Styles & Forms | Breakbeat | Dance

The breakbeat is, literally, the percussion-only segment of a funk or disco track, where the dancers would cut loose. Finding that this was often the segment they most wanted to play, disco DJs would cut between two copies of the same record to create a funky drummer mélange.

In the mid-1970s, too, Kool Herc invented the hip-hop technique of looping breaks into a continuous groove by using two turntables. The basis for future rappers’ street-poetry polemics had been laid.

Seething Percussive Polyrhythms

Hip-hop producers began using new sampling and sequencing technology to loop beats, some of which were collected on ‘beats & breaks’ compilation albums, primarily for use as a DJ tool. By the early 1990s, house and techno producers were also using breakbeats on tracks, and producers with a hip hop background, such as the Prodigy’s Liam Howlett or future junglist DJ Hype, created seething, percussive polyrhythms of sound.

From house maestro Todd Terry’s late 1980s experiments in hip-house, to breakbeat hardcore and jungle/drum’n’bass, breakbeat has often been a key component of 1990s electronic dance music. But by the late 1990s, some DJs were starting to see it as the main component of a new style. The emergence of the nu-skool breaks sound came out of the Friction club night, started by Rennie Pilgrem at London’s Bar Rumba. A former hardcore DJ and producer, alongside cohort Ellis Dee, Pilgrem began pioneering a new breakbeat-driven sound on his label TCR.

Friction was populated by proto-breakbeat DJs and producers who had come together out of other London scenes. FreQ Nasty, Blim and T-Power came from drum’n’bass, Mob Records boss Tayo came from house, and DJs Adam Freeland and Ali B were former press officers with a company called Slice PR before they became headline makers themselves. In part, they were also taking their cue from the breaks sound and big beat emerging from the US west coast but without the glaringly obvious hip hop samples thrown into the mix.

Something For Anyone

When Jason Nevins remixed the 1980s Run DMC hip hop classic ‘It’s Like That’, it shot to the top of the UK charts and brought the street craze of breakdancing back into vogue. Acts such as The Freestylers and The Plump DJs emerged out of breaks nights such as Passenger in Kings Cross, the former establishing themselves as one of dance music’s most popular live acts and the latter going on to act as ambassadors for the breaks sound worldwide. In the US, the crossover of breakbeats into rock was aided by acts like Crystal Method and even nu metallists such as Limp Bizkit.

Within breakbeat’s accepted step, you probably can find something for virtually everyone, and with such diverse contributors the future for breaks is looking very healthy indeed.

‘When hardcore got to 150bpm, it got a bit cheesy. That’s not a very good dancing speed either, so we’ve downed the tempo to 130, which...

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


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