October 26, 2013


by Chris Randall

When I first began releasing instrumental music in, what, 98? (I think that was the first Micronaut record, but I'm sure about 85 people will correct me...) most of the instrumental music I made had one purpose: to appear in Bunnim-Murray produced shows for MTV, Red Bull extreme sports videos, and X-Box games. I was pretty good at this, and from '99 to about '05 ASCAP checks were half of my yearly income, as a result.

The style of music I made throughout this period was Big Beat. That genre is now almost 19 years old now, counting from the release of "Exit Planet Dust," the first real Big Beat record, in 1995 . Weirdly, many younger people don't really know about it as a genre; they know the biggest acts, but never seem to connect them in to a cohesive group. I only discovered this last night when I put up that video, mentioning in my Twitter and Facebook posts that I thought Big Beat was ripe for a comeback.

So, a primer: Big Beat is easily described as sample- and breakbeat-heavy electronic music done with rock arrangements and stylistic nods. The key acts are, of course, Chemical Brothers (Exit Planet Dust, 1995), Propellerheads (Decksandrumsandrockandroll, 1998), and Crystal Method (Vegas, 1997). There are a bunch more, many of which put out some pretty amazing shit. The thing about Big Beat is that it wasn't really something you could make in your bedroom; to do it right, you needed more of a band presentation. This greatly limited the number of artists involved, and ultimately the form died out when the easier-to-make EDM styles gained popularity.

Anyhow, one earmark of a Big Beat track is the attention paid to the song structure; most tracks in this genre have a clear ABABCAB format lifted straight from rock music. (Or, more specifically, the popular industrial rock tracks of the early 90s, when that genre ruled the roost. You're welcome.) Perhaps that's why the genre appealed to me, specifically; I easily understood its structure, and it utilized my already-extant skillset.

When I got some of my tools shoehorned in my new office this week, I sat down to play and make sure everything survived the move, and the above video is the result. While it only loosely deserves the "Big Beat" moniker, having no defined structure (it is, like almost all my "live" videos, a pure improvisation), it borrows that genre's sound palette. And once I'd made it, I wondered out loud whether Big Beat was ever coming back. In my opinion, it's time. Can I get an "amen"?


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Oct.26.2013 @ 8:42 AM
In North America, circa 97-98 with the Fatboy Slim/Chemical Brothers/The Prodigy commercial onslaught, mainstream exposure to it was bundled up as Electronica, which might explain why a lot of younger folk now don't recognize it as Big Beat.

Oct.26.2013 @ 9:04 AM
Chris Randall
That's a good point. The bigger tracks are mostly recognizable as movie stings and car commercial soundtracks.


Oct.26.2013 @ 12:08 PM
I had no idea that Big Beat was a thing. I even owned albums from every artist listed in this post, and several others from the "a bunch more" link like Junkie XL and Fatboy Slim.

Like shaman said, Electronica is Electronica. I think it's one of those things where you have to be pretty far down the rabbit hole to even realize that there are names for different types. ;)

Oct.26.2013 @ 12:27 PM
Yeah, I'd call it Electronica. Big Beat was more like Bentley Rhythm Ace and the Dope On Plastic records.

Oct.26.2013 @ 12:35 PM
BTW Here's a good collection of DOP tracks link [soundcloud.com]

Oct.26.2013 @ 2:15 PM
Chris Randall
Americans and people from the UK have very different opinions on this genre, come to find out. Since the British invented it, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt. (At least with respect to Crystal Method and Propellerheads, both of which are very American.) I think we can all agree that Chemical Brothers are the first of the big acts to carry the moniker, though.

I tend to think of the sparser acts as being more indicative, though. Crystal Method and Props both made (make in the case of the former) very thick music.


Oct.26.2013 @ 2:46 PM
I might be mistaken, but I believe Propellerheads were British, from Bristol or Bath or some such.

You didn't have to be too far down the rabbit hole to have known what Big Beat was, it was just a matter of reading lots of UK music magazines in the 90s or frequenting the import racks at the better record shops here in North America. MTV and the like probably rarely to never used the term.

Oct.26.2013 @ 3:08 PM
Chris Randall
Hey, look at that! They are! I always thought they were L.A. dudes. As I said on Twitter, I am in no way a musicologist.


Oct.26.2013 @ 3:57 PM
I was going to concede just because the American definition is usually the definition online. But, yeah, the sampling is such an important part for the vibe of what was sampled. Big Beat has kitsch. The rock aspect of Electronica is what made it palatable to a bigger audience.

Oct.26.2013 @ 4:59 PM

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