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These are the breaks

For a few years now, the breaks genre has been left out in the cold. Is it time to reclaim the beats?

  • Dave Jenkins
  • 19 August 2016

Say it: Breakbeat. Sounds good, right? Rolls off the tongue like broken kick-drum. Into the heart like a deep warm sub. Say it again. The soft alliteration of the ‘b’, the harsh consonants of the ‘k’ and ‘t’, stop/starting like its namesake drum pattern. Much onomatopoeia. Much omnipresence…

Present in almost every tune ever produced, if you include fills and breakdowns, breakbeats are everywhere. The swing between the sections, the momentum in those ‘moments’. But right now they’re switching from a supportive rhythmic texture to a more dominant characteristic in tracks. It’s the sound of My Nu Leng switching up the Bristol bass flow, or their fellow south west mates Diemantle niceing up the dance with their ‘anything goes’ rave fusion. It’s the sound of Mella Dee, Special Request and Detboi rumbling the jungle, or Wuki, Cause & Affect and Stanton Warriors slapping our butts with their 808s. It’s Jaded, Mafia Kiss and Marten Horger re-building house with broken blocks, or Hypho and ATYK manipulating trap aesthetics. It’s a new generation of artists from Aylen to Zander appearing in sets from Ardalan’s to Zedd’s. It’s lurking on labels like Punks, Black Butter, Night Bass, Dirtybird, Mad Decent, Houndstooth, Albion Collective, Lobster Boy, Keysound and Project All Out. It’s our Tune of 2015, Bicep’s ‘Just’: a beautiful breakbeat creation, no question.

But do any of the above call their beats ‘breaks’? Have a word. 130 jungle, bass music, tech-funk, booty bass, 808 music, beats, broken beat, rave, bass house, trap, your mum... literally anything but ‘breakbeat’ or ‘breaks’. I’m not mad at them, though. No… We’re in the midst of a vintage year for beats/bass because of these guys. What irks me is this: how can a drum pattern be as versatile and popular as Air Max, yet, as a genre tag, be as cool as Crocs?

To understand breaks as a genre we need to go back to the late 90s where a melting pot was being brewed by dissidents of big beat, drum ’n’ bass, hip hop and garage. Drum ’n’ bass was getting too dark in certain corners, garage had become sugar-sweet in places, big beat was getting boozy, superclubs and hammy prog and trance ruled the roost and even hard dance was perplexingly popular… breaks became an alternative lingua franca right up to the mid-noughties, packing dedicated festival arenas every summer and selling out clubs like Fabric and Sankeys most Fridays. But, like all genres, staleness struck. Even amid its menu of sub-genres (booty bass, tear-out, tech-funk, garage breaks, electro) formulas happened. Poorly produced imitations happened. Bootlegs of other genre hits were as prolific as originals. The tear-out side became muscle music for brochachos of yesteryear.

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