EDM Explained: Them’s the Breaks

Finding it hard to distinguish between your dubstep and brostep? Always getting your techno and trance mixed up? Well, fear not! This week marks the first of several posts in which I attempt to give some insight into various EDM (electronic dance music) genres. Each post will focus on a specific EDM genre- delving into its history; looking at some of the top DJs/producers in the field; and some of my favourite artists.

I’m kicking off proceedings with my favourite EDM genre- breakbeats.

By definition, a breakbeat is a sample of a syncopated drum beat, usually repeated to form a rhythm used as a basis for dance music, hip hop, etc. In terms of the beat, rather than a throbbing “Ooz-ooz-ooz-ooz” like you’d get in a hard house track, think of it like a “Boom chick, boom-boom chick”, or maybe even a “Boom chicka wow wow!” Much more avant-garde, wouldn’t you agree? It wears the crown in my EDM royal family because in its truest form, it is a glorious hybrid of two of the finest musical genres in history- funk and dance.

The breakbeat genre emerged in the late 70s – early 80s, when hip-hop DJs started incorporating loops and samples of drum beats from popular funk tracks to form the basis of their music- songs like James Brown’s “Funky Drummer” and The Incredible Bongo Band’s cover of “Apache”.

For many, the emergence of breakbeat was a retaliation against the squeeky-clean image that disco personified, and a more true-to-life depiction of life in the ghettos from which both styles emerged. Alongside the newfound artistry of looping and scratching on multiple turntables, the need for a new style of vocals emerged- and as such the modern-day MC was born. Some of the earliest pioneers in the field of breakbeats were artists such as Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash.

In the 80’s breakbeat music also hit the dance scene and over the next couple of decades, it exploded into a plethora of subgenres, including big beat, progressive breaks, jungle, and drum’n’bass. And whilst electronic components eventually replaced turntables, the true breakbeat sound can still be distinguished from other EDM styles by the heart of the music- the beat- sounding like it is played on a real drum.

So many of my favourite artists fall into the breakbeat category and it’s associated subgenres. Bands such as The Prodigy, and producers including Fatboy Slim and Chemical Brothers all hail from big beat origins. Artists such Krafty Kuts and Fort Knox Five turn up the funk factor to get my booty shakin’, and for this reason, they would have to top the list for my favourite breakbeat performers.

So, there’s my very brief overview of my favourite genre of EDM- breakbeats. Hopefully I’ve taught you a thing or two about this style of music, and maybe even found a few new breakbeat fans. Stay tuned for another installment of EDM explained in coming weeks. Drop me a line if you would like me to look at a specific EDM genre, or comment below on some of your favourite breakbeat songs or artists.

3 Comments on “EDM Explained: Them’s the Breaks

  1. Hi Ness!

    I’ve written before :-). Great to have you newslettering once more. Appreciate it. This proposed set of EDM explanations is going to be so helpful. And I love how the Breakbeat edition makes me revisit old stuff and think about it from a new perspective.

    Did you see Fatboy when he was here around the turn of the year? If so – what did you think?

    Keep on Keeping on Penelope

    • Hi Penelope- Lovely to hear from you again and glad you enjoyed the post.
      I was absolutely gutted to miss FBS earlier this year- had no idea he was even in Oz until a Brisbane friend posted a photo from the Riverstage gig. He played Riva in St Kilda down here in Melbourne- would have been brilliant! Must place my finger on that pulse a little more effectively, me thinks! I did see him a number of years back and he was amazing! Part of his set mixed John Paul Young’s “Love is in the Air” into it- he really read that crowd correctly!
      Take care!