Don't Miss

Breakbeat: The Lesser Known Genre of EDM


Breakbeat

Electronic Dance Music (EDM) has taken the world by storm. Whether it be through the indispensable albums of the commercially successful artists, or the can’t miss sets of the most electrifying stage performers, people are finally beginning to accept Electronic music as a constant presence on their record shelves, iTunes track list or audio albums. Even the artists of Electronic music are giving glamorous and celebrity pop stars a run for their money. It won’t be too long before children start dreaming about standing behind a turn table instead of picking up a guitar.

Lesser Known Genres of Electronic Music

Under the current circumstances, electronic music genres are gradually stepping into the limelight one by one. With that being said though, there are still a handful of genres that require greater exposure for people to recognize and enjoy them. This is partially due to the fact that it’s often quite difficult to differentiate between electronic music genres. The lesser known ones are often mistaken for the more popular ones. Although it doesn’t take an expert to find the difference between these musical styles, it’s safe to say that most people will inadvertently fail to realize the type of electronic music they are listening to unless someone points it out to them.

Introducing Break Music

Break, also known as breaks or breakbeats is an example of an Electronic music genre that has been playing second fiddle to more popular genres such as Trance and House Techno in recent times. The name breakbeats has two different but related meanings. One meaning refers to the Electronic music genre itself as stated above. The alternative meaning is the unique percussion rhythm upon which the genre is based. What makes this rhythm special is the use of a non straightened 4/4 drum pattern. This pattern is not to be found in House, Techno or Trance. The rigorous use of syncopation and polyrhythm are the key features of this rhythm. Shuffling hi-hats and its beat-skipping kick drums are also other attributes of Break. Both of these have close connections with hip hop and b-boying.

British Rave Music Influence

Breakbeats have been used as a musical instrument/device for over a century. However, the modern implication of breakbeat has more to do with the rise of hip hop in the United States during the 1980s. The richly diverse Electronic Music genre is known to have sprung forth from early versions of rave music in the United Kingdom. When Breakbeats were incorporated into rave music, it came to be known as Breakbeat Hardcore. Even before rave had kick started in the United Kingdom, American hip hop artists and turntablists were integrating Breakbeat sounds in their instrumental sets. Some say that the two scenes originated and developed simultaneously.


Use of Break Music

Breakbeats have a heavy influence in the regional scenes of the United States and United Kingdom. Though Break was not born in recent times, it is often regarded as the music of the modern era, given the fact that it has seen the most development in the last decade or so. When music producers are releasing tracks in line with Hip Hop, Jungle or Drum & Bass, Hardcore, UK garage (including 2-step, break step and dub step), they make use of the authentic sounds of Break music. Even pop and rock tracks carry the essence of Break music nowadays. From the 1990s, Break music has been frequently used as background music to Television advertisements. You can also listen to Break music in action film soundtracks, where it is showcased in the form of Big Beat.


Etymology of Break Music

The word Break or Breakbeat has an interesting etymology. The word was perhaps coined because of the fact that the drum loops that were sampled took place during a “break” in the music. While this is the most widely accepted theory about the formation of the word, it is not the only one out there. Other theories suggest that the name came from the beat being broken and unpredictable in contrast to most percussive styles. The fact that this is reflected in the name of a related genre, Broken beat, helps to back up the theory.

History of Break Music

To know more about the origins of Break music, we need to turn the clock back about 30 to 40 years from now. In the 1970s and 1980s, hip hop turntablists initiated the regular use of consecutive funk breaks in their tracks. DJ Kool Herc is an example of a music producer to have pioneered the art of Break music. These funk breaks would use asymmetrical drum patterns from songs such as James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and the Winston’s “Amen Brother”. These songs would form the foundation for the rhythm of the DJ’s hip hop tracks. Given how catchy this style was, it soon became replicated and enhanced by hip hop artists in the years that followed. DJs such as Afrika Bambaata and Grand Wizard Theodore were among the first hip hop artists to have copied the original version of Break music. Soon, the style attained huge popularity in clubs and dancehalls. The extended “breakbeat” allowed breakers to have better chances of displaying their skills.

Acid House producers and artists of the early 1990s began to incorporate breakbeat samples in their tracks. This was done in an effort to form Breakbeat hardcore, which is more commonly referred to as rave music, which we have been introduced to before. The hardcore scene in Electronic music then became divided into various sub genres. These included Jungle and Drum & Bass. Subgenres such as these had a darker style of music and highlighted complicated sampled drum patterns. Goldie’s album Timeless is an exemplary example of such music.

“Death-Knell of Rave”

According to Josh Lawford of Ravescene, Breakbeat was poised to be the “death-knell of rave”. This is because the constantly evolving drumbeat patterns of Break music did not facilitate the same zoned out, trance like state that the benchmark and consistent 4/4 beats of House music brought to the table. The Anti EP was released by the prominent techno act Autechre in 1994 in an attempt to protest against the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. The EP was made using advanced algorithm programming to create non-repetitive Break music for the entire duration of the tracks to challenge the legal definitions within that legislation.

The Advent of Break Music in DJ Sets

It was in the 1980s that Breakbeat became a must have feature of various genres of Break music. In that period, Break music was gradually growing in popularity and so was the concept of using Break beats to make the songs more upbeat. Genres such as Acid Breaks, Big Beat, Nu Breaks and Miami Bass all had major or minor break beat influences.

Break tracks became a mainstay in the sets of a number of world famous DJs in the world. It was easy to churn out these tracks since the tempo of break tracks can be conveniently mixed with a number of different genres.

Afrika Bambaataa, Whodini, Davy DMX, Deekline, Dynamix II, 2 Live Crew, Cybotron, Nubreed, Hybrid, Phil K, Dirty Harry, NAPT, DJ Icey, Stanton Warriors, FreQ Nasty, Krafty Kuts, Kid Kenobi, Freestylers, K-Swing, Soul Of Man, DJ Sharaz, Annie Nightingale and performance troupe Lucent Dossier Experience are just a few of the many DJs who had an affinity for Break music.


If you want to listen to Break beats, then grab a hold of hip hop, jungle or hardcore tracks. All of these contain Break beats in lesser or greater quantities. As mentioned before Break beats or Break music in general can be found in other more mainstream music as well. These would include the genres of pop, rock and alternative. Jingles in TV and radio commercials also showcase Break music. An example would be the background music in car and jean commercials that are played on the television and the radio as well. Break may not be as dominant as some of the other more well known genres of Electronic music, but their presence can certainly be felt almost everywhere.

Kid Kenobi - Breaks MOS 2004

Ease of Creating Break Music

Digital sampling and music editing are two gifts of modern day technology that have enabled us to create Break beats and Break music in general with much more ease than we had in the past. Not only is it easy to create Break music, but it is also a lot more convenient and economical to apply Break music in a number of different tracks and songs. There is no longer any need to cut and splice tape sections or frequently backspin two records simultaneously. All you need is a computer program, which will help you to cut, paste and loop breaks whenever you want, wherever you want and how much ever you want. You can also make use of digital effects such as filters, reverb, reversing, time stretching and pitch shifting in order to enhance the impact of the beat. These digital effects can be added to individual songs by themselves. A single musical instrument from within a break beat can be sampled and blended with others. This is an effortless way of creating a wide new range of break beat patterns.

Common Sampled Breaks

If you are in search of one of the most commonly used and sampled breaks among music using break beats, then refer to the Amen break, which is basically a drum break from the Winston’s song “Amen, Brother’. “King of Beats” by Matromonix is where this beat was first used. Ever since that, it has been used in uncountable songs. 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)” are examples of other celebrated Breaks.

Legal Complications

The arrival of digital audio samples coupled with the ever increasing popularity of Break music gave rise to certain legal complications. This is because the enterprising companies began retailing “Break beat packages” with the sole motive of allowing artists to formulate Break beats. A single Break beat kit CD would contain a number of Break beat samples derived from a vast number of songs and artists. This was often derived without the permission of the owner, or in simpler terms, it was a form of copyright infringement.

We can go back to the example of Amen Break, the song from the Winston’s. A company by the name of Zero-G released a “Jungle Construction kit” that was incorporated with literally hundreds of different audio samples. Among them, one was a ditto copy of Amen Break, which was unnoticeably sped up. Zero G at that time, claimed that they had the copyright to the track because a copyright trademark was imprinted on the packaging of the product. Once Zero-G realized that someone else may have the copyright claim on the audio sample in concern, they took it off the product. Zero-G received the product from a DJ known as Danny DeMierre. The DJ claimed that the audio sample was his intellectual property. At the end of the day, the copyright problems were not resolved and the Winston’s are yet to receive their due royalties for the third party use of their original work.

Contributions of Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim

In the 1990s, acts like the Chemical Brothers and Fatboy Slim focused their efforts on reviving and repackaging  the Break genre. Break beats became the foundation for their songs. They invested a lot of time and money into experimenting with it. Their experimentation eventually paid off with the release of some massive hits that redefined and revolutionized Break music.


In conclusion, we can say that Break music lives in the shadow of its fellow EDM genres. It had peaked in popularity back in the 1990s, but since then it has not recaptured its temporary glory. Given the legal complications and the lack of sound knowledge about the genre, the chances of Break music staging a comeback look quite bleak. Nonetheless, if there’s anything music history has taught us, it’s that you can never count out any genre.

Comment from Facebook