Styles & Forms | Big Beat | Dance

The 1990s electronica that came to be known as big beat is recognised by its rhythmic clout and propulsive force. With their freaky FX and mental 303 acid lines set to block rockin’ beats, The Chemical Brothers were the architects of this fusion of hip hop and techno; Norman Cook, a.k.a Fatboy Slim, would later emulate their sound.

First at Naked Under Leather in Manchester, and then at the Heavenly Social in London, Tom Rowlands and Ed Simons (The Chemical Brothers) DJ’d across the board, Balearic-style. There was already a rich history of dance music to plunder by the early 1990s, from old-skool hip hop to breakbeat house, through indie dance or northern soul, but Tom and Ed wanted to make their own mark. Their ‘Chemical Beats’ track is considered to be the first 1990s big-beat record, the ‘chemical generation’ already being a much-used term for post-acid house, ecstasy-using clubbers. The Chemical Brothers would draw on old hardcore sounds, breaks and, crucially, guitars for their own tracks. Recorded in 1996 with Oasis guitarist Noel Gallagher, ‘Setting Sun’ topped the UK charts, and the album it came from, Dig Your Own Hole, sold a million and helped convert a swathe of alt-rock fans to electronica.

A former bassist in The Housemartins, Norman Cook had been dabbling in dance music since the mid-1980s, first fronting the dub-a-delic band Beats International, then putting out house records under names such as Mighty Dub Katz and Pizzaman. Legend has it that Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) took fellow Brighton pal Damian Harris to the amyl nitrate-fuelled Heavenly Social in London to give the Midfield General (Harris) a vision for his new label, Skint. They soon started a night in their seaside hometown, with Norman as resident – the Big Beat Boutique.

While some dance music innovations inevitably became clichés, the big beat DJs kept ahead of the pack with their interest in technological developments. Crescendos, explosions, time-stretching, sirens, huge hip hop samples – no quick-fix trick was too much for the emerging sound, which would often come out as kitsch in-synch. This was blasphemy for some, a dumbing-down of refined electronic tweakery that turned dance music into pub rock, but its importance in converting rock doubters to dance music is inestimable.

Party Time

Big beat also re-introduced a sense of fun to a dance scene that had become quite po-faced and studied. Trainspotting trip hop or chin-stroking, obscure European electronica was all very well, but hardly the heady ‘abandon and party’ spirit of original acid house. Big beat’s ‘Fuck art, let’s party’ ethos would soon lead to a number of other artists, DJs and labels banding together under this umbrella – although virtually everybody soon professed disdain for the terminology.

Aside from Skint, Wall Of Sound with Wiseguys, Propellerheads, Les Rhythmes Digitales and Monkey Mafia were the other chief label exponents of big beat. Acts such as Eboman, The...

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Source: The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Music, general editor Paul Du Noyer


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