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Breakbeat is a broad type of electronic music that tends to use drum breaks sampled from early recordings of funk, jazz, and R&B. Breakbeats have been used in styles such as hip hop, jungle, drum and bass, big beat, breakbeat hardcore, and UK garage styles (including 2-step, breakstep and dubstep). [1] [2]



The origin of the word "breakbeat" is the fact that the drum loops that were sampled occurred during a "break" in the music - for example the Amen break (a drum solo from "Amen, Brother" by The Winstons) or the Think Break (from "Think (About It)" by Lyn Collins). [1] [2]


1970s—1980s: Classic breaks and hip hop production

Beginning in 1973 and continuing through the late 1970s and early 1980s, hip hop turntablists, such as DJ Kool Herc began using several funk breaks in a row, using drum breaks from jazz-funk tracks such as James Brown's "Funky Drummer" and The Winstons' "Amen, Brother", to form the rhythmic base for hip hop songs. DJ Kool Herc's breaks style involved playing the same record on two turntables and playing the break repeatedly, alternating between the two records. Grandmaster Flash perfected this idea with what he called the "quick-mix theory": he would mark the points on the record where the break began and ended with a crayon, so that he could easily replay the break by spinning the record and not touching the tone arm. [3] This style was copied and improved upon by early hip hop DJs Afrika Bambaataa and Grand Wizard Theodore. [4] [ dubious ] This style was extremely popular in clubs and dancehalls because the extended breaks compositions provided breakers with more opportunities to showcase their skills.

In the late 1970s, breakbeats had attained a large presence in hip hop. In the 1980s, the evolution of technology began to make sampling breaks easier and more affordable for DJs and producers, which helped nurture the commercialization of hip hop. Through early techniques such as pausing tapes and then recording the break, by the 1980s, technology allowed anybody with a tape recorder to find the breakbeat. [5]

1990s: Evolution as electronic dance genre

In the late-1980s, breakbeat became an essential feature of many genres of breaks music which became popular within the global dance music scene, including acid breaks, electro-funk, and Miami bass, and a decade later big beat and nu skool breaks.

In the early 1990s, acid house artists and producers started using breakbeat samples in their music to create breakbeat hardcore. [6] The hardcore scene then diverged into subgenres like jungle and drum and bass, which generally was faster and focused more on complex sampled drum patterns. An example of this is Goldie's album Timeless . Josh Lawford of Ravescene prophesied that breakbeat was "the death-knell of rave" [7] because the ever-changing drumbeat patterns of breakbeat music didn't allow for the same zoned out, trance-like state that the standard, steady 4/4 beats of house enabled.

Incorporating many components of those genres, the Florida breaks subgenre followed during the early-to-mid 1990s and had a unique sound that was soon internationally popular among producers, DJs, and club-goers.

In 1994, the influential techno act Autechre released the Anti EP in response to the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, deliberately using advanced algorithmic programming to generate non-repetitive breakbeats for the full duration of the tracks, in order to subvert the legal definitions within that legislation which specified in the section creating police powers to remove ravers from raves that "'music' includes sounds wholly or predominantly characterised by the emission of a succession of repetitive beats".

In the late 1990s, another style of breakbeat emerged, funky breaks, a style that was incorporating elements of trance, hip hop and jungle. It was pioneered by the Chemical Brothers and James Lavelle's Mo'Wax Records imprint. The genre had commercial peak in 1997, when such music was topping in pop charts and often featured in commercials. The most notable artists of the sound were The Prodigy, Death in Vegas, The Crystal Method, Propellerheads. [8]


The tempo of breaks tracks, ranging from 110 to 150 beats per minute, allows DJs to mix breaks with a wide range of different genres in their sets. This has led to breakbeats being used in many hip hop, jungle/drum & bass and hardcore tracks. They can also be heard in other music, anywhere from popular music to background music in car and clothing commercials on radio or TV. [9]

The "Amen break"

The Amen break, a drum break from The Winstons' song "Amen, Brother" is widely regarded as one of the most widely used and sampled breaks among music using breakbeats. [10] This break was first used on "King of the Beats" by Mantronix, and has since been used in thousands of songs. [11] Other popular breaks are from James Brown's Funky Drummer (1970) and Give it Up or Turnit a Loose, The Incredible Bongo Band's 1973 cover of The Shadows' "Apache", and Lyn Collins' 1972 song "Think (About It)". [4] The Winstons have not received royalties for third-party use of samples of the break recorded on their original music release. [11]

Sampled breakbeats

With the advent of digital sampling and music editing on the computer, breakbeats have become much easier to create and use. Now, instead of cutting and splicing tape sections or constantly backspinning two records at the same time, a computer program can be used to cut, paste, and loop breakbeats endlessly. Digital effects such as filters, reverb, reversing, time stretching and pitch shifting can be added to the beat, and even to individual sounds by themselves. Individual instruments from within a breakbeat can be sampled and combined with others, thereby creating wholly new breakbeat patterns.

With the rise in popularity of breakbeat music and the advent of digital audio samplers, companies started selling "breakbeat packages" for the express purpose of helping artists create breakbeats. A breakbeat kit CD would contain many breakbeat samples from different songs and artists, often without the artist's permission or even knowledge. [12]


Acid breaks

"Acid breaks" or "chemical breaks" is acid house, but with a breakbeat instead of a house beat. One of the earliest synthesizers to be employed in acid music was the Roland TB-303, which makes use of a resonant low-pass filter to emphasize the harmonics of the sound.

Big beat

Big beat is a term employed since the mid-1990s by the British music press to describe much of the music by artists such as The Prodigy, Cut La Roc, Fatboy Slim, The Chemical Brothers, The Crystal Method and Propellerheads typically driven by heavy breakbeats and synthesizer-generated loops and patterns in common with established forms of electronic dance music such as techno and acid house.

Progressive breaks

Progressive breaks or prog breaks, also known as atmospheric breaks, is a subgenre of breaks that is essentially a fusion of breakbeat and progressive house. Much like progressive house, this subgenre is characterized by its "trancey" sound. Its defining traits include extended synthesizer pads and washes, melodic synth leads, heavy reverberation, and electronic breakbeats. However, unlike progressive house, very few progressive breaks tracks have vocals, with most tracks being entirely instrumental or using only electronically altered snippets of vocal samples for sonic effect. Typical progressive breaks tracks will often have a long build-up section that leads to a breakdown and a climax, often having numerous sonic elements being added or subtracted from the track at various intervals in order to increase its intensity. Progressive breaks artists include Hybrid, BT, Way Out West, Digital Witchcraft, Momu, Wrecked Angle, Burufunk, Under This and Fretwell.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Drum and bass</span> Type of electronic music

Drum and bass is a genre of electronic dance music characterised by fast breakbeats with heavy bass and sub-bass lines, samples, and synthesizers. The genre grew out of the UK's jungle scene in the 1990s.

Breakbeat hardcore is a music genre that spawned from the UK rave scene during the early 1990s. It combines four-on-the-floor rhythms with breakbeats usually sampled from hip hop. In addition to the inclusion of breakbeats, the genre also features shuffled drum machine patterns, hoover, and other noises originating from new beat and Belgian techno, sounds from acid house and bleep techno, and often upbeat house piano riffs and vocals.

Jungle is a genre of dance music that developed out of the UK rave scene and sound system culture in the 1990s. Emerging from breakbeat hardcore, the style is characterised by rapid breakbeats, heavily syncopated percussive loops, samples, and synthesised effects, combined with the deep basslines, melodies, and vocal samples found in dub, reggae and dancehall, as well as hip hop and funk. Many producers frequently sampled the "Amen break" or other breakbeats from funk and jazz recordings. Jungle was a direct precursor to the drum and bass genre which emerged in the mid-1990s.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Amen break</span> Widely sampled drum break

The Amen break is a drum break that has been widely sampled in popular music. It comes from the 1969 track "Amen, Brother" by the American soul group the Winstons, released as the B-side of the 1969 single "Color Him Father". The drum break lasts seven seconds and was performed by Gregory Coleman.

Breakcore is a style and microgenre of electronic dance music that emerged from jungle, hardcore, and drum and bass in the mid-to-late 1990s. It is characterized by very complex and intricate breakbeats and a wide palette of sampling sources played at high tempos.

Hardcore is a genre of electronic dance music that originated in the Netherlands, Belgium, and Germany in the early 1990s. It is distinguished by faster tempos and a distorted sawtooth kick, the intensity of the kicks and the synthesized bass, the rhythm and the atmosphere of the themes, the usage of saturation and experimentation close to that of industrial dance music. It would spawn subgenres such as gabber.

Electro is a genre of electronic music and early hip hop directly influenced by the use of the Roland TR-808 drum machines and funk. Records in the genre typically feature heavy electronic sounds, usually without vocals, although if vocals are present they are delivered in a deadpan manner, often through electronic distortion such as vocoding and talkboxing. It palpably deviates from its predecessor boogie by being less vocal-oriented and more focused on electronic beats produced by drum machines.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Winstons</span> American funk/soul group

The Winstons were an American funk and soul music group based in Washington, D.C. They are known for their 1969 recording featuring a song entitled "Color Him Father" on the A-side, and "Amen, Brother" on the B-side. Halfway into "Amen, Brother", there is a drum solo which would cause the release to become the most widely sampled record in the history of electronic music. Sampled audio clips of the drum solo became known as the Amen break, which has been used in thousands of tracks in many musical genres, including drum and bass, hip hop, jungle, big beat and industrial.

In popular music, a break is an instrumental or percussion section during a song derived from or related to stop-time – being a "break" from the main parts of the song or piece. A break is usually interpolated between sections of a song, to provide a sense of anticipation, signal the start of a new section, or create variety in the arrangement.

Florida breaks, which may also be referred to as The Orlando Sound, Orlando breaks, or The Breaks, is a genre of breakbeat dance music that originated in the central region of the State of Florida, United States. Florida Breaks originates from a mixture of hip-hop, Miami bass and electro that often includes recognizable sampling of early jazz or funk beats from rare groove or popular film. Florida's breakbeat style feature vocal elements and retains the hip-hop rhythms on which is based. The Florida breakbeat style however is faster, more syncopated, and has a heavier and unrelenting bassline. The beat frequently slows and breaks down complex beat patterns and then rebuilds. The genre has been described as being easy to dance to while creating an uplifting, happy, or positive mood in the listener.

Free tekno, also known as tekno, freetekno and hardtek, is the music predominantly played at free parties in Europe. The spelling tekno is deliberately used to differentiate the musical style from techno. The music is fast and it can vary between 150 and 185 bpm and is characterised by a pounding repetitive kick drum. Nevertheless, bass drum distortion by clipping is used less often as in the related genre of mainstyle hardcore. Nowadays, some tekno producers also use drum sets that rather sound trancey, since many members of the tekno subculture as well as the psytrance subculture frequently attend the same raves and the two scenes are closely connected.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dance music</span> Music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing

Dance music is music composed specifically to facilitate or accompany dancing. It can be either a whole piece or part of a larger musical arrangement. In terms of performance, the major categories are live dance music and recorded dance music. While there exist attestations of the combination of dance and music in ancient times, the earliest Western dance music that we can still reproduce with a degree of certainty are old-fashioned dances. In the Baroque period, the major dance styles were noble court dances. In the classical music era, the minuet was frequently used as a third movement, although in this context it would not accompany any dancing. The waltz also arose later in the classical era. Both remained part of the romantic music period, which also saw the rise of various other nationalistic dance forms like the barcarolle, mazurka, ecossaise, ballade and polonaise.

Drum and bass is an electronic music genre that originated in the UK rave scene having developed from breakbeat hardcore. The genre would go on to become one of the most popular genres of electronic dance music, becoming international and spawning multiple different derivatives and subgenres.

Nu skool breaks is a subgenre of breakbeat originating during the period between 1998 and 2002. The style is usually characterized by more abstract, more technical sounds, sometimes incorporated from other genres of electronic dance music, including UK garage, electro, and drum and bass. Typically, tracks ranged between 125 and 140 beats per minute (bpm), often featuring a dominant bass line. In contrast with big beat, another subgenre of breakbeat, the sound set consisted less of hip hop samples and acid-type sounds, instead emphasizing dance-friendliness and "new" sounds produced by modern production techniques using synthesizers, effect processors, and computers.

Deekline is a British producer and DJ of breakbeat, breakstep, drum and bass and garage music. He is the innovator of breakstep music which is bass-heavy, breakbeat-infused 2-step, first characterised in his 1999 hit "I Don't Smoke", which reached No. 11 on the UK charts. He is the owner of Rat Records, which has released material of such artists as DJ Fresh, Jack Beats, Stanton Warriors, Wiley, Skinny Man, Rennie Pilgrem, House Breakers and Freq Nasty. Deekline has also had notable collaborations with British electronic music producers Ed Solo and Wizard. In 2011, he opened up his online clothing store, Bass Boutique.

Belgian hardcore techno is an early style of hardcore techno that emerged from new beat as EBM and techno influences became more prevalent in this genre. This particular style has been described as an "apocalyptic, almost Wagnerian, bombastic techno", due to its use of dramatic orchestral stabs and menacing synth tones that set it apart from earlier forms of electronic dance music. It flourished in Belgium and influenced the sound of early hardcore from Netherlands, Germany, Italy, UK and North America during the early-1990s, as a part of the rave movement during that period.


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