The Breakbeat Genres

The section is for people that are not familiar with the different genres of breakbeat. This will give you a general understanding of differences between the subgenres within this type of music.

Breakbeat is the term we use to cover them all – it’s the “parent” of all the subgenres such as bigbeat, funky breaks, nu skool breaks and so on. Along side styles like house music – breakbeat is one of the oldest types of electronic dance music. With its foundation of making the funky beats the main attraction of the tune – breakbeat has managed to establish itself as one of the major genres within electronic music since the early 80s up to now. The breakbeat genres have spread into several directions. Jungle/Drum ‘n’ Bass and Nu skool breaks that works with the dark and atmospheric/mellow side and funky breaks and bigbeat that deals with the funkier and happier side of this style. But what they all have in common is the use of the “break-beat”.
The word “break” means the short section of a record that can be looped on a sampler to create a longer, seamless piece of music from this one section. The term derives from the “breakdown”, a part of the funk or disco records where most of all the other instruments drop away, leaving the drummer, or maybe the drummer and percussionist, or drum and bassist, to play their parts unaccompanied. This provides an instant rhythm section to create a new tune from!
These breakdowns came from the 60’s and 70’s funk production and artists like James Brown, who invented the use of the third beat. Before James Brown all popular music has been using a straight 4/4 time beat. Using the beats in between is what made it funky.

The break phenomenon all started as a reaction to the sterility of major-label disco music in the mid-1970s. As a necessity for survival, many black bands turned to playing disco. Although disco had a big black audience, there remained a hardcore of funkers who felt it didn’t really reflect their ghetto experience.
So djs like Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash started spinning only these breakdowns by having 2 copies of the same records and spinning the record back on a 2 turntable set to make it loop. What started out as a novelty, this new funky sound quickly became popular at street level. Along side the invention of turntabalism came the natural need for a vocal side. MCs as they were to be called would be shouting and making sure the crowd was alive and the atmosphere was right. This developed into rhyming and the birth of hip-hop. This is why most of the early hip-hop productions from the early 80s are featuring breakbeats.

Later on electronic artists mainly from Europe, like the popular band Prodigy, would pick up on the breaks and add in the electronic elements that we relate to breakbeat today. With the use of electronic equipment looping and cutting the breaks were so much easier and much more precise. Slicing up the drumloops from the old 70’s funk tunes and rearranging them is the main element of this style. One of the main differences from other electronic styles is that the beats sounds like they are played by a real drummer – which of cause they were back in the days of the recording of the 70’s funk tunes. The early elements from the turntabalists like scratching and mcing are still a part of this style.

While breakbeat is ideal for breakdancing, the syncopation of the rhythms can make it difficult for a “regular” dancefloor crowd to follow it. However in the last decade we have seen more and more use of breakbeat elements in popular music. Mainly within other electronic genres like house and trance music but also pop and even rock music are using breaks now.
But the “pure” breakbeat style has until this date remained an underground phenomenon with some subgenres almost making it thought to the mass audience – like bigbeat in the last 90s.
But who knows - maybe someday it’ll make it all the way though?...

The most well-known and probably most popular subgenre of breakbeat is bigbeat. Artists like Fayboy Slim and Propellerheads has helped this style out to the mass audience during the late 90s.
Big beat is a heavier and more beat-driven variant of breakbeat made specifically for the dancefloor! The beats in these songs are not sampled from the old 70s funk tunes alone, but are often amplifier with bassier electronic drum-sounds to make the beats “bigger”. This type of breakbeat are often driven by the electronic elements with use of noise an fat electro basslines. Heavy use of samples and use of filter effects are very common in this style that is considered the fusion of rock and breakbeat with the focus on beat permutations. Another important player within this style is Chemical Brothers who brought in the use of acid synth (303 synth) to the style – their style of breaks are often referred to as chemical beats.
Big Beat usually tries not to take itself too seriously and places a lot of value on fun and rule-breaking in their music. Some tunes in this genre have showed up on the popular charts within its period starting in the mid 90s ending in the late 90s.

Funky Breaks
Funky breaks are similar to big beat in many ways. The beats are the same but the music elements defer a little. The noise and filtered rock element and use of acid are in funky breaks replaced with 70’s retro funk elements like wah wah guitar and horn stabs as well as oldskool funk vocals.
Like big beat this style has a more danceable rhythm but with a funkier edge. The biggest player in this style is without doubt Fat Boy Slim who has had several mainstream hits with his crazy style of funky breaks.
This subgenre is probably the most accessible style to dig into for none-breakbeat fans – due to the recognizable elements from funk and the danceable funky beats. This style being so “mainstream”-oriented is often why this style is not developing that much in the underground scene. Underground scenes in any style of music tend to make the music harder and rougher to make it stay out of the mainstream – which is why subgenres like drum ‘n’ bass and nu skool breaks are getting more attention from this crowd. Today this style is often referred to as oldskool breaks.

Nu Skool Breaks
Nu Skool Breaks is the newest form of breakbeat to enter the scene. The term was invented in 1998 when djs Adam Freeland, Rennie Pilgrem and Tayo played at a new night called "Friction" in London. Back then they played dark and filthy breaks tracks, downpitched drum'n'bass and fresh sounding electro and basically started the scene from scratch. Nowadays producers like Ils, Koma&Bones, Tipper, BT and many more are amongst the most profilic producers who push the sound forward. Nu Skool Breaks clocks at 130 - 140 bpm, has a breakbeat rhythm and melts elements of techno, electro, drum'n'bass (basslines mostly) into a danceble, accessible music that has quickly gone round the world. The style has darker elements also known from drum ‘n’ bass and hardcore.
Nu Skool Break scenes are to be found in the UK, Holland, Australia, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Germany, Spain (!), the States and in eastern europe such as Budapest. Many top acts have asked for remixes from the nu skool camp such as: Orbital, NSync (!), and New Order.

Jungle Jungle evolved from breakbeat and hardcore, and is generally acknowledged to be the predecessor of d’n’b. Speedy breaks, complex rhythms and highly-varied percussion couple with heavy basslines and reggae vocals. Jungle can have a funkier edge to it than d’n’b due to a heavier reliance on traditional breaks. Often, however, the terms are used interchangeably. The current term used to describe this more roots-oriented type of d’n’b is “jump up,” although this may also refer to more danceable takes on this style.

Drum ‘n’ Bass
D'n'b is fast-paced (usually more than 150 bpm up to 200 bpm or more), rhythm-focused electronic with an emphasis on intricate and complex drum sequencing and breaks, coupled with a fat, powerful bottom end. Melodic elements are similarly complexly sequenced, and are usually aggressively electronic and feature many effects. The really deep bass is a very important part of a d’n’b tune.
Song structure is also very important, as the music often includes many changes. Vocals are relatively uncommon, media sampling is similarly not a regular feature, but really anything and everything that can be sampled and sequenced probably will be.
D’n’b is probably the most practised subgenres within breakbeat. Most countries that has a electronic music scene will have a d’n’b scene.

A down-tempo fusion of jazz/acid jazz, hip hop, and breakbeat, trip hop is music made for the chair rather than the floor. Prototypical bands include Portishead, Massive Attack, and dj shadow. Trip hop is characterized by its slow tempo (usually less than 120 bpm), acoustic elements (particularly piano, horns, and stand up bass), often dark or spare/minimalist orchestration, generally melancholy mood, and the use of trippy effects. If the music is in the Bristol style of Portishead and Massive Attack, haunting female vocals predominate. Vocal and media sampling is very common, frequently using vintage propaganda and film/radio as a source.
Triphop had its days of glory in the early 90s with the success of the triphop masters “Portishead”.

Thanx to for descriptions of Nu Skool Break, Jungle, Drum ‘n’ Bass and Triphop

/Dj[BB] 2004

Click here for Artist info about Dj[BB]

Back to Mainpage