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:

Page 5 of 5
 
 

 
Nov.03.2013 @ 9:24 PM
mitchell
+1 on vintage Chem Bros shows. I saw them numerous times in LA and their shows were also absolutely killer and clearly not a DAT tape playing while they stood there. Same for the Prodigy- excellent live though they sometimes went so overboard with the 808's that you it made you dizzy in a not-at-all nice way. And even then, Oakenfold was regarded as a guy who paid musicians to make his records whilst he waved his hands around as if he had musical talent.
 
 

 
Nov.04.2013 @ 2:29 AM
stevehumbert
Back in 1990 I had a bar in Kingston (-Upon Thames, not -Jamaica unfortunately).
It had an upstairs room that held about 180 people as long as they were willing to get very, very close together.
I let bands and DJ's use it free as long as they could generate sufficient drinkers.
One Wednesday three guys turned up to ask if they could do Sunday nights, they'd get a good crowd, they had famous friends ,yadda yadda; I'd heard similar from loads of hopefuls.
On the first Sunday the place was rammed within ten minutes of opening, I sold so much beer I had to send out for more AND they they packed up and were gone fifteen minutes after closing time.
The next week the queue to get in stretched off into the distance...people were turned away crying, when no more bodies could be greased up and shoehorned in.
Week three, and this is the point, Paul Oakenfold did a guest spot for the last hour. It was the first time I had appreciated that there really could be a skillset associated with DJ'ing; the crowd were whipped up to such a frenzy I genuinely thought the floor would give way.
From a muso perspective I still thought it was cheating somehow; not least because
the audience was probably 60% hot barely -clad women, so far removed from the sausage bonanza at our indie gigs of that period it made my teeth ache with jealousy.
Sadly, Super Funky Sunday only lasted a couple of months. There was so much dope being ingested (a year later it would have been E) my desire for profit was outweighed by my fear of being marched straight to jail, and I had to ask them to stop.
 
 

 
Nov.04.2013 @ 4:52 AM
RFID
Damn,

This takes me back, waaay back. 1997-1999, when my favorite driving albums were Metropolis (Sister Machine Gun), and Metropol (lunitaic Calm), Darker (C-tec), and anything Haujobb/Daniel Myer related. I grew up having to drive A LOT to get anywhere. Both Lunatic Calm and SMG albums from that era still sound fresh, carry their weight, and are are my desert island (or driving the vast expanse of the CA high desert) playlist. Especially Desperation (Sister Machine Gun "Metropolis", track 2, for those that don't know) . A kid I work with decided to play dubstep to show me how well a PA system handled Sub bass (in reality the mid bass they think is sub bass), and I countered with said track, no comparison, or competition, whatsoever.

Too bad a lot of the stuff made today can't carry itself that well, let alone grab anyone's attention for more than a few weeks. Even industrial has succumbed to this disturbing trend. It's just not the same anymore.

An Electronic Music professor summed up the state of modern electronic music: We make music by ourselves, for people to listen to by themselves, and if you're lucky, you get a few minutes of club play. If you're really lucky, you get a Beats by Dre headphone line named after you.

Please excuse any grammatical errors, rambling, etc. I'm suffering from horrible insomnia, with a healthy dose of I spent all night soldering, breathing in the fumes (those damn exhaust fans never work like they should), so I'm nowhere in the right state of mind to be posting anything online, to be seen for all eternity.
 
 

 
Nov.04.2013 @ 4:55 AM
Chris Randall
There is a tiny bit of low end in "Desperation." ;-)

-CR
 
 

 
Nov.04.2013 @ 6:03 AM
lazenbleep
Big Beat and Trip Hop were probably the 1st region specific electronic genres to emerge in the uk, and were dutifully adopted by the uk music press. It's still strange to think of electronic music having geographic sensibilities, especially in the uk, but in the mid 90's this was a direct musical guide to 2 cities
:#
 
 

 
Nov.04.2013 @ 7:31 AM
Crashproof
Oh man. Gonna have to dig out the Chemical Bros and maybe even Prodigy CDs now. And Future Sound of London, maybe.

I'd be totally fine with Big Beat coming back and kicking dubstep to the curb.

As for triphop: nothing approaches Portishead, but I was also pretty into Lamb for a while too.

I kind of think Cylab and Collide are where triphop wandered off to.
 
 

 
Nov.05.2013 @ 1:26 AM
Vaihe
Chris: Most Big Beat tunes were written by one or two guys in the bedroom with Akai samplers. BUT all Chemical stuff was mixed by Steve Dub in expensive studio as well as fatboy Slim had engineer to make his tracks big. That was the times of big recording budgets. It has nothing to do with having "band", but more with budget.

Best songs by Chemicals are done(written) with very simple and cheap gear.

1996 i was still into Goa Trance and saw Chemical Brothers live in Roskilde festival. All i could think was what a big bunch of rock shit :D It was all about big drums, distortion and headbangin. Next summer i thought that it was coolest thing ever :D

Their setup was still nerdy at that time. Juno 106 , mixer and rack of samplers/fx.

Big Beat merged into mainstream in early '00.
This was my attempt on the genre in 1999: link [open.spotify.co...]
Didn't understand why my beats were not as big as Chemicals had. Didn't know that they had real mixing engineers in real studios. I mixed my stuff with Mackie mixer and HiFi speakers. But i had sampled guitars and vocals! :P
 
 

 
Nov.05.2013 @ 1:27 AM
Vaihe
Oh and i hope that Trip Hop makes comeback next year as record that i'm currently producing is heavily Portishead/Massive Attack influenced.
 
 

 
Nov.23.2013 @ 8:25 AM
D' MacKinnon
Big Beat was definitely palatable to American audiences because of the familiar song structure, it was an easier translation than the other genres.

I still have a soft spot for it and acid house...I'm waiting for the squelchy 303 revival.
 
 

 
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