October 26, 2013

Cycles...

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"?
 
 
 

49 comments:

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Oct.26.2013 @ 8:31 PM
MikeF
Don't know much about Big Beat but I thought this track was very good. Nice work Chris!
 
 

 
Oct.26.2013 @ 10:17 PM
theoryzero
Thanks Chris, time to revisit "Loops of Fury".
 
 

 
Oct.27.2013 @ 1:36 AM
noisegeek
I find it amusing that the phrase "Can I get an Amen?" made me imediately think of this: link [www.youtube.com]
 
 

 
Oct.27.2013 @ 3:34 AM
R.A.W.
Nice track, Chris!

Big Beat was my personal entry into electronic music genres, I only made Rap music before. I think Big Beat was never really away, I still hear it in CSI episodes, games and commercials regularly. ;)
Btw I can also confirm that the Propellerheads are from the UK. I think it was 1997 when I saw them live in the Mojo Club in Hamburg, before they released "Decksandrumsandrockandroll" and had there breakthrough. Before they played I coincidentally met one of them and we had a little chat. He clearly had a british accent. ;)

Anyway, here's your amen ;) - link [www.youtube.com]
 
 

 
Oct.27.2013 @ 9:58 AM
Dagon
The Big Beat Manifesto:
link [youtu.be]
 
 

 
Oct.27.2013 @ 11:04 AM
inteliko
Todd Terry used to murder the turntables with Big Beat under the name Liquid Todd. The Rap stations in NYC in the 90's along with the pop stations used to play house and very commercial dance trance afterhours. But K-Rock had Liquid Todd, you'd get hours of back then what I called Electronica... but in retrospect alot of it was Big Beat.
 
 

 
Oct.27.2013 @ 12:13 PM
inteliko
IMHO, Big Beat is around cause of the producers prior experience with working with classic breaks chopped, sliced, and diced into their Hip Hop creations. Heres a 93 minute instrumental sampled break set with every other sampled vinyl loop beside Amen and Nautilus. Heres some of the obvious ones used in big beat, recycled the old fashion way.

Billy Squier - Big Beat link [youtu.be]

Isaac Hayes - Breakthrough link [youtu.be]

James Brown - Funky Drummer link [youtu.be]

The Monkees - Mary Mary link [youtu.be]
 
 

 
Oct.27.2013 @ 4:15 PM
Keith S.
AMEN

I am so gleeful at the sight of this post, I'm leaving my first comment ever.

When MySpace asked me to list my musical tastes, I think "car commercial music" was one I named.
My late high school years coincided with the attempt to turn Big Beat (I was told not to say "electronica") or Ska into The Next Big Thing. I will always have a large space in my heart reserved for Big Beat and similar sounds (it turned me on to electronic music in general, I guess).
I like funk, I like breaks, I like noisy synths--The Chem Bros are one of my favorite groups ever.
I bought "Dig Your Own Hole" a few years after it came out, and the whole thing still holds up. (I feel the same about late '90s Fatboy Slim.)
Their videos helped ensnare me, and Big Beat worked with some of the most adventurous, memorable music video directors ever.
Having come from a household where technique and theory were emphasized, learning that sampled guitar feedback, rather than a run of notes, could be a chorus (that and a breakbeat)--that changed my life.
I've even tracked down Keyboard Magazine books like "Electro Shock!" to read interviews with artists like The Chems who got me hooked at an impressionable age.
 
 

 
Oct.28.2013 @ 12:33 AM
krylenko
Hell yeah!

The other day I was driving and it hit me - big beat used to be *all over* rock radio, what changed? Then I tried to think of a single current artist making something I'd put in the same style bin as the artists mentioned, especially the Prodigy, Chem Bros, and Crystal Method. Couldn't think of any.

I mean, technically, a lot of the acts on the Wiki page are still around, even releasing new tunes, but the visibility is gone. Which is weird; I'd bet that if Skrillex released a Prodigy tune as his own today, it'd get airplay. The stuff that rocked (in both senses of the word) back then still rocks now.

I'm curious about the contention that big beat requires a band to do right. Didn't a lot of these acts start off as bedroom producers nicking samples for beats, and only get a band together for live shows (if then)? I know I remember hearing ad nauseum about Liam from the Prodigy and his Roland sampling keyboard, banging out all the tunes on his own except for vocals. Chemical Brothers and Crystal Method both went for the "pasty white dudes behind big racks of gear" style for their live shows, at least the ones I saw.
 
 

 
Oct.28.2013 @ 6:52 AM
wquoyle
Never realised Big Beat was a thing in the US, I always felt it was the dance arm of the mid 90s Brit Pop 'explosion' (y'know, Oasis, Blur, Pulp etc etc). Bringing dance into the mainstream as the aforementioned bands did with indie, breaking it out of the clubs.

Does this mean the time is right for a Trip Hop revival too?
 
 

 
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