that potentially makes it less appealing. Smith (1988) has referred to these interactions as concerning the “double discourse of value” in which the authentic or aesthetic value of culture circulates as distinct from economic value. Discussing Smith, Shepherd (2002) explains how in fact “these two discourses of value are bound up with each other in a binary relationship premised on the privileging of the cultural over the economic” (p. 190). Therefore, drum and bass on the bike might be viewed as “an intrinsic and sacred cultural sphere of value” but it would be a mistake to assume that such an initiative can “circulate independent of an unstable and profane economic sphere of value” (Shepherd, 2002, p. 183). Speaking further to the sanitization of the initiative, ahead of the Manchester ride, Dom was welcomed by the mayor of the city, which is hardly consistent with images of social activism, while the ride videos on YouTube have now been monetized with advertisements that interrupt the authenticity of the vibe created. A degree of authenticity has been sacrificed for the sake or financial gain and broader mainstream appeal.


Positioning DJ Dom Whiting as a harmonic navigator of change and reformation in the urban space, this article has drawn from a social semiotic multimodal approach to communication and details the development of three multimodal gestalts indicative of a post-pandemic utopian society. After more than a year living under draconian restrictions individuals and communities are emerging to urban landscapes and social relations in flux. New methods of social participation, engagement, and interaction are being crafted, negotiated, and reconstituted alongside broad calls for equitable change. During lockdown restrictions the bodies of others were weaponised and framed as potential dangers to the existential self. This article has suggested that the drum and bass on the bike initiative represents the renewal of the unified collective through a mass demonstration of individual solidarity and social activism despite lingering dangers of infection and illness. The analysis has shown how drum and bass on the bike communicates the reformation of the relationship between motor vehicle drivers and cyclists, the reformation of urban road space use, and the reformation of diversity in organized cycling events. All three of these gestalts are of topical interest within UK society meaning that the drum and bass on the bike initiative can be framed as a signpost toward a more tolerant, more inclusive, and a more unified human experience within the post-pandemic urban social space. Moreover, and as documented, the initiative facilitates improvements in physical and mental wellbeing, community spirit, and the reduction of social isolation and loneliness. Finally, and perhaps as the most significant take away from this article, the initiative situates non-judgmental diversity and inclusiveness as the norm and therefore makes a powerful appeal toward the transcendence of superficial differences which prior to the pandemic divided and structured society.

Data Availability Statement

The original contributions presented in the study are included in the article/supplementary material, further inquiries can be directed to the corresponding authors.

Author Contributions

The author confirms being the sole contributor of this work and has approved it for publication.

Conflict of Interest

The author declares that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's Note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.


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Keywords: drum and bass, multimodality, post-pandemic, social dreaming, utopianism

Citation: Rivers DJ (2022) Multimodal Gestalts and Post-pandemic Utopianism: Drum and Bass on the Bike. Front. Commun. 7:817332. doi: 10.3389/fcomm.2022.817332

Received: 17 November 2021; Accepted: 23 March 2022;
Published: 13 April 2022.

Edited by:

Janina Wildfeuer, University of Groningen, Netherlands

Reviewed by:

Dezheng Feng, Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong SAR, China
Daniel Pfurtscheller, University of Innsbruck, Austria
Arianna Maiorani, Loughborough University, United Kingdom

Copyright © 2022 Rivers. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Damian J. Rivers,