Breaks (aka Nu Skool Breaks) – the awkward, unfashionable older brother of Big Beat or a brief explosion of musical inspiration that never quite found it’s true potential?
What do you think when you hear the word ‘Breaks’? For me it’s a memory of a mini golden age of dance music, although, when I look back on it really there were a small number of amazing tunes in amongst a lot of mediocre music. Like most genres, it started out as something really fresh and exciting, but before long lost it’s lustre. I really though it would be the ‘next big thing’ but how wrong I was! When I was djing as part of the [Dissident] soundsystem everyone else played music at least 40bpm faster than me. People were so resistant to anything slower, so it was well annoying when Dubstep blew up, with at tempo of basically 70bpm! Anyway I’d like to give my take on the breaks scene, how I got into it and where it went.
The first type of dance music I really got into was drum and bass. This was in the late nineties. My friend Dan would make awesome mix tapes and me and my mate from uni would venture out from darkest High Wycombe to dnb nights at clubs like The End and Fabric. It was pretty awesome to be fair, but if I’m honest, dnb always seemed to be a bit on the fast side and kind of one dimensional. The type of sounds used in all the tracks were quite similar. (actually quite often I couldn’t distinguish one track from another!) So when one night at Fabric I stumbled into room 2 and had my first taste of this new genre it totally spoke to me. That was so much variation in the type of sounds, the feel of the tracks and, importantly, it had a sense of humour. A lot of the tech-step drum and bass around that time was a bit po-faced and took itself too seriously(Although Breaks’ sense of fun eventually degenerated into lowest common denominator cheese). Having been into Hip-Hop since about 1989 I totally clicked with this new style.
I’ll always remember it, coming into room 2 of Fabric and they’re playing this ‘Jungle-y Hip hop’ with massive break downs which hit me like a ton of bricks (partly dues to the selection of chemicals that happened to be affecting my brain at that moment.) It was like going from black and white to colour – a whole new world of sounds and vibes with beats that kept my feet nailed to the dance floor.
Although when I got home from that fateful night, I had a problem. I didn’t even know the name of this new kind of music. It seems strange to think of now, but this was in the dawn of the internet, there was no Youtube or forums I could check. So for a few months this music existed in my head like a tantalising memory of an amazing dream, beautiful but fuzzy. We would go to clubs, to drum and bass nights and in the second room they would play this music. It was so frustrating not being able to find out anything about it, let alone buy it.
The next step…
Two of my friends came to the rescue. Firstly my mate Paul played me Elastic Breaks, a seminal mix by the Plump Djs which was given away with Mixmag. This still stands up for me as a fantastic mix, showcasing the best of the scene at the time and, for my money, the best tunes the Plumps have ever done. Then my friend Matt brought over a tape he had recorded of Adam Freeland’s show on Kiss FM, in which he premiered the tune which had blown me away more than any other at Fabric, the mighty Hip-Hop Phenomenon, a collaboration between Freeland, BT and Kevin Beber. I was so happy to get my hands on this track, even if it was only on tape, and it was made even better by the excitement in Adam Freeland’s voice as he introduced the track and advised the audience to ‘turn up the bass bins for this one.’
From there I took on Breaks as my own, buying vinyl and starting to dj whenever I could. It was tough, there wasn’t much of this genre about, and of what was there, not much was any good. But what was good, was really good. My favourite artists were people like Freq Nasty, B.L.I.M., Si Begg, Meat Katie, Ils, Chris Carter and the Plump Djs. (See below for a selection of their tracks). People like Meat Katie were forging an interesting blend of breaks and house music with tracks such as Next Life. When I finished Uni and moved back to Bristol I started djing as part of [Dissident] at free parties and club nights such as Toxic Dancehall and Bashout. When producing my own music Breaks was my focus for the first 5 or so years and I’ve come back to the sound in recent times.
How Breaks has influenced me.
This is me paying homage to breaks mastermind Ils, particularly the stunning album ‘Sole Trader’. Using samples of natural drums (rather than the drum machine sounds found in ‘Big Room’ tracks) and keeping the vibes light and ethereal.
This is me basically doing my best to create a track like ‘Breakin’ on the malls’ mentioned below. Probably a bit too much of a rip off if I’m honest.
Something a bit more original in an uplifting Prog Breaks vein.
Classic Breaks tracks
BT and Tsunami One – Hip Hop Phenomenon – Still stands up today, amazing sound design and a killer final drop.
Plump Djs – Scram – Back in the day known by me and my mates as ‘the electricity tune’ this is pure dance floor fire.
Stir Fry – Breakin’ in the Malls (False Prophet Mix) – Deep as you like with atmosphere for days, this is my archetypal Progressive Breaks tune. What really gets me is the pad that comes in before the final drop – still sends shivers down my spine.
Ils – Trapped – To be honest the entire album this is from – Sole Trader – is absolutely fantastic and represents a very different type of sound. Lot’s of skilfully manipulated drum breaks and samples make this a real treat for the ears. For me ‘Trapped’ is the highlight – uplifting and ecstatic.
Chris Carter – Superjack – A triumph of sequencing. This is pure rhythmic joy, and keeps the interest right till the end with clever edits and fills.