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.29.2013 @ 1:25 PM
DGillespie
William,

I don't usually buy sample content, but I would be a sucker for that.

Dan
 
 

 
Oct.29.2013 @ 8:40 PM
disconnector
@William - thank you. There is now a Ford truck ad with Portishead's Glory Box as the soundtrack stuck looping in my imagination.
 
 

 
Oct.29.2013 @ 10:28 PM
krylenko
@joshua-s: and thank *you* for mentioning that particular song; allow me to return the favor.

I'm so tired of playing / playing with these midsize toy trucks / gonna get a Ford today...
 
 

 
Oct.30.2013 @ 11:23 AM
viktor
I want to engage in this conversation, but I can't take my eyes off what appears to be a sweet Nagra reel-to-reel to your right. You're probably the one who beat me to it on E-bay. ;)
 
 

 
Oct.31.2013 @ 2:50 PM
beauty pill
I don't ever think in terms of genres, but I gotta say "decksanddrums" is a masterful recording. I would very much like to know how they did that thing. It's incrediblly well-done. Feels huge.

Incredibly satisfying to play loud. Never hurts your ears. Very punchy.

From certain perspectives, it's a goofy, blithe, almost aerobics-oriented dance record, and it's easy to dismiss this way, but to me it's a serious touchstone. The De La Soul guest track with the skateboarding samples is genius.

Speaking as someone whose music regularly combines live instrumentation with electronic/sequenced --- albeit with different artistic aims --- I can tell you it's a challenge having handplayed instruments live gracefully in the same "diegesis" as instruments of a more synthetic/digital nature.

I sometimes wish I didn't want to do that, but I do.

It's what I hear in my head. So be it.

- c
 
 

 
Oct.31.2013 @ 3:58 PM
Chris Randall
As a long-time creator of industrial music, that skillset translates readily. (One of the few from that genre that does.) One thing we all learn to do, with varying levels of success, is mix synthetic and "real" instrumentation.

Although that's less impressive nowadays, where that sort of thing is the norm, in the early 90s it was unusual.

-CR
 
 

 
Nov.01.2013 @ 7:42 PM
puffer
When you say "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." I take that mean not so much having a full band in the studio and on the road (not unheard of). More, the production was the same as, say, SMG, Ministry, or even Helmet: big desks, expensive pre-amps, comps, slamming drum tracks, vintage synths programmed and recorded by people who knew what they were doing. Right? -ish?

As one of the ppl who inquired about what defined Big Beat when you posted, I appreciate this. Back in the 90s I had a friend who was listening to a lot of this and while visiting friends in Leeds went to a record store and listened to and purchased a big pile of vinyl on his behalf. Specifically I was instructed to get Big Beat. (Maybe trip hop but it was a while ago.) (I only name I can dredge up is Bentley Rhythm Ace. Maybe Spring Heel Jack.) I just hadn't heard the term used in so long.

If I over-think it -- not to invite unflattering comparisons -- my music gravitates towards this era of dance music, with a slathering of guitar rock. My tempos are too slow, not enough funk. How about "post-rock big beat"? That sounds pretensions enough to amuse me.

Anyway, this kind of thing, using the term loosely, is totally up my alley. Esp. as an old guy. I'm a soft touch for breakbeats, and punk rock structures, and now synths. I truly dig those early Micronaut songs. So, yeah. Do it up.
 
 

 
Nov.03.2013 @ 4:51 PM
beauty pill
If "decksanddrums" wasn't expensive record to make, that's truly remarkable.

It certainly SOUNDS expensive.

- c
 
 

 
Nov.03.2013 @ 6:32 PM
Chris Randall
@puffer: Yeah, it's not really sound to put this sort of music in the context of modern production tools. It was quite difficult to make with what we had at hand in the early to mid 90s. By "band" I mean "more than one guy," not "band" like "the Eagles." Nowadays, one hairdo sitting in a squat with a cracked copy of Live 7 can turn out "Scary Monsters & Nice Sprites" but in 1995, to make an album like "Exit Planet Dust" or "decksandrumsandrockandroll" required a fairly deft hand with a console, a reasonable understanding of mic and general production techniques, and a pretty comprehensive musical skillset. Not to mention a shit-ton of gear.

So "band," not "dude."

Also, the "one guy staring at a laptop" was not a performance methodology that was accepted at that time. Richard James notwithstanding, it would be _very_ difficult for one of those acts to even get a show without some sort of performance context. I saw the Chems open for Bowie on his Earthling theatre tour, and the fact that they could hold the attention of what was essentially a rock crowd, in 1997? Compare that to Paul Oakenshit trainwrecking his way through a set of his "hits" in front of Underworld, and there's no scenario in which young Paul wouldn't have been booed off the stage at that same Bowie show.

Very different time.

-CR
 
 

 
Nov.03.2013 @ 6:54 PM
Quiet Ovens
had never heard the term "Big Beat" It seems thought this was MTV's AMP, when that died, as it should've. But after that, about any electronic music was now labelled as "Electronica" making it easy for idiots to dismiss anything with synth sounds as "electronica." Nice.
 
 

 
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